How to Become a Successful Freelance Editor

February 3, 2021
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I’ve been a full-time, professional copy editor and proofreader for a few years now, and I can understand why so many people are interested in this field. For starters, I get to work at home, be my own boss, set my own pace (sort of), and still make enough money to buy myself a lot of cool toys. Here are a few of the most common questions wannabe-editors have asked me, along with my answers.

1. Who can be a copy editor? What are the requirements?

sAnybody can become a copy editor or proofreader. There are no universal standards, however excellent spelling, grammar and attention to detail will certainly help. Moreover, an excellent grasp of the English language, style, word choice, as well as the mechanics of good fiction and non-fiction writing are useful.

The best proofreaders are probably pedantic and organized, although this is in no way a certainty. (It doesn’t apply to me, for example.) In truth, there are probably many people who, given enough practice, could become great copy editors. The trick is in setting yourself up as a proofreader or copy-editor and getting people to trust you with their documents.

2. How do I get started? What jobs are available?

The way most people get started is by applying for a part-time or full-time position with an established editing company. You would do this like you would apply for any other job: sell yourself and your achievements. You’d probably have to do some tests, sample edits and things like that to prove your capability as an editor.

You might also have a “Senior editor” to double-check your work in the beginning, which can be stressful. If you want to gain experience and become a better editor, editing and proofreading for an established editorial company (with its own set of standards, rules and editing style) will probably be helpful for you. However, the pay may be very low. You might make in the range of $5 to $15 an hour depending on many factors.

3. Setting yourself up as a freelancer

If you’re already confident in your editing skills, and have some experience already, I recommend going it alone. There are several freelance sites where you can bid on editing projects, like Guru, Freelancer, or Upwork. You can also make your own website. The competition is fierce, and you’ll have to know a lot about search engines, website ranking and traffic in order to succeed via this route.

However, if you are the only editor for your business, you might not need a lot of work anyway. How to make a successful editing site? Start out with your education, background, and experience. You can either decide to go “personal” ie. “Laura Smith’s Editing Company” or commercial “XYZ editing and proofreading company.” Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Make sure your site is clean and stylish; many editing websites look terrible and a nice template will set yours apart. Don’t make it too “bloggy” or personal—keep it simple. White background, not too many pictures, and of course absolutely flawless text. (There’s nothing worse than a website offering editing and proofreading services full of errors.)

4. Think local.

The web is a huge, scary place. Although you might get cases from all over the world, you’ll have much more success if you focus your advertising locally. Yellow pages (people still use those, sometimes), business cards on bulletin boards, fliers at local universities and places you know authors convene like bookstores or coffeeshops are great sources of business.

5. Develop a niche.

It’s hard to sell “proofreading and editing” services, for the reason that most people are searching for more specific services. “Editing for my thesis”, “manuscript editing”, “book or novel proofreading”, “essay editing and proofreading”, “dissertation editing”, etc. If you enjoy a specific type of manuscript, claim it as your own. Focus on becoming the absolute best in a particular field, an expert in “proofreading children’s literature” for example, and make sure everybody thinks of you when that subject comes up.

6. How much should I charge?

Many companies charge different rates depending on how thorough an edit the file needs, or whether they need copy editing or just proofreading. Some charge per hour, in a range of $10 to $50 per hour. I recommend charging by word count, so that it is easy for potential clients to figure out exactly how much their project is going to cost.

Between $0.01 and $0.02 per word is a good rough estimate for the industry average ($10 or $20 per 1,000 words), although editors come in a very wide range. Don’t worry about what other people are charging, though. Figure out what your time is worth to you; how much you want to be making an hour. Figure out how many words you can do in an hour and use that to establish your pricing.

7. How to accept payment?

PayPal or GoogleCheckout are my two favorite methods of getting paid. They’re easy, simple to set up and trustworthy. You can register for a free account online.

About the Author

Derek Murphy is an editor and owner of the editing company, Paper Perfect.

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