Freelance copyediting is a great career or side-career for certain people interested in all kinds of publishing. There are a variety of reasons people get into it—you get to work from home (or perhaps a coffeeshop), choose your projects, be your own boss, and actually work with manuscripts and authors.
But what do you need in order to copyedit freelance? Here, I’ll talk about skills, tools, and knowledge you’ll need to have a successful start at copyediting.
1. “An innate talent for working with the written word”
This one might seem obvious, but you have to have strong English language skills and attention to detail to find mistakes and things that are just off. As Arlene Prunkl of PenUltimate Editorial Services put it, “You can do all the other things I’ve just mentioned, but without an innate gift for the English language…you won’t get far.” Copyediting really is a skill, and while you can and should be learning as you start out, you need some talent. Arlene Prunkl has tested people without this talent, “despite their great efforts and enthusiasm for the written word.”
2. A drive to learn
Prunkl says she’s largely self-educated, with “little formal editing training.” However, she recommends both taking college courses in writing and/or editing and business to give yourself some background in both the actual editing part of the job and the entrepreneurial side. Prunkl also says familiarizing yourself with the Chicago Manual of Style is a great idea: “It’s the freelance editor’s bible.”
3. A website and a social media presence
Prunkl says her “career took off about a year [after she started], when [she] launched [her] website.” She also lists creating a website in her advice to people trying to break into the field. Copyediting.com also stresses the importance of a social media presence. “Creating content and participating in social media” are great ways to make yourself known in the community.
4. A willingness to put yourself out there
Starting out as a freelance copyeditor, one of the biggest concerns is getting business. That’s why it’s so important to network and tell people to spread the word that you’re doing this. Marcia Kramer, a freelance copyeditor, said she tried sending mass emails early on, but that it’s not where she ended up finding clients. “‘Almost all of my work has come through people I know,’” she says in an interview with the American Journalism Review. She advises new copyeditors to “put these people on the spot and say ‘Can you think of anyone I can get in touch with…?’” Copyediting.com also suggests networking as one of the best ways to start your career as a freelancer.
5. A membership to some kind of editor’s society
Prunkl suggests joining one of these organizations. The Editor’s Association of Canada offers a certified professional editor program, which Prunkl says is a rigorous program similar to getting your master’s. This boosts credibility, and societies like this can also support your career and provide you with resources. The U.S. has the Editorial Freelancer’s Association and the American Copy Editor’s Society (ACES) that you can join.
There’s lots more advice on this topic out there, but these are good places to start. Best of luck!