At the time of writing, I’ve had 5 requests in 5 days for advice on transitioning to a proofreading/copy-editing career.
Self-reflection isn’t uncommon at this time of year – we use the time to think about what the future might bring and what changes we can make to achieve our life goals and business objectives. Here's a summary of the advice I offered my five enquirers based on the questions they asked.
This brief article only scratches the surface, but I hope it gives those who are considering a new career some food for thought.
1. 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.
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.
2. Is training necessary and worthwhile?
In a nutshell, yes. Why?
3. 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.
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.
4. 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:
5. 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.
If you think that word of mouth will be enough at the start of your editorial career, think again. I do have a few colleagues who’ve relied, successfully, on that but they’re few and far between, and they have a lot of experience (and clients to spread the word).
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.
6. 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 and what problems might I have?’
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.
7. 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!
Your problems solved
New editors and proofreaders: Need help growing your business? Email me your question and I’ll devote an entire post to answering it. If you’d rather keep your identity private, that’s fine with me.
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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Author Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I abide by its Code of Standards in regard to my status as an independent writer.
Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I'm a signatory to its code of practice as a professional editor.
Featured in The Book Designer's Carnival of the Indies: Joel Friedlander's collection of 'outstanding articles recently posted to blogs'.
Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.