That was the year that …

What would an editor write in a seasonal round robin? Here’s what.

[Warning: be prepared for Stilton-strength cheesy bits and a light sprinkling of links to my favourite things.]

Season's greetings banner




Dear Clients and Colleagues

I hope you are all well and prospering. It has been good to escape from my little office to see some of you this year, especially some new faces (you know who you are) and a few I haven’t worked with for a while. And I should give a special Christmas wave to a few of my SfEP colleagues who I have worked with/for in 2013.

All traditional round robins give the low-down of the year’s highlights, so let’s have a rummage in the big bag of events and see what we can find.

Sack of stats

Cor, hasn’t 2013 flown by? I knew it had been a busy year, but it was only when I totted up the total of all the jobs that I realised how busy. No wonder I have had to buy some new spectacles. (Did you see my profile photo on LinkedIn?) They’re Scandinavian, so hopefully will improve my editorial detective skills as well as help me read the writing on tins and packets, which seems to get smaller every year, don’t you think? My list of jobs completed reads like the freelance’s equivalent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This year I have:

  • copy-edited – 10 science reports averaging twenty thousand words (20kw)* each, for an international body; 2 technical books for construction industry professionals (60kw and 100kw); 2x 3kw email newsletters; and umpteen web pages for my oldest client
  • proofread – 400 pages of brochures (construction products); and 1 second edition of a book I had edited three years ago (mostly on PDF)
  • project managed – 1 high-quality magazine for student members of a professional body
  • written – 11 monthly Get Sust articles and many more short blog items for NBS; 16x 0.75kw press releases for an academic journal publisher; 1x 2kw seminar report; 3 information papers based on PhD/MSc studies; 1x 4kw guide to business improvement based on a membership survey and case studies/interviews; and 1x 6kw guide for publishing professionals (see below)
  • trained – 1 batch of budding copy-editors for the PTC.

That mixed diet pretty much covers an editorial freelance’s ‘five-a-day’. But statistics are meaningless without context, so here are some of my memorable moments.

* the non-SI unit of ‘editing’ (not to be confused with kW, which is what we burn up agonising over the dots and commas).

Feedback and features

Just last week I received a card from an author; not a Christmas card but a thank you note:

“I was delighted with the transformation you effected
to the raw text.”

A few weeks before that another author gave me a very kind mention in the front of his book. I was delighted with both. They really did make my day, because it’s not very often that I receive detailed feedback.

I’m not saying people aren’t polite. Of course, there are countless emails “just got that, thanks, great, and the next thing is…” and comments and edits to pieces I’ve written: “could you add a bit about X; cut that para. on Y”. Not to mention the repeat business, which is very welcome!

But it is rare to get heavy-duty feedback – the kind that in-house staff may receive through ad hoc training or even water-cooler chat with colleagues (“I can’t believe you wrote that tosh!”). So in June I did what all professional freelances must do from time to time: took myself off for some CPD.

The course I chose was excellent. Run by London College of Media and Journalism (LCMJ), Advanced Feature Writing lived up to my expectations. I was really lucky to get one-to-one coaching from the tutor, and loads of feedback on my recent articles. Great lunch too! Key points:

  • Don’t be scared to interview people.
  • Plan, plan and plan some more (saves time, and therefore money; reduces grey-hair-inducing deadline angst too).
  • Write shorter sentences. [Enough said.]

I’ve put the lessons into action over recent months and I feel better about my output. The next trick will be to keep that going for 2014. So please do send feedback if you spot me drifting back to old habits.

Proudest moments

Professionally: the publication of the SfEP guide Pricing a Project. I now have an ISBN with my name on it!

The society commissioned me to write the guide last year, with a view to publishing in time for this year’s Conference. We made it … just. Thanks again to the colleagues who read, commented and edited this short booklet. And thanks to all those members (and non-members too, I hope) who have bought copies. It’s doubly pleasing that the first print run sold out so quickly.

I’ve had a few emails and Facebook messages from people who have found it helpful, which is even better news.

Personally: not messing up too seriously in my teacher’s annual pupils’ piano concert; watching my son take a few little roles in his school’s production of Macbeth. Next stop, the National, Adam?

On the road

I do venture out from my editing cave sometimes. This year I’ve been to:

  • Leeds (to see a client) and Sheffield (to see my family)
  • London, Watford, Banbury and Reading (work, pleasure and shopping – not necessarily in that order)
  • Barcelona (busman’s holiday touring architectural treasures that inspired an article).

But the travelling year isn’t quite over yet.

Top tip: please do go to Warner Bros. Studios near Watford if you ever get the chance. I’m no Harry Potter fan, but I was hugely impressed by the skill and craftsmanship of the crew behind the films. The architectural models are amazing. And I’m totally in awe of the planning that underpins such a massive production. It makes producing a book look like a doddle.

Reading matters

Yes, it does. I read a great deal for work, of course, but try to squeeze in non-work reading where ever I can. Editors, like writers, have a tendency to absorb the style of the material they are currently reading, so it is important to read ‘good’ and well-edited material when not at work to counteract the potential impact of work-based reading.

And there are always lessons to be learned, even while reading for pleasure. I’m a regular (and typical) Guardian reader, so use that to practise my proofreading skills (!). I enjoy and try to emulate New Scientist’s writing style. This year, I’ve digested a lot of new words from Mark Forsyth’s The Horologicon; refreshed my to-the-point email style with a dose of Muriel Spark; and learned several valuable lessons on editing (including when not to) from Morrissey.

In cyberspace

I try not to spend too much time on Twitter (see my post on social media policies) but it is a bit addictive. This year I had fun tweeting to some of my favourite writers and broadcasters (Ian McMillan, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan and Tim Harford) and tried to do my bit to promote SfEP and sustainable construction (using my @Get_Sust handle).

But what happens in Facebook, stays in Facebook.


Oh yes, I’ve had a few. But not too few to mention.

Biggest regret: turning down a juicy project from a good client because someone else had already booked me. That really was a shame, and I hope they will (both) come back again – but not at the same time.

Little regrets: that I accidentally added an ‘e’ to someone’s name; that I tried too hard to keep dry on the log flume at Thorpe Park so mean boys fired water pistols at me; that I have eaten too much chocolate and skipped too many Jazzercise classes … I could certainly go on.


That’s about it for 2013, so I’ll sign off now. Just to add, I wish you all Season’s Greetings and all the best for 2014, and hope to see you there.

Have a Festive moment on me (courtesy of

Best wishes