Luke Finley

Luke Finley

Luke Finley

Advanced Professional Member

Why did you choose an editorial career, and how did you get into it?

I'd done a bit of editing years ago, working for book publishers soon after I left university. Since then I'd had a career in community development and social policy work, latterly in local government. As 'austerity' began to bite I decided I needed to jump before there was nothing left to jump off. Luckily I was only part-time, so I was able to plan a gradual transition rather than leaping into it all at once. My first move was to approach a number of contacts in charities and offer to do some work for them for free.

What training have you done to get your editorial career up and running?

I started with SfEP's Proofreading 1 and Copy-Editing 1, mainly to confirm to myself that I was suited to this work. Then I did On-screen Editing 1, and the PTC's three-day Copy-Editing Skills course.

I also did a free evening course for new business start-ups, delivered by PNE Enterprise in Newcastle upon Tyne, which was invaluable in helping me plan and set up the business. (If you're just starting out and don't have a background of self-employment, it's really worth checking with your local council for similar support in your area.)

What work are you most proud of?

My area of expertise in my previous career was community cohesion and conflict resolution, and there were a number of research organisations – so-called think tanks – whose work I particularly drew on. So I'm very pleased to now have repeat editorial business from two of these same organisations, with a couple more lined up for possible future work.

What do you do if you're struggling on a job?

Depends why I'm struggling! I'm not shy about going back to clients for clarification. I've found the SfEP forums a great place to get advice. For head-clearing, a run or a walk at the nearby north-east coast is more useful. Another option is loudly cursing writers who can't use the semi-colon properly or a referencing system consistently, but that tends to send the dog scurrying for cover.

What does being a member of the SfEP mean to you?

Joining the SfEP was one of the first things I did, about a year before I went full-time. I've mentioned the training and the forums already, and I'm really glad I went to the conference this year. I'm quite a recluse and happy working alone, but I only recently left an organisation with 7,000 employees, so I also know the value of being part of a network (community, even?) of people with similar concerns. And this time they don't think I'm weird for caring about semi-colons.

Which editorial tasks do you enjoy the most and why?

Getting stuck into a substantive edit, where your input is critical to transform a text into something readable, is sometimes daunting, but satisfying. I'm very happy when an author agrees that any edit of mine is clearer (I've had 'more elegant' a few times) than their original.

Do you have any editorial pet hates?

Working in policy and strategy in the public sector, I inevitably got a bee in my bonnet about plain English. I don't like people using 'big words' just to try to impress, to obscure meaning, or to lord it over supposedly less clever folk. I'm convinced that's usually a cover for the writer's own insecurity about their abilities, not a demonstration of superior intellect. Something else that winds me up is how much more time you have to spend making sure your emails and even Tweets are word-perfect – we may be the only group of professionals of whom this is expected!

What has most surprised you about your editorial career?

The huge range of subject matter I've worked on already. I started out expecting to target the particular areas of social science and public policy that I know best. The core of my work is in areas where I can claim to have some subject knowledge, but overall it's ended up being much broader than that – anything from the US ethnic restaurant trade to gender identity in Scandinavia, radical theatre to forensic psychology.

What's the best career advice you've received?

I followed the advice I got from friends who are editors, SfEP forum contributors, and Louise Harnby's excellent book, Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers, to identify specialisms based on my experience, knowledge and interests. That really helped me to focus and decide where to target my marketing.

What advice do you have for people starting out on an editorial career?

Don't worry too much about doom-laden predictions for the future of publishing. It does take a while to identify better-paid work and repeat clients, but it seems there's plenty of work out there, much of it not in publishing per se. Also, I've found that despite all the talk about social-media marketing these days, the traditional CV-and-covering-letter (ok, email) approach has been as effective as anything else.

Do you ever stop editing?

I think I'm quite relaxed about spelling or punctuation errors in everyday life. I try to take a 'what would David Crystal say?' attitude: wry, academic observation of a phenomenon is better than righteous condemnation of greengrocers, I think. Reading something more substantial that's badly written in terms of content or structure is more annoying.

Finally, tell us one thing about you not related to editing

I was once nearly taken out (and I don't mean on a date) by Tony Blair's security team. I was at Holocaust Memorial event where he was the keynote speaker and it wasn't long after the Iraq war, so they were already nervous about protests and attacks. I got up to change seats just as Blair was ascending to the stage, and several large men reached inside their dark suit jackets…

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