This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Jen Scanlan of Heights Proofreading. Heights Proofreading provides copy editing, structural editing and proofreading services, as well as some copywriting. Jen relocated to Armidale in 2020, which coincided with her transition to a full-time business owner. Jen is a regular guest columnist for Vivid Minds Vivid Futures.
How did you get involved in Vivid Minds Vivid Futures?
I met Ingrid when I went to a welcome to Armidale dinner held by the Business Chamber. That was the best thing I did as a newcomer to the city. I also met one of my publishers there.
Ingrid took my card and suggested I should get in contact with Joanna Dolan who is also a professional editor. After meeting up with her, Joanna was generous enough to invite me to do a guest article for Vivid Minds Vivid Futures. My first story fell through, so I did a story on my husband, Murray, and it went from there.
What do you enjoy most about writing for Vivid Minds Vivid Futures?
I enjoy meeting people; interviewing business owners introduces me to local people. I’ve learnt from their experiences and advice. Their willingness to give their time and share their stories encourages me. I like the way small business functions in Armidale and the way business owners support each other. I want to contribute to the community, not just work in it, and this is something I can do.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am primarily an educator. I was a secondary school teacher for 40 years in visual arts, history, and English. I’m passionate about education still, but I was coming to the end of my face-to-face teaching life and wanted to do something different. As a teacher, I’d become increasingly dismayed by the decline in the basics of spelling and grammar. I used to secretly embed grammar and punctuation into my class lessons as it is the best tool for good communication. Grammar is particularly important for anyone learning another language, as you will study the grammatical structure of the new language, which is very hard to do if you don’t understand the basis of your own language.
I was also editing other teachers’ reports and decided this would be life after teaching. I enjoy helping people who haven’t been taught grammar at school. I do a lot of rewriting policies and procedures, reports for government agencies, and reports to parents, and I still do a lot of editing for schools.
What brought you to Armidale?
My husband, Murray, was posted to Armidale as a paramedic educator. The transfer to Armidale was the catalyst for my transition to full time proofreading and editing because I was already set up as a business. Armidale is also an ideal location for us because it is equidistant between our children and grandchildren, in Cowra and in Queensland.
What I found here was an unexpected cultural richness. It was far more diverse than living on the outskirts of Sydney, with the university, the different cultures, the writing and business groups, and even publishers.
When did you start your business?
I started in 2018 while teaching part-time and went full-time in 2020, the perfect timing with COVID. Everyone was working at home and editing was a perfectly portable job. I worked for CSU for a couple of years, in particular for the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health, as well as NSW Ambulance, which is fascinating. I have worked across quite a range of genres, as well as children’s picture books and young adult fiction.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
As an educator, I didn’t have a lot of business skills. I really had to learn a lot. A silver lining of COVID meant many people were working online. I took a course on launching your business that covered pricing, branding, marketing and communicating with clients.
What do you like most about running your own business?
Everyone talks about flexibility as a benefit of working for yourself. I have found, in Armidale specifically, that I have had the time and opportunity to meet a lot of new people. I’ve loved that. Despite COVID, I haven’t been as socially distant or as isolated at my desk as I thought. I’ve joined a variety of groups including the New England Writers’ Centre (NEWC) and Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd). I’ve attended book launches and enjoyed meeting people. I’ve found Armidale people to be creative and committed to the community. I don’t think I would have met as many authors and publishers in Sydney. It would have been harder to network and make actual connections there.
How did you adapt to the challenges of last year?
Last year during lockdown I undertook a pertinent copyediting course. It was comprehensive, intense and assessable. The English language is dynamic and the proofreading world is changing all the time. I need to constantly upskill to stay up with best practice in Australian editing.
I’ve also written various articles. Previously I contributed to a weekly column, Real Life in the Hawkesbury. It was only 200 words so it taught me to be concise. I did that for a couple of years and one ended up being published in a book. I’ve also written some short stories – one appeared in Australian Motorcycle Stories. I like to help authors with their writing. Currently I’m editing a novel and a non-fiction book. I’m also developing teachers’ notes for classroom use.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
First, you should take advantage of the online and local courses that are offered to help you build your business, educate yourself. Second, work on your brand, what your uniqueness is, how you are going to project yourself and reach your ideal clients. Third, don’t doubt yourself. Many people suffer from imposter syndrome. You need to face the question, ‘Am I good enough; will people pay me?’ You have to back yourself – tell yourself that you can – people will respond to that.
What inspires you?
I’m genuinely inspired by hearing people’s stories and by helping people with their writing. I’m also a servant-hearted type of person. That’s why I was an educator for decades – I like to help people achieve their goals.
What is your secret for success?
Saying yes to opportunities and taking them step by step. Take what’s in your hand and do it that day, and if something else comes up, take the opportunity. Say yes and doors will open.
What’s next for Heights Proofreading?
At the moment I’m keeping busy. I’m really happy with the work I have. I will probably improve my website, communicate how I want to work, attract my ideal clients, build up my niche and my unique place in the market. In particular, I love the picture book editing because it combines my skills in art and writing. And I love the work I do in education.
I still do academic work if it comes my way – it’s good for variety – and some business editing. I recently edited a catalogue of medical supplies. I’m happy with the diversity, it keeps the interest level up.