Freelance (academic?) editing: Where to begin?
March 10, 2020 7:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I translate my (limited, but relevant) experience in academic writing/editing/publishing into an actual job or freelance career? Assume I have loads of subject-area expertise (PhD in a humanities field) and some useful editing experience, but ZERO outside-the-academy experience, and ZERO skills/experience in the practicalities/business/day-to-day-making-it-work of freelance careers.

As I (attempt to) transition out of academia and into the actual world, I'm a little at a loss of where to start. I think my skills, experience, and desires are best suited to some version of a freelance copy editing/proofreading/etc. gig, specifically in the academic publishing sector, and even MORE specifically in humanities fields. I do have some practical experience in this area (including several years working as proofreader and later copy editor in a major academic journal in my field, and more recently doing freelance copy editing and manuscript preparation for a book published by a major academic press), but both of these gigs came to me through immediate personal/professional connections (i.e. my dissertation advisor; the director of the centre I did a postdoc at, etc). I am about to (for a variety of reasons) move across the country from my entire academic/professional network, and I have no idea how to get started building my professional resume in a new town, where I don't know anyone, that is not a publishing hub, and where the only academic press has little to no publishing coverage of the fields and subject areas that would make me a competitive candidate. While my preference would be to stay within my field (and at least a little feel like I'm putting that PhD to use!) I am of course absolutely open to work OUTSIDE of my field, and even outside of academia, but the further afield I go, the less secure I feel in my ability to actually get work. I am happy to work remotely (and in many cases would actually prefer it).

I am feeling rather overwhelmed by the variety and abundance of job postings on various sites and searches, and am uncertain about the best ways to begin to build my resume. Like, is taking ANY work beneficial at this point, from a resume-building standpoint? Or are there certain gigs that actually look poor on a resume? Is joining ACES my first step? Is there another professional organization I should know about? I know many academic presses outsource copy editing to freelancers (that is certainly the case with the press the current book project is at; though I was hired by the author not the press, the press also hired their own freelancer): how do I make connections with academic presses to get on their lists for these jobs? Do I need a website? How do I get my name out there?

Basically, I need a "beginning a freelance academic editing career 101". Please assume that I am acutely aware that this is a market that is super competitive, and that I am under no illusions that my background guarantees me success.
posted by Dorinda to Work & Money (5 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I only freelanced for a short while, but I came to it the same way you did, editing for a journal and for friends in my field. Eventually I got a few word-of-mouth clients from departments where I'd done work for a friend. I think if I hadn't gotten a 9-to-5 job, that's the niche I would have pursued: being the editor who people in the Underwater Basketweaving department recommend to incoming Underwater Basketweaving students and instructors.

I'm sure I'd have had to hustle some to maintain that, though, and needing to hustle at all was what eventually drove me out of freelancing altogether.

What I did instead is I eventually got a 9-to-5 job editing software documentation. They were more impressed by my journal work than by my freelancing, but I think both did count in their eyes, and being able to claim years of experience was also helpful in itself.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:46 AM on March 10, 2020

Best answer: I'm a freelance academic (science) editor. The freelance market is not only competitive but rates are heading toward rock bottom, since most journals seem to care a lot more about saving $ than decent editing. I'm looking to get out of the field, partly because I'm tired of it and partly because of dropping rates. But it is possible to make a go of it.

The best, and maybe only, way to really make a go of it is to use your current academic connections to the max. Ask people if they need an editor or any of their students do (especially non-native-English speakers).

Join the Editorial Freelance Association and get on their jobs list and hiring directory. LinkedIn is moderately useful. A webpage can be a handy place to send people, esp. if you make business cards and hand them out (or have friends hand them out) at academic events.

If you are willing to work for very little, try contacting an agency such as Cactus or Wordvice.

If you are a freelancer, no particular jobs will look bad on your resume, because your resume won't mention agencies just "Freelance editor" and maybe a short list of (the best) journals that your edited work has been published in. I don't really think any in-house jobs would be looked down on either though.

Feel free to message me if you have more questions!
posted by mkuhnell at 10:37 AM on March 10, 2020

Best answer: The Study Hall email listerv is a great network for freelance editors/writers, and there are many academic or former academic folks on it even though it's for all kinds of media jobs.
posted by CancerSucks at 4:21 PM on March 10, 2020

Best answer: I'm a freelance writer. I worked hard for it, but I also feel like I got a lucky break. Here's my best advice:

1. Join They have free courses, a built-in document editor that grades your content, etc. You can also schedule one-on-one sessions with a professional writer for advice.

2. Write content in your free time and putting it on a professional website. From there, you can more easily apply to writing jobs to build your resume. These days, a website is even more important than having a resume, I think.

3. Once you have more experience under your belt, and a substantial website with enough samples, you can apply to jobs (I suggest using work from home job site).

Good luck! DM me if you have any other questions!
posted by ygmiaa at 7:01 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am involved with hiring freelancer copy editors for a scientific journal. My involvement is mainly assessing applicants' editing skills. We have a test they need to do well on, and then we continue to assess their work over time (some people start well and then get sloppy after they've been working with a client for a while).
We have a terrible time finding people who are actually good at this. It is utterly shocking to me how many people call themselves professional copy editors and make very basic mistakes over and over. We also get people who claim scientific editing experience and then make changes that very obviously alter the meaning of the sentence. Not even half of the people who apply pass our test - and these are people whose resumes list a lot of experience - we don't look at people who aren't experienced with scientific editing. So I'm not sure how stiff the competition actually is when you take into consideration that lots of people claim to be editors and suck at it.
If I were looking at your application, I would be much more interested in the fact that you've been an in-house copy editor. I've come to believe that freelance experience doesn't mean that much because I've seen so many people with lots of experience who are terrible at it - doubtless, mkuhnell is right that many places don't care about decent editing.
A friend of mine does freelance editing of dissertations. He might be getting work through people he knows, since he teaches at a university, so I don't know how you'd go about finding clients, but that might be an option for you.
posted by FencingGal at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2020

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