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Is Freelance Editing For You?

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 8 August 2012

The tranquil landscape of freelance editing...

Four reasons why freelance editing could be the right career for you

People arrive at careers in freelance editing from all walks of life. Of course there are many who work in publishing for decades, turning their years of experience into an invaluable marketing tool when they decide to take the freelance plunge. Others might start out as teachers, salespeople, academics. Or even butchers or bakers or candlestick makers. But they all have one thing in common: they are all in love with words. That love affair’s been going on for quite a while now. It’s getting pretty serious.

If you’re thinking of getting into freelance editing, you’re already straddling the first hurdle (you’ll need a bit more of a push to clear it completely). That first hurdle is seeing your own potential as a person who is skilled with words, and realising that you could make a freelance career out of that skill.

So how do you tell if freelance editing is right for you?

1. You are prepared to work your socks off

There’s no two ways about it: freelance editing is hard work. It requires hours of deep concentration, spot-on judgement and great linguistic skill. And if you’re working freelance, the actual editing work you do is only one part of the bigger picture.

Much of your time will be spent building, sustaining and enhancing your editorial business. Because, let’s not forget, that’s what you’ll be if you decide to go it alone as an editorial freelancer: a business owner. You might be the only employee, but you’ll have a whole slew of new work to attend to that just doesn’t come into the picture when you work for an employer: marketing, advertising, accounts, tax returns, administration, ongoing training. Don’t underestimate the amount of work this will add up to, especially if you haven’t worked in these areas before.

And you’ll want to be giving the best editorial service possible, so you’ll be pounding the keys, hunched over and squinting at that Arabic numeral that just doesn’t look right, at all hours of the day and night – at least you will be in the early days before things take off.

If you’re not ready to throw yourself in at the deep end and work like you’ve never worked before, you’re probably not ready to become a freelance editor.

2. You don’t like being around people

Okay, this isn’t wholly true – of course, to be a successful freelance editor you have to be an excellent oral as well as written communicator, you have to attend networking events and learn from your colleagues, you have to be prepared to meet a prospective client at their offices or for lunch to strike up a new working relationship. If you’re hoping to hide away in your study and not have to come into contact with those blasted fellow humans, you’ll be disappointed.

But it’s fair to say that you will be spending quite a lot of time on your own. However much networking and hobnobbing you do, your core business will still involve sitting alone in a room, undisturbed and utterly absorbed in your editing work.

This may be something you’ll have to come to terms with if you’re usually a social butterfly, or if you’ve ever described yourself as a ‘team player’ in a job interview without a hint of irony. There’ll be no more watercooler chats about last night’s soaps or elevator exchanges about how rubbish the weather is lately (you might be able to tell this isn’t something I miss).

In all seriousness, though, social interaction is essential for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing. No man is an island – you’ll have to cast lifelines to civilisation if you want to stay sane. This is certainly something to take into consideration if you’re thinking of going freelance.

3. You have a tough hide

To cut it in the world of editorial freelancing, or any kind of freelancing, you have to have a thicker-than-average skin. It’s not going to be plain sailing. There will be times when you lose faith in yourself and your abilities, however momentarily. No-one is going to hand you your freelance career on a plate and thank you politely for your efforts.

There has to be an element of struggling against the odds, of difficulty, of uphill heaving. Sometimes, things won’t go perfectly to plan. Sometimes, things won’t go your way. You’ll have weeks when nothing seems to be going your way.

If in these situations you think you might be apt to fold your hand and duck out, telling yourself you’re not cut out for this, your freelance career is going to be shortlived. In times of adversity you’ll have to come out fighting, with one singular aim: to keep going, and never to give up. This might sound a little melodramatic, but when you’re relying on yourself and your own abilities to get by, you have to have inexhaustible amounts of resource and strength. You have to be able to take the hits, learn from them, and move on.

4. Words make your heart sing

I touched on this earlier, but it really is the most important thing to appreciate if you want to live in the world of editors, writers and proofreaders. You can be a whizz with words and enjoy pontificating over the finer points of grammar with the best of them, but to be a freelance editor you need something more than that. You might love words with your head, but you need to love them with your heart, too.

As a freelance editor (or writer or proofreader) you will live and breathe words every single day. You will be constantly surrounded by phonemes and morphemes – you will figuratively, as well as literally, live off them. They will be your constant companion, whether you like it or not.

And some days, you won’t like it. You’ll be sick of the sight of all those crowding, noisy letters jumbling your field of vision, vying for your attention. Words will become your work, and everyone needs a break from work sometimes. If you don’t love words truly-madly-deeply, you’ll want to turn your back on them when the going gets tough. But if you love them enough, you’ll stick with them through thick and thin – because deep down you know you can’t live without them.

Do any or all of these points resonate with you? If so, freelance editing could be up your street. It’s hard work, it’s something you have to give yourself to wholeheartedly – but if it fits, it’s a wonderful profession to be in. I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.


  1. Great post! Thanks for reminding me why I’m a freelance editor and what I have to do to stay that way.

    Comment by Tammy Ditmore on 9 August 2012 at 3:27 pm

  2. Sally Evans-Darby

    Thanks, Tammy! I’m glad you enjoyed it. The process of writing it served as a nice reminder to me, too.

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 9 August 2012 at 4:26 pm

  3. Great article that only confirms why I’m in this business. Freelancing is definitely much harder than being an employee, but it’s worth it in the end. Thanks Sally!

    Comment by Emily Osterstock on 10 August 2012 at 3:24 pm

  4. Sally Evans-Darby

    Glad you enjoyed it, Emily. I certainly agree it’s worth the hard work and effort.

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 14 August 2012 at 7:10 am

  5. Well done! This piece touches on all of the key components to a successful career as a freelance editor. It never ceases to amaze me how many aspiring freelance editors have given not a minute’s thought to the fact that they’ll be running a *business*! That’s definitely the toughest aspect for me, but it goes with the territory. I was also nodding and smiling while reading the section on having a tough hide. One must maintain one’s composure when dealing with the author who continues to explain that *he/she used poor grammar or word choice deliberately, or why a certain (totally irrelevant) passage absolutely *has* to be in there! Sigh. But my personal favorite is dealing with ESL authors (or, ahem, some PhDs…) who have no idea just how bad their prose is. No matter, I am a Digital Warrior-Poet and shall soldier on!

    Have a fabulous week!

    Comment by Aden Nichols on 13 August 2012 at 5:32 pm

  6. Sally Evans-Darby

    Many thanks, Aden! Yes, I thought it was important to stress that freelance editing is a business decision – that can be one of the toughest things to get used to when starting out. It was certainly one of the hardest things for me, not having run my own business before. But, as you say, it goes with the territory!

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 14 August 2012 at 7:08 am