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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Editor

Freelancing requires a lot of trial and error and many freelancers look back over their experience doing it with equal parts regret (at what they didn't do correctly at the beginning) and pride. Freelance editing is no different.

With about 15 years of freelance editing on my resume, I've seen the upside and the downside to the job. On the upside, I've enjoyed the freedom that the job allows—particularly freedom to work from anywhere, as long as there is internet access. As a mother of three, this freedom has allowed me to work around my kids' school schedules and be more flexible for things like the inevitable sick days that happen when you have school-age children. On the downside, there have been clients who won't pay, work that's either trickling in or too many deadlines at once, and a lot of business acumen that I had to pick up along the way.

If you've ever been curious about what it's like to be a freelance editor, here's a look at a day in the life of one.

8 am – noon: Difficult projects

Mornings are the best time to work for many writers and editors, particularly following a good night's sleep. Since a freelance editor often has several jobs going at once, I always used this time to tackle the most challenging tasks. From my experience, challenging tasks can include:

  • Academic editing for English as a Second Language (ESL) writers, particularly long assignments such as a thesis or dissertation. While many ESL writers have mastered basic language structure and grammar, writing more in-depth on an academic topic can be especially difficult, requiring an editor to read carefully line by line to determine if there is logic and coherency. In some cases, I have had to paraphrase entire paragraphs of an academic assignment because the writer failed to use coherent language structure and grammar. This can be difficult and time consuming, particularly if the topic of research is something I'm not familiar with.
  • Copyediting for magazines, which requires careful reading of all content, including photo captions, the masthead, and advertisements. Magazines and other publications have been hit hard in recent years by a readership that increasingly consumes its news and information online or via smartphones. The financial strength of many publications has weakened and is showing signs that it will continue to do so even more in the coming year. In order to cut costs, which many publications are finding necessary, some are turning to freelance editors to copyedit the issue before it is sent to print. It's easier to higher a freelancer for a few hours' work than it is to hire a full-time, on-staff editor.
  • Academic editing for peer reviewed journal submissions. These types of projects involve extensive research on the writer's end, so in many cases, writers aren't focused on grammar or syntax as much as they are focused on getting the data gathered in their research correct. As with academic editing for ESL writers, these types of assignments can be especially challenging for a freelance editor because they involve a lot of terminology and research that might be beyond the freelancer's expertise.

Noon – 2 pm: Business and client maintenance

One of the most surprising things new freelance editors run into as they do their work is how much effort needs to go into advertising your services and keeping a steady stream of new projects coming in. While you might have several projects going at once and feel like you're busy and successful in freelancing, as soon as those deadlines pass and the projects are over, if you haven't sought out new work and additional clients, you'll find yourself to be out of work. This is the dreaded "feast or famine" that many freelance editors experience and it can be challenging to avoid unless you're working daily to attract new business. This requires extensive focus on things such as:

  • Email and/or newsletter campaigns to attract new clients
  • Maintaining an online profile, such as the ones featured on ServiceScape.com. These profiles take time to write, and in many cases, require that you upload a portfolio of your editing work. Keep in mind that when you upload your portfolio, be sure that the writer has approved having his or her writing uploaded publicly. In many cases, the writer might be too embarrassed to show how much editing was required for their work and/or might not want their name posted for all to see.
  • Telephone and/or email communication with current clients to ensure that the job you are doing for them meets their expectations
  • Communicating with other creatives who might be part of a team on the project you're editing. This is especially true if you are editing content for a website, which usually involves the creative work of several other people.
  • Building and maintaining a website (if you have one). If you have a freelancer profile on freelancer websites, you might be able to skip this part.
  • Invoicing current clients for work already completed. This involves looking back over the time you spend on a project and determining how much to charge. You will have likely already discussed this with the client beforehand, so keeping good records of bids you've made is a wise move.
  • Tracking down clients who won't pay or who are behind on their payments. This one was always tough for me because I wanted to focus on the work instead of tracking down payment for it. However, it is part of every freelancer's experience at some time or another and is something you'll need to put considerable time and effort into if you don't want to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous clients.
  • Bidding on new projects through sites such as Upwork.com. While some freelancer websites have a set price and allow the clients to find a freelance editor by looking through profiles and skillsets, others require that you bid on a project and set your own price for your work.

2 pm – 5 pm: Easier projects

Afternoons are a great time to tackle the easier projects on your desk, especially if your afternoons are interrupted by children getting home from school or other family obligations. Some examples of projects that I enjoyed doing most in the afternoon as a freelance editor were editing:

  • Novels, short stories, or other works of fiction
  • Letters (yes, many clients like to have their personal or business correspondence edited by a professional before they send it)
  • Website content, such as blogs, online catalogues, or even food menus

8 pm – 10 pm: Reading time

One of the most important things to remember about working as a freelance editor is that in order to do your job well, you should read—a lot! Reading not only sharpens your mind and hones your skills for spelling, grammar, and syntax, it also keeps you up-to-date on the competition out there faced by your clients who are writers. Knowing this competition and knowing what publishers are publishing enables you to provide informed, solid advice when your client requests comprehensive feedback from you.

Reading not only sharpens your mind and hones your skills for spelling, grammar, and syntax, it also keeps you up-to-date on the competition out there faced by your clients who are writers.
Reading not only sharpens your mind and hones your skills for spelling, grammar, and syntax, it also keeps you up-to-date on the competition out there faced by your clients who are writers. Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash.

So, you want to be a freelance editor?

If this day in the life of a freelance editor sounds like something you'd want to do, there are several ways to get started and build your freelance business. Obviously, you need to have some expertise when it comes to writing, spelling, punctuation, and English grammar as a whole, but you don't necessarily have to have a degree in journalism or English to start your freelance editing business. While some freelancer profile sites require that you show academic credentials (at the very least, a BA or BS degree), starting your own freelance editing business without using these websites is possible—especially if you've already built a solid reputation as a great editor through other avenues and through word of mouth.

The skillset that will be most useful to you as a freelance editor will be your ability to do a thorough job under time pressure, since most projects you receive will have impending deadlines. In many cases, you'll receive work that the writer finished last-minute, without leaving very much time at all for the editing process. You might also receive work that needs to be done immediately (within and hour or two), especially if it is business correspondence or emails that need to be sent as soon as possible.

Ultimately, being a freelance editor comes with its challenges, but is a great way to earn extra money on the side of your full-time job until you can build up a client base and make it a full-time endeavor. The good part about doing freelance editing as a side project is that it will give you time to build your business and reputation as an editor without having to stress over making enough each month to cover your bills.

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