Do I have the right background?
Probably! See how I answered that without knowing a thing about your educational and career experience? Here’s the thing – if you want to specialize in medical editing for publishers and you have a degree in economics, a rethink’s in order. Social science publishers, though? That’s more like it.
Ultimately, it’s about aligning your experience and skills with those who speak the same language. My background education and work experience is in the social sciences. I don’t know medicine like my doctor pal, Jon. So if I’m proofreading a file that mentions both inulin and insulin (which Wikipedia tells me are both connected to sugar in some way or another!), I’m unlikely to have a clue about whether the mentions of either are correct. At best, I’ll be querying my heart out; at worst, I’ll fail to spot an error. Give me a book on politics or social theory and it’s a different story. I know when those two little dots in Jürgen Habermas’s and Loïc Wacquant’s names have been omitted – I don’t have to look ’em up!
So, yes, you do probably have the right background to enable you to transition to a proofreading or copy-editing career. Just make sure you focus (initially) on targeting clients to whom you have the best chance of offering an exemplary service – clients who’ll think you’re interesting and hireable because you’re comfortable with the language of their subject.
That doesn’t mean you have to specialize forever, or stay with the same specialization over the course of your career. When I launched my editorial business, I worked almost exclusively for social science publishers. These days, I work mostly on fiction, specializing in proofreading and copy-editing for indie authors. A lot can change in a decade.
Is training necessary and worthwhile?
In a nutshell, yes. Why?
Take advice from your national editorial society on the most appropriate training course. The list I’ve linked to includes organizations in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Where’s my market?
Perhaps a better question is: Where isn’t my market? Most proofreading and copy-editing is done onscreen these days. Even traditional page-proof markup, using proof-correction symbols, is increasingly taking place in a digital environment. That means geography is not the barrier it once was.
Thirty years ago, an author from Colorado wouldn’t have hired me to proofread his crime thrillers – not because he didn’t want to, but because he couldn’t find me. Now, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, he can and he has.
If you live in Dublin, your market isn’t just Dublin. If you live in Tromsø, your market isn’t just Tromsø. I live in Panxworth (it’s a hamlet in Norfolk, England – even the satnav struggles to find me). If my market were limited to Panxworth, I’d be unemployed before breakfast.
If you live in Dublin, your market is people who want to work with someone who lives in Dublin, and people who want to work with someone who lives in Ireland, and people who don’t care where you live but believe you have the skills to solve their problems. Same kind of thing applies to the Tromsønian and the Panxwegian.
It’s not always about where you live or where your clients live, but whether you can find each other, and whether, once you have, you can instil a belief in those clients that you’re the right person for the job.
Will the pay be enough to earn a living wage?
This question gets rehashed over and over. There’s no quick answer. Here are some thoughts:
Do you think I’ll be able to find clients?
Yes, if you’re prepared to be an active marketer.
Don’t wait – start thinking about your marketing strategy as soon as you can. Marketing is about being interesting and discoverable. If you’re not interesting, it won’t matter who finds you because they won’t feel compelled to hire you. If you’re invisible, it won’t matter if you have a wardrobe full of USPs because no one will know you exist.
A good marketing strategy uses multiple promotional tools across multiple channels. That’s because different clients use different platforms to source us. Those tools and channels are interconnected. The website you build, the useful content you share, the social media platforms you engage with, the directories you advertise in, the networking meetings you attend, the business cards you hand out, the CV you publish, the portfolio you build, the testimonials you acquire, the emails and letters you post, and more, should all be branded consistently so that clients and colleagues can recognize you and your editorial business.
If you’re not ready to do what’s necessary to make yourself visible to good-fit clients, you’re not ready to run your own editorial business. If you think that word of mouth will be enough, you’re in for a shock. I do have a few colleagues who’ve relied, successfully, on that but they’re few and far between.
Being active puts you in a position where, over time, you acquire choice. Choice is the road to alignment – where what you need to earn, what you want to earn, how much time you have available to work for those earnings, and what the clients who can find you are prepared to pay all come together in a way that works for you and your business.
What kind of information is relevant?
It’s always about the client. When you’re creating content, put yourself in your client’s shoes and ask, ‘If I were searching for a proofreader, what would I want to know?’
Some experts would say that my website has too many words and too many pages, that the portfolio is too cluttered, that there’s too much information below the fold, that my blog titles are too long. I do break some of the ‘rules’ of online promotion; I also follow many of them. I’ve tried and tested different ways of doing things and found what works for me. Next year, I might be doing things differently. Nothing’s set in stone.
If you’re struggling to organize your message, ask yourself the following questions. If the content you create answers them, you’re on the right track.
But will it be lonely?
If you’re still excited about building a freelance editorial business, then there’s an international community of colleagues waiting to welcome you. Thirty years ago, freelancing could be a lonely business. In 2017, independent proofreaders and copy-editors chat, ask for advice, share knowledge and expertise, and learn … together. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and editorial-society forums provide just some of the online spaces that editorial pros use to connect with each other.
We work solo but the digital watercooler has never been busier. See you there!
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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I am an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
All text on this blog, The Proofreader's Parlour, and on the other pages of this website (unless indicated otherwise) is in copyright © 2011–17 Louise Harnby. Please do not copy or reproduce any of the content, in whole or part, in any form, unless you ask first.