Do you love the written word? Do you have an eye for detail? A passion for correct grammar? Do you cringe upon finding typos and misspells in leading publication? If so, then professional editing may be your calling.
Editors are in charge of planning, reviewing and coordinating the contents of written material intended for print or digital publication, in an attempt to determine what subject matter will best appeal to a large audience of readers. Most editors work full-time in salaried, office jobs, while others work remotely, from home, or as independent or freelance editors. In addition to the pressures of a highly focused and critical profession, freelance editors require high levels of self-disciple and face additional stresses of continuously finding their own clients and adjusting themselves to each client’s needs and preferences.
Some freelance editors seek the independent work model in response to the tough job market and lack of available salaried positions. They need to earn a paycheck, but have not found a position at any company or publication able or willing to hire them. Others choose to embark upon a freelance editing career out of a desire to free themselves from the corporate rat race and become their own bosses. They yearn for independence to select which clients or companies to work with, which jobs to take on, and which to refuse.
Regardless of the reason for going freelance, all self-employed editors answer to themselves and are directly accountable for their work (the quality of the writing they present to their client). If a client is dissatisfied with an edit (a paper, article, blog post, book or what have you), the freelancer will have to take responsibility and rework the document until it is perfect.
Conversely, if you are in a post-layoff panic, feel like you have no other professional options, do not have a passion for the written word and balk at the idea of managing your own business, then perhaps freelance editing is not the career path for you.
Freelance editors often face a series of hurdles, such as a lack of financial stability, a potential sense of solitude when working alone, the need for long attention spans and the risk involved in putting one’s own reputation on the line all make freelance work seem difficult, frustrating, and sometimes impossible.
More Money, Less Stability
The payment per copy received by a freelance editor is usually significantly higher than the salary he would receive if employed by a company, since the company shaves a sum off of the client’s compensation for overhead and administrative fees.
Often, there may be less job security when freelancing. Freelancers, editors included, must constantly invest in finding new clients and maintain relationships with existing customers. One month, work may flow in and with it financial bliss. The next month, little work may be readily available, leading the freelancer to scramble to make ends meet. Editors mulling the move to freelancing must consider the initiative needed to successfully market themselves and secure enough clients to feel financially secure.
Little Room for Error
Being your own boss can be risky. With every new client and project, the freelance editor’s reputation is on the line. For freelancers, reputation is everything. It is what helps them secure their next gig and bigger and more lucrative projects. Misunderstanding a client’s requests or unwittingly making an editing mistake, whether big or little, will eventually harm the freelancer’s professional reputation. If their name is tarnished by even a single unhappy client, potential future clients may be reluctant to hire them.
Are You a Lone Wolf Freelance Editor?
Like any independent profession, working as a freelance editor can be a lonely affair. Whether working alone from a home office, or renting a desk at a co-working space, the freelance editor is faced with spending countless hours staring at a document no one else is privy to, devoting extreme attention to detail, spelling, grammar, syntax, tone and flow and often times without anyone else to interact with.
Some editors work best sans distractions from the surroundings of their work environment. These editors will find that they can concentrate best without the murmurings of colleagues and the shuffling of feet from cubicle to water cooler. And others crave human interaction and may even experience reduced productivity as a direct result of a quiet environment. They are motivated to pay extra attention to the task at hand when there is a chance they may be interrupted or momentarily detracted from the document. Editors considering saying “asta la vista” to their salaried position should weigh the pros and cons of working as a one-man business and its inherent solitary structure.
Unrealistic Client Expectations
Sometimes, writers hand over their manuscripts to editors, certain that just a few simple corrections will be made before the document is picked up by a literary agent for publication. Unfortunately, not all written pieces, despite the most determined editing efforts, will be sent to the printing presses. The editor’s job is to render the copy into the best, most correct version of itself it can be; not to be a ghostwriter.
The freelance editor is neither a publisher nor a literary agent. Freelance editors must learn to develop thick skin, stand up for the quality of their work and explain to the displeased client that the piece was edited to satisfaction and that lack of publication is not the freelance editor’s responsibility.
Getting started as a freelance editor can be a rocky ride and riddled with risk. A freelance editor who’s just starting out will have to grapple with the challenges of marketing, searching for clients, setting rates, collecting payments, working solo and maintaining the satisfaction of their customer base, even when facing unrealistically stringent client expectations. Salaried or currently-unemployed editors should weigh the pros and cons of freelance work with its likely pitfalls in an attempt to determine whether freelance editing is their preferred professional course.
We’d love to hear about your experience as a freelance editor! What challenges have you faced in ramping up your freelance editing business?