29 May 2012
Feedback from our Live Editorial Freelancing Q&A session - Part Three
For part three of our Live Q&A summary we wanted to focus on how to make that leap from certificated student to professional proofreading. One forum member wanted practical advice on how to move on from being a student to a career as a freelancer. It may appear hard to break into publishing as an outsider, and it does require a lot of time and effort, but the long-term rewards will be worth it once you have made some connections and started to build an impressive portfolio. An effective marketing strategy is to write to the relevant managers/editors/production controllers at the publishing house you are interested in and include any references that you have from previous clients.
You can start to build a portfolio by going to local businesses, restaurants and hotels and offering to proofread their promotional materials and brochures. Just by doing this you will be extending your portfolio beyond your initial training. Small, independent publishers can also not always afford proofreaders and may be willing to allow you to do some proofreading in return for a reference.
It is worth bearing in mind that, although local businesses may want you to proofread their work, they may not have gone through the editing process and this can place you in a tricky situation if you feel their copy needs reworking. If this happens to you then you need to consider whether your client is actually expecting you to edit their work and if you have the experience and skills to do so. The advice given was not to bite off more than you can chew. Your professional reputation is the most valuable thing you own and comes before your client’s convenience and sensitivity. An unhappy client is not the kind of experience you want! And if the relationship turns sour because they’re not happy with the job you did, this could also knock your confidence. Every job you do in your early days of freelancing needs to generate more than just a cheque, you also want a reference and you want the opportunity of repeat work. An unhappy client will give you neither. Alert the client to the issue and discuss in detail what the job entails. Then make your decision based on a realistic assessment of whether you can do the job and, even if you can, if you are prepared to at the same rate of pay. If you decide to decline, this puts you back in control. If you lose the work or the professional relationship comes to a close, it’s because you’ve decided to not work with the client, not the other way around. And your professional integrity is still intact.
Experience counts for a huge amount. Do make sure that you are familiar with the current BSI symbols and if you still feel unsteady always have your text books, course materials and tutor feedback at hand so you can use them for reference. Academic publishers will expect you to mark up using these symbols if you are proofreading on paper and you want to make a good first impression! Panellist Louise Harnby suggested that it is worth highlighting any on-screen editing experience you might have. On-screen editing is common in the academic and trade markets, but some publishers are now dipping their toes into onscreen proofreading, too. Being able to use ancillary software such as Word or Adobe/PDF-XChange will be a bonus in the eyes of a publisher as it offers them flexibility.
It was generally agreed that training is important and does demonstrate that you have endeavoured to understand the conventions of editorial freelancing as required by publishers. When the majority of publishers are asked which external training providers they both use and recognize most will say the SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders) and the PTC, so your training will definitely set you off on the right foot.
You should also try and aim for full membership of the SfEP because that entitles you to take out a listing in the Directory of Editorial Services. Our Distance Learning courses translate as points which can be used towards your accreditation depending on whether you were awarded a Pass, Merit or Distinction. Over the years Louise Harnby has picked up several academic publishing clients through her Directory entry; the value of the work generated exceeds the cost of membership (and the fee for the Directory) many times over so it’s an excellent return on investment.
Another top tip that came in from a panellist was to approach the publishers that you are interested in during the summer holidays as this is when the majority of their freelancers will be unavailable. You must dive in when you get a chance and prove that you are the right choice for their books.
Should you send your covering letter and CV in the post or by email? There was mixed opinions on this question, a few of our panellists pointed out that as long as you research each company and tailor the letter to their specific needs then you will save a lot of money by emailing potential clients. However, the paperless office hasn’t fully integrated itself into the publishing industry and it is worth posting a letter and CV to your chosen companies so they have something to keep on file.