The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
For many editorial freelancers, publisher clients provide a steady stream of repeat work. This makes them an attractive proposition for those wishing to expand their client portfolio. Publishing houses form the backbone of my proofreading business and I’ve worked for them in both an in-house and a freelance capacity for over 20 years.
So how do you get publishers’ attention if you want to proofread or copy-edit for them on a freelance basis? There are several methods but my preference is the “cold” cover letter. The term “cold” is used because the client is not expecting you to contact them. I like to include a brief CV with my cover letter.
Why go direct?
I could wait in the hope that publishers find my entries in a couple of core UK freelance directories. Perhaps they might land on my website. Or maybe they might see my Twitter profile and think I’m interesting. Actually, I do promote my business using all of these tools, but I don’t rely on them to get the attention of publisher clients. Why? Because in-house production staff are busy – ridiculously busy. They’re so busy it makes your head swim.
Walking into the production department of the London office of SAGE Publications for the 13 years I worked there was always an experience. Seeing first-hand the inner workings of this particular department taught me more about this element of book publishing than any course or training manual ever will. The first thing to mention is that it was filled with extraordinary people – people who always had incredible patience, despite the enormous piles of paper on their desks and the abundance of post-it-note deadlines marked “yesterday”. The second thing to mention is that the furrowed-brow count was higher there than anywhere else in the building.
It’s no surprise when you think about it. The marketing managers were balancing promotion campaigns with commissioning editors’ launch plans. The commissioning editors were balancing author and professional society relationships with acquisition targets. The customer service department staff were balancing sales with call-waiting times. The finance people were attempting to pay all the bills while keeping us in the black. But the production editors had it coming at them from all angles. Authors, commissioning editors, marketing managers, typesetters, printers, copy-editors, proofreaders, accountants – we all wanted a piece of them.
This taught me two things:
Something to keep on file
"What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can’t reread a phone call" – I love this quote from Liz Carpenter (quoted in Wagner, Cold Letters). It sums up another benefit of sending a cold cover letter: the prospective client has something they can keep on file even if they don't have use for your services right now. Then, if those busy desk editors do embark on a recruitment drive, your details are already in their "to consider" pile.
What to highlight when you first make contact
In view of this, to get their attention you need to make is as easy as possible for them NOT to chuck your CV in the bin. Clearly spell out the key points that show you’re worth replying to. They get hundreds of enquiry letters every year, so focus on your strengths. Publishers like the following:
Getting work with publishers, as with any sector of our market, is challenging as there’s a huge amount of competition. Be strategic about who you contact: focus on those publishers for whom your skills match their products. And be committed – to build up a solid list of publisher clients, do your research to make sure you’ve covered the whole field of presses relevant to your skill base.
(My sincere thanks to the in-house editors who took time out of their busy schedules to review this article.)
Related articles: To read Kate Rosengarten's advice on getting noticed by business clients, click here; for Anna Sharman's method of accessing pre-submission journal authors, click here.
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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Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.