Blog

Featured

Writing a children’s book?

Writing a children's book

Are you writing a children’s book? Are you an independent author who hopes to self-publish? Not sure how to go about it? I receive many proofreading requests from first-time authors seeking help. 

Most of the requests that I receive are from indie authors who have found my website and are seeking help to get their children’s book ready for self-publishing. The most common phrase is: I’ve written a children’s story. I am new to all this. What do I do next?”

I thought it would be helpful if I put all the information that I give to clients in one place, in this blog post.

Indeed, some of this advice will answer questions asked by any indie authors, regardless of the audience age. So read on if you write any kind of fiction or are an editor for indie authors.

Proofread or proof-edit?

When you ask for help are you asking for a proofread or a proof-edit of your book? They are slightly different and I explain the difference  in my services here.

If you’re not really sure what kind of help you want, that’s fine. 

Children’s books

I will ask you what age group you are aiming at, and the kind of story you’ve written.

Generally, there are a lot of ways to categorise books. But all published children’s books have to be given BIC marketing categories, which have specified age groups based on interest level (not reading level), so publishers will categorise their books into age bands.

Age bands

0-5 years
5-7 years
7-9 years
9-11 years
12+ years

Children’s fiction and non-fiction will be split into those age groups. Although most non-fiction is for the 5-7, 7-9 and 9-11 ages.

The 0-5 age group can be broken down into 0-2 and 3-5 to specify board books or picture books.

The terminology used for each type of book

Board books 0-2
Picture books 3-5
Early Readers 5-7
Young Fiction 7-9 
Middle Grade 9-12
Teen 12-15
YA 16+

Genres (types) of children’s books

  • Fiction, eg fantasy, horror (eg Goosebumps series), personal and social issues (by authors like Jacqueline Wilson)
  • Non-fiction: hobbies and interests, reference (for topic research, eg volcanoes).

Bookshops for ideas

Visit any bookshop and flick through a variety of children’s books. Choose a selection of ages and genres. This will help if you are unsure of how to pitch the vocabulary in your book.

Looking at a selection will give you examples of how the writing and illustrations are presented.

Illustrations? 

children's book

Have you written a book for younger children? You will need illustrations. Most new clients send me a Word document with the text. It would be useful to know how you visualise your story.

Have you chosen an illustrator? Have you thought about your cover? If you have no idea how to go about choosing an artist, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) has a directory (see below). From there you can choose a Partner Member who offers a service, eg illustration, book designer, etc.

Perhaps you are going to illustrate your story yourself? Marvellous! See the Home page of my website for the latest book by an artistic author I worked with recently. 

Blurb?

Have you written a blurb for your story? A blurb is a synopsis found on the back cover which summarises the story … without giving away the end.

How I can help you

I proofread children’s books using my decades of knowledge teaching reading in the primary classroom.

Showing the children how to value books and enjoy well-written stories, I modelled how they could improve their writing by discussing how the stories were written.

I continue to share reading time with my tutees as part of our tuition lessons. See the blog post I have written about how I teach English.

What next?

If you are a children’s author, see my Rates page for the packages I provide.

I have supported several independent children’s authors to self-publication. They’ve told me they’ve seen my Partner Member profile in the directory of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

ALLi writing a book

As mentioned earlier ALLi has a range of helpful resources and guidebooks to support indie authors  in the self-publishing process from editing to designing to publication. 

You want to be proud of the book you’ve written. You need it to be the best it can be. Your editor or proofreader will polish your book or know who to recommend.

Good luck!

signature

 

 

 

Source acknowledgement (children’s book age bands and categories): Lisa Davis, Children’s Book Editor and Publishing Consultant. Fellow CIEP member.

Recommended resource: ‘Pen to Published Podcast’ by Alexa Whitten (independent book publisher) and Alexa Tewkesbury (author, editor and proofreader).

More website features you should check (Part 2)

more website features to check

Since I wrote ‘6 Website features you should check’ to help you make sure your business website is up to date and relevant, I have added to that list.

Tall Tartan Talks here … Whether you are a new or established freelance business owner, it is important to show prospective clients or fellow colleagues that you take your professionalism seriously.

Nowadays that means having a website. Your website should reflect your services, specialisms and strengths.  

Features in Part 1

In case you missed it, this is the list of features I explained in Part 1:

  1. Contact email address
  2. Contact form
  3. Spelling, punctuation and grammar
  4. Copyright date in the footer
  5. ‘I’ rather than ‘we’
  6. A photo of you, the business owner.

New learning

Following recent learning, keen to make my website as efficient as possible before starting a marketing campaign to attract new clients, I commissioned a fellow freelancer (a WordPress expert) to do a review. An MOT, if you like. I am grateful for the many tips she recommended.

More features

So, in addition to the above list, I recommend these features:

  1. SSL certificate
  2. New tab settings
  3. Broken links
  4. Error 404 message

Go on, look again … Open up a new tab and work through my list.

How to fix

1.     SSL certificate

You are researching a topic and click on a website link. It opens. You notice that the padlock on the top left of the website URL (address) is missing. It appears with the message ‘Not secure’.

Some URLs start with http:// while others start with https. Maybe you noticed that extra ‘s’ when you were browsing websites that require giving sensitive information, like paying bills. But where does that extra ‘s’ come from and what does it mean? If your website is missing that extra ‘s’, it could put off potential clients.

SSL means Secure Sockets Layer. This means protocol for web browsers and servers that allows for the authentication, encryption and decryption of data sent over the internet.

Previously, your website host charged to install it. Now it is very easy to get a SSL certificate from your website host for no charge. It is offered as a free feature to activate. Have a look at yours.

2. New tab settings

Adding content to your web pages might include a linking to another page of your website, eg Contact page with a hyperlink, or even a link to another website you are recommending.

Remember to go into your settings and tick the ‘Open new tab’ option. Activating this will open that link without losing the web page they were on and having to deploy the Back button.

It’s a worse user experience if you end up somewhere completely different from where you were expecting. You want users to stay on your website. The default setting on websites should be to automatically open a new tab, but they aren’t always.

To stop unexpected openings happening to me when I am browsing, I right-click on the link to open the menu. Click on the top option ‘Open new tab’ in case it hasn’t been activated on the website. Ta-dah!

3. Broken links 

If a visitor to your website receives an Error 404, there is an error loading that page, or a page link is broken. A quick and easy way to check that you’ve minimised this problem is to check that the links in your website work. Just google ‘broken links’ – you’ll find a selection of website tools to choose from.

When I checked I found many broken links. Aaargh! It seems I had tweaked and moved my pages around my website muchly over the last couple of years; I hadn’t checked that links still worked. They do now!

4. Personalise 404 page

Have you tried personalising your Error 404 plug-in? Thanks to another freelancing colleague for that tip. If you feel creative you could take your branding all the way through to the pages that break. 

You hope that visitors to your website won’t ever see the Error 404 message, but if they do, they will still see you, your personality and your message, with a link that you’ve placed there redirecting them back to your homepage.

Interested in branding? Read my blog post on my branding process.

Up to date now?

To repeat my message from Part 1 of ‘Website features you should check’, maintaining your website will show clients and colleagues that you are a trustworthy professional.

If you need help with your website, please ask. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can.

Remember, your website is your shop window.  Is it honest? Does it work efficiently? Does it represent you and your business?

website features to check

Here is the link to the posts on my Blog page to read more. Use the Subscribe button so you don’t miss my blogging about running a business, education, proofreading and editing.

signature

CIEP2021 Conference

ciep conference

The recent annual online CIEP conference of 2021, organised by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, was a great success.

As in 2020 the conference was online again rather than at a venue in real life. This is an advantage for our international members and for those with access issues.

I have been a member of the CIEP for five years. This is the fifth conference I have attended.

There were some delicious highlights which I describe in this blog post.

Headline speakers

The two headline speakers I was most excited about were:

  1. Ian McMillan of The Verb fame on Radio 3. He is an English poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster. Known for his strong and distinctive Yorkshire accent, he has a friendly interview style. He spoke about ‘My unedited and unproofread life’, things he has spotted while touring village halls, and, what he thinks about signs on doors …
  2. Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. He is copy chief at Random House in New York. A great conversation led by Denise Cowle highlighted his experience and wisdom. And that he can laugh at himself and with others.

Session highlights

I’m a freelance non-fiction proofreader, so conference session highlights for me were:

  • Crystal Shelley’s ‘Authenticity reading: Helping writers craft accurate and respectful representation’; also ‘Conscious and inclusive editing: understanding conscious language and the editorial role’

I was aware of authenticity reading, and conscious and inclusive editing from what other editors have shared online. But when Crystal gave concrete examples in her webinars of what is not acceptable in writing because of issues of sensitivity, I could understand how both fiction and non-fiction writers should show more conscious and inclusive language.

  • John Espirian’s ‘How to be a LinkedIn leader’

I have heard John speak about how to use LinkedIn effectively every year for the past 5 years at various conferences. I knew him as the internet director at the CIEP. Because I prefer LinkedIn as a social media channel, I lap up any advice he gives about how to take full advantage of it. I always learn something new. His book Content DNA is on my bookshelf along with other reference and business books.

  • Jill French’s ‘Using Word styles’

I have recently completed the CIEP course ‘Word for Practical Editing’. Jill presents the screencasts on the course. Her session on Word styles was a good reminder of tips I had retained, and skills that are still new and that I need to practice.

  • Suzanne Collier’s ‘Don’t get left behind: Career development for freelancers’

Suzanne shared excellent advice and resources about how to stay current in the world of publishers and publishing .

Lightning talks

The Lightning talks were great, as always. These are short presentations ( 5 minutes), on any subject, by any member, which are a pleasure to watch, sometimes humorous, and something new is learnt. Always.

Networking

I attended the Speed networking on Sunday evening. This comprised of 15 minutes in Zoom breakout rooms, changing every 15 minutes, for two hours! My experience of attending the weekly Cloud Club West meant that  I could keep my introduction to the required 10 seconds. What a buzz!

This year, the attraction of themed networking in breakout rooms was very tempting. I wondered if I would meet edibuddies who had interests in the same field – educational publishing and marketing your business being two examples.

Quiz

The quiz is always fun and very competitive. The Zoom breakout rooms were invaluable for the quiz teams on Monday evening. I’m not hugely knowledgeable on anything, rather more a ‘jill of all trades’. The most amusing part for me was when members started changing their screen names from their official names to those reflecting quiz questions, or sessions held that day.

Wonder

For the café/bar experience there was the Wonder room. Wonder is an app which replicates real life, where you can meet other delegates and move around freely.

Conversations are activated by bumping your avatar into someone. Video and audio are then opened.

Sessions in Wonder were particularly effective after a webinar had taken place. Then they could be discussed with the speaker. Or a member would tweet on Twitter that they were in Wonder, if anyone was free to join them?

wonder room

Thank you

The chair of CIEP, Hugh Jackson, opened and closed conference with touching and heartfelt words. He spoke about the effects of Covid, our community and collaboration, and what comes next …

A grateful thank you to the #CIEP2021 conference team for another successful event of learning, networking and fun.

To read my blog posts about previous conferences (when the institute was the Society for Editors and Proofreaders) see these links:

SfEP2019 and Why SfEP Conference is Cool in which I write about SfEP2018.

The future

Hopefully I’ll see my fellow edibuddies at the next conference in my birth city of Glasgow for #CIEP2022.

If real life isn’t possible, I’ll be just as pleased to see you all online.

signature

Summer of Study

summer of study

What do you do when you have very little freelance work? What do you do when emails stop pinging into your inbox enquiring if you are available for a project?

Tall Tartan Talks here … In this blog post I am going to describe the strategies I have used to cope with freelance famine.

Strategies for surviving freelance famine

  1. Use a cushion of savings to pay bills.
  2. Have some rest and time off without feeling guilty.
  3. Do those chores/hobbies/interests you don’t usually have time for.
  4. Investigate resources.
  5. Study CPD.
  6. Book a holiday. That’ll get the work emails coming in!

In a recent period of work famine, I completed the Word for Practical Editing course run by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and went on a Solo Business Retreat.

My edibuddies are good at scheduling their work projects so that they are booked evenly over time. This ensures that the time requirements of the clients and freelancer are met. Some freelancers are booked up weeks, or even months, ahead. But sometimes a yawning gap appears. And remains empty.

Many of my edibuddies have used their spare time to do courses to reinforce their skills. The CIEP gives training points on completion of courses. These points can be used towards upgrade. Members get a discount towards those courses. As training keeps your skills current and boosts your reputation as a trusted freelancer, it’s a no-brainer.

I had a course on my mind to do. As soon as I had a couple of free weeks, I dipped into my CPD fund.

Word for Practical Editing

Many of us use Microsoft Word without really delving into all its features.

I already knew about some shortcuts, e.g. Ctrl+X (cut); Ctrl+C (copy); Ctrl+V (paste); and Ctrl+Z (undo). I learnt more shorcuts: Ctrl+A (select all); Ctrl+S (Save). Learning them become more automatic in my muscle memory.

pointing

Microsoft Word is the industry standard in editing and proofreading. In the CIEP course on using Word, I studied how to show the different markup systems in Track Changes; and the importance of communicating to a client which markup they should view for ease of seeing changes.

Styles in Word

The most useful part of the course for me was learning about Styles and applying shortcuts to them. This meant that with a combination of keystrokes I can change a heading to the correct style and ensure consistency.

In short, I learnt how to:

  • Find which styles were already applied to a document.
  • Apply styles to a new document, and modify for clients by personalising their style sheet.

Solo Business Retreat

During this time of work famine, I wanted to take the opportunity to spend some time at the seaside. My children are grown-up and busy. So I was able to escape and book a self-catering apartment in Hunstanton (Norfolk),  a 2-hour drive from where I live in Essex.

Day 1: Enjoy the journey and relax. Take in the atmosphere at the coast. I took one book to read for pleasure; and one book about how to survive as a freelance business owner.

Day 2: I worked on the long-term content marketing plan I bought from Jammy Digital. They help business owners with websites and SEO. My first step was to transfer all the record-keeping for blog posts written already, over the last three years, on to their better, more coherent system.

My evening meal was fish and chips on the beach. When everyone had gone home, I went for a stroll on the sand. The tide was far out. The light was special. Hunstanton faces west, which is unusual in East Anglia. The sunsets didn’t disappoint.

Day 3: I studied the advice from Jammy Digital about how to have an effective content marketing plan. This time I looked ahead and planned six months’ worth of blog posts. I wrote key points for each one.

For those who haven’t read my blog posts before, I write about proofreading, education and learning (as a former teacher), and owning a freelancing business. Find them on my blog page.

In my posts I give answers to the questions my clients ask. Lately, those clients are self-publishing children’s authors, businesses or students. More and more, I tweak my website pages to give extra details to those prospective clients.

This means that I have ready-made answers available when a repeated enquiry is made. Why not turn these FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) into blog posts, I ask myself? Repurposing content was added to The Plan.

Day 4: Time to leave. To allow for Covid-safe cleaning, the instructions were to leave the apartment by 9am. Rather than go straight home, I booked a visit to nearby Sandringham House and Garden for the day.

It was refreshing to relax away from a screen. I chatted to other visitors and wandered at my own pace.

Rejuvenated

My retreat was valuable because it made me focus on one aspect of my business (marketing) that I hadn’t had time to prioritise for at least six months. I felt guilty. It’s hard when you are the sole owner of a business to keep all the plates spinning.

Most freelancers, whether you are an editor or tutor like me, will make a choice at a time of freelance famine. They will either advertise their availability, or enjoy the rest and find something to occupy their time.

I recommend taking time out to reflect, re-evaluate and refresh.

Resource

The idea for the retreat came from the podcast Host a Solo Business Retreat by Melanie Padgett Powers who is Deliberate Freelancer based in Washington, DC. Also her  Tips from my First Business Retreat of 2020. Twitter: @MelEdits.

Hunstanton cliffs

The stripy Hunstanton cliffs, West Norfolk.

 

signature

6 Website features you should check

 

website features to check

Have you started your freelance business? Do you have a website? Are you concerned that you don’t have much yet to put on a website?

You may feel terrified at the thought of building a website.

Or … have you owned a website for AGES? Have things changed in your business? Perhaps your website needs refreshing.

Tall Tartan Talks here … Whether you are a new or established freelancer, it is vital to give prospective clients who come across your website the impression that your features are correct and up to date.

Fear not. I have made a list of website features that you should check; that won’t take a moment for you to fix.

Go on, have a look … Open up a new tab, find the admin section of your website, and work through my list.

Website features to check

  1. Contact email address
  2. Contact form
  3. Spelling, punctuation and grammar
  4. Correct copyright date in the footer
  5. ‘I’ rather than ‘we’
  6. A photo of you, the business owner.

How to fix

1. Contact email address

If you have a website, it appears more professional if your email address is linked to your domain name. For example, my website is proofnow.co.uk. My business email is [email protected].

Make sure the spelling of your email address is correct on your website. An error means potential clients can’t reach you. Or fellow colleagues. They will give up and try someone else.

It is personal choice if you display your phone number or not. Some freelancers like their customers to book a call, so their number may be linked to a Call To Action (CTA) button.

Being contacted by WhatsApp is the worst, in my opinion. I keep that app for friends and family. Others don’t want to be disturbed by phone, but would rather be contacted by email. Whatever your preferred form of communication, make sure it is apparent and correct on your website.

2. Contact form

A contact form on your website is effective for reducing spam. But ensure it is connected to your email address and messages can get through. It is frustrating for potential clients to send a message for it to be lost in the ether. Check your contact form works by emailing yourself or asking a friend to test it.

3. Spelling, punctuation and grammar

This may seem obvious, but check the spelling, punctuation and grammar. Proofreading the content is vital, especially if you are providing your services as an … editor or proofreader.

It is difficult to proofread your own writing because you see what you think is there, not what is actually there. You may have redrafted a phrase and the sense has gone? Yep! Again, ask a friend to check the content for you.

4. Correct copyright date in the footer

Have you ever scrolled ALL the way down to the bottom of a website page you are browsing? There is usually a date at the bottom – the copyright date. It should show the current year.

You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how many websites look out of date because the footer hasn’t been updated. Even well-known and established brands have overlooked small details like this.

If the date is wrong, how can we trust other content on the website to be correct?

5. ‘I’ rather than ‘we’

This is a style feature. If you are a sole trader, you own your freelance business. It’s just you, not a team. Do you use ‘I’ or ‘we’?

‘I’ is more personal and gives the impression that you are talking directly to me. I can get a sense of you and your business from your website. ‘We’ gives the impression that you are part of a team providing the service.

Be honest with your content. If you use ‘we’, who else are you talking about? What are the names of the people in your team and where are their photos? That brings me on to the next heading.

6. A photo of the website owner

I am aware that not everyone likes to see themselves in a photograph. But a photo of the freelancer brings a personal touch to their website. I can see a face to put to the name of the business.

It’s not hard to upload a selfie. If it is an up-to-date photo, even better. If you can afford to get a professional headshot taken by someone who can show your personality … fantastic!

Some freelancers use a logo instead. It’s a personal choice. Whatever image you use, make sure it is the same on your website as in any networking groups and social media channels you use.  If you use a photo, we’ll recognise you quicker. You will become a familiar face. And we’ll remember you.

Keep your website fresh

If these features are in place and appear current, the potential clients looking at your website will know that they can trust you. You will give a good impression. The client may even be convinced to ask for your services.

There are other features I haven’t mentioned, but those mentioned here are a start and will point you in the right direction.

Websites are never finished. Don’t think that once it is built, that’s all you need to do. You need to tweak it monthly, at least.

If you add new content, for example, a fresh testimonial, it will keep your website up to date and fresh.

Why your website is important

If you keep these six points in mind, your website will help you come across as a trustworthy and confident professional.

Remember, your website is your shop window.

You may just prefer to rely on a profile on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook to help you persuade clients to book your services. But you own your website. It belongs to you and isn’t at the whim of the social media algorithms.

Your website needs to work for you and represent who you are. Be proud of it!

laptop website

Now updated with: More website features you should check (Part 2)

Here is the link to the posts on my Blog page to read more. Use the Subscribe button so you don’t miss my blogging about running a business, education, proofreading and editing.

signature

 

One Day in My Life as a Proofreader

one day in my life

We all need a routine and a structure.  Here I describe one day in my life as a proofreader, editor and primary tutor.

Having a business mindset will help you with your daily routine or structure of the day.

Tall Tartan Talks here … Think of yourself as a business owner rather than ‘just’ a freelancer. Knowing your value and worth will help.

Morning

In winter, my routine starts at 7am; in summer it starts at 6am. I used to be an owl, but as I hit middle age I turned into a lark with my day starting earlier and earlier.

It also depends when my husband gets up. He often works for gardening clients and leaves the house early.

He sits at the dining table eating breakfast and reading a book. I mix a mug of hot water and lemon juice, sit at the other end of the table (the end that is my ‘office’), switch on my laptop, and start drafting emails.

Emails

I find that early morning routine is the best time for me to respond to emails. Mostly I wake up thinking about phrasing a reply to a received email. Or, I have had a brainwave about who to contact for a possible proofreading job.

I leave the emails in my draft folder, making a note to send them at 9am – the start of official business hours when sensible folk begin their day.

I say sensible … Freelancers are as varied as the routines and schedules they follow. Flexibility is key as deadlines can determine the hours worked.

Tasks

At this time of the day I may also get on with one of these tasks:

  • work on a proofreading or editing project
  • research facts for a proofreading project or blog post
  • complete a stage of a CPD training course
  • prepare a primary tuition lesson.

9:00am: When Tom has cycled off to work, I have usually done two sets of the Pomodoro timing technique. I have completed a couple of hours of work or admin. I realise that I really should eat some breakfast. A break and a change of view is needed.

I take my Android tablet through to the living room, to a soft chair, where I can sit at the window and look out into the main street. I peruse the comings and goings outside my house, as well as those onscreen in the online newspaper reviews.

9:30am: My sons (both in their 20s) have gone about their business. They are old enough to be independent, thank goodness. I get on with the next part of the morning routine.

structure of day

 

10:30am: Oldest son switches on the coffee machine for elevenses. By now, I have usually logged on to the CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) forums to view discussions. Since I joined the CIEP in 2017, the forums have become my online staffroom.

Social media

After coffee, I check social media and may post some content marketing, especially on Linkedin, whether that be freelancer business tips or a blog post.

If you don’t already, search for and follow my hashtags on Linkedin and Twitter: #TallTartanTips and #TallTartanTalks (previously called #TallTartanTells). Then you won’t miss any of my tips.

Getting on with the day

For the next two hours, my routine continues. I may answer an email proofreading enquiry. The reply conversation goes like this:

  1. Receive an email through the contact form on my website. At the moment I am getting enquiries from students and new, indie children’s authors. They ask if I’m available and how much I charge.
  2. Reply with my availability.
  3. I ask them to send the document for me to give a personalised quote. Or send, at the very least,  a 1,000 word sample from the middle of their text so I can judge how long it will take me to proofread. (The beginning and ends of the text are usually much better, so not always a good way to judge.)
  4. From that sample I can give them a quote. If the project needs my educational specialism, I will also factor in my 30 years of experience as a teacher. I know the value and knowledge I bring to a project.
  5. If the timing and rate suits them, I book them in by sending them a copy of my Terms & Conditions. (See templates in the Resources on my website). If the job is large (over 15,000 words) and going to take a few days, I send an invoice for the deposit for them to secure that slot.

Afternoon

structure of day

1:00pm: Lunch – joined by Tom (if he is having a painting day in his garden studio). We have been enjoying some comforting home-made soup this winter. A perk of being freelance means I can take as much or as little time for lunch as needed.

2:00pm: Desperate for some exercise and fresh air by now, I realise that it is time to look away from a screen.

For 30 minutes, I either head to the shops in town or take a brisk walk in the opposite direction, propelled by my walking poles, towards the nearby countryside.

Cup of tea

3:30pm: Time for a break to move around after another spell on the laptop, and to make a pot of tea. Fruit is the preferred snack if I’m being good. Cake on a Friday …

4:00pm: Take part in a Zoom networking meeting. It could be CIEP Cloud Club West, or my accountability group, or another. Or it may be a tuition day when I tutor a primary child on Zoom.

5:00pm: Time to wind down. I consider the work I haven’t fitted in today. This will be carried over to tomorrow, added to the e-list on my smartphone. I like the Evernote app.

The past

When I was teaching primary children full-time (Ieft the classroom in 2016), I left home at 7:30am to be at school.

By 6:00pm I left school with a trolley-box full of the workbooks I hadn’t had time to mark.

I would continue to mark for at least a couple of hours in the evening. It became relentless after doing it for 30 years. I didn’t see much of my children while I was busy educating the children of other people.

Being my own boss

When you own your business, the responsibility is on you to do everything. This will either terrify you or excite you.

You and you alone are in charge: secretarial and admin; your computer, IT, website and knowing what to do if something goes wrong, or know who to ask; keeping track of income and expenses; networking; training; marketing.

But I get a thrill from running my business efficiently; by doing some of the above each day.

If chores get too overwhelming, break down each element of your big task into smaller chunks.

Evening

7:00pm: Listen to The Archers on BBC Radio 4. My mother typed the scripts when she worked at Pebble Mill in Birmingham where it was recorded in the 1950s. I grew up listening to it. This time in my routine is sacrosanct.

7:30pm: I have a last check of my emails and social media. Then they all get switched off, and I turn to something other. Maybe a book. As I have got up so early in the morning, I’m usually running out of steam by this point.

I only work evenings or weekends if I have an urgent deadline. This is a legacy of having to do those hours when I was a teacher. Not any more. I charge accordingly for working overtime.

After decades of working an infinite number of unsociable hours, I realise the major importance of having a work/life balance and a sense of my self-worth is vital.

structure of day

Here is the link to my blog page if you want to catch up with previous posts.

signature

5 Highlights From 2020

5 highlights from 2020

As weird as 2020 was, I have a few highlights from the year.

Review of 2020

Tall Tartan Talks here … As I mentioned last year in my review of 2019, life as a freelancer has its ups and downs. This year has been, for some people, an extreme of that precarious situation.

Luckily, my freelance work life is mainly online. So I count myself blessed that I haven’t been affected too much.

I want to tell you about highlights in 5 areas. Well, more really, but 5 is a multiple of 2020, so it sounded better.

  1. Training
  2. Networking
  3. Rebranding
  4. Tutoring
  5. Proofreading jobs

1. Training

This year has been for me principally a year of learning and adding to my Continuous Professional Development (CPD) with the CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading).

  • In December last year I began the proofreading mentoring scheme. By May I had completed it. It was a unique opportunity to have experience of  a wide range of real jobs with guidance and virtual hand holding from a highly experienced Advanced Professional CIEP member. I wrote about it in the blog post Editing Training Part 2.
  • A group of us formed an informal Accountability Group. Consisting of other CIEP members, it prompted me to achieve many CPD goals.
  • Attended the CIEP online conference in November. A huge highlight!
  • Completed the CIEP Copyediting 1: Introduction course.

2. Networking

Along with everyone else in the world in 2020, since March, all my networking has been carried out on Zoom. It’s a necessary evil.

A particular networking highlight this year was that I, along with other international members of CIEP, formed our Accountability Group. (Yes, I am mentioning this again …)

We share our goals fortnightly on a Zoom call. We use the messaging app Slack to have daily chats about wins and rants. It is our safe space.

Without their encouragement I wouldn’t have achieved half of what I have done this year.

3. Rebranding

This time last year, I aimed to research how I wanted the branding on my website and social media profiles to appear. I considered branding, my brand identity, values and colours. The process is described in My Branding Process blog post. I am particularly proud of this 2020 highlight.

I tweaked my website; made sure the Contact form worked; added an Upload file widget so that potential clients can add a sample to their query of what they want me to proofread.

I subtly changed the titles of my blog posts. Originally tagged #TallTartanTells, this was changed to #TallTartanTalks.

After a blog post review by Jammy Digital, I removed the ‘Tall Tartan Talks’ from the URLs of the blog posts to be clearer and to the point, with key words added to make the posts relevant for more effective SEO. The #TTT hashtags continue to be used for illustration and content branding purposes.

To help with tips for general efficiency, I wrote this blog post about managing emails after I read a book on productivity. Clearing your emails once a day by ensuring you have an inbox-zero situation can clear the head and prevent worry.

Sadly, I am not as strict with myself as I was when I wrote that blog post. Workload weight means that I tend to have a clear out once a week these days … It has become a Friday job.

4. Tutoring

After such a busy couple of years of tutoring during 2018–19, I was worn out by the beginning of this year.

phew

By March, tuition had moved online using Zoom and interactive teaching software. Boy, that was a challenge! How to get the work to parents? How to ensure interactive learning?

More than half a year on, the online tuition routines are well established: work is emailed before the lesson, a variety of resources are enjoyed, and pupils can even share their screens.

The main highlight? Not travelling to their homes. Mmm, the extra time taken to plan an interactive and challenging lesson, then email the parents with the information; versus the time saved by not commuting …

I wrote two blog posts with teaching tips this year: How I Teach English and How Do You Learn about VAK learning.

In July, one of my pupils left Year 6, aged 11, thereby finishing primary school. So the 2 sessions of tuition per week I had done with them for 2 years became available.

The main reason I became freelance was to be in control of my work/life balance. Consequently, I took the decision not to fill those spaces with more pupils because I was losing that balance. Saying no to work is never easy, but preserving mental health is a priority.

Instead, I did more editing and proofreading CPD using the extra time I had gained.

5. Proofreading jobs

Cold-emailing

With my updated training skills and new branding, I was ready to offer my further proofreading skills to educational publishers and publishers of children’s books.

The last time I cold-emailed publishers (about 18 months ago) I invested a tremendous amount of emotional energy in the process. I thought about it far too much – not good.

This time I was wiser. I bought the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2020. I made a list of websites, contact names and email addresses. Once I had researched a publisher, certain that they published what I was interested in proofreading, the cold emailing began.

I found TextExpander very useful for giving me shortcuts for repeated phrases, so that they were much quicker to type, e.g. my email address, phrases like proofreader available, etc. … Even a whole email was saved in my snippets so that it appeared when a simple shortcut //query was typed!

My CV was updated with my new branding, training, and most recent experience. It was attached with each short email acting as a covering letter.

However, it is important to bear in mind that the return reply rate is statistically low – a minimum of 1 in 10. This time I put emotion and desperation to one side to become business-like and pragmatic.

Once the batch of emails was sent for the day, I put them to the back of my mind, and got on with other jobs.

I am grateful to have received a couple of positive replies from publishers responding that they would add me to their books.

it is what it is

Children’s book authors

Having re-vamped my website, I pushed the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) on the page which advertises to children’s book authors.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise then when I had several enquiries from independent children’s authors (self-publishing). When I asked them how they had found me (I’m in several directories), their answer was always, “Google”.

A proofreading/proof-editing job I enjoyed was a series of 9 stories for young children. They featured the adventures of the same small character and friend. I suggested tips for consistency across the series.  The author asked for advice on self-publishing. They weren’t the first to enquire.

So, I searched the hive mind that is the CIEP forums and found some gems of advice to pass on. I really hope the author publishes next year. Fingers crossed!

Perhaps I should add self-publishing advice for authors to my list of aims for next year …

Next year

So to 2021 … plans need to be considered and formed, no matter what is going on in the world.

For the readers who haven’t seen them, look out for my hashtags #TallTartanTips and #TallTartanTalks on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. They link to the blog posts which promote my editing and educational skills, as well as giving advice and tips.

Whatever your circumstances, here’s to the future, hoping 2021 is better.

2021

signature

 

How Do You Learn?

how do you learn

When I taught primary children in classrooms (I left teaching in 2016), a method of pedagogy called VAK learning was practised to maximise the opportunities for all learners to access and engage with the curriculum.

Tall Tartan Talks here … In this blog post I talk about VAK learning.

What is VAK?

The acronym VAK stands for Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic.

In my role as a classroom educator, I asked myself:

  • How can I use language, vocabulary and sounds to help this new material be remembered?
  • How could physical movement help?
  • Am I encouraging depth in the learner’s experiences, and encouraging questioning?

In my role as a primary tutor, I ask myself the same questions.

How do children learn?

Some children find the ability to learn comes easily.  Some are able to concentrate for long periods, e.g. when reading. Some relish solving Maths problems. Some can hear and follow instructions efficiently; others need to fidget with something in their hands as they learn.

Children will not use one sensory approach to the exclusion of all others, yet they will learn more effectively if their needs are met.

How do adults learn?

By the time we are an adult, we have more idea of which learning style suits the way our brains work.

For those of us continuing learning as an adult, we are able to tweak our strategies to find the best way to study and to absorb new information.

If you understand which is your preferred learning style, then you’ll make it easier on yourself to study and learn.

Three main learning styles

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinaesthetic

What kind of learner are you?

Visual: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer to see and observe things. You’ll typically work best from lists, written directions, and instructions.

Auditory: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer the transfer of information to be through the spoken word, or through sounds, noises, or music.

Kinaesthetic: If you lean towards this learning style, you will prefer a practical hands-on approach. You’ll prefer the physical experience, wanting to experiment and do first, rather than read the instructions.

Visual style of learning

visual learner

If you are a visual learner, you learn by reading or seeing pictures. You understand and remember things by sight. You can picture what you are learning in your head. You learn best by using methods that are visual. You like to see what you are learning. You often close your eyes to visualize or remember something. You may have difficulty with spoken directions and may be easily distracted by sounds.

Auditory style of learning

auditory learner

If you are an auditory learner, you learn by hearing and listening. You understand and remember things you have heard. You store information by the way it sounds, and you have an easier time understanding spoken instructions than written ones. You often learn by hearing it or speaking it, in order to take it in. You need to hear things, not just see things, to learn.

Kinaesthetic style of learning

If you are a kinaesthetic learner, you learn by touching and doing. You understand and remember things through physical movement. You are a ‘hands-on’ learner who prefers to touch or move while you learn. You tend to learn better when some type of physical activity is involved. You need to be active and take frequent breaks. You often speak with your hands and with gestures.

You learn best by doing, not just by reading, seeing, or hearing.

learn

Ways to teach using VAK

The VAK approach engages different levels of cognitive challenge in every curriculum subject.

Once I taught a class who enjoyed using VAK to represent punctuation marks (Punctuation Karate!). Quite simply, they used their arms and hands to represent the marks, e.g. a full stop was a clenched fist thrust forward … Saying ‘full stop’ aloud along with the karate action helped them remember to insert a full stop at the end of a sentence.

The VAK tool is an effective way of ensuring that you balance and broaden your range when educating children (as a teacher or parent).

Teach children to see it, hear it, do it, and be curious about it.

how do you learn

signature

 

Further reading

In case you missed them, here are the other blog posts I’ve written on the themes of education: tutoringhow I teach English, and how I teach Maths.

Here is a link to a learning style questionnaire from the Open University: https://help.open.ac.uk/learning-style-activity

Another VAK website resource: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/vak-learning-styles.htm 

Bibliography: ‘The Alps Approach – accelerated learning in primary schools’ by Alistair Smith and Nicola Call. Published 1999; Revised 2002; Reprinted 2003.

Manage Emails

manage emails

Would you like to get your email inbox down to zero by the end of each day? I didn’t know such a thing was possible. You may wonder – inbox zero – what magic is this?

Tall Tartan Talks here … I have discovered a non-fiction business book called Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott.

One particular chapter which struck me immediately was about managing your emails. His strategies were revolutionary for me. This blog post is a review of that chapter.

I *was* one of those people who had over 200 emails in each of my three inboxes. I sorted them occasionally. Inevitably, if I include my smartphone, I was prone to checking them far too often. Always scrolling through social media. Just like you.

Cluttered inbox

I starred or flagged some important or urgent emails for easy reference, but my inbox was becoming unmanageable. My professional email, [email protected] was the fullest. My personal gmail account didn’t look much better.

Then, I found Ninja Email Processing, the chapter where Graham says, “Be a Ninja – take a ruthless approach to emails!” Now I adopt his strategy daily.

Interested? This is how you do it.

Reduce your inbox to zero daily

The bare bones of how to get started are:

  1. Open emails
  2. Create three new files: Action, Read, Waiting
  3. Scan the first couple of lines of each email. If it needs to be dealt with immediately, move into Action. If it isn’t important, move to Read. If you are waiting for someone else to action, move to Waiting.

I used to look at my growing email notifications, groan inwardly, feel fear and overwhelm, avoid, then stress about what might be in my inbox. When I was waiting for a particular email from a client, I would pause a job whenever a notification sounded, whether that job was proofreading, or tuition preparation. I had to check then and there who it was from.

STOP!

Graham suggests that the problem needs to be viewed in a different way: your email inbox is just where your emails land; don’t check your emails, process your emails; and don’t let your emails nag you all day.

Strategy

Firstly, look at your inbox as a landing page, not a to-do list. We tend to keep the emails in that inbox so we don’t lose them. The answer? New folders need to be created to hold actionable emails, and those emails which can be deferred.

Secondly, restrict checking emails to, at most, three times a day.

  • First thing in the morning, or 9am (or whenever your business day starts).
  • Second around 4:30pm to give you 30 minutes of reducing your email list to zero. Or later, if you don’t stop on the dot of 5pm.
  • Third, you may also want to check emails at lunchtime. Me … I am slowly restricting my addiction of reading of emails after 8pm … The same goes for checking social media or Slack. (My excuse is that some of my colleagues are in a different time zone.)

How to process (not check) emails:

  1. Scan the first email for a couple of seconds. Don’t hang about. Ask yourself, is it vital I action this? If yes, move to Action.
  2. Scan the next email. If someone is acknowledging they will action something you have delegated, move to Waiting. This guarantees that you will have a reminder to follow this up.
  3. If the next email is something not at all urgent but for perusing, say, a subscription which you want to read at your leisure, move to Read. Don’t start reading it now.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3.
  5. By the end of 30 minutes, there should be zero emails in your inbox.
  6. Repeat three times a day.

management

Subject folders

You may be like me and organise your emails into many subject or archive folders. Again, this can get out of hand. My next job is to whittle those down to more efficient descriptors. So that when I have gone through my burgeoning Read file, I will move each email to a re-named folder. Or delete it.

Graham’s theory is that if you have only three files to move the incoming emails into, it makes decision-making and sorting much easier. Agonising will be reduced to a manageable level.

If, say after a week, you look in the Read folder and email subject is no longer current or valid, then delete. Or move it to an archive folder.

One of Graham’s tips is to think of a set of Ds: decide, do, delegate, defer, delete.

Cut the dead wood

Perhaps you subscribe to newsletters by email. For example, if you follow particular people for their business or subject knowledge … there are many out there. It may be time to review them and prune who you subscribe to.

Try subscribing to one for six months. Count how many of their newsletters you actually read (and follow the advice suggested) in those six months. Be honest. Be brutal. Cut out the dead wood and unsubscribe if the answer is only one or two. That is one way to reduce the number of emails you get.

If you are successful with this method, you will feel you have more control over those incoming emails.

Information overload

Information overload is a threat to our productivity, so I recommend Graham’s book if you want to be proactive about reducing that overload. By managing your emails, and your time, by procrastinating less, you can focus on your priorities.

There you have it. If you learnt something from this post, find my other blog posts here.

I look forward to finishing Graham’s book. Guess what – I have signed up for his newsletter.

Background: Graham Allcott

Founder of Think Productive (@thinkproductive), Graham Allcott is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and podcaster, coaching strategies for business and time management. He is host of the podcast Beyond Busy. His book was first published by Icon Books Publication in 2014, and totally revised in 2019 because of the advances in technology.

Other chapters in Graham’s book include:

  • The Organize Habit
  • The Review Habit
  • The Do Habit
  • Stop Messing About on Your Phone

signature