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10 tips for handling your first proofreading job

Unsurprisingly, new members of the SfEP often have many questions about how to handle that first proofreading job. What are the tips and tricks to getting started with an initial piece of paid work? Are there any pitfalls to avoid? How much should you charge?

This post sets out 10 tips to help new proofreaders. Follow them and you’ll be much more confident when working for your first client.

Here’s what this post covers. Click a link to take you straight to that section:

The scenario

A proofreading scenario

Let’s start by creating a scenario for a typical proofreading job.

You’ve been contacted by a prospective client who wants you to proofread an article. It’s a 60,000-word document and you know something about the subject matter, but you’re not an expert. The client hasn’t worked with a proofreader before and would like to know how much the job will cost.

Now, let’s look at 10 tips to help you get through this first job. Ready?

Tip 1: Clarify the brief

The ‘brief’ is what the client has asked you to do – in this case, it’s proofreading their article, but you don’t yet have any further details about what ‘proofreading’ means to the client.

Clarifying the brief means you should ensure that your understanding of ‘proofreading’ matches the client’s, especially if the client isn’t a publishing professional or hasn’t paid for editorial services before.

Working to the brief is really important but even more important is understanding what the brief is in the first place. If your expectations don’t match the client’s, the end result isn’t going to be right. So you need to ensure that the requirements are crystal clear.

Here are a few questions you might want to ask:

  • Is there a style guide to work from?
  • Are there any references to deal with?
  • Is it just text or are there figures, tables and illustrations?

The brief is important because it helps you work out how much time the job is likely to take. This knowledge should help you quote a price that reflects the effort required to complete the work to an acceptable standard.

Let’s see the thoughts of a highly experienced SfEP colleague:

Find out the history of the work, e.g. has it been copy-edited to SfEP standard? Or are you the first professional to get their hands on it? If the client is not happy with previous work, find out what hasn’t worked for them.

Ali Turnbull

Tip 2: Ask for a representative sample of the work

OK, you’ve clarified the brief and now know what the client wants. You might be able to do everything that’s required, but what if the source text needs a lot of work? You won’t know until the job starts, right? Wrong. You need to know what state the text is in before you start the job. But how can you find this out?

The answer is to ask for a representative sample of the work. In this case, you would want to see at least a few thousand words (aim for 5–10% of the total), ideally taken from somewhere in the middle of the content. Why? Because authors will often polish the start and end of their writing, so seeing these parts might not give you a proper flavour of the rest of the work.

Getting hold of a representative sample will give an indication of how much effort is required to do the job. Perhaps you’ll discover that the text isn’t even ready for proofreading. Although you’re understandably eager to get going with your first job, the sample may reveal that this particular piece of work isn’t right for you. Should that be the case, it’s best to tell the client straight away.

Tip 3: Get the quote right

Once you know what the client is expecting and you’ve assessed a sample of the text, it’s time to think about how much to charge. A lot of newbie proofreaders freeze at this point. They have moments of self-doubt, wondering whether they can really charge anything for their services. Perhaps it would be better to do the job for nothing?

Although some established professionals support the idea of early work being done at a very low rate (or even for free), most would advise new proofreaders to charge a normal, respectable figure. So, what is that figure?

We usually advise members to look at the suggested minimum rates published on the SfEP website. These hourly figures give an idea of a good minimum amount to aim for. But that then poses another question: how many hours will the job take?

The time required to do the job should have a bearing on what you charge. The exact amount to charge depends on a few factors. Consider these questions:

  • How long is the text?
  • How complex is the subject matter?
  • What’s the deadline?

The answers to these questions will give you an idea of how much effort is required and therefore how much you should charge.

Now, think again about the scenario involving the 60,000-word article. Imagine that you’ve seen a representative sample. It’s good news: the text is brilliantly written and the subject matter turns out not to be as complex as you first thought. You think you can read and correct the rest of the text pretty quickly. You guess that a pace of 4000 words per hour might be achievable. At that rate, you’d need to work for 15 hours to do the job.

Most proofreaders struggle to put in more than 6 hours of work per day. (Proofreading requires a lot of concentration and can be very tiring.) This means that the job would take the equivalent of 2.5 days. At the current suggested minimum rates for proofreading, this job might cost the client around £350. Remember, this is a minimum suggested figure for a piece of text that you’ve assessed as being in great shape already.

But what if the text is a real mess? Horror of horrors, the client hands over a sample that’s hard to understand and is full of mistakes and inconsistencies. Perhaps you’ll scarcely be able to wade through 1000 words of this per hour. Unlike your dream job above that would take a mere 15 hours, this scenario would have you labouring for close to 60 hours – effectively a full week plus overtime, equating to a quote around the £1300 mark. And yes, that’s a minimum suggested figure.

OK, there are two extremes here, but the point is that not all quotes are going to work out the same way. Assessing a sample of the text will let you produce a quote that is in the right part of the spectrum.

An aside on fighting the temptation of quoting low rates

So, what about the natural temptation to quote low just so you can get the experience of that first job or two? Let’s take a look at some advice from fellow SfEP members:

If the client is potentially going to give you more work, or recommend you to others, I would be wary of setting a low rate.

Sarah Ryan

Quote a reasonable hourly rate, based on the time that would be expected of a more experienced editor, and then work the hours necessary for you to do a good job – yes, it’ll probably take a lot longer and therefore work out at a very poor rate, but that’s not relevant to the client. If you start at a low rate, you may end up working for that rate for a lot longer than you think. Also, quoting low does not necessarily mean you’ll land the job – it may well set off red flags in a client’s mind as to why you are so much lower than other quotes they’ve had.

Tina Allen

Tip 4: Agree a reasonable deadline

Experienced editorial professionals are often able to take on rush jobs, and can sometimes charge a premium for doing so. This isn’t recommended for those who are starting out, so you need to be sure that you really will have the time to get through the job. As Tina says above, your time estimate might not be long enough, so pushing out the deadline as much as possible would be helpful.

Once you’ve agreed a deadline, do your best to stick to it. Should you realise that the agreed deadline is not achievable, inform the client as soon as possible.

Tip 5: Check all materials

You can’t start a job until you’ve got everything you need. More wise advice:

Check all files as soon as you receive them. Don’t wait until you want to start work, because by that time any problems, such as corrupted files or failed attachments, will wreck your schedule. And back up your work.

Clare Law

Tip 6: Create a checklist of jobs

Having done all of the above prep, you’re now ready to start the job proper. In all the excitement of taking on that first piece of work, you don’t want to forget any tasks. So, follow some simple steps to build a bit of order into your work:

  1. Make yourself a checklist of jobs to do.
  2. Add to it anything you think of as you’re going along.
  3. Remember to check off against the checklist!

Katie Lewis

Tip 7: Break up the job

If you try to focus on every aspect of the text at the same time, you’ll almost certainly miss something. It’s far better to break up the job into separate passes, helping you focus on one thing at a time.

Here’s some expert advice on the subject:

One tip is not to try to do everything in one pass, especially if you are dealing with a typographically complex book with lots of illustrations, tables, lists, text boxes, etc. Make a checklist, as Katie suggests, then do some global passes to check items such as

  • Page numbers
  • Running heads
  • Chapter headings vs contents list
  • Any numbered or alphabetised lists
  • Sequence of any numbered headings

Only when you have checked all these off on your list is it time to start reading.

Kathleen Lyle

Tip 8: Compile a style guide

As above, asking whether there’s an existing style guide should be something you do when assessing the job. But even if a style guide exists, it probably won’t cover everything you come across as you work on the job. Keep notes about decisions made during the job and then refer back to them. Naturally, this is even more important when there’s no style guide to start with.

Time for more advice from another SfEP member:

Regardless of whether or not the client provides a style guide, compile a style sheet for every single project you do. It will include choices related to spelling, capitalization, italics, etc., and if the client hasn’t provided you with a style guide, then the style sheet will include many more items, e.g. numbers, punctuation, reference styles. Not only will you be helping the client and showing that you’re a professional, you will be helping yourself because there is no way on earth that anyone can remember every spelling decision they make over the course of any project. Also, run PerfectIt (or your choice of macros) before you start. That will help you get your style sheet started before you begin the actual editing. (You can run PerfectIt again at the end, if you have time/want to check consistency.)

Janet MacMillan

Tip 9: Group all queries

If you’ve clarified the brief well enough, you shouldn’t have too many queries at the start of the job. But questions will often crop up once the work gets going. Naturally, you’ll be eager to find out the answers but you should avoid peppering the client with lots of emails.

Yet more advice from another SfEP member:

Don’t be afraid to ask, but try and keep questions to a list in one email rather than panicking and sending them willy-nilly!

Natalie Murray

Remember that your questions should always be relevant to the current job.

Tip 10: Ask questions on SfEP forums

The SfEP’s online discussion forums, which are available only to members of the Society, are the best place to ask questions and hear the thoughts of other editorial professionals. The forums have hosted more than 100,000 posts since their release in late 2012 – a clear sign of a highly engaged community.

If you’re already a SfEP member, you can register for the forums here. And if you aren’t a member of the Society, take a look at the frequently asked questions on the SfEP website. You might even consider joining us.

Summary

Taking on that first proofreading job can seem scary, but it needn’t be if you follow the tips above. Here’s a recap for new proofreaders:

  • Clarify the brief – make sure you know what the client wants.
  • Ask for a representative sample – assess the job by reviewing a chunk of the text.
  • Think about the complexity of the job – how much time and effort will be needed?
  • Agree a deadline – set a realistic timescale and do your best to stick to it.
  • Create a checklist – note all the jobs you need to do and check them off as you go.
  • Break up the job into separate passes – make sure you don’t miss any tasks.
  • Keep your own notes – supplement the style guide or create your own if one doesn’t exist.
  • Ask questions – group queries so that you don’t pepper the client with emails.
  • Use SfEP forums – ask for help from hundreds of experienced members.

Wow, that’s a lot of advice!

I hope these tips give you enough information to get started with confidence, and I wish you the best of luck with your editorial career. If you have any of your own newbie tips to share, please add a comment below.

John EspirianJohn Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.

As a freelance technical writer, John specialises in producing online help content that’s actually helpful.

7 questions to consider when naming your editorial business

photo (2)One of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting any new venture is what you should call your new business. Here are seven questions that will help you come up with the perfect name for your editorial business.

1. Should I use my own name?

If you are already well established in your editorial career, it can be helpful to use your own name in your business as it will help potential clients find you, particularly if they have worked with you previously. However, this doesn’t work if you have a more common name. If your moniker is along the lines of John Smith, you may prefer your business name to be a little more original.

2. Should I include details of what I do?

It can be helpful to outline your services as part of your business name, but be careful not to box yourself in. While ‘X Proofreading’ may be a perfect description of your business offering today, next year, after you’ve expanded into copy-editing or developmental editing, you may find that the proofreading part of your business name restricts you.

3. Is my proposed business name easy to pronounce and spell?

Picture the scene: You’ve met a really promising contact and exchanged business cards; a week later your new contact wants to get in touch. Unfortunately, they’ve mislaid your contact details, but that’s not a problem because they remember your business name. A simple internet search should yield your phone number or email address. Except when they type in what they remember as the name of your business, they spell it differently. Or maybe they have seen your business name written down and they are recommending you to a colleague, but they pronounce the name of your business as they remember hearing it, not as it is actually spelt, so they can’t find you. You’ve lost out on potentially valuable business. So keep your business name simple and avoid homonyms or puns that could confuse potential clients when they try to find you. Moreover, slightly odd spellings could be seen as detrimental when you are trading as someone who specialises in catching typos.

4. What is my story?

If you decide not to use your own name, don’t just think about the services you offer, think about your story. Is there a particularly original path you took that brought you to this career? Could your business name hint at your story? An added bonus is that this will give you something to talk about when you first introduce your business to prospective clients.

5. Is geography important to me?

Perhaps you have a local landmark or heritage that you’d like to reference in your name. Or would you rather not tie yourself to a particular region? Remember to think about the future as well as the present. If you are likely to relocate, would this impact on your business if your name is linked to a particular locale?

6. Are there any other businesses already using my proposed name?

You’ve come up with the perfect name; it’s so original no one else could have come up with it — never assume this is the case. Always search on the internet first. Google your ideal name and see what comes up. Then check the common domain name providers to see if the address is available. And don’t forget to search across social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to see if other organisations or individuals are already using your proposed name. The last thing you want is to buy your web address and then discover that someone is already using your business name on Twitter, particularly if they are in a less salubrious line of business!

7. What do friends and family think of my name?

Test out your proposed business name on friends, family, colleagues, or even the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums. What does the name say to people? Is there anything about your business name they can spot that you didn’t notice? For example, do the initials spell out an unfortunate acronym?

Are there any hints or tips you would add to this list? How did you come up with your business name?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Alex Matthews.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the SfEP.

Six reasons to go to the London Book Fair

London Book Fair logoYou could argue that the London Book Fair (like other international book fairs) is not aimed at freelance editors or proofreaders, and therefore it might seem a waste to take valuable time out of a busy schedule to attend. But here are some really good reasons to give it a go.

  1. If you’re interested in books (and of course not all editorial professionals these days are), it is one of the events on the global publishing calendar. OK, so perhaps you won’t personally be brokering any six-figure deals, but there’s something to be said for at least being in the building while it all goes on. And if you want to be really meta about the whole thing, you can follow it on Twitter while you’re there.
  2. It’s a good opportunity to get in touch with your publishing contacts, see if they’re going to the fair, and arrange to meet. Although most of our business tends to be conducted electronically, there’s nothing like putting a face to a name for cementing a working relationship – and having a few appointments lined up will help to give structure to your day.
  3. As well as potential clients, the book fair can be an opportunity to get together with friends and colleagues. Find some other freelancers to travel with, or meet for coffee. The fair can also seem less daunting if you have someone to walk round with.
  4. Don’t be put off by the fact that much of the business of the fair is about selling rights. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to see the direction different publishers are taking, by looking at their stands. As a freelance, you will be fairly free to nose around, though some areas of the stands will be reserved for meetings. (However, if your badge makes it clear you are affiliated with a particular company, you may get a frosty reception at competitors’ stands)
  5. There are lots of seminars and other scheduled events at the fair, details of which you can find in advance on the website. You won’t be able to see everything, but it’s worth finding a few things to attend that particularly interest you. They’re included in the entry price – and who knows what you’ll find out?
  6. If you are brave, you may be able to make new contacts, which could lead to new work streams. This approach isn’t for everyone, but if you feel up to trying it, go for it! Don’t feel bad if you’re not comfortable doing this, though. There’s plenty more to the book fair.

If you do decide to take the plunge and go this year, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the day:

  • Don’t try to see everything – there’s simply too much, especially if you’re only going for a day, and some stands and seminars will be more interesting to you than others. It’s worth spending time identifying what you’d most like to see before you dive in.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. The book fair covers a huge area, and you’ll be doing a lot of walking. For the same reason, try to carry as little as possible. Do you really need that laptop? If not, leave it behind.
  • If you’re planning to meet someone, make sure you take their mobile number with you, as it’s easy to miss people or get waylaid (or lost) once inside. Also, try to make sure you have some idea what they look like.
  • Don’t forget that professional and advanced professional SfEP members can get a discounted ticket to the London Book Fair.
  • Finally, make sure you have plenty of business cards … and enjoy the experience!

The 2015 London Book Fair takes place at Olympia London, April 14–16.

If you enjoy going to book fairs, what do you get out of the experience?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR directorLiz Jones is the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ marketing and PR director.

 

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

Working with self-publishing authors: expectations and implementation

Self-PublishingIn this post, Sophie Playle looks at the practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by Samantha Stalion.
Photo credit: kodomut

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Originally posted in January 2015; last updated February 2022.

Don’t forget the ‘old’ ways: marketing via letter writing

Writing letters is an overlooked marketing tool

By Louise Harnby

In a conversation about marketing with my colleague Rich ‘An American Editor’ Adin,
I was reminded of how ‘sometimes the old ways are the better ways’ (Adin, personal correspondence).

Take old-fashioned snail-mail marketing. Sending letters is still as powerful a marketing tool today as it was 50 years ago. So why is this still a strong proposition? Might it even be a stronger proposition than email marketing?

10 reasons to write a letter

1. Better response rates: Crawford Hollingworth, in ‘Slow snail mail – why the tortoise is still beating the hare’, notes that ‘[r]esponse rates to letters are typically 30 times better then email – around 3.4% for direct mail, compared to 0.12% for email in 2012’. Letters take more time and effort, but those numbers alone provide a persuasive argument for using your postie! I’d recommend reading Hollingworth’s article in full. The author uses the lenses of psychology and behavioural science to consider why the letter is still a great proposition when it comes to getting someone’s attention.

2. Permanence: A letter is a physical thing – a piece of paper – and that means it can be physically moved around and read in multiple places. It can also be filed in a manner that isn’t deletable with one finger. This gives it permanence. You may not get positive results to your letter-writing campaign straight away, but having your information filed in the traditional way means it’s likely to survive longer in a drawer than it will in a digital inbox.

3. Psychology of perceived effort: There’s something about a letter that tells your customer you’ve made an effort. In reality, if you’re crafting an email designed to solicit work, you’ll take just as much care over the content. But it’s the perception that counts here. Sending a letter tells the customer that you’ve done more than craft the content – ‘letters can evoke a greater feeling of commitment in us. We acknowledge the time and effort someone has put into writing to us, to stamping and posting the letter and this can make us feel more committed to responding’ (Hollingworth, n.d.). A letter offers the customer the personal touch – ‘[r]eceiving a tangible, physical item such as a letter is usually experienced as a more personalized and involved form of outreach than receiving an email or SMS’ (SpirE-Journal, 2010).

4. Differentiation: When you send a letter you make yourself stand out precisely because you, well, send a letter. ‘These days 99% of correspondence is through email. So, a typed and mailed note with an attached résumé may just end up in the right hands,’ says Paul Gumbinner (2013). I’d add a caveat to this: I wouldn’t take the chance of a letter just ‘end[ing] up’ anywhere – it needs to be addressed to a named person for maximum impact. Nevertheless, Gumbinner’s point is that letters aren’t the norm so, when you use one to put yourself in front of a potential client, you differentiate yourself.

5. Damage limitation: A letter can be handed from one colleague to another, or moved from one desk to another, without damaging the readability of the content. Most of us will have been on the receiving end of the passed-around email that’s become something other than what it started out as. Yes, I’m talking about chevrons. When you send an email there’s a risk that your beautifully crafted message will become corrupted by a plethora of ugly characters, all of which distract the reader’s eye from the reasons why they should hire you as their editor or proofreader. I’d repeat the caveat above – the letter does need to be correctly addressed. Too many pairs of hands forwarding it to your key contact could mean it ends up looking tatty, so do the research beforehand to ensure you have the right name on the envelope.

6. Marketing eye candy: There’s no point in pretending that looks don’t count. They do. And emails are boring. The only way to make them attractive is to attach something, and that requires the receiver to hit yet another button. To do that you need to have already piqued their curiosity. With snail mail, the envelope itself piques their curiosity because it’s not the usual method of communication these days. Furthermore, not only can you design a letter so that it’s attractive, but you can also include additional items, e.g. a seasonally designed, branded postcard, a brochure or a business card, thereby making the whole package more interesting – what Hollingworth (n.d) calls ‘behavioural nudges’. Sending letters may be old-fashioned but it has the potential for creativity and inventiveness that’s very much in the ‘now’.

7. Absorption: Yes, email is hugely convenient – I cannot conceive of being without it – but letters are harder to ignore. Compare the clutter of the email inbox to something physical on the desk. Most busy business professionals’ inboxes are jammed with emails from all and sundry. That, says Gumbinner, makes email ‘totally uninvolving. Some executives literally receive hundreds a day. They skip from one to another. Some are barely read, if at all. Few are absorbed.’ Standing out to your customer is about grabbing their attention and drawing them in. If they’re not absorbed in the message you’re trying to communicate, you’re less likely to secure editorial work from them.

8. Destruction factor: It takes more effort for your customer to crumple and toss an appealingly designed letter and CV/brochure than it does to hit a ‘delete’ button on a keyboard – not much more, but just enough to give you an edge, especially when combined with the absorption and eye-candy elements mentioned above.

9. Sensory impact: Your customer spends a lot of time at their desk and a lot of time looking at their screen. Thinking about differentiation once again, consider how you might be offering your potential client a little added value by writing to them. ‘A physical letter allows at least one extra sensory experience, namely the touch and feel of the paper,’ notes SpirE-Journal (2010).

10. Taking advantage of down time: Snail mail allows your customer to kick back and relax away from the screen for a few minutes. They have to pick up the envelope, open it and then look at the content. That means they are focused on what’s in their hands as well as what’s hitting the back of their retinas. According to SpirE-Journal (2010), ‘Snail mail, unlike eDM [electronic direct mail], has a higher chance of getting read when the recipient is more relaxed.’ That’s good for you, because the customer is more likely to absorb themselves in the detail of the fabulous editorial services you’re offering!

5 things to do

1. Target a named person: Remember to do the research beforehand (by email or phone) to ensure you can put the right name on your envelope. ‘If you want to make a good impression on the person in charge of hiring, you don’t want your letter and CV to look like it was used to wrap someone’s lunch by the time it ends up on their desk’ (Harnby, 2014). Precise, targeted addressing takes extra work but will yield dividends in terms of response.

2. Think about the content: It’s not just about making sure the letter gets to the right person; it’s about holding that person’s attention once they’re reading it. When thinking about what to include in your letter and how to structure the content, you may like to consider my adaptation of Kevin Daum’s differentiation–solution–empathy framework for letter writing (Harnby, 2014: Chapter 20, ‘Going direct’).

3. Build a mailing list: As you acquire the targeted names and addresses of your potential client list, record the information so that you build a mailing list. Having a mailing list is important because it enables you to market repeatedly to the same customers (Adin, personal correspondence). Why? Because clients don’t always respond the first, second or even third time round. That doesn’t mean you’re not a good fit for them. If your skills match theirs, they may just have forgotten you or been too busy with other things. Furthermore, those clients who do respond but who say their editorial freelancer lists are currently full will need a further nudge several months down the line. Having a mailing list takes the pain out of the re-mailing process because you’ve already done all the research.

4. Test: Carry out trials to explore the impact of posting your letters at different times of year, with different enclosures, tweaked unique selling points or alternative postscripts. Different approaches may yield different responses and help you to hone your letter-writing craft and improve your positive response rate.

5. Track: You won’t know how effective your letters are if you don’t keep track of when you sent them, to whom you sent them, what you tested and what the results were. It’s not just about tracking positive responses; it’s also important to keep a record of other future potentially positive outcomes, e.g. ‘we’re keeping your details on file’ or ‘our bank of freelancers is full at the moment, but thanks for getting in touch’. Those are very different responses to ‘thanks but no – we don’t use external proofreaders’, even though the immediate outcome in terms of work is negative. And all of those responses mean something different to the non-responder, who may simply have not got round to contacting you. Re-mailing non-responders and ‘on file or full up’ responders is a worthwhile exercise, whereas contacting the non-user is a waste of a stamp and a waste of your time.

Multiple tools, multiple channels

None of this is to say that you should not exploit opportunities to put yourself in front of potential clients using digital tools. I think you should use these methods of making yourself discoverable. However, don’t assume that there is only one way to make first contact with a publisher, a business or an agency. Smart marketing involves exploiting multiple channels, some of which are bang up to the minute, and some of which have been powerful and effective tools of communication for generations.

Create a website, send emails, explore Google Authorship, build social media networks, make telephone calls, consider video testimonials, advertise in online directories, create business cards, blog … do all these things and more if you feel they’ll put you in front of your customer. But don’t forget the humble letter. You might be surprised at just how much business it can generate for you!

References

Gumbinner, Paul (2013). Making snail mail work for you [online], 2 April 2013. Available from View from Madison Avenue: http://viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/making-snail-mail-work-for-you.html.

Harnby, Louise (2014). Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business (in association with the Publishing Training Centre).

Hollingworth, Crawford (2013). ‘Slow snail mail – why the tortoise is still beating the hare’ [online], 15 July 2013. Available from the Marketing Society: https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/slow-snail-mail-–-why-tortoise-still-beating-hare.

SpirE-Journal (2010). ‘The Re-emergence of Snail Mail’ [online]. Available from Spire Research & Consulting: http://www.spireresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/the-re-emergence-of-snail-mail2.pdf.

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Based in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader with 23 years’ publishing experience. An Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, she specialises in providing proofreading solutions for clients working in the social sciences, humanities, fiction and commercial non-fiction. Her customers include publishers, project management agencies, professional institutions and independent writers. Louise is the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour and the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby or find her on LinkedIn.

Proofread by Jane Hammett.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

5 marketing tips for the freelance editor or proofreader

marketing - promoting and selling, research and advertising

Marketing tips

By Mary McCauley

I studied services marketing in college and before my studies began I had a perception of marketing as a complicated and theory-based business system practised by big US multinational corporations. By the time I finished my degree, this view had changed: for me, services marketing boils down to a simple ‘Which customers do you want to serve and how can you persuade them to buy your service?’ So, in relation to a freelance editorial business, my top five ‘marketing’ tips are very straightforward: be nice (provide excellent customer service); be focused (which specific customers do you want to buy your service?); be professional (build your reputation and protect it); be online (establish a professional online presence); and be generous (network).

1. Be nice

As an editorial professional you are a service provider. You may have the keenest editorial brain in the world and a long list of top academic qualifications but unless you realise that in providing a service to customers you must look after those customers as best you can, then your freelance business will not be all it can be. You are an intangible part of the service your client is purchasing and the client has to want to work with you. As Steve Baron and Kim Harris write, ‘customers often use the appearance and manner of service employees as a first point of reference when deciding whether or not to make a purchase’. In every aspect of your service to clients – be they an independent author, a publishing house, an academic or a corporation – be friendly, helpful, genuine and, most importantly, customer-driven. Use every opportunity to put your client at ease, make it easy for them to work with you, and make them want to work with you again. As retired Irish retailer Fergal Quinn puts it, ‘Think of the main task as being to bring the customer back.’ It sounds simple, right? But so many service providers fail to understand the importance of this concept. Think about it for a minute: are there certain people/shops you won’t buy from, no matter how low their prices, simply because they or their staff are rude and unhelpful?

2. Be focused

Don’t try to be all things to all people: identify your editorial speciality and then actively target those clients who seek this specific area of expertise. According to proofreader and author Louise Harnby, ‘Your educational and career backgrounds will help you to identify core client groups.’ A good way to start thinking about this is to imagine someone you’ve just met asks you what you do. Can you define it in approximately ten words? For example, my response would be: ‘I am a freelance copy-editor and proofreader providing editorial services to fiction authors and corporate clients.’

3. Be professional

Clients are paying you (hopefully) good money to provide them with a service. They want to know that their money is well spent. If they haven’t worked with you before then from their point of view they are taking a risk by contracting your service. You can help minimise their perception of that risk by behaving in a professional manner. This is especially the case if you are starting out as freelance editor and have minimal testimonials or no portfolio. Behaving professionally extends to all aspects of your business. Meet project deadlines or alert the client as soon as possible if there will be a delay; issue formal quotations, project agreements, invoices and receipts; acknowledge client correspondence promptly; treat a client’s project with confidentiality; and so on. If you are a member of an editorial professional body, act in accordance with their code of practice.

4. Be online

Again, it’s very simple: if potential clients don’t know you exist how can they hire you? If they search online for editorial services will they find you? A business website is an excellent opportunity for you to control the message you give to potential customers. WordPress, Weebly and About Me offer free, easy options to create and maintain a website. You can list your services, portfolio, client testimonials, qualifications and, most importantly, your contact details! Ensure the content of your website accurately reflects your values and professional approach. Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) provide effective means to interact with potential clients. For example, if your target market includes independent authors join one of LinkedIn’s writers’ group forums. Help potential clients find you by listing your services in online directories, such as the CIEP Directory of Editorial Services.

5. Be generous

The more you give the more you receive, and what goes around comes around. They may be clichés but also good mottos for life – and for business! Network not only with colleagues (online through social media, and in person at editor meetings, conferences, courses, etc.) but also with members of your target market. Don’t focus solely on yourself when networking; few like to converse with someone who drones on about ‘me, me, me’. Think about ways you can be helpful: perhaps if your work schedule is booked up and you cannot take on an author’s project you could refer the author to a trusted colleague and thus be helpful to both; share a colleague’s interesting and informative article/blog post with your network of colleagues, friends and clients; or introduce a client to someone who can add value to their project further down the production process, such as an illustrator or typesetter. Genuine goodwill and generosity will come back to you tenfold.

What’s your top tip for marketing your freelance editorial business? Which marketing activity has worked best for you and which have you found the most difficult?

References

Baron, S and Harris, K (1995) Services Marketing: Text and Cases. Macmillan, London

Harnby, L. (2014) Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being Interesting and Discoverable. Louise Harnby, in association with The Publishing Training Centre

Quinn, F. (1990) Crowning the Customer: How to Become Customer-Driven. The O’Brien Press, Dublin

Mary McCauley

Mary McCauley

Based in Wexford, Ireland, Mary McCauley is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor working with corporate clients and independent fiction authors. She is a member of both the CIEPand the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) in Ireland. She helps run the AFEPI Twitter account and also blogs sporadically at Letters from an Irish Editor. Around the time she started her editorial business she took up running – not only to keep fit but also to help maintain her sanity. One of these goals has been achieved. Say hello to Mary on TwitterFacebook or Google+.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

Originally published May 2014; updated June 2021.