Career Advice

Do you want to become a freelance editorial professional?

Becoming a freelance proofreader – or editor or indexer – seems like the ideal job if you want to work from home.

Proofreading, in particular, seems to be a very attractive career. What’s not to like about working from home at hours that suit you? But proofreading is more than sitting around reading novels all day and getting paid for it. Louise Harnby’s blog post ‘Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough’ sums up the hard work involved in becoming, and being successful as, a freelance proofreader.

Have a look at Kate Haigh’s blog post, too, in which she answers many of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a proofreader. And if it’s editing you particularly fancy, ‘Are you editor material?’, a blog post by Canadian editor James Harbeck, provides some food for thought.

If you plan to make a living out of proofreading, you’ll have to be prepared to read material you find dull and uninteresting (and pay it close attention – no skim reading allowed!).

Proofreading is also more than just checking spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you you’d like a taste of the kind of things you might encounter as a proofreader, try the SfEP’s online proofreading test.

If you haven’t been put off and still think that proofreading, editing and/or indexing are for you, the next steps would be:

  • to join appropriate professional organisations
  • to get some professional training and qualifications

Professional Organisations
If you plan to take a more professional approach to your career the best thing to do is to join professional organisations. Not only will it boost your credentials and demonstrate to potential clients that you take yourself seriously, but it will also give you access to a powerful support network of like-minded members, and to up-to-date training and professional development.

The biggest organisation in the UK is the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), which you join as an Associate, and then through a combination of training and evidence of experience, upgrade your membership. You can find out more about the benefits of joining the SfEP here. Once you’ve upgraded to Ordinary membership, you’re eligible for an entry in their directory, many publishers first port of call when seeking a freelance proofreader or editor. The SfEP website also has useful FAQs on proofreading and copy-editing.

Freelance editors, proofreaders and indexers in Northern Ireland are also eligible to join the Dublin-based Association for Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI). AFEPI also has a directory in which freelancers can advertise their services, and offers opportunities for training in conjunction with Publishing Ireland.

If it’s specifically indexing you’re interested in, you may like to join the Society of Indexers. It, too, has a directory of available indexers, and offers career advice and training.

Training
You may want to check out the training courses run by the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). It offers highly regarded courses in both proofreading and copy-editing that are done by distance learning, particularly useful to us here in Northern Ireland. More information can be found here.

The SfEP also runs a wide variety of one-day training courses and has a useful page of FAQs about training and qualifications. In 2013, the SfEP introduced online training courses for entry level proofreading and grammar. You can find out more about the online courses here (click on the ‘Online courses’ tab).

In addition, the SfEP runs a mentoring scheme for proofreading and copy-editing, but you have to have completed some basic training first. More details of the mentoring scheme are here.

Alternatively, you may also like to consider some of the distance learning courses offered by Editorial Training in proofreading or copywriting.

And if you fancy learning how to be a book indexer, the Society of Indexers runs a range of (distance learning) training courses.

Working freelance
Of course, becoming a qualified professional proofreader or editor and earning a living as a freelance proofreader/editor are two different things. To be successful as a freelancer, you’ll also need some business skills. As a self-employed person, you will be responsible for your finances (including tax and National Insurance), marketing, client liaison, etc.

There are other organisations that offer training in the rudiments of running your own business, although working as a freelancer is a little different from running a business with employees and premises.

In Northern Ireland, the most useful sites to visit to find out more are nibusinessinfo.co.uk, Go For It and Belfast City Business Hub. Also check to see if your local council run courses in your area.

HM Revenue and Customs run webinars and e-learning programmes to provide help and support for small businesses.

A must-read for those thinking about setting up as a freelance editor or proofreader is Louise Harnby’s book Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters. It’s available as both a paperback and an eBook (about £5) from Amazon and from her own website.

You’ll also find useful advice about freelancing on the SfEP website and in Val Rice’s SfEP Guide Starting Out: Setting Up a Small Business (3rd ed.) (£3 + p&p from the SfEP Shop).

Marketing
Marketing is an area that many freelancers have problems with, but you will need to promote yourself in some way to let potential clients know what you do. You may need to think about having your own website, using social media to connect with potential clients (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) and using all the resources available to you to get on clients’ radars.

All the professional organisations have online directories that publishers and other clients consult when looking for an editor, proofreader or indexer. However, you will be expected to display a particular level of competence in order to qualify to be listed.

Louise Harnby’s latest book, Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business (2014), takes you through the core principles of developing and implementing an effective marketing strategy for your proofreading and/or editing business. It’s available as both a paperback and an eBook (about £11.99) from Amazon and from her own website. You may also find Louise’s blog very useful. It’s aimed specifically at helping new editorial freelancers (especially proofreaders); scroll down and look at the categories.

Working as a freelance editorial professional in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is a small country and there isn’t enough work to go round all the freelancers and in-house editors and proofreaders living and working here. You will need to be prepared to look outside NI – to the UK and Ireland at least – to find work if you plan to make this a full-time career. Having a good internet connection and being fairly confident with technology is important.

EPANI, which also serves as an SfEP Local Group, was established in 2011 to provide a measure of support for local editorial professionals, and to help us promote ourselves to local clients and publishers. You can find out more about EPANI here.