A recent short question on this blog about which training course I would recommend for someone considering a career in proofreading prompted a rather long reply from me. It made me realize that the issue deserved a post of its own.
This article isn’t designed to recommend one particular course over another – readers of this blog who’ve searched my training archive will know the course I chose – the London-based PTC’s Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning. While I found this course to be outstanding, this accolade is based on my business plan, my place of residence, my knowledge of the market I chose to focus on, and my training budget. It won’t be the right choice for, say, a Belgian with a different niche market in mind, or a Canadian whose pockets are a feeling a little shallow at the moment.
Instead, the aim here is to give voice to some of the basic issues that are worth considering when choosing what, where and how to train for a career as a freelance proofreader, wherever you live and whatever your budget.
What’s on Offer?
The options are numerous. Distance learning and on-site; online and book-based; and DIY and professionally assessed. Some cost hundreds of pounds while other options cost less than the price of a family cinema outing. Googling for proofreading training courses throws up lots of information but little guidance on how to make a choice. Here are some ideas to get you on the right track:
Is there a national or regional professional society you can contact?
This is probably the best place to start. Get in touch with your national editing/proofreading society and see what they recommend. Their membership is full of people who were once in your position, so they will have some great advice to share, and at no cost. Visit my Resources
page and click on the blue Editing & Proofreading Societies button to locate your national association or regional chapter.
At what stage are you in the process?
Consider what point you’re at in the process of your career change. Are you definitely looking to become a professional proofreader or are you at the earlier stage of considering it as one of several options? If the latter, you might opt for a cheaper, preliminary short course to see if the work suits you before you invest a larger amount of money in a more time-consuming distance learning course.
If you've recently completed some training you might want to consider a mentoring programme. The SfEP runs a mentoring programme in the UK
. Contact your national editing and proofreading society for more details on mentoring opportunities in your own country.
What kind of client are you hoping to target?
Case study 1: You’re an ex-solicitor/attorney who’s decided that the law’s not your bag after all. You decide you want to focus on publisher clients, possibly those with lists in criminology, law and policing. Do some research to find out which houses publish in these fields and give them a call. Ask to speak to the production manager, or the person in charge of hiring freelance editorial staff. Ask that person what their criteria are for freelancers. They'll be able to tell you the training providers they recognize. They’ll also be able to give you some ideas about any experience or expertise they are looking for. You may be surprised to find that they accept a qualification that you hadn’t considered. And it may not be the most expensive one on the market. Even if you do find out that you would be better off going for one of the more expensive training courses, at least you know that it will be money well spent and that you’ll get the return on your investment once you start applying for paid work.
Getting a feel for what publishers want is a good start because they are one type of client that is in a position to offer you repeat work.
Case study 2: You’ve worked as an English-language teacher for years in a school or college, helping young adults improve their literacy skills. You decide to focus on independent fiction and creative non-fiction authors who are looking for the final polish before they submit their manuscript to an agent, in-house commissioning editor, or custom-publishing organization. You need to do the same research. Start networking with writers’ groups and online networks and ask the people themselves what training and experience they expect a proofreader to have. They may have a set of very different preferred externals based on their experiences of commissioning freelance editorial services. Join social networking forums such as LinkedIn where existing freelancers congregate and ask what training routes other freelance proofreaders in your country, who work with the type of client you’re interested in, took to get their careers of the ground.
The point is to research your market and find out what people want and expect. Every training provider on the market will tell you that their course is the best, and they wouldn’t be doing a good job of marketing themselves if they claimed otherwise. Asking the end-users, however, is the key to ensuring you make the decision that best suits your business strategy.
Assessed or not?
Assuming you’ve decided proofreading is the job for you, and you need a training course that is going to give you the confidence and readiness to do the job to a professional standard, find out whether your training provider offers an assessment element.
It’s best to iron out the creases while you are training, rather than alienating unhappy clients further down the line. Or to quote an old proverb: What the fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning.