Editing for fun and maybe profit?
February 6, 2014 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I am an English PhD who now works as a researcher in the private sector. For some time now I have been editing things (for free) for friends and family members. What do I need to know and do if I want to make a few bucks here and there doing this for others?

Let me say at the outset that I don't see this as becoming a substantial source of income for me. I still have my day job.

I'm just interested in using a skill I have to make a few dollars of extra spending money. The other reason is I miss some elements of academia and I am hoping that by focusing my efforts on attract clients from the university, as a fringe benefit I'll be able to read about cool research that's happening.

This is largely in the realm of I don't know what I don't know what I don't know. So what do I need to know? I can put together a web site easily enough but obviously there's more to it. How do I know what's a fair rate for my services? How do I initially attract some initial clients and build up some legitimate references?
posted by synecdoche to Work & Money (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What sorts of things are you editing? Is there a market for what you're editing?

Set up a web site, list a bunch of references, and a portfolio of work, and hire yourself out as a freelancer. Make sure, of course, that none of that conflicts with any employment agreement you signed with your full time employer.
posted by dfriedman at 9:48 AM on February 6, 2014

Response by poster: dfriedman, things ranging from chapters of dissertations and grant applications to marketing copy and product brochures, as well as articles for trade magazines.
posted by synecdoche at 9:54 AM on February 6, 2014

Having done something similar with a similar clientele - you need to crack a small handful of university clients, and once you're in the door with them and their universities, you will find their colleagues getting referred to you. If you can live with a slow build-up for your clientele, this can work great.

Of course those first few people are the trickiest. I seem to recall that some of my earliest academic clients came through Craigslist postings and flyers put up around campus. I did good work for them, they referred me to their colleagues, etc. The first few may want references, so you'll want to get a friend or two willing to be that for you.

If you are targeting any particular universities, you might do well in particular to target a department or two where there are a high proportion of researchers who speak English as a second language, and so are particularly interested in editorial help.

The Editorial Freelancers' Association web site has a decent price guide about what different types of editing typically bill for that you may find useful.

Depending on the university, you may find that you need to be signed up with the university as an official vendor/contractor. Others may not require that. That process can take a little while and involve lots of paperwork, so the first time you work with someone at a particular university, I'd suggest you ask them to speak with their department administrator early in the process to see what sort of paperwork they're going to need from you, if any. It would suck to be at the end of a project and realize that the university isn't willing to sign you up, or to pay you without doing so, so your client has to pay out of pocket for something they were planning to charge to a grant, and your payment gets delayed.

You might want to check out the Copyediting-L mailing list; it's high-traffic so I only dip in and out occasionally, but it's an invaluable resource and I'm sure you would find useful tips in the archives.
posted by Stacey at 9:57 AM on February 6, 2014

I am hoping that by focusing my efforts on attract clients from the university, as a fringe benefit I'll be able to read about cool research that's happening
Unless they pay you out of their own pocket, you need to be incorporated or be part of a business; it is unlikely they can use funding to pay John Doe the individual, but more likely they could use John Doe Consulting for editing services.
posted by variella at 9:58 AM on February 6, 2014

I know some people who have signed up for American Journal Experts, but the hiring criteria might require you to be currently employed by certain universities.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:12 AM on February 6, 2014

Have you checked out any freelance editing jobs on elance?
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:14 AM on February 6, 2014

Offer thesis and dissertation editing services for ESL graduate and PhD students. There's someone at my university who has flyers up advertising his services. He mentiones that he is a published author with an academic background. I think he charges $8 a page or something like that.

I sort of do the same thing because I'm a social science PhD student with an English undergrad and some professional writing/editing experience. When my ESL professor in grad school found out my English background, he asked me if I wanted to edit some of his manuscripts on the side. I'm at a different school now and he still occasionally sends me drafts of his journal articles to edit. It's pretty easy to do and a nice way to make a little extra money.
posted by mcmile at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2014

Unless they pay you out of their own pocket

FWIW, my experience in linguistics is that there are a lot of ESL-speaking academics who do end up paying for copyediting out of their own pocket. Either they're in subfields where grants aren't common, or they're grad students without their own grants yet, or they have grants that don't include money for editing — but one way or another, they can't get journals to give fair consideration to their stuff unless the English is polished, so they bite the bullet and take out their checkbook.

Not that getting a DBA and getting set up as an official vendor and all wouldn't be useful. But I've gotten a steady trickle of proofreading/copyediting gigs without any of that, just based on people who decided they'd treat it as an "investment in their career" and spend their own money on it.

(I actually think there's a lot of stuff about the situation that's really problematic. But journals' bias against ESL writers is real, and some of the people I've copyedited for have gone on to get their shit published someplace nice, so I still ended up feeling like I was providing a useful service rather than being 100% straight-up exploitative. You might feel differently.)
posted by this is a thing at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2014

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