First freelance proofreading job?
May 11, 2009 3:42 PM   Subscribe

How did you get your first freelance editing/proofreading job?

I'm trying to break into freelance proofreading (and editing, to a certain extent, though I'm told the market for this more in-depth work is significantly smaller). I've read all the AskMeFi posts on the subject; I'm studying my proofreading marks, and I'm about to put up fliers and get myself onto referral lists at the university where I currently work. I have a Craigslist ad up already.

My question is straightforward: how did you, the freelancers of AskMeFi, get your first jobs? I feel like I'm not covering everything.

(I hope to establish myself a little this summer, and then freelance as I work through my library science master's.)
posted by thesmallmachine to Work & Money (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
try liveperson,, elance,, etc etc
posted by ravingOak at 3:45 PM on May 11, 2009

I worked unpaid for a while, for friends and acquaintances. That gave me references, people who would recommend me to the their friends.
posted by decathecting at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2009

Best answer: I had a job as an editor, and then I got laid off.

That sounds wicked snarky, and I really don't mean it that way. But in my experience, it's very much a who-you-know thing, along with a giant dose of can't-get-hired-without-experience-but-can't-get-experience-without-getting-hired.

Work the friends angle definitely, especially if they're grad students writing papers, and call around to local shoestring nonprofits to see if they'd like their newsletter/online presence proofed. Some or all of this will have to be for free for a bit, in all likelihood.
posted by rtha at 3:58 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I started out through a job placement in college which turned into a full-time position. Nowadays, all my freelancing writer/editor friends have their own Web sites with a list of their clients and samples of what they've worked on that you can preview (at least, the projects that aren't protected by any non-disclosure agreements that person signed). Recommendations from the client are usually displayed as well, along with the usual contact info, types of work the person will do, etc.

It's a lot more professional to have your own site if you can manage it. You might trade writing/editing another person's site content in exchange for designing one for you to use professionally? Just a thought.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:03 PM on May 11, 2009

Family, friends, and then I got a couple of (absurdly low-paying, pain-in-the-ass) gigs from Elance. These days, I mostly get client referrals. And the occasional Craigslist client, but that seems to yield a lot of pain-in-the-ass clients as well.
posted by Stacey at 4:14 PM on May 11, 2009

Free or cheap work for friends/coworkers. I also volunteered to take on proofreading/copyediting for brochures, newletters, etc. for an activist organization I was very involved with at the time. All of those allowed me to expand my resume a bit, so that I could apply for "real" gigs after awhile. (For the past 9 or 10 years, though, I've pretty much only freelanced via referral.)
posted by scody at 4:33 PM on May 11, 2009

Response by poster: I've already done a little bit of free work for friends who own a business. I could make a site and at least start with that...
posted by thesmallmachine at 4:34 PM on May 11, 2009

Same as rtha. I was an editor at a major house for a number of years, and then I was laid off. So I had an extensive network of contacts and references to work from. My first freelance job came from the editor in chief of an independent house with whom I had been friendly for several years, and who knew both my taste and my reputation. The second came from an author, who likewise knew me personally & professionally. And so on.

I definitely recommend building a detailed website w/references. All work that has not come through existing contacts has come through my website, and a list of known clients & positive testimonials validating previous work is vital. Although to be honest, 98% of my freelance work has come through people I know -- either directly from contacts at publishing houses or from author/editor/agent contacts referring people to me.
posted by tigerbelly at 7:43 PM on May 11, 2009

Did a magazine internship in college, then started freelance proofreading for them after graduation. Soon thereafter saw a house ad in the local alt weekly. Went in, rocked the edit test, was their go-to proofreader for the next two years. Got a couple other good freelance proofreading/copy-editing gigs on the recommendation of friends.

So it just varies, but experience definitely helps. As does waiting around for someone else to quit/get fired.
posted by limeonaire at 7:50 PM on May 11, 2009

I took a class for which the printed materials were so shoddy that I complained, got my money back, and then offered to show them what their materials could look like. It turned into a good little gig for a while, too.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:11 AM on May 12, 2009

This was a long time ago, but I worked in-house for the medical division of a large publisher while in college, then when I moved across the country, worked freelance for their legal publishing division. That gave me enough of a resume to get hired as a freelancer for other large publishers.
posted by HotToddy at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2009

Not sure if it helps, but I talked to a friend who knew I'd been laid off. We'd both been at our college newspaper. He was now at a textbook publisher. He suggested me to some production editors, and one of them tried me. She was pleased, and spread the word.

I use freelance as side work. If I wanted to full-time it, there are clearinghouses that publishers use; I currently get no textbook work, because this publisher uses its vendor for that. I only edit the companion material -- Web sites, CD-ROMs, instructor manuals. If I wanted to pursue a career, I could take a copyediting test for the vendor and get more work.

When I was trying to make a career of it, to augment the work I did for this publisher, I made a list of publishers and e-mailed/called all 500 of them. I got a few jobs this way, but not many, and only one ever used me a second time.

My two recommendations, if you don't know anyone in publishing to exploit: Call a textbook publisher, ask to speak to a production editor, and find out the names of some of these clearinghouse-type vendors. Take their test, and see if you can't get work. Second suggestion: Study up on some specific subject and present yourself as an expert. I got work doing medical editing, especially nursing material. I wasn't an expert then, but I kind of am now, and can boast of experience in the specialty.
posted by troywestfield at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I literally called up a big publishing company in my city and asked to talk to whoever was in charge of hiring freelancers. When I got her, I explained that I was interested in joining their pool of freelance proofreaders. She took my address and sent me a proofreading test, and once I passed it, she sent me some work. Disclaimer: This was in 1998, so it may or may not work now. I did it on the advice of my aunt-in-law, who freelanced in the '80s and got her start the same way, so apparently it's a time-honored method.

There are also temp firms that specialize in proofreading/editing work; google one in your area or ask friends. It's not exactly freelancing, but it gets your foot in the door, and once you've made connections you can often keep going from there.
posted by Ms. Informed at 12:13 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

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