Freelancing can provide such a satisfying lifestyle. When your workload is balanced, you can make your own hours, pick-and-choose clients, and enjoy the freedom that comes with knowing you aren’t shackled to a cubicle for nine or ten hours a day. Freelancing also comes with its downsides, though: specifically, the days when you don’t have enough work on your plate and you’ve convinced yourself that you will never, ever get another job and that your editing career is over and your bills won’t get paid and you’ll probably wind up moving in with your grouchy aunt and selling your hair or your grandfather’s pocket watch (your last vestige of him, alas!) to make next month’s student loan payment. Those days aren’t great!
After my first stints in trade publishing, I was a part-time freelancer during the years I worked on my PhD. My client base grew organically because editors I knew would pass my name to other editors, resulting in a steady and modest income. When it was time to write my dissertation and graduate, however, I decided to make a real effort of freelancing full-time rather than pursue the academic track. Waiting for jobs to cross my desk was no longer enough. I had to get creative.
I present the following tips for anyone at any stage of a freelance copyediting career, though my experience is fairly limited to trade publishing and work with independent writers. Even if some of these ideas seem basic, my hope is that you will find something here that leads you to at least one well-paying job. Even more, I hope it opens up a conversation between ACES members regarding what is working for them right now and what isn’t when it comes to locating profitable work.
Invest in a website. This is obvious, but make sure your website is updated and sharp. Though I’m not freelancing at the moment, I still receive so many organic queries from people via web searches. Your site doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, but make sure your contact information is easy to find. (Nothing annoys me more than a website where the “contact me” information is buried.) If you have a portfolio, include it, as well as any testimonials from clients who have agreed to endorse you. The goal of a website is to present a picture of what your copyediting services would provide a potential client, so ask your friends to make sure your site is typo-free!
Your website should also list the services you’re able to provide. In the past, I debated including price ranges on my website simply because doing so might weed out clients who hope to pay me five cents an hour for my work. Other freelancers might have strong opinions on this, but at the very least, I might include minimums on certain services. Ultimately this is a decision you must make depending upon the kinds of services you offer and the kinds of clients you hope to court.
Make use of social media. My relationship with social media is beyond complicated! I hate how invasive and addictive it is, yet it has undoubtedly helped me find clients.
Look for an agent or a business with whom to partner. Now that I’m back in publishing, I hire the bulk of my freelancers through agents. Some people don’t even know that agents for editors is a thing! For reasons that I won’t get into, legally it’s easier for us to contract with a corporation, so I email my agents and ask for help when I need it. They refer to their roster of power editors, and I pay them a fee above the agreed-upon amount. The work gets done, and if I’m not happy for some reason, I take it up with the agent. Usually things work out just fine, and the editors are free to accept/decline any job just as they would without an agent.
Agents are hoping to work with experienced editors, of course, so depending upon your background, it might not be possible to find one. That said, do not underestimate the potential of an unsolicited email to an agent or any small business to whom you believe your services could be useful. Do a little research on a company, then make a sharp pitch that demonstrates that you could provide them something valuable as they grow. Worst-case scenario is being ghosted or turned down, so why not try?
Expand your network and build upon the one you already have. This one may also sound obvious, but meeting people is the easiest way to find work. Though my moderate social anxiety makes this aspect of job hunting difficult for me, I cannot reinforce the importance of it enough. When I say “expand your network,” I’m not talking about spending hours on LinkedIn making friend requests; I’m talking about making real connections digitally and in person (once it’s safe again to do so). Word-of-mouth referrals and asking your friends for help can be your superpower. In fact, I attribute most of my professional wins to knowing and talking to people who have opened doors for me.
Don’t forget traditional job-hunting. If you’re looking for book work, Publishers Marketplace features a job board that often includes listings for freelance gigs in addition to salaried positions. Some smaller publishers list right on their websites that they need freelance help, so it doesn’t hurt to poke around in those places once in a while. LinkedIn suggests freelance gigs to me often, though, like most clients, such postings demand vetting. In short, if you can think of any companies for whom you might enjoy working, check out their job boards. You never know what you’ll stumble across.
Freelancing can be wildly rewarding, whether you do it full-time or on the side. Whatever your circumstances, celebrate your wins and learn from your losses. Never underestimate the satisfaction of a job well done and the power of word-of-mouth referrals. And no matter the gig, make sure new clients pay you at least half upfront. (I learned about this the hard way.) Good luck out there!