If you spend any time around fellow editors these days, or any time on LinkedIn or in Facebook groups, you’ll hear the now-classic question: How do I become a freelance editor?
I’m writing about that basic question both because it’s so prevalent and because starting with or returning to the basics is always a smart move. Even the most seasoned, successful freelancer can often use a refresher on what it takes to have a freelance editing business—yes, it’s a business—that works.
Those of us who are more established may roll our eyes when the question comes up again…and again…and again…especially when it comes in the form of “I love to read/I always notice typos/I was an English major, so how do I become a freelance editor or proofreader?” Or, “Tell me everything about your business, including your client info, so I can start mine.”
Even the most seasoned, successful freelancer can often use a refresher on what it takes to have a freelance editing business—yes, it’s a business—that works.
Yet I’d rather see someone ask this question than stumble around without input from experienced colleagues. Many of us do spend a lot of time answering those questions and guiding newbies, and that’s a good thing. I figure the more skilled and professional we all are, the better off we all will be.
So, if you’re just getting started, do feel free to ask questions, but keep some basic precepts in mind.
It is not good etiquette to ask freelance colleagues for referrals or for their “overflow” work if they don’t know you. Nor is it good manners to ask colleagues to share their client contact information. Established freelancers work hard to find and build relationships with their clients, and we aren’t going to risk those relationships on people we don’t know, whose skills and work ethic we know nothing about.
Remember that networking is a two-way process—a matter of both giving and getting. Don’t be a constant taker. When you get help or good advice, look for ways to give something back.
To earn the respect of colleagues, do a little research first to cut down on the “obvious newbie” questions. There are tons of resources out there about launching a freelance editing business. Some of the best include my booklet for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business”; Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s extensive Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base; Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog; and the Editors Association of Earth group on Facebook.
Before you go after projects and clients, refresh or confirm your skills. Look into the certificate program between ACES and the Poynter Institute; webinars from Copyediting.com; and training from professional organizations such as the EFA, Editors Association of Canada, and Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Private entities also offer excellent training, such as Laura Poole’s Editorial Bootcamp and April Michelle Davis’s Editorial Inspirations. Finally, there are several well-respected certificate resources in editing training from colleges and universities, including the University of California, San Diego and the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Communications. Even the government is in on the act, with editing classes available from the USDA Grad School.
Hone your skills and knowledge by joining groups or discussion lists that focus on editing and freelancing, such as the Copy Editing List (CEL). There are a lot of grammar- and editing-related groups on LinkedIn, along with even more for freelancers, but don’t be surprised to find that, for various reasons, many aren’t worth the time and effort of participating.
Check out sources of popular tools, such as macros, to streamline your editing process: Jack Lyon’s Editorium, Daniel Heuman’s PerfectIt, and Rich Adin’s EditTools, to name a few.
Join organizations such as the EFA, which has an active email discussion list for members where you can ask questions about both business and usage/style matters. The EFA also provides a job-listing service and a member directory where you can post a profile and be found by prospective clients.
Make your messages and posts as perfect as possible. Fair or not, you are judged on your online presence; it’s often the only way we meet each other. Making basic mistakes in spelling, grammar, or usage will not make colleagues think well of you when they want to make referrals to clients or hand off projects that aren’t in their wheelhouses.
Perhaps most importantly, think business! Yes, editing is an art, but freelancing is a business. Don’t sell yourself short. Learn how to set appropriate rates and establish ground rules with clients on everything from what constitutes a “page” (250 words) to reasonable deadlines; contracts and agreements; payment processes, methods, and timing; phone and email contact boundaries; and more.
I’ll talk about these issues more at future ACES conferences. In the meantime, here’s to your success as a freelance editor!
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning writer/editor, one of the first freelance members of ACES, a frequent contributor to the ACES newsletter and conference, and host of Communication Central’s annual “Be a Better Freelancer” conference.