There is no reason for any small business not to be online … in a professional, powerful way. That way, when a customer wants to find your menu of products, they will.
Steve Strauss (USATODAY.com columnist, author and lawyer)
Proofreading and editing are competitive. If your colleagues have websites but you don’t, you’re less likely to be found by potential customers. You're potential market is worldwide so make yourself visible to those to beyond your own geographical boundaries.
2. No- or low-cost marketing
Your website is a low-cost, high-impact marketing tool. If you use a host such as Weebly or WordPress, to name just two, then the only cost to you need be the time you spend building and maintaining it (though I'd recommend paying a little extra for a professional custom domain name).
Once live, customers can find you rather than your having to find them.
3. Create an online résumé
You can use your website as an online résumé. Keep your home page uncluttered, but use other pages to show off your clients, skills and portfolio of work.
4. Control your space
A website is more than ‘having an online presence’ – it’s a professional space in which you control both the content and the design of that content. In other words, your brand identity.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ are restrictive in this respect. Even highly functional professional editorial directories will define how you can display your content.
You can, however, use these networking platforms, and others, to drive people to your website.
5. Content is always fresh
Websites are easy to update, meaning the content you include is always the latest content. Update your site frequently and search engines are more likely to notice you. And that means clients are more likely to find you.
6. Become a curator
Your website can be about others as well as you – use it as an information-sharing tool. Think of it as a way to be helpful to others, a source of solutions. Update your resources regularly, and brand your content consistently, to keep your website fresh.
7. Your clients probably have one – shouldn't you?
If you want to be seen as someone who's up to date with the same technology and trends as your clients, an attractive, solution-focused website can be part of the arsenal that demonstrates this.
8. It’s not hard
Things have come on a long way in the past few years. Even if the idea of building your own site scares you, make the jump and at least do a bit of research.
Most website providers offer design templates that you can use and adapt to suit your own needs (WordPress, Weebly, Yola, and 1&1 are just a few examples). You don’t need any technical knowledge of computer programming or coding to get up and running.
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.
Update from Louise: I wrote this post about proofreading training several years ago. However, I'm confident the advice still stands. While these days I work primarily for indie fiction authors who find me via organic search, I think publisher work is still incredibly valuable.
How far will training get you in the editorial freelancing market?
Publishers and editorial freelancers understand each other. We have the same expectations regarding the level of editing being undertaken (e.g. developmental, line/copy, proofreading), which saves both parties time.
Publishers are in a position to offer repeat work, thus taking some of the stress out of marketing. Plus the portfolio- and testimonial-building opportunities are excellent.
And so while the rates are sometimes an issue (though not always by any means), publishers are a brilliant client group to target. It's therefore important to bear in mind where they see the value when hiring editorial freelancers.
Here's what I found out ...
Is training useless?
I’ve just landed on a blog where the author calls proofreading courses a "scam" and "unnecessary", and the qualifications "useless". The rant continues, the author arguing that they’ve never been asked to produce evidence of any qualification or completion of a course by an "official" body.
And luckily for anyone looking to enter this extraordinarily crowded and competitive field, said author offers a far cheaper alternative to all those "rip-off" courses: their very own proofreading course in the form of an ebook.
Back in 2005, I spent seven months doing just the type of course this author was decrying. I opted for the Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course run by the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), an externally assessed course run by an industry-recognized body.
I also joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and did the necessaries to qualify for full membership.
So did I waste my money? Was I ripped off? Did the training I took on help me get to where I am now or was I kidding myself?
Should I have instead invested in an ebook course that would have given me change from a twenty-pound note?
I discussed this issue with some of my clients, all of whom are established and respected publishing houses or project management services in the UK.
What came out of the conversation led me to conclude that the training I undertook was definitely worthwhile, and membership of the SfEP has provided me with wonderful information-sharing opportunities as well as the right to advertise in their Directory.
Nevertheless, there was much food for thought in the responses I received.
Thumbs up for training courses …
Out of House Publishing consider only the SfEP and PTC courses to be "useful and relevant" and Managing Director Jo Bottrill stated that he "certainly consider[s] freelancers who have completed such training much more seriously".
Constable & Robinson’s website states, "Please note our minimum requirements include training from recognized establishments such as SfEP or the Publishing Training Centre."
Aimée Feenan from Ashgate concurs, saying that most Ashgate staff have undertaken some sort of training at the PTC, and knowing that freelance staff are able to work to the same editorial standards means they are more likely to be hired. They also recognize the SfEP as a trusted source.
And at SAGE Publishing, training is considered important, with the SfEP and PTC again being the two most trusted external suppliers.
Elizabeth Clack at Edward Elgar felt "that the Publishing Training Centre and SfEP courses are good quality and are well-regarded, so it would be a plus point if someone had taken courses with them, although that's not to say that we would only consider freelances who had taken courses with these bodies".
She added, "it indicates to us that the freelance has reached a certain level of proficiency and has some understanding of editing/proofreading procedures and 'best practice'. Training is especially relevant if the freelance does not yet have much work experience."
Also of note here the fact that she felt that proofreading courses took away some of the risk of the unknown when taking on a new or inexperienced freelancer.
But training in itself is not enough …
Training in itself is not always enough, and some publishers feel they have had their fingers burned by relying too much on freelancers’ training credits. Increasingly publishers are using their own tests in order to evaluate competence.
Jo Bottrill was cautious of advanced membership and accreditation status within the SfEP, feeling that these did not always ensure that a freelancer met his exacting standards.
Instead, he's "put[ting] more emphasis on the assessment of our own tests and analysis of live jobs. Our quality control and reporting procedures have developed over the last couple of years to ensure we have an appropriate safety net."
For Edward Elgar, "another factor when considering whether to work with a freelance is whether they have experience in a particular subject area, because many of our books are quite specialized. For instance, freelances working on our law books may have law qualifications or a background in legal work."
Ian Antcliff, one of SAGE Publications’ senior production editors, stated that training, though important, is seen as an add-on. For him, in-house experience makes for an attractive prospect, not because the editors/proofreaders are better, but rather because "it usually ensures that they are sympathetic to and understand the pressure that in-house staff are under (especially with regard to budgets and deadlines)".
Ashgate acknowledge that not every freelancer on their books has received formal editorial training – they do have people who were just exceptionally good at learning on the job and being an expert in a particular subject area is also a real plus.
Polity’s production manager, Neil de Cort, takes a stronger line. For him, a speculative letter with a list of training courses is of no relevance. Like most publishers, Polity receive a large number of speculative letters every year from freelancers looking for work. Experience counts every time – Neil wants to see that a freelancer has experience of working in the social sciences, and references from other publishers are key. Completion of a training course alone simply won’t get you on their books.
Confidence to take on the task
The training I’ve completed to date did indeed get me looked at by several clients when I was starting out. Polity, though, gave me work because of my knowledge of their field of publishing and a good reference from Salt Publishing. Constable & Robinson noticed me, despite the fact that I already met their minimum requirements, because of a recommendation from the Edward Elgar production team.
However, proofreading books published by the likes of Cambridge University Press, Polity and SAGE, who, like all of my clients, have precise and exacting publishing standards, can be daunting to the newbie.
And expanding into new publishing genres, in my case from the social sciences to trade, is a different type of challenge. Externally assessed training under the wing of a skilled industry-recognized body gave me the confidence to take on these challenges and feel assured that I was ready for the task in hand.
On-the-job CPD and upgrading skills
As for the future, I’ve been wrestling with the issue of whether to upgrade to advanced membership of the SfEP. For me this will mean undertaking more training courses, since I qualify on all other fronts.
I’ve no doubt that further courses will provide me with new knowledge and provide excellent networking opportunities. But will I get more work? It depends on what that training is – if it involves ensuring I can mark-up onscreen, use the preferred software packages, and deliver my projects in new formats, then yes.
(Note from Louise in 2017: I did this, and have been an Advanced Professional Member for several years.)
Ian Antcliff at SAGE emphasizes how essential it is for freelancers to have up-to-date skill sets "with regard to both onscreen editing and Word, and also with ancillary software generally – Adobe, etc. – increasingly so as we move towards onscreen mark-up of proof PDFs".
Talking to clients (or reading their blogs and tweets) about what their needs are, how the market is changing, and new ways of delivering our service may be just as informative as any course, and is probably the first thing we should do before deciding where to spend our hard-earned training cash.
In a nutshell …
So all in all, the message from my clients was that initial basic editorial training is more likely to get us noticed by publishers, but that it’s not the sole factor in determining whether they place us on their books.
Experience counts for a lot, but so does flexibility over the formats in which we work. Continuing to update our skills in whatever way best suits the needs of our clients will give us the best chance of remaining their freelancers of choice.
As for that £19.99 ebook course? It simply wouldn’t have cut the mustard.
(With thanks to Edward Elgar, SAGE Publications, Ashgate, Polity, and Out of House Publishing for their generous contributions.)
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in helping self-publishing writers prepare their novels for market.
She is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors, and runs online courses from within the Craft Your Editorial Fingerprint series. She is also an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Louise loves books, coffee and craft gin, though not always in that order.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, take a look at Louise’s Writing Library and access her latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
Several queries from ‘newbies’ on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ online discussion group, SfEPLine, prompted me to consider how I went about things when was starting out. Here are my top tips for getting freelance editorial work.
Step 1 – get experience and references with gratis work
Getting experience is the hardest part of the game, and more important when you’re starting out than worrying about the price you’re being paid. Publishers, who are a great source of revenue because they are in a position to offer repeat work, want to give jobs to people who don’t need hand-holding.
Offering free work to those small independent publishers who can’t afford copy-editors/proofreaders is a very useful avenue for beefing up your CV and generating testimonials. And don’t worry about this affecting your credibility: your future paying clients won’t know you worked your backside off for nothing – they’ll just see what you’ve done.
Furthermore, those clients who offer free work do so because they can’t afford editing services and usually have to do it themselves; those who can afford to pay, do so because they want trained experienced professionals.
The lesson here is to get the experience from the former to make yourself attractive to the latter. When I started out six years ago, I did four pieces of very time-consuming gratis work for a couple of publishers and a charity, in addition to editing a parish magazine on a monthly basis. My bank account didn’t see a penny, but my CV looked a great deal better, and I doubt I would have got the breaks that I did with my now-paying clients if I’d not been able to demonstrate practical experience.
Step 2 – think about timing
I’d also recommend contacting publishing clients in the period leading up to the holiday season, as that’s when their regular freelances are more likely to be unavailable. When I was starting out I got myself work in the school holidays with two academic publishing houses from whom, six years later,
I get monthly offers of work. To prove the point further, I was recently contacted by a London-based university press whose usual proofreaders were all on their summer vacations. The production editor found my entry in the SfEP's Directory of Editorial Services and asked me if I'd proofread a book for her. She was pleased with the results and took the further step of recommending me to her fellow production editors. Other people's holidays can be your entry point!
This tactic means making sacrifices with regard to your leisure time: in my first year I worked a lot of evenings, but it paid off because I hung onto the clients. Now I turn down jobs if the timing doesn’t suit me, and I feel safe in the knowledge that my clients value my work enough that I won’t slip off their radar if I don’t want to proofread on Christmas Eve!
Step 3 – get to the right person
Once you’ve got a CV with projects listed on it, you can roll this out to publishing clients. Their websites usually list who the production manager is. Once you know to whom to send your CV, buy lots of stamps!
I sent my CV to 70 publishers in the beginning, and got a tiny response rate, but each of these few responses generated repeat paid work, so I wasn’t disheartened by the numbers. Then, once I had more projects under my belt and a more impressive CV, I bought even more stamps and sent out my CV again to another 100 publishers.
It does take time to build up a client base, and while I can see the value of having a web presence or using social networking opportunities, I wanted to be proactive and contact the named person within an organisation who was responsible for commissioning freelances, rather than hoping they’d come to me.
Step 4 – focus on a type of client
I have a degree in politics and worked in the marketing department of a social science publisher for many years. I therefore chose to focus my attention on social science academic publishers when I started sending out my CV.
There are thousands of publishing houses out there, so homing in on those that are likely to be interested in you is critical. I really fancied doing some fiction, but I didn’t pick up my first trade client until I’d got four years’ experience.
So, if you’re an ex-teacher, focus on educational houses; if you used to be a paralegal, try law/criminology publishers; if you’ve got a degree in mathematics or chemistry, consider publishers with a strong science list.
Step 5 – use the Web
One of my authors is a graphic designer/IT specialist during the week and a mixed martial artist (that’s cage fighter to you and me) at weekends. His book was about his weekend job. He commented that he’d not come across my name before his publisher contacted him, despite his googling, and wondered why I didn’t have an online presence. I made a ton of excuses – I don’t want the expense of paying for a domain hosting service; I have no design skills; I don’t have the time, etc.
However, things have changed since I started out as a freelancer and it’s easier than ever to build your own website. It needn’t cost you a penny either. There are a number of providers that will give you a basic but very pleasing platform and domain name at no cost. I use Weebly and am delighted with it, but there are many others from which to choose.
Those who'd like more thorough, step-by-step information on starting out may be interested in my guide, Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters, published in association with The Publishing Training Centre.
I admit it – until recently I’d resisted Twitter and rejected the idea having my own website; last year I deactivated my Facebook account; and the notion of blogging found me yawning into my teacup. But a conversation with a publishing friend got me thinking that perhaps I was letting things slip a little.
I’d limited my networking almost completely to members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), which is all well and good, but was I getting left behind? Was I missing out on those little snapshots of the publishing world more generally? ‘Trial it for a month,’ said my publishing friend. So I did. And I like it – I really do.
There are a lot of reasons why people sign up with Twitter, but these are my top three:
1. All my clients use Twitter…
Yes, every single one of them. My clients are, in the main, academic and trade publishing houses, and they all have Twitter accounts. Some of them use it to tweet about recent book releases; others use it as a forum for posting interesting links about the fields in which they publish; most of them, at one time or another, have used the platform as a way to transmit industry news. And a lot of them follow each other. So if they’re there, I think I ought to be there. Actually a few of them now follow me, and that can only be a good thing in terms of my proofreading profile and how other publishing houses might regard me.
2. It’s a one-stop-shop for industry news…
Like a lot of people, I’m ‘time poor’. Proofreading deadlines, school pick-ups and an enthusiastic young Labrador mean I just don’t have the time to read the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Bookseller, the Guardian’s online publishing blog, and the Times Higher Education Supplement, and keep tabs on what my clients are up to. And that’s before I’ve tried to remember to search out some of my preferred general-interest blogs (David Mitchell’s regular Observer blogs are a favourite of mine!). And that’s the real beauty of Twitter – I get these handy little links popping up that take me straight to where I want to go. I swear the amount of time I spend trawling the web for stuff I just might be interested in has decreased by 60%!
3. You can keep it professional…
One of my biggest concerns was that I might descend into tweeting hell, and find myself drowning in a sea of friend-based discussions about the weather, my general state of health, and football scores. So I’ve been very select about the accounts I follow and I’m very careful with the content of my tweets. Nearly all the accounts I follow are publishing related and I take care only to tweet about things that my fellow industry colleagues might find interesting. So you won’t find me lamenting the fact that I’m having a bad-hair day, or that my dog has chewed my new pair of Birkenstocks. Instead, I’m more likely to be retweeting about Penguin’s move into the self-publishing market, the SfEP’s latest training schedule, an editor's weblink, or developments in e-publishing.
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