by Gill Pavey
Moving from a traditional publishing setting to the world of commerce may involve some flexibility
Proofreading and copy-editing have long been associated with traditional publishing where there have been demarcation lines between skills, with training and qualifications to match. However, in these days of the internet and international communications, ‘publishing’ is a much broader concept; overseas companies and other organisations where English is not the native language often need someone to produce a ‘perfect’ document for their English-speaking customers (and sometimes staff, especially when it comes to health and safety notices). Many freelancers are now casting their nets wider than traditional publishers to keep the work coming in, and the world of commerce is huge. However, many of these companies are demanding a different type of service – a hybrid of proofreading, editing and often more. Can you break away from the traditional skill definitions and get a foothold in this international market? How flexible should you be in your service delivery, and are you up to it?
What are these organisations looking for?
Companies can produce anything from annual reports to training and safety manuals, to advertisements, blogs and website material; universities may produce newsletters for students or web pages; non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could produce reports, blog posts and marketing material that need working on.
This may involve one person addressing proofreading, copy-editing and possibly formatting, coding captions and localisation as well as navigating an extensive or unconventional style guide to produce the final offering.
Almost anyone who has anything written in English, or has had something translated into English where this is not their native language, should benefit from a professional review process. For professionally translated material, you may think that a review is not necessary. In fact, many translation agencies not only have review teams to add an extra quality control layer, but they often need a little extra help, or routinely use freelancers for maximum flexibility.
It’s a big world out there, and many organisations use the English language for their internal and external material. Who are these companies going to use?
Redesigning your services
Most organisations outside the traditional publishing domain don’t understand the difference between a proofreader and a copy-editor (or any other kind of editor) and, frankly, they are not interested. And they certainly don’t want someone who, in their eyes, will only do part of a job. What they want is for you to give them a high-quality end product that meets their needs, so if you want to shift from traditional publishing to commerce, you will need to be adaptable. Everything is done online, so there is not a hard copy or red pen in sight; no traditional proofreading marks are ever used, because the route to publication is a different one with fewer stages, and a lot of the time, the typesetting stage just doesn’t exist. Nobody in commerce is likely to understand proofreading marks anyway, and they are used to working with a corrected document showing changes made. It may be time to redesign your services, if you want to capture a share in this market.
Going beyond MS Office
The vast majority of organisations around the world use MS Office – predominantly Word, in one version or another. However, a commercial organisation may well need you to review files in Excel, PowerPoint or PDF, so make sure you are up to speed on how to review files when there is no ‘tracked changes’ feature, or when it works in a different way. Sometimes there is more than one way to do it and you may need to consult the client over what they want to see as your output.
Certain business sectors may use specialist software as well as MS Office. If you become involved in translation bureaus long term, you can increase your usefulness (and workload) by going beyond the familiar MS Office programs and learning how to use CAT (computer aided translation) software for reviewing, such as Trados Studio1. Trados Studio works in a very similar way to Word as far as reviewing goes, but there are some differences. It may be worthwhile mastering this so you can work fully with CAT software as well as MS Office, and it will give you some useful continuous professional development!
Be honest in what you can offer
By all means extend your service into what may be considered a move away from traditional roles, and even throw in a few add-ins to produce a hybrid delivery, but don’t offer what you are not competent in. There are plenty of training courses around (make sure they are suitably accredited) and opportunities to expand your expertise. For something that is a profession in its own right, for example, indexing or copywriting, it would be extremely unwise to go anywhere near it unless you are appropriately qualified and experienced. A weekend course does not equip you to do this in the real world, any more than a weekend course on proofreading does – or plumbing, even – unless you did it years ago and this is a refresher. Even then, some substantial and recent experience may be necessary before you are able to offer this as a service. None of this will happen overnight. Commercial companies expect to deal with professionals, even if you are a single freelancer; don’t be afraid to say ‘sorry, I can’t do that part’ rather than blunder through, unless you can buddy up with someone you know can do it or recommend a colleague.
If you have relevant skills and experience, and are willing to be flexible over your role, there’s a big commercial world out there – plenty of opportunities to develop your business and enrich your experience on the way.
Gill Pavey started Wordhouse Writing Services in 2011, and in 2013 won the Small Business Sunday Award from Theo Paphitis. Her clients include nine European translation bureaus, a UK publisher, several universities and a social research institute that carries out studies for the European Parliament and various EU Commission agencies. Since January 2020 she has been offering a hybrid service using Trados Studio(1) in addition to MS Office programs. Gill is also a qualified copywriter and can incorporate copywriting into a project brief, particularly web copy with SEO.
(1) SDL Trados Studio, https://www.sdltrados.com/
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AFEPI Ireland.