Frequently asked questions  

What is a freelance?

A freelance is someone, usually self-employed, who offers his or her services to several businesses on a temporary basis. There is no formal contract of employment involved, hence no obligation on an employer to provide work, nor on a freelance to accept it. Freelancing obviously lacks the security afforded by formal employment, not to mention other benefits such as paid holidays and company pensions, but many freelances consider this disadvantage to be more than offset by freedom from the daily grind and the variety of work available. The majority of freelance copy-editors/proofreaders work almost exclusively from home.

What does a copy-editor do?

'Copy', in this sense, means a piece of writing. This is often an author's typewritten - or computer-printed - manuscript which is to form the basis of a published book, though it could just as easily be a journal article, an instruction manual, a leaflet or brochure . . . in fact, anything that someone has taken the trouble to put down on paper (or disk). One dictionary definition of 'edit' is 'to assemble, prepare or modify for publication'. The copy-editor's task, therefore, is to weed out any errors or inconsistencies in the author's copy before it is published. Such errors can take a number of forms. It is a common conception that 'finding spelling mistakes' forms the basis of the job, and it is true that this is an important element, but there are also many other things to watch out for: errors in punctuation and/or grammar, inconsistencies of presentation and/or style, and so on.

What does a proofreader do?

Once a manuscript has been copy-edited (see What does a copy-editor do?) it is sent to a typesetter, who produces a loose-leaf proof copy of the book (or article, or brochure, or whatever) prior to publication. These proofs, together with the copy-edited manuscript, are then sent to a proofreader who checks (a) that the setter has not made any errors while typesetting the manuscript and (b) that the copy-editor has not missed any errors in the original copy. Again, the proofreader's task consists of rather more than simply 'checking the spelling'.

How much can I earn?

There is no short answer to this question. In theory, as a freelance, you can set your own hourly rates, which, according to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders' (SfEP) 2016 guidelines, should be a minimum of £22.75 for proofreading and £26.50 for copy-editing. Before you get too excited, though, I should warn you that, as usual, theory does not always correspond with practice. In my experience, most publishers have their own set rates for freelance work, and it's up to you to accept these or not. Rates vary from company to company, of course, but - again only in my experience - a figure of between £16.00 and £18.00 for proofreading seems to be roughly the going rate, and about £20.00 to £22.50 for copy-editing. Rates-of-pay surveys I have come across in the profession's literature would seem to confirm that these figures are a fair reflection of the current situation, though of course some lucky folk will earn more and some will settle for less. The hourly rates do not include expenses such as postage and telephone charges, which you may add to your invoice. It's obviously up to you how many hours a week you want to work, but a full-time freelance working a 35-hour week at a reasonably achievable rate could expect to gross around £30,000 per annum - hardly enough to enable you to retire in five years' time but, in my opinion anyway, a fair return for an enjoyable job.

How much work is available?

Precisely? I have no idea. Here are a few figures, though. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders has around a thousand members, and of course not all freelances are members of the Society. There are literally thousands of publishers in the UK, who between them publish tens of thousands of titles each year. There are also hundreds of specialist journals published monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. All of these need to be copy-edited and proofread. Publishers make use of freelances for these tasks for at least two reasons: (1) the flow of work through a publishing house can be very uneven and it therefore makes sense to employ labour only when needed; (2) some books and journals, especially if highly technical, require the experience of a specialist in the subject. Such expert knowledge is unlikely to be available in-house, so a freelance specialist is contracted. Some cynics would also say that freelances are used as cheap labour, burdening the employer with no Employers' National Insurance, holiday leave, sick pay, etc. You might think that - I couldn't possibly comment.

Is it easy to find work?

There is a short answer to this question - NO. While there is an awful lot of work to be had (see answer to previous question), there are also an awful lot of people chasing it. Few publishers are tearing out their hair wondering where their next copy-editor or proofreader is coming from. That's the bad news. However, the same could be said of many jobs. Didn't you have to compete with a number of other candidates before you got your present job? Or, if you don't have a job at the moment, is anyone knocking on your door offering work? Of course not. The good news is that publishers will always need new freelance talent for any number of reasons: retirement, illness, maternity leave, holiday cover, a sudden glut of work. And of those thousands of publishers mentioned in the previous answer, you only need to receive regular commissions from half a dozen or so to keep you busy full time.
    The truth is that to be a successful freelance you must convince your prospective employer(s) that you can do the task better than the next person, just as if you were applying for any other job. How do you do this? Well, that is one of the things my book deals with, so it wouldn't do to go into too much detail here, but I will say that it is quite possible for someone with absolutely no previous experience of publishing to become a successful full-time freelance within six months. I know - I was that person!

Am I qualified for the job?

There is not, so far as I am aware, any piece of paper you can wave in a publisher's face and say, 'Look, I'm qualified - give me a job.' Naturally, you must have a good command of the English language, and any relevant experience or academic qualifications you can present as evidence of specialist knowledge will be to your advantage, but the publishers I have spoken to all consider that the most important qualification is an ability to do the job properly, irrespective of how many letters you happen to have after your name. Having said that, training is never a waste of time, and there are many training opportunities available, ranging from distance-learning (home-study) courses through day-long workshops to full-time residential courses. (Information on training facilities is, of course, provided in my book.) You may also come across a number of 'How to be a proofreader' advertisements in the press. The value, and value-for-money, of such opportunities is variable, to say the least, and you would be well advised to compare as many training alternatives as possible before parting with your cash. Above all, NEVER send money in exchange for a promise of employment - it just doesn't work that way.

Can anyone become a freelance?

As you may have gathered from the foregoing answers, ability and suitability are far more important than paper qualifications. Virtually anybody is eligible. Age is no barrier, neither is location (most of the publishers I work for are based in London, well away from my home in Devon, and if I so chose I could relocate to anywhere from Inverness to the Isle of Wight without affecting my volume of work). You can choose your hours to suit your situation and, of course, working from home means that the dreaded daily commute is a thing of the past.
    When I decided that my own life needed to change I was living in the industrial Midlands, approaching middle age and with a history of employment in the security industry. At the time, I was a sales manager and earning a fairly good salary, but the daily motorway journeys, awkward customers and office politics were taking their toll. A change was required, but I had no idea in which direction. Then I saw a newspaper ad extolling the virtues of freelance proofreading. This turned out to be one of those 'variable' opportunities I spoke of in the 'Am I qualified?' answer. However, it did set me thinking. My only connection with the publishing industry was as an avid reader of its products, but here was a job I thought I would both be good at and find extremely enjoyable. The only problem was, I hadn't a clue how or where to start. A strategy was required, so I devised one. This proved most successful, and it wasn't too long before I received my first paid commission. Today I work full time doing a job I love and, because all my work arrives at my door, I am able to live in a place where I rarely see ten cars a day, as opposed to the thousands an hour I used to battle through on the M6.
   A few years ago, it occurred to me that others could well benefit from my experience, so I decided to put my strategy into print. Thus was Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing - A Guide conceived and born. 

So ends this potted version of my own experience of ceasing to be a wage slave and entering the less-secure but far more rewarding field of self-employment. Perhaps some of it strikes a chord with you, perhaps not. I include it here not to sing my own praises, but to show that it is possible for any ordinary, reasonably intelligent person to break free from the daily grind. And I also hope it might interest you in my book.


Are you a con artist?

Well, I hope the answers to the previous questions will have eased any fears you might have harboured about me or my book. If, however, you have any lingering doubts that either exists other than on this site you can visit the British Library Public Catalogue, click on Search the Integrated Catalogue, paste 0952397471 in the search box and see what appears (for your convenience, this link will open in a new window in order that you might carry on browsing this page while it loads). There are many scams around in the homeworking field, but this isn't one of them. I can't promise that you will become a successful proofreader or copy-editor as a result of buying my book - that is largely up to you - but I can guarantee that you will stand a far better chance of doing so with its guidance than without it. 
That's it for the FAQs. Still think you can do the job? Then perhaps you should try my proofreading test. Dare you click the link in the sidebar?