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PROOFREADING AND COPY-EDITING (UK)
Hello and welcome to my website on this fine day. The question posed above seems to be on many people's minds, judging from the response to my book on the subject: Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing - A Guide (about which more later). My name is Trevor Horwood. I have been a full-time freelance proofreader and copy-editor since 1991 and I am an Advanced Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The purpose of this site is to give you some idea of what freelancing entails, and whether or not you would be suited to it. In return, it will give me a chance to plug my book . . . Well, we all have to earn a living, don't we?
I have put almost the entire site contents on a single webpage (a) to save you having to jump between pages to find what you want and (b) so that you can easily download the whole thing and browse it offline if you prefer. To make life simpler, I've divided the page into easily digested chunks which can be accessed directly from the site map below. Internal links are provided to aid navigation, while others lead to external sites that may prove to be of interest. You might like to bookmark this page now (or 'add to favorites' if you are using Internet Explorer), by pressing Ctrl + D. Then you can always find your way back here.
Click on a link to go to the relevant section.
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.
'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'.
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) 2013 guidelines, should be a minimum of £21.40 for proofreading and £25.00 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 £15.00 and £16.00 for proofreading seems to be roughly the going rate, and about £17.00 to £22.00 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.
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 pay, sick leave, etc. You might think that - I couldn't possibly comment.
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 last 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 have to be able to convince your prospective employers that you can do the task better than the next person, just as you would if 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!
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 all to the good, but the publishers I have spoken to all consider that the most important qualification is an ability to do the job properly, not how many letters you happen to have after your name. Having said that, there are many training facilities 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 consider 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.
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'm lucky if I see ten cars a day rather than 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.
Back to FAQs
Well, I hope the answers to the previous questions will have eased any fears you might have had 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, select ISBN from the drop-down menu and see what appears (for your convenience, this link will open in a new window so you can 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/copy-editor as a result of buying my book - that is largely up to you - but I can honestly say that I believe you will stand a far better chance of doing so with its guidance than without it.
That's it for the FAQs, so back to site map.
The following passage contains several common errors of the type you are likely to come across in a set of proofs (though not as closely clustered as here, I hope). This test should not be taken too seriously, but, since you have nowhere better to be than here, I hope that you'll at least find it fun. If you identify all the errors, it doesn't mean that you are a born proofreader; if you miss a few, all is not necessarily lost. It is really nothing more than an attempt to liven up my site by providing you with ten minutes' amusement and perhaps a little education, but if you are the kind of person who enjoys this type of 'spot the deliberate mistake' game then you should certainly enjoy life as a freelance. Feel free to consult a dictionary or any other reference book you have to hand. Here is the test. (You may find it more realistic to work on this printable version.)
As we enter the new millenium its difficult to avoid thinking about how the world is changing. In the 1980’s few people had even seen a computer, let alone owned one. Now they are on most childrens’ christmas wish lists. In the 1990’s satelite television was a new and wondrous thing - no less than sixteen channels through one ariel! Compare that figure with the hundreds available today. Digital broadcasting has changed our lives to such an extent that the question is no longer ‘TV or not TV?’ (to misquote Shakespear), but ‘Could we manage without it?’ Can you imagine life a hundred years ago, when there was neither television or radio. For us, it doesn’t bare thinking about, but perhaps our great-grandparents were equally as content to sit round a piano as we are to stare at a screen. There would have been no disagreement about what channel to watch, at least.
Which would you choose as the best of the two period’s in which to live? In 1900 there was certainly less leisure time, accomodation was terribly cramped and there were two world wars to come, (not to mention the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, which was responsable for the deaths of more British people than the Second World War preceeding it); a holiday was a luxury and there was no modern conveniences. I am not, of course, inferring that all is now perfect. Today we have global warming, gridlocked traffic, GM foods, BSE, ME, AIDS and many other unwelcome contractions, abbreviations and anagrams - problems all partly or wholly atttributable to technological advances. On balance, though, I think I would prefer to take my chances in todays silicone-enhanced world of bits and bites than in the troubled times of our forbears.
That's the end of the
test. For the answers, click
If you have read the answers to the frequently asked questions above you will know that it is possible to become a freelance whatever your current experience or situation. Of course, if you are starting from scratch, a little guidance is always useful. I know to my cost that much time can be wasted (not to mention a fortune incurred in telephone charges) sourcing vital information: Which of Britain's 3,000-odd publishers use freelances and which don't? (There are actually over 30,000, but the output of many is either minimal or highly specialized.) Where are they? How should you approach them? Who else could you approach? Which reference books are most useful? What types of training are available and where?
Many of the answers to these questions can be found in my guide. It's not a massive volume, but the information contained within its 96 large-format (A4) pages could prove priceless to the newcomer. Areas covered include
The book production process
How to read and correct proofs
Copy-editing, rewriting and project editing
Reference books and training options
A glossary of publishing jargon
How and where to find work
101 potential customers (with addresses and telephone numbers)
and much more
is also a section of exercises, similar to the proofreading
test above, but on a larger scale and with far
greater scope. Analysis and explanations of corrections are provided where
necessary to help you understand why they were made.
The information and exercises contained in the guide, together with one or two inexpensive reference books available from any bookshop, will enable you to begin your freelance career straight away by undertaking straightforward proofreading assignments. It will also tell you how to set about acquiring the necessary skills and experience to progress to the more lucrative fields of copy-editing and project management.
Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing - A Guide is just that: a guide. It is not a correspondence course (although I hope that the exercises will provide you with many useful background basics for any formal training you may decide to embark upon), and it is certainly no get-rich-quick scheme. It is, I hope, a mine of information that will save you a great deal of time and trouble in launching your career as a professional proofreader and/or copy-editor - time in which you could be earning money. Costing only around what you could expect to earn for ninety minutes' proofreading, I think it's a terrific investment. However, if after reading it you feel that you are not cut out for freelancing, simply return your guide within thirty days and your money will be refunded in full - no questions asked. (Please note that this money-back guarantee applies only if the guide is purchased direct from the publisher - see How to order.)
Like any other, the publishing world experiences constant change. Companies move, merge or are taken over; information requires updating. Built-in obsolescence is a problem affecting many reference works, and my own is no exception. To address it, I have compiled a list of such changes and made them available online in my 'Information updates' section.
There are some unsolicited independent reviews of the Guide at Amazon. Fortunately, most are kind (but, honestly, I had nothing to do with them), so I'm happy to promote their content. To read them, click here and scroll down to the customer reviews.
1. Buy direct
To order your copy of Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing - A Guide direct, please send a cheque, postal order or international money order for £15.00 sterling, payable to ActionPrint Press, together with your name and address to
Devon EX21 5DY
Postage and packing is free to any address in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. For other European destinations, including the Republic of Ireland, please add £3.50 (total £18.50); for all other overseas destinations, please add £6.50 (total £21.50). Overseas orders are dispatched by air mail. Please note that direct orders cannot be placed using credit cards or via e-mail, and that all cheques must be drawn on a bank with UK clearing facilities.
The guide can also, of course, be ordered through any other online or high-street bookshop (except possibly Blackwells, whom I decline to supply directly, although they could order it from a wholesaler instead). Please note that you may have to pay extra for postage and packing if ordering online, and that my money-back guarantee does not apply to online or high-street purchases (Mr Amazon, Mr Waterstone et al. being of less-generous spirit than I).
Like any other, the publishing world experiences constant change. Companies may move or be taken over, information requires updating. Such problems beset many reference works, and my own is no exception. To address it, I have compiled a list of such changes together with a list of hyperlinks to the websites of those organizations mentioned in my book who have an online presence (this in addition to the links to related sites below). This information is available to anyone who has purchased my book (from whatever source), and is password protected. The password required is the first word of Exercise 3 in Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing - A Guide. First, write down the password, then click here.
Suggestions and comments about my site are always welcome. I would be particularly pleased to learn of any related sites that I could add to my list of links. Please click here to submit your feedback (the feedback form will open in a new window), although questions regarding freelancing will only be answered if the password required to receive my information update is included in your message.
I hope that you will find the sites listed below to be of interest. Left-clicking on a link will open it in this window or, if you prefer and if your browser supports it, you can right-click and open it in a new window. Before you go surfing off, though, did you remember to bookmark this site?
Biz-Banana.com is a free ideas resource for people who want to start their own home-based business.
All the latest news from the world of books. Includes UK publishers directory and a wealth of other information.
Keep up to date with the world of publishing.
If you like books, you'll like this site.
Library Public Catalogue
Publishing details of over 10 million books and journals.
Excellent links site and more – a must-see if you have any interest in the editorial side of publishing. Membership is free.
Find A Proofreader
Niche business directory for proofreaders, editors, indexers, copywriters and other professionals working with words.
Freelancers in the UK
The UKs most comprehensive list of freelance writers and copywriting information.
Homeworking ideas to inspire you.
Means to Meaning®
Market place for professional skills in publishing and the media. Professionals post CVs and offers of service, anonymously if they prefer, to be contacted direct by clients.
A place for freelance professionals to promote themselves and network with other industry professionals, and for employers to find the talent they need.
A site aimed at publishers and authors in the commercial sector which tries to inject a note of realism into the process.
The Publishing Training Centre
Serious training for serious people.
for Editors and Proofreaders
The home page of the UK's premier professional association for those in the freelance publishing world.
Tight Jeans and Jelly Shoes
Business directory offering free listings for shops & services across the UK.
Copywriters specializing in web copy, search-engine optimized copy, e-mail marketing.
Tight Jeans and Jelly Shoes
The passage is repeated below, with the corrections you should have made in bold type.
As we enter the new
difficult to avoid thinking about how the world is changing. In the
few people had even seen a computer, let alone owned one. Now they are on most children’s Christmas
wish lists. In the
television was a new and wondrous thing - no
than sixteen channels through one aerial! Compare that figure with the hundreds available today. Digital broadcasting has changed our lives to such an extent that the question is no longer ‘TV or not TV?’ (to misquote
but ‘Could we manage without it?’ Can you imagine life
a hundred years ago, when there was neither television nor
us, it doesn’t
thinking about, but perhaps our great-grandparents were equally content [or 'as content' - either is correct]
to sit round a piano as we are to stare at a
screen. There would have been no disagreement about which
channel to watch, at least.
Which would you choose as the better of the two periods in which to live? In 1900 there was certainly less leisure time, accommodation was terribly cramped and there were two world wars to come [no comma here] (not to mention the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, which was responsible for the deaths of more British people than the First World War preceding it); a holiday was a luxury and there were no modern conveniences. I am not, of course, implying that all is now perfect. Today we have global warming, gridlocked traffic, GM foods, BSE, ME, AIDS and many other unwelcome contractions, abbreviations and acronyms - problems all partly or wholly attributable to technological advances. On balance, though, I think I would prefer to take my chances in today's silicon-enhanced world of bits and bytes than in the troubled times of our forebears*.
The test contained a total of thirty errors. Did you spot them all, or would you like to try again?
visitors to the noframes version since 18 October 2001