07 Jan 2022

CIEP Member: Michelle Higgs

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

I’ve loved words, language and books since I was a child. After graduating with a history degree, I worked in a marketing agency and then had a short-lived career as a primary school teacher. In my spare time, I was writing magazine articles and, in 2005, I decided to go freelance and focus on writing full time. I’m also the author of nine non-fiction books (six on social history and three genealogy titles).

In 2019, it felt like a natural progression to add to my skillset by training in copyediting and proofreading. Luckily, my own publisher uses freelancers and I was offered work, first in proofreading, then in copyediting. I was able to put into practice what I’d learned in my training and also to learn more about the publishing process while working on real projects.

Being a writer and an editor seems to go hand in hand. My freelance work is now a 50:50 split between the two disciplines and it’s a lovely combination.

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

I thought it was important to choose high-quality training so I started with the CIEP’s Proofreading 1: Introduction and then moved on to Copyediting 1: Introduction. A year later, I completed Copyediting 2: Headway. I’ve also completed the Word for Practical Editing course and the Efficient Editing webinar. The Efficient Editing webinar was excellent in highlighting areas where I could speed up my editing process – it was great for networking too!

What work are you most proud of?

Much of my work involves copyediting and/or proofreading non-fiction history books for a UK publisher. As a published author myself, I understand the doubts and worries that go through a writer's mind during the process of creating a book. I get immense job satisfaction from helping other authors on the road to publication, especially those who have never been published before.

In May 2021, I had a lovely surprise when one of the authors I’d worked with wrote a blog post for the CIEP about the author–editor partnership. Although I wasn’t named, I realised she was talking about me and the way in which we had worked together. That was definitely a proud moment.

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

I usually find it helps if I take a break in the fresh air to walk our greyhound. Going for a walk also helps if I’m struggling with motivation because it re-energises me.

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

It means I’m a part of a professional organisation that upholds the highest of standards, which is reassuring to new clients. But more than that, I’m a member of an incredibly supportive and welcoming community of fellow editors and proofreaders. I’ve been astonished by the level of knowledge, support and kindness offered whenever I’ve posted a question on the forums. It’s such a valuable resource to anyone who’s new to the industry.

Which editorial tasks do you enjoy the most and why?

I like the methodical process of copyediting so I enjoy running PerfectIt and/or macros at the beginning of a book project to correct any inconsistencies, and also to sort out the formatting. Then I can get stuck into the nitty-gritty of the actual editing.

Do you have any editorial pet hates?

Comma splices and anything that stands out as being inconsistent.

What has most surprised you about your editorial career?

I suppose the fact there are so many different opportunities for editing or proofreading, not just in publishing. I love the variety and the fact I’m constantly learning something new. I’d like to do some training in web editing next so that I can add that to my skillset.

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

Continue with CPD throughout your career as you’re always learning. Make sure you value your worth as a copyeditor or proofreader, and recognise when it’s time to move on from low-paying clients. Finally, track your hours so that you know exactly how much you’re earning. You’ll then have a good reference point when it comes to setting your rates/quoting for different projects.

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

I’m still very new to the industry, but I would say it’s really important to invest in high-quality training with the CIEP (or equivalent).

Do you ever stop editing?

Yes, but I’m definitely more alert to typographical and grammatical errors on the news and elsewhere.

A good work–life balance is very important to me so I try to remember one of the major perks of freelancing: being able to choose my own hours so that I can take a day off whenever I want!

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

The only sport I follow is tennis and I watch it all year round, not just in the grass court season.

I also ghostwrite biographies for older people who want to share their life stories with their families. I find these projects incredibly rewarding.

I like the methodical process of copyediting so I enjoy running PerfectIt and/or macros at the beginning of a book project to correct any inconsistencies, and also to sort out the formatting. Then I can get stuck into the nitty-gritty of the actual editing.

Michelle Higgs

Professional Member


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