Freelancer FAQs

IMG_4614 (002)It’s been a while since I posted here, but I’m glad to be back with this list of FAQs that I’ve heard time and again since starting to freelance from home.

Have you been out in the sun much this week?
Has the weather been good? I did open the window in my office because it felt a bit stuffy, but I’ve been focusing on proofs this week so haven’t really been out of the house. I’ve had the cardi on the back of my chair on and off the same amount as usual. And don’t suggest I work in the garden. The sun glares off my laptop screen, papers go all over the place in the slightest breeze, and our garden chairs make my back ache.

Don’t you get lonely?
No, I’ve got Facebook, Twitter and Skype. I spend several hours each week on all of them (a bit less on Twitter), and put the radio on when I go downstairs for lunch. I go to the gym most days and have a good chat with my friends there, or meet friends for a walk round the block, but when I’m working, I’m concentrating. And although I left an office job where I was managing a team, since we moved to a small village and I’ve worked from home, I’ve realized I actually enjoy my own company quite a lot.

I bet you like working in your pyjamas, no?
No! I get dressed every day before I start work. It might only be in gym kit/comfy stuff, and it doesn’t involve shoes, make-up or blow-drying my hair, but I’m a professional, and feel a bit slobby in my PJs so it helps me focus if I’m in actual clothes.

Do you have to be really disciplined?
Yes! I have bills to pay! If I wasn’t disciplined, I would miss deadlines. I wouldn’t get offered new work. I wouldn’t earn any money. I wouldn’t be able to eat. And I love eating!

Do you fancy coffee on Wednesday?
Yes, I do. I always fancy coffee (and cake). But next Wednesday I’ll get up, do my usual social media for three organisations, go to my regular gym class, come home for a project meeting, then get on with the project. Then it will be time for a quick lunch, after which I’ll do more project work (remember the deadlines), and do another project call when my colleague in San Francisco gets to her desk at 4.30pm my time. So not much time for coffee, I’m afraid. Let’s book something for next month and I’ll plan around it.

Don’t you miss working in an office?
Sometimes I miss the social side of it. But on the whole, I save myself three hours of commuting time every day (and the related costs), I’m more productive with not having to go to meetings every couple of hours, and I always hated office politics. My waistline has probably benefited from eating fewer birthday cakes, I don’t have to listen to others’ conversations with banks/letting agents/parents, and I’m sure there are fewer germs circulating round my house than are in the average office aircon system.

What do you do if you have an IT problem?
I have no hesitation in asking my husband for help. If he can’t sort it out, I’ll Google or ask friends on Facebook. I’ve only ever needed to pay for IT help once in eight years, and that was to get the inside of my PC cleaned. (Thanks to Rob from Rascom for that. TOTALLY recommended – see photos.)

How many hours a week do you work?
Probably more than most office workers, if you count actual hours worked rather than hours out of the house. As I’ve said, working from home alone is, in my experience, way more productive than working in an office, so I get a lot done, in fewer hours than it would take someone working in house. I aim for 5–6 billable hours each day, but of course that varies. When I have to, I work late in the evenings and at weekends, and sometimes I take a few hours out to get my hair done. But I didn’t go freelance to work less – I did it for a different way of life.

I bet you love the flexibility, don’t you?
Yes, I do. That’s the whole point of freelancing. I can choose the projects I take on, the clients I work for, and where I focus my time. It allows me to do the bread-and-butter project management and editing jobs, but also to pursue projects of my own, like the ELT Freelancers’ Awaydays, ELT Teacher 2 Writer, and my role on the MaWSIG committee. I’m really proud of my contributions to all of those, and if it means I can get round the supermarket at the point in the week when it’s quietest, even better.

Does the fridge talk to you?
No. I’ve tuned it out so I can’t hear its calls any more. The same goes for the biscuit tin. I shut my door, get on with my work, and ignore them. It’s the only way.

I could go on, but I’ve just noticed that the sun is shining and it’s Friday afternoon. One more short report to write and a Skype call, then I’ll log off. Freelancers, eh!

What other questions do you get asked? What’s the funniest one you’ve heard?

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The 2017 ELT Freelancers’ Awayday

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Panelists (l to r) Karen White, Dona Velluti, Katy Wright, Denise Cowle, Rachel Brushfield (and thanks to Nicola Gardner for the photo)

It’s something of an annual event now, and I’ve found myself saying ‘see you next year’ to more than one person in the last week! The third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, aimed mainly at freelance editors in our field, was a day of discussion, networking, sharing and learning from each other, held in Oxford at the end of January. Almost 100 people came; one from Canada, several from Spain, at least one from Greece, and the rest from all points of the UK. Chuffed doesn’t begin to describe how Helen and I feel to have started this event and built it into something that’s growing each year.

I know I’m the person who comes the furthest to these events, but it’s worth every cent. I haven’t got this kind of community where I live (Canada is a bit of an ELT publishing backwater), so this is really valuable to me. Tania Pattison

Emily Hird has already blogged about her impressions of the day, there is a comprehensive Storify of #FreeELT and photos on our website, so I’m not going to recount the whole event, but I did want to summarise the panel discussion that opened the day. Before I do, I’d like to send huge thanks to Becky Jones for having minuted the whole thing in fantastic detail.

Having carried out a survey on ELT freelance rates earlier in the year and comparing the results with the survey we’d done in 2013, we had noted that there seemed to be some stagnation in rates which, when you consider that we all have an additional three years’ experience, and inflation and the cost of living have gone up in that time, seemed slightly surprising. What’s caused this? More freelancers on the market, so some undercutting of rates? Less publishing, so less work to go around, so work is being offered to those asking lower rates? Publishers cutting costs, so looking for the cheapest rate for the job?  We really weren’t sure, so decided to set rates, and how to negotiate better ones, as the topic for the panel discussion. With the exception of Rachel, who specialises in supporting sole-traders and those wishing to develop portfolio careers, our speakers all came from editorial backgrounds and I chaired it. (Read about Katy and Dona here. Denise kindly stepped in at short notice and brought her knowledge of the SfEP and its suggested minimum rates to the table.)

I loved the forum at the start with really interesting input and discussion. Jemma Hillyer

Opening with a question about how redundancies and restructures within the publishers have affected us and what we can do about it, Katy, who’s currently working on an in-house contract having been freelancing for a number of years, told us about the changes she’s noticed since she was last employed in house. Her observations included the fact that even though print products are still high on the agenda for many markets, with the rise of hugely expensive digital products which return comparatively little, budgets and schedules are being cut right back, as are in-house staffing levels, meaning that there is more reliance than ever on freelancers. (That’s good, right?) But they want the freelancers to be quick, cheap, reliable, experienced … And – here comes one of the big takeaways from the day – echoed by the presentation from Pearson in the afternoon, there is a rise in the popularity of packaging, where one ‘preferred vendor’ is used to resource editorial, media and design elements of a project, often from an offshore base. The advantage of this business model to the publisher is that the packager will take a multi-level, multi-component course and manage and resource it with the minimum of hands-on work being required from the skeleton staff back at the publisher’s HQ, and quite likely more quickly and at a lower cost than it could be done using the traditional hourly rate freelance model. (That’s not so good.)

Denise, responding with her SfEP experience then reminded everyone that the key thing for us to remember is that we must not undervalue what we do, and the experience and training we have, by losing the confidence to charge reasonable rates. (The 2016 rates survey results showed that over 50% of responses were from people with over 15 years’ experience of editorial work.) Dona agreed that if we don’t do this, and undercut each other, we will ultimately be undercutting ourselves in a race to the bottom. An additional thing to bear in mind is that if a lot of the editors with the most experience are out of house, that’s also where the most knowledge of what a job is going to (really) involve, how long it’s going to take, and what similar jobs have taken in the past, so it’s not uncommon to find that a project that’s briefed to take 50 hours suffers from scope-creep and can take considerably longer, which is where the negotiation skills are required to ensure we’re being paid for the work we’re actually doing.

With her non-ELT background, but plenty of experience in working with other business owners (note to all of us to remember that this is how we must view ourselves), Rachel gave us some tips on keeping ahead of trends in the world of work, particularly now that the whole world is your competitor. You need to be a specialist. You need to know what makes you different and better than others. You need to be good at marketing – yourself and your business. (Have you thought about using Twitter for this? I’m running a workshop in March which might be of interest.) You need to work out how you can add value and be the go-to person that the commissioning editor or project manager calls first. You need to know how you can make their life easier. You need to be able to tell them what problems you can solve for them. You also need to know how much you want to do the job you’re being offered. You need to decide a minimum rate below which you will not go. You need to know when to say no. Denise also suggests looking outside the world of ELT to see what’s happening with working practices in other areas of publishing.

Before we opened up to the floor for questions, Katy gave the room some more very practical advice about what in-house project managers are looking for in a freelancer. I don’t think there’s anything startlingly new here, but if we want to remain competitive, this is advice worth heeding:

  • Be a problem solver who offers solutions, not more problems.
  • Get digital-savvy if you’re not already because there is plenty of work to be done on digital products.
  • Invest in your own training and up-skilling because there is no budget for the publishers to help you with this.
  • Invest in the equipment you need to do an effective and efficient job.
  • Be a fast learner, open to working in different ways.
  • Raise queries early on in a project, and package them together rather than drip-feeding them.
  • Be honest in your invoicing. (Several people recommend using time-tracking software like Toggl to help with this.)

To conclude then, I think there are several key points arising from the panel discussion (and from other parts of the day):

  1. Budgets and schedules are being cut but there is work out there. We need to feel empowered to negotiate a fair rate for any job we take on. What a fair rate might be is something we may be able to discuss among ourselves – this is something that many SfEP members find to be one of the key benefits of membership being as their forums are a safe place for discussion like this. Helen and I will be giving some thought to how we might be able to do something like this for our community in the near future – look out for more news in due course.
  2. A number of the big publishers are looking at packagers to handle large-scale projects. We need to consider how we might be able to work together to be competitive in the face of this.

Were you at the Awayday? Did you draw any other conclusions from the panel discussion, or the rest of the day? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

See you next year!

Thank you so much, Karen and Helen, for a wonderful, informative and inspiring day yesterday. Already looking forward to next year. Penny Hands

 

The year ahead

Back at my desk for the first time this year, I thought I’d jot down some personal and work-related plans for 2017. If nothing else, I’ll have something to look back at in a year’s time and chuckle at!

Keep going with the things I enjoyed last year
Personal 2016 was the year I discovered hula hooping, using a Fitbit, and MyFitnessPal. I put diary appointments in for gym classes and prioritised them. As a result, I ended the year two dress sizes smaller and a couple of stone lighter than I started it. It took a bit of time to form habits for these things, but the self-confidence and positivity I’ve felt as a result have filtered through into all areas of my life and I’ll be making sure to keep all of them up in 2017.
Work I also discovered WordPress properly last year. Not just for writing this blog, but for following others. I follow blogs about ELT, writing, editing, and freelancing (as well as some about fitness, motorhome life and personal friends). I tend to update my feed on a Saturday morning and catch up on everything over the weekend. I know it’s one more online element to keep up with, but it’s one of the most useful from a CPD perspective.

Branch out more
Personal We’ve just bought a motorhome after a long time thinking and talking about it. If we’re going to get value for money from it, we’ll be away as many weekends as possible. Getting out of our comfort zone and trying new things is all part of the plan, and I can’t wait.
Work I blogged about diversifying last year when it seemed as though there were a number of editors in my network who were a bit low on work and some were turning to other sources of income. I’ve already fixed a meeting with a friend to help her with her new business social media, and this is something I’m actively planning to do more of.

Waste less time on social media
Personal Who hasn’t got this in their list of resolutions for the year? I would like to be able to look back on 2017 as the year I read fewer Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram captions and more books. (Despite what I’ve said above – not sure this is going to work out!) I’m always amazed when friends tell me they’ve read more than the set bookclub title in a month, but actually I used to do that too. If I took the iPad off the kitchen table and put my Kindle there instead, I might do more ‘useful’ reading at lunchtimes. We’ll see
Work I’m working with an author who uses a plugin to block specified websites during work hours. I should probably do this too, as well as turning off all phone alerts – setting it to silent isn’t enough. It’s distracting, and I’m sure the number of times I read anything useful in a day could be counted on a single hand. I resolve to use social media to my advantage, not on an all-day basis. (Update – I’ve had my phone on Airplane mode today. Worked a treat. Will be doing that more regularly.)

Keep in touch
Personal 2017 will be the year I focus on relationships I value, nurture new ones, and stop wasting energy on others. Down-time is precious, so it’s crucial to spend it wisely. This might not be the easiest one to stick to, but I’m going to have a go.
Work On the whole, I consider myself a pretty good networker and have blogged about that on more than one occasion. Last year I stepped it up a notch by going to the SfEP conference for the first time and meeting in person lots of people I’d previously only met online. It was a great experience and I’m determined to do more of that sort of thing this year. I will also do my best to attend the monthly meeting of my local networking group. There is so much to be said for talking face-to-face when we spend so much of our time alone with only our screens for company.

Let things go
Personal Stuff I haven’t used for ages, clothes I don’t wear, general clutter. All going in the bin/to the charity shop/on eBay. Good practice for more prolonged motorhome living in the future maybe!
Work Worry about project-related issues when I’ve left my desk, self-imposed deadlines that have passed, people who don’t return emails. All going in the same bin.

What are your plans for the year? Let’s come back here in 12 months’ time and see how far we got. Wishing you a very successful 2017, whatever you do.

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The new girl and the SfEP conference, Part 2 — SfEP blog

Here’s a post I’ve written for the SfEP blog on being a first-timer at the conference …

 

By Karen White (You can read Part 1 here.) I survived! Actually, I did more than survive – I thrived! On the day I got back to my desk after my first SfEP conference I spent a lot of time tweeting and Facebook messaging people I had met in person over the weekend, sending follow-up…

via The new girl and the SfEP conference, Part 2 — SfEP blog

Diversification

In a quiet period a couple of months ago, I started to wonder if I should be looking for other sources of income as the ELT editing and project management work I usually fill my days with seemed in rather short supply. And from quite a number of emails and messages I had through my White Ink Facebook page, it seemed I wasn’t the only one wondering where the work had gone.

There could be a few reasons why work seemed scarce. A lot of the big ELT publishers have recently been through restructuring cycles, which have resulted in redundancies, which leads to a bigger pool of freelancers. Those restructures have possibly also resulted in some publishing being put on hold or abandoned, so there could be less work out there anyway. And with purse strings being tightened, freelancers at the higher end of the rates scale could be being overlooked in favour of those willing to settle for a lower hourly income or fixed fee. (More discussion of that in my recent post about ELT freelance rates.)

Just to check I wasn’t imagining it, I had a quick look back at how things looked for me a couple of years ago.

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No. Things were certainly quieter and the number of clients I was invoicing each month could definitely be counted on one hand. (Creating a chart like this is an interesting exercise for anyone to do. I read about it on the Dr Freelance blog, in his post Is It Time To Diversify Your Freelance Business.)

So, what to do? Options included sending emails to all my contacts letting them know I had some availability, or enjoying a bit of down time and making the most of it by doing some jobs around the house, or cooking some batch meals and filling the freezer. (Anyone who knows me well will know how appealing that will have seemed.) Then I got a phone call from a neighbour asking me if I’d be interested in helping him with his MBA dissertation, so I decided to take that on. It certainly didn’t pay the kind of rate I’m used to charging for project management, training or development editing, but I did enjoy it. I brushed up my touch-typing skills, discovered some new tricks with Word, and learnt something about a field I wouldn’t otherwise have ever looked into.

Fortunately, work started to pick up for me during that period, and I’m now as busy as ever. But I’m aware I could find myself in that situation again at any time so I have been thinking about diversifying and wondering which route I might take my transferable skills down if I needed to. To get some inspiration, I asked the White Ink community to tell me about their experiences of branching out as I clearly wasn’t the only ELT freelancer in this position. With thanks to everyone who contributed, here are some things they told me they were doing …

“Last year almost 99% of my income came from ELT publishers. (I worked both as an editor and author.) This year the ratio has changed: ELT projects – 80%; other projects – 20%. I’ve started working as a freelance English-Polish translator. Every week I have to translate the same minimum number of words (normally it can be done in 1 day), but if I have more availability I can complete more assignments and earn more. I could do this almost full-time if all my other projects got cancelled suddenly. In fact, earlier this year, an ELT project was postponed by two weeks – I did more work for this client and I didn’t lose any money despite the change.
I’m also working as an external reviewer for a large Polish publisher (fiction and non-fiction). The reviews pay very little, but these assignments help me organise my time better. When I have a book to review, I need to find time to read a few chapters every day (= away from my laptop). That gives me some ME time with my e-book reader every day!
I still like ELT editing and I think that in the future most of my income will still come from ELT projects, but I’ll try to earn at least 25% in different areas. I don’t want to put all my eggs in the same basket, and I find the other projects interesting.”
Bartosz Michałowski 

“A lot of my students have gone on to university and have dissertations to write, some of which need to be in English. Many came back to me to do the final edit and proofread, they would get good marks and so would refer me to other students. I’ve also started doing some fiction editing, I’ve ghost-written some articles, and have edited online blogs. The most interesting thing I’ve done is editing adult fiction – I’ve learnt a lot of new vocabulary!  I also write fiction and a few pieces have been published – I’m just waiting for a publisher to realise that I’m worth becoming a very rich author. I’m still waiting.”
Catherine Zs

“I only started in ELT freelance editing at the start of this year, and as I had no idea at first whether I’d secure enough ELT editing work, I had immediately signed up for a summer teaching contract in order to guarantee at least some income for myself. I also saw teaching as a way to refresh my ELT classroom knowledge, as I hadn’t been in the classroom for going on ten years. As well as the teaching, I branched out into STM (scientific, technical and medical) editing. I’m not fundamentally an STM expert, but scientific publishing in particular is booming.
I enjoy editing, but having ‘other’ things to go to that also contribute to professional development and encourage my body to get up and moving around (and which bring in money!) seem worthwhile to me. It’s very hard to predict what will happen, but as many know, ELT publishing is going through a transition. I feel the long-time, big-name editors will still have a good supply of work, but newcomers like myself might be squeezed out when work gets thin on the ground.”
Zoe Smith

“A lull in ELT editorial work and having moved to a new part of the country (Isle of Skye) coincided with being made redundant from a full-time job, so I had gone back to freelancing, which was going quite slowly. I had some experience in picture research and picture editing and I’m a keen photographer, so I’ve learned how to work with Photoshop and Lightroom and have been doing some freelance image reviewing. Also, a bit niche and specific to where we live, but I/we run a self-catering cottage. To increase our income, we started using AirBnB and we’ve been busy all year with guests. While cleaning and getting the cottage ready isn’t hugely fun, meeting people from all over the world is (a bit like EFL teaching). Then, as I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking, to combine something I like doing with getting to know people around where I live, I do some work in a local bakery. The link with transferable skills here is a bit more tenuous, but you certainly find out how organised you are and I’ve found I can successfully organise an editorial project and a bakery!”
Sara Harden

“I’ve diversified in a way, to earn some extra money without having to make any extra effort! I rent out my driveway (via justpark.com) and I rent a room to a student at a local college. Additional benefits include easy access to a babysitter, and a car parked outside when I’m away!”
Helen Holwill

“I decided to look for another source of income for several reasons:
a) personal fulfilment – I had always planned to have a portfolio freelance career with fingers in different pies.
b) a nagging worry that there are too many freelancers for the amount of work available (at least, the work that interests me and that I’m qualified for)
c) concerns that I’m not making enough money!
I’m hoping to be doing a mixture of freelance journalism in the local press and editing for the UK schools market and trade publishers in the fields of Fiction and English Literature. My ideal scenario for the next year is for me to spend 70% of my time working in ELT, and 30% on other projects. But there’s no science behind this – it’s just a rough goal and it may not turn out this way.”
Anon

“Whilst ELT freelancing is a great source of independent work, flexible and well paid, it can be inconsistent and unreliable. A couple of jobs that were agreed fell through at the last minute for me and I’d already turned down other work that had been offered. I ended up losing out on potentially £5k altogether and couldn’t find freelance work again for a good six weeks. This uncertainty was the trigger to find additional/other work, so I took an in-house contract for a year working on Primary UK education courses – a side step from ELT.
I think being a freelancer can isolate you so much that you feel there’s nothing else for you except ELT editing, but this isn’t the case at all. ELT editors do have a specific skill set but these skills can be utilised in other areas and not just publishing. I do feel there’s a freelance saturation happening right now for one reason or another, so diversifying is a good idea during these times, in my opinion.”
Anon

“I fill in quiet patches with duties in a local cake shop. I enjoy doing something completely different and getting out of the house. It is quite a physical job so that has made a change from sitting at my computer all day! Being able to work there in conjunction with the editing (which I still really enjoy) brings me the variety I craved when I used to work in-house. Unfortunately it doesn’t pay as well so it’s not a long-term option but it stops me from spending money in the quiet patches!”
Anon

“I am doing some voluntary work for a charity – principally proofreading exhibition catalogues and website work. This, although not providing revenue, enables me to pursue a lifelong interest in ceramics and directly contribute to the charity’s work … it has also rekindled my interest in ceramic decoration, so I’ve started designing and hand-painting tiles again – something I used to do, but haven’t actively pursued for a number of years.”
Anon

I hope those anecdotes provide everyone with some reassurance that there is life outside ELT publishing, and other options are available. And as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also just seen Why Having Multiple Sources Of Income Is Essential For Success on the Freelancer News blog. There’s a lot of it about.

Have you had to diversify? Leave a comment with your experience, or any tips for others.

16 reasons why being a freelance editor is like being an Olympic athlete

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Sitting here watching the cyclists whizzing round the velodrome, and the track and field athletes hurdling, throwing and jumping, it strikes me that being a freelance editor has some similarities with being an Olympic athlete. With no apologies for being somewhat Team GB biased, here’s why …

  1. You train hard to be the best in your field. You take your CPD seriously, keep your online profile updated, and network like a champion.
  2. You eat and drink right. If editors were tested for caffeine as often as Olympians are tested for banned substances, we’d all fail. You know that fruit is a healthy snack and cake is bad, and you try and avoid the biscuit tin every time you go into the kitchen.
  3. You’re a team player. Like the rowing eights with their cox in charge, you work alongside others, pulling together to get your project over the finish line. The project manager will keep you on course.
  4. You’re an individual participant. You might only hear from your client at the opening and closing ceremonies of the project, but in the meantime you’re your own boss, managing your own time to meet deadlines.
  5. You fall over occasionally, but you get straight back up again. Mo Farah tripped and picked up some bruises during his 10,000-metre race on Saturday, but he got up and crossed the line to win gold. If you get knocks on a project, you learn from the experience and move on.
  6. You pay someone to do the support roles so you can focus. Athletes have trainers, physios, chefs and caddies. You might have an accountant, a cleaner and a personal trainer.
  7. You’re reliant on your equipment. Your PC (or Mac) is to you what clubs are to Justin Rose.
  8. You see other freelancers as support rather than competition. Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner are friends, GB-teammates, and are sharing a room in the Olympic village. Only at the last minute did they have to go head-to-head.
  9. You occasionally have to have a late night. Anyone else stay up to watch the end of the Murray–del Potro match on Sunday night?
  10. You can change your discipline if you fancy a change. Rebecca Romero won a silver medal in Athens in 2004 in the rowing quadruple skulls, then in 2008 won gold in Beijing in the individual pursuit track cycling. I know of more than one editor who has their name on a front cover as an author.
  11. You can be a success without everyone knowing about it. Ed Clancy won gold as part of the GB men’s pursuit team, but the name everyone knows from the team is Bradley Wiggins. Behind every bestseller is a hardworking editor.
  12. Your fans will always be there for you. Alistair Panton flew to Rio from Aberdeen when he heard Andy Murray had reached the finals of the men’s singles tennis. My husband will spend hours fixing my PC if I need help. Similar.
  13. You always warm up before the main event. Writing your daily to-do list is like Usain Bolt limbering up in his tracksuit.
  14. You occasionally work somewhere else. Endurance athletes go to training camps. You go to your local library or coffee shop.
  15. You change your routine from time to time. Athletes vary their training schedules throughout the year. That’s like putting your sit/stand desk in the opposite position.
  16. You do things that no one other than you and a handful of others understand. What’s the keirin all about? To the casual observer, it’s a man in a hat riding a funny bicycle. If you work on a specialist journal or list, I’m sure you know what I mean.

And of course, some jobs are more of a sprint than a marathon. Others are a marathon when you expected a sprint.