Want to start proofreading and copyediting professionally? Here’s advice from some pros who started from scratch.
Do you dream of living abroad while freelancing as a proofreader and copy editor? Or thought of starting your own proofreading business on the side? Are you wondering what to do and where to start? Who better to get advice from than people who’ve been in exactly your shoes, with the same goals and thoughts. We went straight to our High-Level Proofreading Pro graduates, who have all started successful editorial businesses, for their advice. Hopefully their tips will inspire you to take those first steps towards making your dream of working with words a reality.
Start With A Topic You Know
When Lucy Usher moved from London, England, to Melbourne, Australia, her journey into editorial work began. She started a side business as a proofreader to fill in the time between advertising projects, and now enjoys working from her favourite Melbourne cafes. The senior account director in advertising shares her advice for those considering proofreading and copyediting:
“Give it a go. You’ll soon realize whether it’s something you enjoy doing or are having to force yourself through. I’d also suggest starting with a topic you are already familiar with, so you can focus on learning the ins and outs of proofreading and managing clients without having to research a whole new topic area at the same time!”
Offer Value And Be Consistent
Heather Mitchell is a mom of five and runs her editorial business from home while continuing to homeschool her youngest child. She teaches English online while balancing her editorial business, and loves the variety of her proofreading and editing work that keeps things interesting. She said there are a few things you should do from the get-go when starting your side hustle and that building connections with potential clients is essential.
When it comes to marketing yourself and connecting with potential clients, Heather said, “Referrals are my favourite ways to find clients. Relationships are really important. Social media provides a way to build relationships with people far and wide. Using two or three social media platforms regularly has already provided some networking opportunities. I think the key is to be consistent and to offer value by providing original content.”
Winging It Isn’t An Option
Andrea Jasmin had endless reasons for leaving her full-time job in the corporate world to freelance. Flexibility, freedom, and being her own boss were the biggest motivators. She started proofreading and copyediting as a side hustle, but within months, had grown it into a full-time editorial business. A few months before leaving her full-time job, Andrea worked on her first book project and quickly realized the differences between reading for fun and reading for pay.
“Winging it with no training [is] not an option. Learning the skills from a trained professional gave me the confidence and education to feel like a professional myself. There is a very big difference between looking something over to catch errors, which I have done all of my life, and doing a professional proofread or copyedit. I didn’t really realize this until I started the course and gained extensive industry knowledge and the processes of a trained proofreader and copy editor.”
Stay Organized And Break Down Tasks
By day, Christine Wheary is the director of a medical lab, and by evening she’s a proofreader and copy editor for romance books. When she started her side hustle, she knew she wanted the romance genre to be her main focus. She wanted to build a business doing something she loved. Christine shares how she juggles a day job and a side hustle:
“I’m a very organized person, so I think that really helps. I also believe in breaking tasks down into more manageable chunks. This helps me get jobs done and helps me not get overwhelmed. When I start a project, or even when bidding on a project, I look at how long I have each day to work in the evening, keeping in mind my other commitments. For example, if I know it takes me an hour to proofread 3,000 words and I have a 12,000 word job to complete, it’s going to take me 4 days to complete if I can devote an hour each of those 4 days. So I really plan out my days each week.”
If You Do It, Do It Well
Reading has been a lifelong love for Nadia Willie. From a young age, she has been passionate about good stories, and now as proofreader and copy editor based in Kingston, Jamaica, she is even more passionate about how those stories are told. Nadia is the owner of The Scrutineer, a remote editorial and content company that serves local and global clients alike. What’s Nadia’s advice for people who haven’t taken the plunge to start freelance proofreading and editing yet?
“Don’t hesitate. If you are that person that always finds the mistake most people miss, grit your teeth when you see a misspelled word, or check your email 50 times for errors, then this is quite likely something you should pursue. Go with your gut. Get trained. Sure, your innate ability will help, but I can assure you there is still so much you don’t know. English is such an eclectic language that you will find you are always learning. If you are going to do this professionally, then do it well.”
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Learn The Skills You Need
Callie Walker was unhappy with her work life when one day she woke up and asked herself, “What if I became a proofreader?” Her mom had been a proofreader for a local publishing company when Callie was in middle school and high school, so the idea of proofreading wasn’t foreign to her. She enrolled in High-Level Proofreading Pro and learned the skills she needed to get started. Now she happily works with Christian writers to polish their content.
Her advice to those aspiring to proofread or copyedit is to learn and practice. “Learn the [skills] and how to get started, and then get some practice by offering free or reduced prices.”
Margaret Fierstine had always loved words and anything related to language, so much so that she got a degree in Spanish and English. She went on to teach high school English and Spanish for several years before she decided to homeschool her three children. Two years ago, Margaret started to wonder about what she would do with her life after her children went off to college. Her husband even suggested she become a proofreader.
The idea inspired her to research all about this new career path, but it would be two years before she decided to pursue her dream. It wasn’t easy to take that leap of faith. She had doubts about whether she was good enough and could get paid to proofread, but her courage to take a step forward and invest in herself helped make her dream a reality.
“Take action! That way you won’t be left wondering what might have been. The ‘what ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ in life can haunt us, so sometimes the best way to have peace is to take that leap.” That leap helped her land her first copyediting job before even finishing her training in High-Level Proofreading Pro!”
Value Your Time
As a YA horror and contemporary fantasy writer, Briana Morgan has a firsthand understanding of the writing process, and what an author experiences during this process. She specializes in working with other indie authors, and decided to get into proofreading and editing because she views the editing process “as the most transformative step in publishing.” Briana, who is also a playwright and writing coach, said it’s very important also to know your worth and value your time.
“Don’t be afraid to edit a few things for free when you’re starting out, but once you’ve gotten established, make sure you value your time and expertise. I see so many editors charging low because they want to get more clients, but this can lead to taking on a lot of tough manuscripts and not making enough money. Do your research, stick to your boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say no.”
Consistency Is Key
When Christopher Daprona could no longer work at his healthcare job, he had to switch gears and find a way to make a living, while also being a caregiver for his mother. One day he was reading an ebook and found himself being pulled away from the story because of all the errors. It was at this time that he decided he wanted to help writers make their content be the best that it could be. Since then Chris has gone on to start a successful book editing company that serves writers in the US and UK.
His advice for those aspiring to become freelance proofreaders and copy editors is: “Be consistent with the quality of your work. This is key to repeat and future projects. If you make an error, own it. Fix it. Keep the client happy because they generally will be forgiving. We are only human.”
Your Heart Should Be In It
After 15+ years in the corporate world, Bori Hoffbauer grew tired of the 9 to 5 game and decided to follow her dream of being her own boss. She wanted flexibility and freedom. She combined her love of travel and the English language and became a digital nomad. Her journey to discovering her desired lifestyle led her to proofreading and editing.
Bori’s advice is: “Be honest with yourself and make sure that you not only CAN but WANT to do this. If your heart is not in it, then you may quickly get bored. Either you want to do it as a side hustle or as a full-time job, it’s important that you know WHY you want to proofread and edit, and I don’t mean the obvious ‘to make money’ answer. Try to define a higher purpose that would keep you on track.”
You Should Love To Read
Erin Kelley balances motherhood with her roles as a proofreader and copy editor for mostly business non-fiction and romance novels. She works when her young daughter sleeps, and loves the flexibility that her freelance editorial business gives her. Here she shares some advice for those thinking of taking that leap of faith:
“…if you love to read, you can do this! You don’t need to have worked as a proofreader before, but you do need to love reading. Reading to proof and reading for enjoyment are different. [Also], knowing where to look for answers is just as important as ‘having a good eye,’ and Phon’s course has some great tip sheets that I reference frequently.”
Don’t Stop Learning
Proofreader, copy editor, and content editor, Sandra Wester, loves the freedom that running her own editorial business has given her. Every day is a little different and that’s the beauty of working from home, according to Sandra. The North Carolina resident only wishes she had taken the plunge and invested in herself and her future sooner. She recommends getting trained to gain the knowledge you need so you start off on the right foot as a professional.
“I would say keep learning — you don’t have to have it all figured out before you launch your business. Most of all, take steps toward your goal and don’t worry if you make mistakes. Don’t let months go by before you take action like I did. Take that leap of faith!”
Feed Your Inner Word Geek
Jesse Wiebe struggled her way through retail jobs and an unsatisfying office job for years before finding fulfillment in proofreading. She had forgotten she wanted to be an editor when she was a child, until she came across a book that frustrated her to the point she wanted to throw it across the room. Jesse has some good advice for those thinking of pursuing a side hustle as a proofreader.
“First of all, just do it. Don’t worry about whether or not you can succeed, because you definitely won’t if you never get started. It sounds trite, but it’s true…. Proofread menus when you’re out having dinner, and instruction manuals when you buy a new gadget. Feed your inner word geek.”
Thanks to all of our grads for their words of advice. If you’re ready to take the plunge and learn some proofreading and copyediting skills so you can start freelancing, you can sign up to watch our free masterclass on how to start an editorial business from scratch.