Kate Rosengarten's enlightening article for The Proofreader's Parlour on working with business clients prompted me to write a companion piece on proofreading for academic publishers.
Update: These days my business has changed and I edit exclusively for independent fiction authors but back in 2012, my work for academic social science publishers was the backbone of my freelance proofreading business.
I liked being given a sharp brief with little ambiguity over the degree to which I should intervene. If you do, too, read on …
What do I do?
I’m a trained proofreader. My academic clients value copy-editing and proofreading as distinct roles and faithfully take in both at the appropriate point in the production process – when I’m hired to proofread, I know what the expectations are.
I specialize in social science and humanities proofreading. The presses I work for have strong lists in subjects such as politics and international relations, philosophy, sociology, economics, communication studies, law, business, research methods, and environment and development studies.
What’s distinctive about working for academic publishers?
What are clients looking for?
Academic publisher clients’ requirements for editorial freelancers vary from press to press, but certain criteria feature highly in the hiring stakes: training, experience, references, and familiarity with software.
Training: In the UK, the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) are recognized as core external training providers. The PTC’s Basic Proofreading is an excellent course if you want to be prepared for academic proofreading work. For more information, take a look at the Training archive.
Experience: Knowledge of and an educational background in the subject area aren’t essential if you are proofreading social science and humanities texts, but will certainly give you an advantage. Publishers will be confident you are comfortable with the language you’re likely to come across. In the fields of science, technology and medicine (STM), you’re less likely to get proofreading work if you can’t demonstrate subject knowledge.
References: Try to get some testimonials for any work you’ve completed as soon as you can. Whatever client type you focus on, being able to demonstrate that others value your services is key to getting noticed.
Software: Some publishers are starting to dip their toes into onscreen proofreading, and one of my clients works almost exclusively on-screen. For on-screen work you’ll need to be able to navigate your way around a PDF editor such as Acrobat or PDF-XChange. I use a mixture of comment-and-markup tools included in the software and my free on-screen proofreading stamps.
How to access the field ...
It’s my understanding that academic publishers aren’t currently trawling individual websites to find reliable editorial freelancers. While I consider having a website and using social media important for my overall business profile, I don’t expect to attract academic publisher clients in this way. My most successful marketing tools are:
Membership directory listing: In the UK, the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services has generated clients for me. If academic proofreading is something you are serious about, I think an entry in this directory gives a good return on investment (you’ll need to qualify for at least Ordinary Membership to take a listing). If you live outside of the UK, take a look at this list of international editorial societies. This includes information on membership directories.
Direct contact: My most successful marketing strategy by far has been to contact a publisher’s production manager with a one-page CV and covering letter. I have a degree in political science and I worked in the marketing department of an international social science publisher for many years. I show clients that I am comfortable with the language of social sciences because of this background; I always include good testimonials so they can see their publishing colleagues rate the quality of my work highly; I briefly outline the training I’ve undertaken; I give them examples of other clients and recent projects; I tell them I can work onscreen if they need me to; and I always emphasize that I am used to working with similar clients and that I understand the importance of following a clear brief and hitting a deadline.
What’s the pay like?
Rates of pay vary from one academic house to the next. In general, you can earn more for freelance editorial work in STM than in the social sciences and humanities. It’s difficult to provide an accurate figure but, in the UK for proofreading in the social sciences and humanities, rates of between £12 and £17 per hour are currently achievable.
Some publishers offer fixed fees for the job, so the hourly rate will depend on the state of the proofs, how efficient you are and the format you’re working in. For more information on editorial freelancing rates of pay, including the view from beyond the UK, see this blog’s Money Matters archive.
A piece of advice …
In a previous Spotlight interview focusing on working with business clients, editor Kate Rosengarten wisely stated, “I think people need to make a positive choice to work in business proofreading rather than seeing it as a fall-back option … being able to really focus on your clients’ materials and their particular needs is important.” I think this applies just as much to working with academic publishers.
Some academic texts can be quite dry; many are very long. The house style may be highly specific, as are the briefs from the client. The text may be dense and the font size small. The material is often loaded with footnotes and references, all of which need to be cross-checked. Bibliographies can be the size of entire chapters.
If you’re looking for thrills in your editorial freelancing life, academic clients are unlikely to be a good fit for your business. But if you want learn while you work and enjoy pre-defined parameters set by an in-house production manager, proofreading for academic publishers is hugely rewarding. The content is formally structured, the subject matter is diverse, the briefs are unambiguous, and there’s a good chance of getting repeat work.
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 write short fiction too. Click on the book above to read my free debut collection.
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