Freelancer of the Month June 2013 – Paul Sensecall0
Hi, Paul! Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?
I copy-edit and proofread primarily STM (science, technical, medical) books, journals, posters, and reports for publishers and medical agencies in the UK and overseas. When I started out in publishing in the early 1990s, my work was all done on paper. When I went freelance in the mid-1990s, it was about 40% hard copy:60% on-screen. Now, in the 21st century, it’s about 1% hard copy:99% on-screen. My specific areas of expertise are food science, nutrition, and environmental issues, but I’m confident working in most subject areas of STM publication matter. I’ve also worked on quite a broad range of other subject matter from children’s novels to UN reports.
I pride myself on providing the human touch in my work while also utilizing the best modern tools available to maximize accuracy, efficiency, and, ultimately, high-quality output. For these reasons, several years ago, I invented and co-developed ReferenceChecker (www.goodcitations.com) to automate one of the most arduous and time-consuming tasks in on-screen copy-editing: that of checking references and citations in Word documents. I co-developed ReferenceChecker with a colleague, a professional linguist and computer programmer, over several months, to produce a highly efficient, time-saving, and affordable piece of software that anyone could use with minimal previous knowledge of using add-ins in Word. I have calculated that for the average full-time on-screen editor, ReferenceChecker will save up to 174 hours per year: a saving of almost 5 working weeks!
Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.
After graduating from Oxford-Brookes University in 1992, having cancelled the idea of being a dietitian, and having been keen to start earning, I found work as a full-time in-house science journal production editor for Pergamon Press in Oxford. My work there included many hands-on steps in the production process, from receipt and copy-editing of manuscripts for publication, to supplier liaison, issue compilation, artwork checks, and checks/approvals of the printed copy. Pergamon later became an imprint of Reed-Elsevier, and in 1996 I took the decision to become an independent freelance editor. Helpfully, my old employer was happy to send me work for a good couple of years, helping me to establish my services with other publishers. The business has gone from strength to strength as I’ve built up a steady list of clients and work projects. Occasionally, I’ve worked in-house for a publisher but realized how much more productive I can be from the home office.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
In no particular order: being in control of my work and general business operations; choosing the volume and type of work; always knowing I can take time out of the working day/year without needing to seek approval; having a flexible work pattern (albeit usually quite long hours); not having to commute.
What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?
The biggest downsides are not having the personal and social interactions that one normally has in an office. Also, knowing that the buck stops with me: I take full responsibility for my work and business operations. Finally, I am my own software/hardware support technician! If I have a software/hardware problem with any of the equipment in my office, it’s down to me to get it fixed. Thankfully, the information age helps greatly in solving technical problems.
How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?
The business website is the 21st-century “sign outside the shop”. I also have a directory entry in the Society for Editors & Proofreaders’ (SfEP) online members’ directory and several other relevant local/online directory listings and promotional websites (paid and free).
Have any particular developments occurred within your business sector that have affected the way you work or the way in which you are taking your business forward?
Less a development, more a retrograde step: some copy-editors and proofreaders from non-native English-speaking countries, who profess to provide professional English-editing services, are causing problems in the profession, in that not only are they taking work away from highly experienced native English-speaking in-house and freelance copy-editors, but also they are introducing poorly edited (sometimes plain erroneous) text into the public domain. Astonishingly, some highly reputed British publishers have chosen this route to cut costs, and in the case of medical text matter that provides unclear or incorrect information, the implications can be serious.
What is your most treasured work-related possession?
ReferenceChecker. Over the years, it has saved a huge amount of time … and my sanity.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with words?
Long walks, and visiting interesting and beautiful places.
What’s your favourite book?
Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”. It’s small size and simplicity belie its importance to anyone who wants to know how to use words effectively.
Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?
Consider very carefully your reasons for going freelance.
Get a good accountant.