Is freelance editorial work right for you?

As the publishing industry evolves, media and publishing independents have witnessed the dissolution of the full-time copy editor. Among magazine, news media, and book publishing entities, an in-house copy chief is often considered a luxury of days gone by. The expense of the full-time position is often too difficult to justify, and the responsibility of clean copy can fall on in-house production teams.

Enter the outsourced editor—the freelancer. Everyone needs an edit, and freelance work in a variety of editing formats often goes to the bravehearted independents. Hence, the world’s copy editors of 2018 often find themselves living the dream of the remote entrepreneur, the freelance copy editor.

According to an article in World Economic Forum, “freelancers represent 35% of the United States workforce … freelancing is on the rise worldwide.” And when numbers of independent contractors continue to grow among the labor force as a whole, those numbers may be even higher among professional editors.

“We are still at the leading edge of a once-in-a-century upheaval in our workforce,” states the October 2015 Monthly Labor Review for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The freelance surge is the Industrial Revolution of our time.” And whether as a side hustle or main squeeze, freelance work may be in your future, too.

And why wouldn’t editors try going it alone? It’s the American editor’s dream. Freelancers responded voluntarily to an unscientific poll, and offered what they viewed as the most beneficial aspects of their own experiences in the field:

“Most editing work requires a certain level of concentration that is almost impossible to achieve in an office environment,” wrote one respondent. “Being able to work from home, set my own hours, and be more selective about the projects I work on are by far the best aspects of freelancing for me.”

“Being able to set my own rules and guidelines,” another editor wrote. “I dislike following house style rules, especially if they make no sense whatsoever. Also, I have a chronic illness, so being able to work from home is vital.”

However, freelance editor testimonies also convey more complicated scenarios than these. At a glance, freelancing appears to offer attractive alternatives to the traditional office cubicle grind, and in many cases it does. But the reality is that there’s more to freelancing than meets the eye.

Being your own boss requires self-discipline and time management. Freelancing can often require the editor to edit work immediately as it becomes available. Fast-breaking copy can require the entrepreneurial editor to juggle life around the edits, not the other way around.

Regarding marketing and business promotion, freelancers claim the best means of advertising and growth is still via word-of-mouth reputation established among repeat clients and relationships developed over time. And while landing a full-time, steady position as an editor has become less likely, the opportunity to nurture long-term relationships with a few key clients can add up to a healthy revenue stream for a small business. However, when a freelancer delivers shabby work with lackluster results, they develop a poor reputation and do not last long as independents.

Just as any house marketing professionals would, freelancers make use of all the free marketing tools available to them—all social media vehicles within reach. They use Facebook, Twitter, and others. Freelancers also attend industry seminars, writer conferences, and stay abreast of changes in the industry. And it’s not all fun and games. Editors commented that the return on time invested in marketing can feel negligible.

Other potential pitfalls:

“There’s certainly a level of anxiety that comes from pursuing an inconsistent line of work. I’ve also had clients that expect far too much of my time for the rate they are paying me. I think it’s often hard for people employing freelance editors to remember that their project is probably one among many for that editor, and that because most freelance workers don’t have taxes or benefit costs withheld from their pay, the rate they’re paid ends up being far less than it may seem.”

Freelancers also need to maintain the standard in premium editorial services and the prevailing wage among the professional community. Editors advise the following:

“In the vein of pricing, I set my prices based on [Editorial Freelancers Association] standards, but even if I put that in a contract, about 50% of prospective clients still don’t understand the parameters for ‘reasonable prices.’ Many clients will try to argue or haggle over estimates, despite my contract specifically pointing to the EFA.”

“Don’t expect to get your best clients right away. It takes a lot of work and shameless self-promotion to get a solid list of clients. Until then, you should probably have another job on the side, because you won’t make beans for the first couple years.”

Additional editorial advice:

“Don’t let anyone refuse to pay you for training. I once, quite regrettably, sunk hours into unpaid training for a client who had a particular way of doing things. The training was so specific to their process that it was hard to transfer the skills I acquired for that client’s work to other projects.”

“Get qualifications, business experience, and a portfolio before even considering it. I prepared for six years before becoming freelance.”

“Have a business goal that will attract people to you. Find that one thing that makes you stand out.”

Whatever your entrepreneurial ambitions with editorial work might be, do your research, learn your market and its potential, and be persistent. Good editors make good writing happen.

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