29 September 2007

27 September 2007

Treading on very sensitive toes

Oh dear! It rather looks as if I have upset someone's carefully arranged Victorian costermonger's barrow...

Back in early August, I wrote about a very rugged online debate taking place within the SfEP over whether the organisation should have a presence on Facebook, to attract new members and publicise itself to a wide audience. The debate swiftly turned into something else - namely, how sinister is Facebook because it collects data on members. Those in favour of taking SfEP onto Facebook became very frustrated by attempts to derail what should have been a sensible discussion about finding new ways to secure the future of the organisation and expand its membership and renown.

Some of my own frustration spilled over into this blog and I used the term Luddites to describe some of my more stubborn colleagues. I make no apology for that.

Nevertheless, those SfEP members on Facebook banded together and set up an "unofficial" group there. It has already drawn at least one new member into the SfEP.

Today, someone calling themselves Faceless left a comment on that entry. Hmmm, it would have been fair comment at the time but leaving it until 6 whole weeks later was a bit pointless. I have been pondering the identity of Faceless, who clearly knows who I am but prefers to leave anonymous remarks on an out-of-date blog instead of picking up the phone and communicating directly with me. That's what I call gutless. And I'm 99.9% certain of Faceless's identity.

The most irritating thing is that same tiny band who would prefer that SfEP remain stuck in a time warp continue to stir up discussions about how awful Facebook allegedly is. Yet none of them have been on there to see it for themselves and criticise from a position of knowledge. Nor do some of them have any qualms about inventing facts - the SfEP Facebookers have been accused of using the group there to engage in "seaside postcard humour" and bring the SfEP into disrepute. Neither of these is true of course, but the detractors will never join Facebook to see for themselves and get their facts straight.

I would find it all quite laughable if it wasn't so pathetic. And if I wasn't being sent offensive mails by some so-called colleagues because of it all.

The SfEP is a fantastic organisation for editors and proofreaders. Our leadership works incredibly hard to boost the profile of our profession, to raise professional standards and to provide excellent membership benefits, among many other things. It's a real pity that the small handful who appear to hark back to some mythical golden age (when all editors tugged their forelocks, used blue pencils and quill pens, and drank lashings of ginger beer) seem so hellbent on stopping progress.

But, as one of my colleagues once said, albeit in a slightly different context, the gloves are off now...

24 September 2007

Double take

I was having a quiet sort of morning. I made a list of things to do this week - not just work, but a few other tasks - and started gradually working my way through it. Then a potential client called offering me an urgent job. I agreed to take it on and got stuck in immediately.

From about lunchtime, my phone never stopped ringing. My callers were, almost without exception, applying for my vacancy.

Except I'm not offering a job to anyone.

The problem is that I have a trading name that is almost identical to a larger collective of people who operate in a similar field to me. Three years ago, when I was hunting for a trading name I searched Companies House and the trademarks register to ensure my chosen name would be unique. And so it appeared that it was. Except my rivals have been trading for around twice as long as me. I have long been aware of them and they, no doubt, of me. Neither of us has taken action against the other, probably because there's not really much need, although I have toyed recently with trademarking myself. We seem to have very different pools of clients.

Things changed today. My rivals apparently advertised a vacancy in a national newspaper today. Interestingly, they asked candidates to make contact only by email. But of course, all those candidates wanted to know more about the company offering the job, so they got googling. And of course, my site generally comes up higher - way higher - as my SEO is better. And my phone number is on my site. Hence it ringing off the hook. I was distracted all afternoon by people calling to ask questions about the job. If it was me hiring, I wouldn't have picked any of them if they can't follow the instruction to contact by email only. The first rule of editing is accuracy...

23 September 2007

The future of newspapers

I see the BBC has been discussing the future of the regional and local press.

They are a bit slow off the mark. Others have been examining this issue for a while. Steve Rubel wrote about this a whole year ago! Craig McGinty also examined this topic back in May 2006.

I totally agree with Rubel and McGinty that local media need to engage their readership to survive. In my county, the Chester Chronicle (a weekly appearing on Fridays) has finally got round to launching new sites. Firstly, the main news site has been revamped, offering updates on a regular basis instead just on publication day. The Chronicle has also launched a very useful What's On guide, which will surely earn its keep. The news site appears to be offering readers the opportunity to comment on stories as they are published.

21 September 2007

End-of-the-week catch-up

I'm glad it's Friday night. It's been an incredibly busy week, with the next fortnight being equally heavily booked.

I finally signed off the big editorial project I've been involved with since early August and am looking forward to sending in my huge invoice.

In between, I sent out a couple of pitches (one promptly rejected, the other I'm still waiting to hear about), attended a breakfast networking meeting (which proved very worthwhile as I met two potentially useful contacts there), a feature of mine was published but I still haven't seen it as a copy has yet to land on my doormat, I hammered out a fast-turnaround copywriting job for a new client (then discovered from chatting to my lovely graphic designer that there will almost certainly be more regular work coming my way from said client), and got offered a potentially very large contract.

I also managed, with my usual aplomb, not to mention penchant for procrastination, to play several games of Scrabulous on Facebook, and do a reasonable amount of surfing.

As a result, I came across a very interesting blog site called Work-related Blogging, which is run by a university lecturer who is researching work blogs. He has a very impressive blogroll listing hundreds of blogs, many by disgruntled public service workers. Definitely worth dipping into for finding good blogs, as well as the interesting news posts on the nature of blogging.

Right, it's Friday - time to cook, open a bottle and forget about work for a couple of days...

20 September 2007

The humble hyphen - an endangered species

The BBC website has an interesting article today on the vanishing hyphen. Us pedants who care about these things have long been mourning its decline in use. But only where necessary.

It makes sense, as illustrated in the article, for some hyphenated words to become one word, or two. And who could argue with taking the hyphen out of words such as email? Language is a living entity and we can expect spellings to change through common usage.

No, the problem is when things wot ought to be hyphenated ain't.

The hyphen plays a vital role in compound adjectives, such as a "poor-rate collection" as opposed to a "poor rate collection". It helps us make sense of a sentence and avoid ambiguity.

- I want to resign, said the premier-league footballer.

A simple case of quitting? Not necessarily.

- I want to re-sign, said the premier-league footballer.

Aha! He wants to renew his contract!

In speech, emphasis would have made the meaning clear for the above example. In print, one might be forgiven for assuming one meaning when something completely different was meant.

That tiny black dash may look daft or pointless, but it does have an important role to play in language. Use it, or it will die. And one day, like endangered gorillas or pandas, it will no longer be there at all and we will be mourning its loss, not just for its beauty and the pleasure it gave, but for its role in our linguistic eco-system.

19 September 2007

Today's annoyances

WARNING *grumpy old ranter alert*

Annoyance no. 1 was an unsolicited email from a PR firm called Kelso Consulting sent to the wrong email address (I have a dedicated email address for PR stuff so it doesn't clog up my inbox). Worse, it contained an attachment - a PDF of a new weekly column by an economist. Normally, I'd have been interested in reading this but I never, ever open unsolicited attachments and I don't know any other hack that does either. Sending attachments to journalists is the fastest way to piss us off (that, and offering totally unsuitable case studies). So here we have yet another totally clueless PR firm that has managed to put my back up (like the Irish one that mailed me a release then rang to ask if I'd got it, another no-no, but then - when I'd explained that I didn't cover the stuff they were sending - further failed me to remove me from their mailing list).

Annoyance no. 2 was the post. I get a fair amount of junk mail on any given day. A lot of it is an untargeted waste of trees - companies offering to provide me with HR training, for example (like, duh, do your homework please - you don't seriously think a sole trader working from home is going to be interested in HR training, do you? Today I received the umpteenth mailing from Premierline Direct (yes, it's name and shame day today) who, roughly once a month, send me piles of bumph urging me to buy their discount insurance.

I have news for Premierline Direct:
a) I'm not interested in commercial vehicle insurance. I don't have a vehicle. Of. Any. Sort.
b) As a home-based worker, I don't need business premises insurance. A simple check on my postcode and in some directory or other would confirm that for you. And anyway, my business is covered under the household insurance.
c) after 30 months of bombarding me, don't you think that if I haven't responded by now you are unlikely to convince me to call you today?

Phew! I'm glad I got all that off my chest otherwise I might have had to rant about some of the other things that are seriously pissing me off right now.

17 September 2007


Not very long ago, I had a bit of a swing on here at people using outdated software. I find it absolutely incredible that colleagues in one of my spheres of work find it perfectly acceptable to use programs such as Word 97. Another colleague recently described this as "steam-driven", which I thought rather apt. Then again, I know of people using even older programs such as Word 3.1. No doubt there are others out there still using WordPerfect and bemoaning the lack of updates.

As for me, I'm still using Word 2002, which is more than adequate. But I do have a pristine copy of Word 2007 on my shelf, awaiting installation - the only reason I haven't loaded it so far is because I don't want it to override Word 2002 and I need some expert advice. And none of my clients have yet migrated to the new version, but when they do, I'll be ready for them.

As with CPD, keeping reasonably up to date with technology is essential for those in the trade of wordsmithery if we are not to lose work to others for lack of modernity. I'm quite sentimental in some ways and still have my original portable typewriter (an Olivetti hand-me-down from my late father!) stashed away because I can't bear to get rid of it. I taught myself to type on it when I was 16 (when I say type, I mean with one finger, like wot I still do). I bashed out all my earliest copy on it. I daresay it's still in good working order and just needs a professional clean. But I wouldn't dream of working on it now. For one thing, it doesn't have a modem jack. :)

Rumour has it one editorial colleague still works entirely on hard copy and manages without email or even a fax, and has acknowledged she has lost out on work but refuses to move with the times. It's a sweet story, if true (which I'm assured it is), but I just can't understand how anyone running a small business can survive without moving forward. They abolished slavery and banned sending children up chimneys - perhaps we should force wordsmiths to upgrade their software...

Join me on Facebook!

Your humble wordsmith has now joined Facebook (again, for any sharp-eyed regular readers).

If you'd like to link with me on there, you can find my profile here.

14 September 2007

More on 101 Reasons - health

Yesterday, I mentioned the 101 Reasons Freelancers do it Better list.

This morning, while I was pounding away red-faced on the treadmill at the gym (at 6.30am!) I was thinking that something important missing off that list is health. Actually, both physical and mental health have sections on that list but because the list is so relentlessly upbeat about why freelancing is so fantastic, it fails to mention any downsides at all.

Don't get me wrong, I love freelancing and have never regretted making the switch. But there is one very big negative to sitting at home in front of a PC all day. You don't get any exercise. And that is definitely A Bad Thing. In 1 year of sitting at the computer and making only the most feeble, half-hearted attempts to pop into the gym occasionally, I put on more kilos than I'm willing to admit. No, I haven't blobbed out like Michelle McManus. But I'm still 2 sizes bigger than I ought to be. Which is why I get up at 5.30 am these days and start working out an hour later.

It's really important to take care of yourself when you're self-employed as there's no company doctor to haul you in for the occasional check-up. There's no office stairs to climb instead of taking the lift or deciding to walk down the corridor to speak to someone instead of emailing or phoning. The opportunities for built-in exercise shrink drastically when you work at home.

I reached the point where I could barely do up my jeans, which is why I now haul my carcass off the mattress so early - I know I'll be too tired in the evening but the gym at 6.30am suits me fine. The pounds are gradually starting to shift.

It doesn't have to be the gym, but if you're thinking of working for yourself and it's going to be largely sedentary, I'd strongly advise you to think of how best to ensure you exercise and stay fit.

13 September 2007

Freelancing - how and why

Journalist Linda Jones, a freelance I greatly admire, has been writing a book on being a freelance writer. More to the point, the book is full of top tips on being a freelance writer in the most productive way possible. It's not out yet, but I hope to be at the launch on 4 October. In the meantime, place your orders through Linda's site because you won't regret it if you are a freelance writer, aspiring or experienced...

It's obviously a week for dispensing info on freelancing. An editing colleague of mine has been picking my brains on how to break into earning money from writing. It's not easy and you need to be persistent as well as know what you are doing.

I also had my attention drawn to this list of 101 Reasons Freelancers Do It Better, which has just been published. It's an interesting list and hard to disagree with most of the 101 reasons, although some seem to be duplicates (eg, reasons 7 and 42 are virtually identical, as are 55 and 56). Some of the reasons are questionable - take no. 44, for example. I do take issue with this. A lot of freelance work can be very boring even when you are freelancing in the profession you love. If you agree to edit a 600-page book on a subject you have no interest in, you will get bored very quickly, no matter how much of an enthusiastic pedant you are. I had just such a book recently (the MS From Hell), when it was really hard to sustain my interest, but to be fair, it was less due to the subject matter than the incompetence of my client that caused me to lose interest.

On the whole though, this list gives a pretty fair picture of the realities of what you'll be dealing with as a freelance (whatever your trade), even though it tends to portray everything as a positive, including what I call the shit jobs, such as doing the books - no one will ever convince me this is enjoyable!

If you're thinking of turning freelance, having a look at the 101 Reasons will give you a first grasp of what working for yourself entails. And if you're planning to write for money, buy Linda's book. It could be the best fiver you've ever spent.

12 September 2007


I knew the MS From Hell would repeat on me. It was too good to be true.

In the middle of the afternoon today, I got an email from the publisher. Or at least from the editorial assistant I first dealt with. The tone immediately got my back up. I was asked if I had, perchance, two illustrations that had gone missing and could I please check the original MS?

The underlying suggestion was that of course I must have them. The fact was, not only did I not have them and had never seen them, but I didn't have the original MS either. I'd been sent a photocopy (that I hadn't asked for in the first place as I only edit on-screen). No publisher EVER sends out an original MS. That's asking for trouble - if it gets lost, you have one very pissed-off author to deal with.

Nevertheless, I dutifully riffled through the pile of unrequested MS that is still cluttering up my office (point 2: if it was original, I'd have been asked to send it back when I finished the job 15 days ago), but of course there was no sign of the missing illustrations.

I mailed back and told them so. Politely. Even though I felt like saying something very rude indeed.

Two minutes later, back came the response: "Sorry about all that, we just found them."

Idiots. And they still haven't paid me.

On blogging

Having been chest-deep in articles on the Indian stock markets all week - editing, chasing, getting frustrated and coping with a 6-hour time difference - I've not had a lot of spare time.

What I've had has been spent reading the press, squeezing in the odd episode of EastEnders when on, and spending time with my beloved P. I was aware I hadn't blogged for nearly a week, but I couldn't think of much to write about. The whole world is talking about the McCanns and their missing daughter and while I have my views on this, the hack in me is disinclined to comment while events are still sub judice.

Then out of the blue I was commissioned to write an article on blogging. Incredibly, it's to be aimed at beginners, people who genuinely do not know what blogging is, yet these are people who, like me, are wordsmiths. I'm going to have my work cut out trying to give a comprehensive picture of the blogosphere in 1,200 words to a bunch of colleagues who really ought to know better. Or at least more.

Editors really ought to be very aware of many things - having a good general knowledge being the basis for any editing work, with specialist knowledge a bonus. Mind you, my readership for this same article will be the same crowd who can't see the point of Facebook and think Word 97 is a perfectly adequate word-processing platform (but then ask colleagues to resave a Word 2007 file for them in the 97 format).

The fact is, the technology is here to stay - Web 2.0 platforms are the future whether people like them or not, and if you're working with words you really have no choice but to get to grips with them at the very least.

Right, now I've got that off my chest, I'm off to ponder the whys and wherefores of blogging before I put it all into words.

07 September 2007

Back to the grindstone

Your humble wordsmith has been on a break, but I'm back now.

Last Saturday, I hopped on a couple of trains and took myself off to the sunny delights of Brighton, my birthplace. I spent a pleasant couple of days hanging out with assorted friends and relatives then shifted my base to the University of Sussex at Falmer, just out of town, so I could participate in the annual jamboree known as the SfEP conference.

Naturally, this involved a fair amount of socialising (aka hanging out in the bar until chucking-out time), but there was also work to be done. I spent two days sitting through various lectures and seminars - some useful and interesting, some not - as well as some workshops so I could update my skills with some practical CPD.*

The only disappointment was the lack of hot water for a shower on my first morning, followed by distinctly unhelpful conference centre staff when I complained. Oh, and the enormous difficulty getting on the internet so I could check my mails while away. I don't mind forking out money to attend (it's tax-deductible anyway) but I do object to not getting the facilities I'm paying for.

Back home, I've been up to my neck the last couple of days in a major editorial project. That's drawing to a close and I'm itching to start pitching again. I have some great ideas for features for the press.

* that's continuing professional development.