Reflections on the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday 2017

Friday January 27th saw the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday in Oxford, organised by Karen White and Helen Holwill. It was my first, so I thought it worth recording my impressions of the day. I’d be interested to hear what others took away!

People

The event was very well attended, with around a hundred participants, I believe. It was an environment highly conducive to networking and every break was abuzz with loud chatter. A few things struck me about this:

  • Despite the fact that, as freelancers in a shared field, we’re all competing with each other for business on some level, the atmosphere was notably friendly and supportive. Perhaps this is because, as people used to working from home in relative isolation, most freelancers welcome the opportunity to feel part of a community, to share knowledge and learn from each other.
  • It surprised me how many editors I spoke to were author-editors like myself. It became apparent during Penny Hands’ session on the author-editor relationship how many of us were used to receiving as well as giving feedback on manuscripts, for example. As freelancers increasingly feel the need to diversify, perhaps this is something we’re going to see more. I wonder if/how this will change the way we edit and write. That’s probably a blog post in itself.

It’s clear that the organisers recognise that networking is a big part of the day for many attendees, so it’s great to have allowed plenty of time for this (and seriously fabulous biscuits help, too).

Themes

There was much discussion of the changing publishing landscape, characterised by:

  • Use of metadata – The team from Pearson presented information on their move towards planning and tagging all content against a detailed scale of proficiency and skills, both to improve the student experience (through clearer outcomes) and facilitate publisher reuse (by providing a bank of searchable resources).
  • Outsourcing to packagers and a tendency to work with preferred suppliers – One of the main points to come out of the Pearson presentation was that they are moving to an outsourcing model for content development, which there will no longer be capacity for in-house. Rather than contracting hundreds of individual freelancers, a far more attractive proposition from the publisher’s perspective is to brief and pay one company, who subcontract editorial managers and freelance content developers, copy editors, proofreaders and so on. It’s a trend we’ve seen becoming increasingly popular across the board, though the strictness of the model set out by Pearson marks a new chapter, with considerable implications for freelancers. The message to freelancers: create specialist hubs, collaborate, grow your business.
  • Increasing use of offshore suppliers
  • Shorter workflows – Pressure to publish more, faster and more profitably is driving changes to processes. Macmillan are moving to a 2-proof process, for example. In general, freelance editors report that it’s increasingly common for components to be worked on concurrently, leading to many more logistical challenges. Authoring into templates in order to speed up “onboarding” is also becoming widespread.
  • Pay – Restructuring and redundancies in-house have led to an increase in the number of editors going freelance. Some felt there was now a “glut” of freelancers, and this situation was putting downward pressure on freelance rates, exacerbated by the fact that offshore suppliers are also offering copyediting and proofreading services. Fee-based editorial work is becoming more and more common, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fee-based model is now also the norm for authorship, across publishers.

Despite the gloominess of some of these headlines, there was also an underlying sense of possibility in these discussions. Expertise has value, so we should make sure we put the right price on it. In-house resources are diminishing, so we should make sure we’re visible and known as the go-to people for our specialism. Publishers are outsourcing more and more, so we should consider options for growing our businesses to meet this emerging need. Lots to think about.

Highlights of the day

All in all, it was a great line-up. For me, the most useful sessions were Denise Cowle’s talk on using social media and Helen Holwill’s talk about negotiation tactics. Both provided easy-to-implement tips which I am keen to try out.

More detail is available in the collated tweets of the day here.

As a first-timer, I found the event extremely welcoming and useful. Thanks to the Karen and Helen for making it happen!

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8 thoughts on “Reflections on the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday 2017

    1. And you, Anthony! Hope you found it a useful day. Thanks for the positive feedback. Hopefully blog will serve as a springboard for further discussion.

      Like

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