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On-site or off-site? Part 2

Dictionary definition of editor: one who edits for publicationThis is the second of two posts about freelancers copy editing or proofreading for magazines during production. Earlier, I looked at working on-site. How does working off-site compare?

Freelancers working off-site: When I work at home, editors sometimes send me paper proofs by courier. I mark them up and ship them back in one batch, on the magazine’s dime.

More often, I receive PDFs by email, one or two stories at a time, or sometimes the whole issue. I read onscreen and make a list of changes in a Word document (a dual-monitor setup helps), then email comments for each article. Example: Col 1, para 4, line 2, delete comma. This approach isn’t as cumbersome as it looks, for me or the editor. It keeps things neat and clear, and there’s room to offer explanations and solutions.

Some clients want comments inserted into PDFs. I often do it, but it’s not my preferred method. When there are lots of things to ask about, the page becomes cluttered and the bubbles are difficult to work with. I also worry that the editor won’t see every remark, although I’ve heard this isn’t a problem with Adobe Acrobat Professional (a pricey upgrade from the free viewer).

Freelancers: Being at home enables you to work on other tasks between articles, but the magazine should be the priority — it likely has daily production deadlines to meet, and the editorial team is relying on you to be available, so take care not to overbook yourself. There are also plenty of distractions in a home office, including email, phone calls, social media, family members and pets. (Of course, that’s a standard part of the freelance life, no matter who your clients are.) My fellow introverts: I know you prefer the sanctuary of your home office, but visiting clients is an opportunity to deepen relationships; if you never do it, you’ll remain faceless to most of the staff.

Magazine editors: The freelancer is essentially on call for your publication; however, you won’t know where he or she is at any given moment, or have a constant sense of how the work is progressing. Also, an off-site freelancer won’t be attuned to the overall flow of production unless you communicate (“I need story X by end of day” or “Story A is lower priority than B – can you read A first?”). You’ll save some money because you’re not paying the freelancer when there’s nothing to read, but the savings might be offset by courier costs for paper proofs, and you’ll have to enter changes yourself unless your freelancer has InCopy (most don’t).

In many cases, a combo of on-site and off-site works well. I’ve worked on-site all week and gone home for the weekend with printouts to return on Monday, and I’ve worked on-site during the heaviest production days and off-site on slower days.

Regardless of the arrangement – editors, provide adequate time and direction (including a style guide) for freelancers to meet your needs. If your editorial team is behind on production, avoid placing the burden of catching up on freelancers’ shoulders. Many are willing to help by reading in the evenings and on weekends, but don’t assume they’re always available. Also, try to treat freelancers like part of the editorial team. You should always expect high-quality service, but it’s human nature for people to want to do a great job for clients they enjoy working with.


What are your pros and cons of freelancers working on-site and off-site? 

On-site or off-site? Part 1

Jar of writing utensilsIf you’re a magazine editor looking for a freelance copy editor or proofreader to help out during production, or you’re a freelancer hoping for magazine work, you might be wondering: “On-site or off-site?” I’ve found there are pros and cons for both workflow scenarios and both parties, and I’ll share them with you over the next couple of blog posts.

Freelancers working on-site: When I go into the office, editors give me full-colour, glossy layouts (variously called proofs, irises, boards or van dykes), which I mark up with a pen. The editor reviews the recommendations and makes changes onscreen while I start the next article. Sometimes, I read and enter changes onscreen. (This usually requires familiarity with the application InCopy, but picking up the basics is fairly easy.) If needed, I can pop over to editors’ desks to ask or answer questions, and we resolve problems together.

Magazine editors: The nice thing about bringing someone on-site is that you can discuss copy problems immediately and in person, and perhaps save yourself time by having him or her enter changes (or sit down with your designer, if that’s your process) – but first you need a workspace for your freelancer, preferably a quiet one. Having a freelancer on-site means you’ll have his or her services all to yourself; however, if pages are delayed for some reason, you’ll also pay for idle time. To ensure you have help when you need it, book your freelancer a few weeks or months in advance. Good ones are in high demand!

If you’re asking a freelancer to read copy before production – pre-layout, as Word documents – having him or her on-site probably isn’t necessary, as there is less urgency and the work is likely more spread out, time-wise. As long as you’re both comfortable using Word’s “track changes” feature, it’s a reliable, straightforward tool for providing detailed feedback from a distance.

Freelancers: You might find that you look forward to working on-site – I like how it offers variety to my routine, interaction with colleagues, and a chance to briefly feel like part of a magazine staff again. If you’re a real creature of habit, though, it could take some getting used to; you’ll be on someone else’s schedule, and you won’t have much control over your working environment (noise, distractions, interruptions). Other factors for freelancers to consider: travel time and expenses (not billable) and having to dig out your office attire!

For me, the main disadvantage is that I have to put other projects on hold or do them at night and on weekends. On a typical day at my home office, I’m shepherding multiple writing or editing projects to completion, and that’s not feasible when working on-site, even if there’s down time. Aside from replying to a few emails or making a quick call, it’s simply awkward to do one client’s work at another client’s office.

Is it challenging to juggle multiple projects? Sometimes, although I’m careful not to overbook myself. It would be nice to devote one to two weeks out of each month exclusively to a magazine, but I can’t afford to turn down all other projects, especially if the publication’s schedule is a moving target or the articles come to me in a sporadic fashion. Magazine copy editing offers steady work, but pay rates tend to top out at about $35 per hour plus HST. It’s not minimum wage, but it also hasn’t increased in the 10 years I’ve been copy editing – the only thing that’s gone up is the sales tax. Meanwhile, the cost of running a freelance business has crept upwards. I love magazines, but I have to limit the number of publications I copy edit for.

Having off-site freelancers has its pros and cons too — we’ll look at that next time!

Tech tools for easier editing

I spend way too much time flipping through reference books, so I’m glad that the most popular ones for Canadian editors have all gone digital. Throw in a desk setup that’s conducive to multitasking, and my workdays suddenly seem a little bit shorter.

Canadian Oxford Dictionary

The Canadian Oxford, 2nd ed., is the dictionary of choice for pretty much every publication I’ve worked with, and it’s the one I recommend to clients who haven’t picked one. It also weighs six pounds and is as bulky as a phone book (remember those?), which matters when you’re dragging it to clients’ offices for copy editing gigs. But guess what? There’s an iPhone app. It’s $29.99, but the portability and search function are worth it. The text is nice and crisp, and it can be enlarged – great for tired eyes – and you can tap words in definitions to find out their meaning.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online

Recently I discovered that my copy of Chicago, the 14th edition, came out in 1993 – making it a year older than Justin Bieber. It’s also a decade older than the 15th edition, which I skipped because I figured that grammar and punctuation couldn’t have changed very much. But Chicago has evolved with the times, and so should we. The 16th edition came out in 2010, and an editor I work with recommended the online version. In the past, I hesitated at the annual $30 US fee (a print copy is about $45), but here’s why I’ve signed up for the free 30-day trial and why I’m going to subscribe: I’ve never liked navigating the book, and the online manual’s fully searchable; I can use it anywhere via my iPhone; it’ll always be up to date; and users have access to the Q&A archives, a discussion forum and tools to personalize the guide. Attention, managing editors: Group subscriptions are available.

Canadian Press Stylebook

Rounding out the trinity, there’s an online version of this reference book too, for $4 per month, or $6.25 if you want access to Caps and Spelling. (Licences are available for multiple users.) The Stylebook is on its 16th edition (released in 2010), with expanded chapters on writing for and about the Internet, writing and editing for broadcast, and PR. I’ll probably pick up the print editions, though; I think they’re updated often enough (every two years), and they’re a more economical – though not searchable – option.

photo of dual-monitor workstation

An extra monitor, keyboard and mouse make me more productive...and so do mochaccinos.

Dual monitors

For my first three years as a full-time freelancer, I worked on my 13-inch laptop, chosen for its portable size – I took it to coffee shops for a change of scenery. When my IT guy (my husband) suggested I get a 20-inch monitor, keyboard and mouse and use them together with my laptop, I refused, saying, “I don’t need them!” He convinced me to try it, and now I’d rather stay at my desk than go to Starbucks. The screens are oriented to behave like one monitor – I can drag my mouse across both in one swipe – and the extra space saves time and boosts productivity. It’s just so convenient, for example, to have a PDF or webpage open on one screen while I type notes into a Word document on the other…plus the setup makes me feel like an operator in The Matrix. (The laptop is nicely angled thanks to a stand.) Now I’ve got a bad case of size envy: Last week, another editor told me she has a 15-inch laptop next to a 26-inch monitor.

What online resources, apps and tech tools are making your editing life easier?