Freelance Copy Editing
February 3, 2004 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Freelance Copy Editing- my wife is hoping to make some money on the side with her mad English skillz. [more inside]

Anyone know how to get started? She's an experienced writer, but needs to learn the nuts-and-bolts of marking up copy. We've hit Google for online resources, but would appreciate any real-world advice, especially for making contacts and drumming up freelance work.
posted by COBRA! to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Join local organiziations like the local chapter of the Societ for Technical Communications and actually go to the meetings (no matter how dry and lame they may be for her chapter). Have a website that's nice and googlable (it's not a guarantee of work at all, but if you can put the site together on the cheap it might be worth it for just one job). See if there are any other professional associations or special interest groups she could join (not just writer's groups but also, for example, Mac user groups (if she uses a Mac, I'm just thinking of things I did) or something vaguely technical like that that might lead to people who need mad English skillz.

Then tell EVERYBODY that she's going to be taking in freelance work, including friends, family, the person who cuts both of your hair, clergy, professors, people on message boards or other online communities of which you or she is a member (provided, of course, this isn't frowned upon by the communities), the guy at the post office, your grocer, anybody you know who talks to a lot of people is fair game for networking.

Check out the local chamber of commerce--a lot of times they will hold community "meet and greets" that nonmembers are welcome to attend. Have business cards made (and if you can afford it, get a printer to make them rather than doing those cheapo Kinkos things since they just look cheesy) and hand them to everyone. If some one wants her phone number, have her give them a card instead of writing it down on another slip of paper. Take cards wherever she goes and never miss a chance to hand one out. Stick them on bulletin boards. Put them in little piles at lunch counters.

Take out a small add in the phone book. It's not that expensive, and can generate a lot of leads.

If she wants to specialize in a certain area (like legal copyediting or website copy editing) send out letters of introduction to those business in the area, and enclose a business card.

Things to avoid: Any service that charges for "work at home editing opportunities". These are crap.

Basically, network network network. The hard part of doing this, especially if she's working full time now, is that getting out there and hustling jobs is a full time job in and of itself. But once you get over the initial phase of getting your name out there, it comes easier as word-of-mouth gets out about you.

As for learning how to copy edit... I don't know. The Chicago Manual of Style is a nice reference to have. I've never been good at remembering copy editing marks, myself. All my copy editing has been totally unofficial.

Oh oh and keep every receipt for everything she does that's even remotely connected to her business. Helps at tax time.

Good luck!
posted by jennyb at 10:15 AM on February 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

she should also call around to the Managing Editors of various local (or local-ish) magazines and publishing companies and printers and pre-press houses letting them know she's available for copy editing and proofreading, and if she could fax her resume to them.
posted by amberglow at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2004

Advice about networking seconded - most freelancers get work through personal contacts and recommendations.

A quick way to get work _might_ be eLance Online. For example, there's one job up there writing copy for exams.
posted by skylar at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Before she starts networking, she should not only get thoroughly familiar with the proofreading marks (and variations) but accustom herself to the idea of house style, that is to say the fact that for many issues there is not one agreed-on "correct" answer. Some places use the serial comma, some don't. If she insists on whatever style she's familiar with and tries to override the preferred style of the place that's using her, she won't get called back. (This is a problem now where I work—some people mistake their own preferences or education for the Voice of God.) If she has questions (about editing techniques, not freelancing, about which I know little), she's welcome to e-mail me.
posted by languagehat at 11:46 AM on February 3, 2004

This probably goes without saying, but that resume she's gonna send out? It should be 100% flawless - in the style(s), as LH points out, of the place(s) she's applying to.
posted by soyjoy at 12:55 PM on February 3, 2004

Yes, for god's sake have the resume and cover letter checked and double-checked (not by her—you can't reliably proofread yourself). You wouldn't believe how many applications for editorial jobs contain horrible typos and/or grammatical errors (and go right in the trash).
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on February 3, 2004

I highly recommend Technical Editing, by Judith A. Tarutz. It is an incredibly thorough, detailed look at the world of professional editing. Well-written, too.
posted by acridrabbit at 1:32 PM on February 3, 2004

You wouldn't believe how many applications for editorial jobs contain horrible typos and/or grammatical errors (and go right in the trash).

I've done it myself (the horrible typos in an application, not the throwing in the trash).
posted by timeistight at 1:53 PM on February 3, 2004

Craigslist has freelance job listings, occasionally for writing gigs. It even publishes RSS feeds, which is very nice.
posted by adamrice at 2:16 PM on February 3, 2004

Languagehat gives very good advice re: studying proofing marks, getting familiar with various style guides, etc. -- I second!

Some specific networking advice -- I got a lot of my first freelance editing gigs by chatting with coworkers (at my old job, many many moons ago) who themselves were starting other sorts of freelance gigs (web/tech design, consulting, etc.). I offered to copyedit their web content, brochures, etc. at a (slightly) discounted rate -- they needed the editing but didn't necessarily have a lot of cash, and I needed the experience to move on to bigger jobs. It was mostly just spare change at first, but definitely a good way to get the ball rolling.

Finally, I would strongly recommend The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn (U of California Press) -- a very useful reference, which gives the basic ABC's of copyediting as well as valuable discussions of style and language. Plus exercises at the end of the chapters (which is the kind of thing, I find, that copyeditors tend to enjoy)!
posted by scody at 5:35 PM on February 3, 2004

On the subject of grammar / punctuation, check out Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
posted by skylar at 2:34 AM on February 4, 2004

try this blog. the author is a copy editor at a major newspaper and the content is almost entirely about copy editing. she also links to other copy editing blogs and style guides.

it's meeeee, cobra!
posted by centrs at 2:56 PM on February 4, 2004

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