Tag Archives: starting out

A week in the life of a new-ish social science editor

Taylor McConnell started his freelance editorial business in 2021. In this post he describes how he got into proofreading and editing, and how his weeks have varied between doing work and trying to find more work.

I always liked words – spelling them, learning them in another language, making puns about various Italian cheeses while on the bus home from school. It didn’t matter how, but I was fascinated by them. I guess being a language nerd is part of my genetic programming.

My undergraduate studies focused primarily on German culture and politics, but I also developed a passion for memory studies in the meantime. As an interdisciplinary field, memory studies allowed me in my MSc and PhD studies to engage with a wide array of social science disciplines and the humanities, including sociology, political science, history, architecture and linguistics. It’s this unique blend of knowledge production that I wanted to pursue in a longer academic career – that is, until I ran full-force into the giant brick wall that is the academic labour market.

Enter editing

I came into editing ultimately through a mixture of happenstance and frustration (fixing punctuation errors is good stress relief, I must say!). A friend asked out of the blue if I would be interested in editing his bachelor thesis in management. As I also have a management degree and had tried in the past to start up an economics blog with this same friend, I readily agreed. Trying to figure out the pricing for this project, however, is how I stumbled head-first into the CIEP, and I couldn’t have stumbled better.

This was August 2021, and after far too many rejection letters from potential employers, I said ‘Tschüssi, bye bye’ to academia and ‘hello’ to freelancing. By sheer good fortune, my temporary German residence permit allowed self-employment, so I set out working on a business plan for the immigration authorities, as well as building my brand and website and diving into some good old-fashioned CPD.

Starting up as a freelancer in another country, though, does come with its own pains. It took until mid-October to finish all the prerequisite paperwork to register as a freelancer and apply for the appropriate residence permit (which was only approved five months later!). Between actual bits of paid work, over several weeks I had to:

  • figure out billing and tax implications for work within Germany, within the EU and further afield;
  • register for a tax number, a tax ID number and a sales tax number;
  • get all the insurances sorted out – health, business liability, retirement, contents, just to name a few;
  • write all my website copy in German, including terms and conditions and a legal imprint; and
  • create a three-year financial outlook, with monthly cashflow estimates.

Not really something a sociology degree prepared me for …

Time management is a social construct

In the past six months, my workflow has adapted to changes in my own taste for editing and proofreading as well as to my increasing skill set. Starting out, a typical week would exclusively involve writing extensive pleas for contracts on Upwork, which resulted in at least two good clients, or travelling around the Rhine-Main area to stuff student mailboxes with flyers. I realised this was a terrible idea since no one was living in student halls at the time and most university campuses were closed to the public.

As with any freelance job, there is no such thing as a typical work week, and my working pattern now is just as irregular as it was during my PhD. This is both a blessing and a curse. Running a business and writing a 300-page text both involve many moving parts that have to be built, maintained and brought together bit by bit over long periods of time. Skill development, marketing and outreach are just as important now as planning fieldwork, brushing up on my Croatian and dealing with student government were then.

When I do have contracted work, I prioritise that above all else. We need money to live, after all. In these periods, I tend to start working around 9am, getting all the tedious bits of editing out of the way first. This includes:

  • formatting the document to make it easier to read, if the brief allows (12-pt Times New Roman or Helvetica, 1.5-line spacing, all that jazz);
  • running PerfectIt for consistency errors, especially when authors set up MS Word in American English but then write in British English;
  • checking for sentence vs title case (My Worst Aesthetic Enemy); and
  • fixing errant straight quotation marks and eliminating double spaces.

I then typically work online editing in bouts of 35–40 minutes before taking a break to drink my umpteenth coffee or do some chores. I always go for a midday walk around the neighbourhood and then continue working until around 3pm or whenever my brain is fried. If I want to complete something, I’ll resume working around 7pm and work for another hour or two until I can do no more.

In for the long haul

In the first few months, I typically covered three to six student essays or an occasional journal article or administrative report each week, with work sent by other proofreading and editing firms, most of which were located in East Asia. The pay was fine but not as enticing as the projects that paid my own rates, which picked up from December. Ultimately, the good work only came along once I started politely nagging my own Twitter bubble of academics.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had fewer but longer and higher-paying jobs from people I know, which has reinvigorated me, as I know where my work is going and who it is directly benefiting. One PhD thesis was enough to cover my bills for the month, and any additional work that I could fit in was also accommodated.

In drier spells, I have focused my attention more on marketing, making tweaks to my website, creating a bank of social media posts and messaging my academic colleagues to gauge their interest in my services. My March so far has been one of these periods, which, after my best month on the books, is now turning out to be my worst. I’m hoping that the extra investments made in building my brand and expanding my reach beyond my initial trusted circles will pay off later in the year.

Managing financial expectations is probably the trickiest factor of freelancing. I am a very risk-averse person and always make contingency plans for any event, but freelancing, as is turns out, was my ultimate contingency plan for not gaining full-time employment elsewhere. In the end, however, making the jump into editing is probably the best work-related decision I’ve made in a decade. I have complete control over every last detail of my work, who and what I get to work with and how much I get paid for it.

The value of networking

There is strength in this sort of independence, but there is even more in the network of freelancers and editorial professionals that the CIEP has created.

I didn’t come into freelancing expecting to earn as much as I would have, perhaps, in a full-time position regulated by state contracts, nor have I yet. But the degree of personal development that this job and this network in particular foster is beyond what I could have imagined. One bumpy month is more than offset by the new wonderful cast of characters I have encountered in the Cloud Club West meetings each Thursday. They have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, even in hard times. (Join us!)

This career is not the one I originally sought, but it is ultimately the one most suited to my interests, skills and habits, and I’m happier for it. And although I don’t ever expect to develop *the* ultimate weekly routine, it’s so helpful to continue learning from others about their experiences as freelancers and how they use their time. You never know where you’ll find your next source of inspiration.

About Taylor McConnell

Taylor McConnell is an editor and proofreader for academic and corporate texts and a German-to-English translator based in Wiesbaden, Germany. He specialises in social sciences and business studies and works primarily with multilingual authors. Taylor is an Entry-Level Member of the CIEP and holds a PhD in Sociology on post-war Croatian memory politics from the University of Edinburgh.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: book by Kranich17, to do list by StockSnap, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Is proofreading a good side hustle?

Proofreading has long been touted online as a good way to supplement a regular income – the side hustle. This post by Louise Harnby examines the notion, and explores the challenges.

In this post, we’ll look at the following:

  • What is a side hustle?
  • The problem with the terminology
  • Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic
  • Do I need training?
  • Who am I competing with?
  • Who hires professional proofreaders?
  • How will I find work?
  • Additional considerations

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is the term used to describe part-time work that’s done alongside a person’s regular job. Side hustles can be long-term or short-term gigs, and they’re popular because they allow people to dip their toes in the proverbial water rather than fully committing to a career change.

For some, they’re essential, either because their day jobs aren’t generating enough income to meet their costs of living or because their day jobs don’t come with an income at all – for example, those bringing up children or caring for dependants.

The problem with the terminology

In the editorial world, there’s resistance to the terminology owing to the negative connotations of hustle.

Editorial work is about attention to detail, about respecting a client’s voice and brand, about shaping and smoothing text rather than butchering it.

And editors and proofreaders do love their dictionaries. Which doesn’t help matters given hustle’s lexical association with pushiness, pressurised selling, prostitution, and worst of all, fraud.

Since professional self-employed editors and proofreaders spend a chunk of their time trying to build trust with clients searching for editorial support in what is essentially an unregulated global market, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mention of a hustle makes them twitchy!

Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic

Let’s put the terminology to one side. Can proofreading work be done on the side? Yes. Can a proofreading business be set up overnight? In name, certainly. However, the reality is that unless you already have clients waiting in the wings, you’re going to have to do what every self-employed business owner does – find them, or enable them to find you. Which means marketing.

Furthermore, you’re going to have to find those that you’re a good fit for, and that means skilling up.

Training takes time to complete and marketing takes time to bear fruit. For that reason, if you’re looking to earn extra income quickly, proofreading makes for a poor side hustle.

Do I need training?

Side hustlers in the making might be wondering if training is necessary. Put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. Even if you’re a mega marketer, such that you get in front of your clients quickly, persuading them to hire you requires them trusting you to do a great job.

Trust can be earned in more than one way, but training’s part of the equation. When the tap starts dripping or a plug starts sparking, I don’t want someone messing around with my plumbing and electrics if they haven’t made the effort to ensure they know what they’re doing.

Clients who want help with their words feel the same way about having their text polished. And so they should. The work we do will cost them tens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds. Proofreaders charging for their services owe it to their clients to be qualified to do a great job.

Plus, we don’t know what we don’t know. Prior to carrying out editorial training, I had no clue what a publisher expected from a proofreader. Training solved that problem. One thing I learned is this: a good command of spelling and grammar is just the tip of the editorial iceberg.

Here’s just a smidgen of the skills my publisher clients expect from a proofreader – issues that once read like gibberish to my untrained eye.

  • Marking up page proofs with BSI proof-correction symbols
  • What to do with overmatter
  • How to manage orphans and widows
  • How to check running heads
  • Handling stacked hyphens on rectos
  • Checking that references are styled according to APA or Harvard

 

Who am I competing with?

Something else the side hustler should consider is the competition. This is not a barren marketplace, alas. There are tens of thousands of editorial professionals out there already, many of whom run their businesses as full-time enterprises. They:

  • are highly trained, often with specialist skills and knowledge
  • are very experienced and have portfolios to prove it, and
  • have been around for a while so know how to be found and where to get work.

That said, there is always room for new proofreaders and editors because most of the work these days is done digitally, which means the market is global. And just as people join the profession, so others leave it.

However, it would be a mistake to think that competing in the proofreading market is just about supply and demand. It’s a digital world, which means the name of the game is visibility.

Who hires professional proofreaders?

First, the good news. Anyone who works with words and cares about their meaning and readability will be interested in hiring a proofreader. This short list of potential clients only scratches the surface.

  • Academics
  • Business owners
  • Educators
  • Independent authors
  • Marketing and communications agencies
  • Packagers and project management agencies
  • Publishers
  • Students

That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is that not all clients know what kind of editorial help they need. And so, even if they ask for something called ‘proofreading’, and that’s what you’re offering as a side hustle, it might be the last thing they need. Literally.

In fact, they might need specialist structural or stylistic help that doesn’t fall under the scope of proofreading at all. Proofreading is a final quality-control check after other rounds of editing.

So if you’re thinking about offering this service as a side gig, make sure you and anyone you work with understand the precise scope of the work you’re offering.

Failure to do so could lead to disappointment, complaints and requests for refunds, thereby turning your side hustle into an upfront hassle.

How will I find work?

Getting work means being visible. Either the client has to find you or you have to find them, meaning anyone looking to earn an income from proofreading needs to have marketing skills as well as proofreading skills.

That’s a necessary time-sucker that any independent editorial pro needs to wrap their head around from the get-go.

There are lots of ways to be visible, some better than others, depending on what types of clients you want to proofread for.

  • Emails, letters and phone calls are good options if you want to get on the radar of publishers and packagers.
  • Content marketing is a slow but powerful burn for those wanting to be found on Google and social media by authors, students and academics.
  • Freelance directories can be a good source of work, though are often the first port of call for clients looking for cheap and fast.
  • Many professional editorial associations such as the CIEP have editorial directories that can be good lead generators for appropriately qualified proofreaders.

Proofreading might seem like your ideal side hustle but you must factor in regular time to get the work in the first place. There’s too much competition not to do so.

Additional considerations

Finally, don’t forget the additional business-critical responsibilities that come with the job, even if it is on the side.

  • Will you need indemnity insurance to protect yourself?
  • Will the income you earn need to be declared to the relevant authorities? Will there be tax implications? Might your additional income affect any state benefits you receive?
  • Do you have funds in place for training and marketing? Both have costs to them.
  • Do you have access to an environment that will allow you to concentrate and work without interruption?
  • Do you have industry-standard hardware and software, and know how to use it?
  • How many hours a day do you have available, and will you be able to meet clients’ deadlines? High-quality proofreading is labour-intensive work. Even experienced full-time proofreaders will need at least a week to proofread a novel. Being realistic about the time required is essential.

Summing up

Proofreading can be used to supplement income from another job. Many full-time professional proofreaders started their editorial journey by doing it on the side.

Don’t forget that being a proofreader means becoming one first – via training. And making your side hustle viable means being found by those who need your services – via marketing.

It can be done – just not overnight.

Want to become a proofreader?

The CIEP has loads of support and information to help you get started.

And Louise Harnby has a selection of books and courses to help you on your journey.

About Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby is a professional fiction editor with 30 years’ publishing experience, and specialises in working with independent crime, thriller and mystery writers.

She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and co-hosts The Editing Podcast with Denise Cowle.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Wise owls: how I found my first client

All freelance careers start with tracking down that first client. Even the wise owls were chicks once (though probably still wise even then), and their experiences show that there isn’t just one way to go about getting that first paid project.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’ll talk about my early career, as my first clients came to me via a now-defunct route. It’s a long time since eBay had classified ads! I also picked up a couple of jobs through Gumtree. Two of my first actions on hanging out my shingle were joining SfEP and getting my website up and out there. My website brought in a few more clients who had found me courtesy of Mr Google – including a novelist I still work for some 12 years later. I also picked up a couple of jobs from what is now IM Available. But my big break was from answering an Announce that went to the whole of the membership (most go to just Advanced Professional and/or Professional Members) – I picked up my first packager client and that broadened my horizons and my experience hugely (which I promptly reflected in my CV). In the early days I also had an (expensive) ad in Yellow Pages, which I cancelled after two years as it was ineffective. But a few days before it was due to come off Yell’s website, a packager looking to hire only editors within the county found me (phew!). We did lots of work together over the ensuing years. I’d certainly advise not putting all your marketing eggs in one basket.

Liz Jones

My first client was the employer I’d just left – a non-fiction book packager. For a while I combined freelance project management (essentially continuing my old job) with working on small editorial jobs for them, alongside another major client (an educational publisher) secured via a former colleague. This all sounds too easy – and it was: it only deferred the inevitable need to find a range of clients, to mitigate the risk of working freelance. At first I suffered many sleepless nights: how would I pay my bills if the packager stopped using me? I realised I needed to take control, and worked hard to gain new work streams – in related areas via old colleagues, and also by ‘cold-emailing’ publishers and other potential clients. It took a couple of years, but I was so glad I put in the effort to market myself at that point. I felt more in charge of my career, and expanded into new areas of work. These days I still work for my first client, but only very occasionally, and I try never to be in the position of worrying about a single client dropping me. (Of course I still do all I can to retain my favourites!)

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I was forced to find my first client, because I was staring down the barrel of a 3-month redundancy notice. At the time I was working at home, but as an employee, as a staff editor for a science publisher. I needed a change, and redundancy (I realised later) was an opportunity. After deciding to go freelance I made a list of every science publisher I could think of and emailed my CV to commissioning editors, desk editors and managing editors, with the promise of following up by phone a few days later. Most approaches fell on deaf ears. A few turned into paid work in the long term. But two came up with immediate work. One was a European journal publisher offering a very low rate but frequent work. The other was a major university press. The person I’d emailed had a book to place, on molecular biology, and I could start on Monday 16 February 2004. Which was good timing, as I became redundant on Friday 13 February 2004 (very apt). So I finished the working week as an employee and started the next as a freelancer. It made me realise that many freelance opportunities are down to luck, but that you can make your own luck.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

My first ever piece of work as a freelancer paid £19.03 and took me six hours to complete, so I earned a princely £3.17 per hour. This was back in 2009. I was working full time as an in-house project manager for Elsevier, but I was also in the process of completing the Publishing Training Centre’s distance learning course in proofreading, and I wanted to take on some actual proofreading to keep my future options open.

The client was one of those agencies that arranges proofreading for students and academics. I believe I found them through a Google search for proofreading companies. I know that I completed a test, and I was then added to their list and offered work according to when I was available.

I worked for the agency for around eight months (I stopped after I left my job and began freelancing for my old employer). I worked up to completing around 2–4 articles per week, and by the end of the eight months I was regularly earning over £15 per hour, which I considered a good rate for someone of my experience. There were aspects of the work that weren’t ideal (such as having no contact with the authors and very little feedback), but it gave me a lot of relevant experience to help me upgrade my SfEP membership.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My first job came from another, now retired, SfEP member. I had joined the society less than a fortnight earlier, but just in time to put my credentials in the next issue of the old Associates Available. My benefactor lived in my area and quickly got in touch to say she’d had an email from a marketing and comms company based somewhere between our two locations. They needed someone to work in-house for half a day to proofread some web copy. Did I want the job? Well, yes – of course! She passed my details to her contact at the company and the following week I found myself on a train to mid-Cheshire, where I spent several frustrating hours working for the comms company. Yup, it turned out to be a nightmare job and getting paid was also a hassle. But the point is, never underestimate the power of networking and getting your info in front of other people’s eyeballs. Despite plenty of experience, I’d only just returned to the UK after 13 years abroad and I had no contacts. I was very grateful for that first gig. Associates Available has been replaced by IM Available but is as useful as ever for picking up those early jobs that can help you start to build experience and a portfolio.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

This is how I found, not just my first, but my first dozen jobs – so I recommend it as a useful approach for all newbie proofreaders! The only qualification is that you need to be up for academic proofing.

There were three stages:

  1. I worked up a good understanding of the (quite strict) parameters for academic proofreading – in this context I mean dissertations and theses by undergraduates and post-grads, not papers by academics for publication.
  2. I went through my contacts – and my family’s and friends’ contacts – for anyone with any connection, even tangential, to university lecturers in any area with which I was comfortable (I concentrated on arts and particularly law), whether academics, journalists, current students or fairly recent graduates. I was interested in the names of lecturers/profs/supervisors who I might approach, and armed with those names and the courses they taught I got the relevant contact details from their institutions.
  3. I wrote a short, practical, helpful email to each person on the longlist, explaining my qualifications/training; my understanding of what is and is not acceptable in an academic context; how I might hopefully make their life easier (obviously you can’t say this last directly but it has to be implied, possibly with humour); and how swiftly I was able to turn work around.

My first job, for a Saudi student at Kings College London, came almost immediately and I have since worked on many papers by students of the same supervisor. Same for a number of other professors, so for work on which I was able to cut my teeth this approach was pretty successful.


SfEP Members can find out more about IM Available by visiting the Members’ Area on the SfEP website.


Photo credit: owl Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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