Breaking into freelance book copyediting

Breaking into freelance book copyediting

March 25, 2019 By Cindy Howle Resources

When I tell people about my job at Penguin — copyediting and proofreading books for young readers — the responses are along a spectrum from “You read all day? Yuck” to “You read all day and get to fix the mistakes? I would be so great at that! Are you hiring?”

I nod politely at both; I tell the people in the second category that I do hire freelancers in my work as a production editor. But breaking in as a freelance copyeditor is tough, even if you love reading and you pride yourself on your spelling skills. I’m a great cook, but I don’t expect Food Network to hire me as a sous chef in their kitchens. I may be capable of doing the job, which is in no way glamorous, but the standards are high and competition is brutal.

Brutal, but not impossible. As a production editor, I keep a list of potential freelancers, and if you’re good enough that your résumé, cover letter, and copyediting test cause me to sit up and notice, you will eventually get a shot. If you make a great impression with that first job, and the jobs after that, you’ll slowly move up my list, until you become a regular. It happens!

It’s easy to stumble in this process, though, which inspired my session at ACES 2019. Can you find and communicate with production editors without being a nuisance? Can you provide a résumé that shows your strengths in an appealing way? When you take the test, can you spot the errors that make you stand out as an exceptional candidate? Once you get your first freelance job, can you correct the manuscript gently, meet the deadline, and impress the editors? Can you stay on the PE’s radar — again, without being a pest?

Evaluating freelancers is one of the hardest parts of my job. If there were infinite projects with limitless budgets, I’d give every person who emails me a shot. But every person I try out is a gamble, with time, money, and my own credibility on the line. I have to be picky, and I hope this session helps you shine a little brighter.

I’ll be presenting “How to Get Hired (or Fired) as a Freelance Book Copyeditor” at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, at ACES 2019. I won’t blame you if you go see another Penguin Random House employee in that time slot — he’s kind of a big deal. But I can promise you weird jokes, good advice, schadenfreude, and a few cat pictures, if you’re well behaved.

Cindy Howle is the copy chief of two imprints at Penguin Young Readers Group, where she’s been moving commas around for almost 20 years.

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on

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