Published author who moonlights as Websmith--good idea or better to try editing?
December 30, 2008 5:33 PM   Subscribe

What's valued more in the freelance marketplace: editing or Web stuff?

My friend is a published book author/ex-reporter, who is talented at editing. But he has read warnings by editors, on old Metafilter threads, that it is hard to break into their brutally competitive field.

So even though he'd rather sell editing services, and his official credentials are more writing-oriented, he's instead been going on Craigslist peddling his workmanlike competence at things like CSS, XHTML, Wordpress and Photoshop CS4, in the belief that these skills carry greater market value. He has been known to write a PHP script or two. He's no graphic designer or coding whiz, but he keeps up on design trends, and his years of experience messing with Unix have given him some flexibility. He's at least good enough to help people out with a variety of Web issues, and has landed a site-design job or two so far in his quest for a modest freelance income, though it has been difficult.

What he is trying to figure out is whether it's worth competing with all the excellent copywriting and editing services out there, or if it will be relatively easier to continue to try to do Web sites, read a few more O'Reilly books and pick up more technical Net skills, even though he's a relative n00b at it...good enough for government work, as they say, but not likely to bring home a Webby Award.

On E-lance you can see for yourself how many employers are asking for any one skill, and can compare that with the number of contract-hunters. But it's still hard to get a sense of the real value, in terms of meaningful and not chintzy offers. Is there a dramatic difference between the demands for editing and Web work, or are both these areas equally hard to crack? There are so many providers around the world promising to build sites for cheap that it can seem dizzying and bleak. Or maybe it depends on where you look, and is E-lance's outlook just markedly grimmer?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First, I wouldn't use Elance to gauge the market, because only the cheap clients shop there. Second, it sounds like you might be lumping copywriting and editing together. They're distinct skills, as discussed in this thread.

I've worked as a freelance copywriter, and if you're decent, you can have plenty of work. Lots of people think they can write, but it can be hard to find a writer who has a professional approach and can write copy that creates business results. When an agency finds a writer they like, they'll keep coming back. There's higher pay working directly with clients but that requires more hustle. I did a mix of both.

I think the income potential is higher in copywriting than it would be in editing or websmithing. Writing style is a unique, hard-to-copy benefit that can justify a steep price, while editing and websmithing are (fairly or not) more likely to be seen as commodities measured in hours or pages. I'm not aware of many freelance editors who can charge the $125/hr that an experienced copywriter can get, and technical skills go a lot cheaper, thanks to outsourcing.
posted by PatoPata at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

My advice: forget about "market value" -- your friend should pursue what he really wants to do and ask for a reasonable rate to do it. That scenario can be had in writing, editing, or web stuff. It comes down to locating quality clients. Undervaluing himself or second-guessing his skills isn't going to make things any better.

I am an editor by training and the majority of my professional experience has been in editing; I currently do both editing and front-end web development as a freelancer.

When I began freelancing, I found that web work was both easier to get and people were willing to pay more for it, despite the fact that I had less experience and no pedigree to speak of (i.e., my degree is in journalism, not anything tech-related). This is of course limited to my personal experience, but there were a lot more people saying "we need a new web site" than "we need someone to edit this text" and so I took projects based on what was in front of me. However, I definitely agree with PatoPata that there can be more/better opportunities for writers than editors. Copywriters and content developers are seemingly in constant demand.

I've never used any of the Elance-type sites to find work, and I would assume they're not the best gauge of the market for people who expect to be paid a competitive rate. I've also never hired someone from Craigslist or gotten a freelance gig from there, but I do keep an eye on what's posted in both directions and there seems to be a high signal-to-noise ratio. A much better option is registering with creative staffing agencies and exploiting personal and professional network contacts.
posted by camcgee at 1:48 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

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