One of the most common questions I get from people who are interested in book editing is how to find editing and proofreading work, particularly with publishers. Breaking in as a freelancer can at times seem impossible, but I promise you that it’s 100 per cent possible, and you don’t need existing connections at publishing houses or otherwise. I had zero connections when I started out. The brilliant news is that connections can be made.
I’m going to assume for the sake of this post that you have very little experience and/or training. If you want to work with publishing houses, that will be crucial.
You usually need training and qualifications for publisher work
Many publishing houses will expect their freelancers to have training and qualifications from a recognised provider. If you want to proofread for them, for example, a proofreading qualification will make you more appealing. If you want to copyedit, the same applies. Most publishers in the UK will expect freelancers to have an editorial qualification. Some publishers may accept equivalent experience (perhaps you’ve been trained on the job, had a relevant internship/temp position, and so on).
If you don’t have editorial qualifications, it’s worth getting some as publishers are more likely to consider you for their freelance lists. In the UK, the two recognised providers are:
- The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading: They have training courses in a range of things, including copyediting, proofreading, fiction editing, and web editing.
- The Publishing Training Center: Intensive proofreading and copyediting courses, as well as short courses in things like copyright, working with authors, and editing references and illustrations.
These courses can, of course, be taken by people outside of the UK too. Many organisations offer virtual courses, so it technically doesn’t matter where you are in the world (although do be aware some providers are more recognised in certain places). Other options include:
- The Editorial Freelancers Association: A range of courses and webinars on editing and business skills.
- Editors Canada: Offers all kinds of training such as webinars and local seminars for Canadians. They also offer professional certification.
- ACES: The Society for Editing: The ACES Academy provides webcasts, videos and on-demand courses. Other seminars and conferences are available.
Pick your qualifications based on what you’d most like to do. If you only want to proofread rather than copyedit, look for courses in proofreading.
You can also supplement your learning with reference books, which will be necessary throughout your career as an editor. Have a look at some styles guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style for US English, or New Hart’s Rules for UK English, and familiarise yourself with the basics. (You don’t have to memorise an entire style guide; that would be impractical and even experienced editors don’t know them inside-out!) If you want to copyedit, I recommend Butcher’s Copyediting. If you’re interested in working with fiction, I love the following books:
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (uses examples from edited manuscripts to discuss POV, exposition, pacing and more).
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, especially if you’re interested in story/developmental editing.
- The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.
- The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglish (they have a range of other books in this vein too).
- Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer for fantasy/sci-fi writing.
- Stein on Writing by editor Sol Stein.
Targeting publishing houses
Once you have training under your belt, you’ll want to get some experience. You may have a little already, but if not – we all start somewhere! There are a few methods for finding opportunities to freelance edit for publishers. Some are more effective than others, and keep in mind that they don’t all work for everyone. I recommend you keep a spreadsheet or Word document to track your efforts, and how well each approach works for you. That way, you’ll know where to focus your time and energy and will be able to see what’s most effective.
Job boards can be useful places to find editing and proofreading work (although there will be a mixed bag of freelance and in-house roles, so you’ll have to filter carefully). Here are a few sites to try:
- Bookcareers.com vacancies (has an option to search for “freelance”)
- The Bookseller freelance jobs
- Publishers Lunch Job Board
- Independent Publishers Guild
- Indeed (try searching for “freelance editor” or “freelance proofreader” or similar)
- Job postings at publishers may also be advertised in the EAE Ad Space group on Facebook.
If you’re a member of an editorial organisation, many of these have their own jobs boards as well. The CIEP has an “Announce” job newsletter for professional members and a Marketplace board on their forums.
Cold-emailing and how to craft your letter
Cold-emailing takes time and energy, but it can be one of the best ways to get onto freelance lists when you’re a newer editor without connections. The first step is to research publishers who publish the type of material that you want to work on. Make a list, and find a contact email (avoid filling out contact forms as this type of communication is more likely to go unanswered in a sea of enquiries). Some publishers display staff lists on their website alongside email addresses – you will want the managing editor or commissioning editor as this is usually the person responsible for freelancers. If you aren’t sure who to contact, you can simply email anyway, and ask for it to be passed along to the relevant person.
If a publisher’s website makes it difficult to find email addresses, don’t fret! There are other resources available. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook has a listing of publishing houses in the UK and the US, along with contact details. Publishers Global is another handy place to look – it’s an online directory of publishers globally.
Now, you may also be wondering how to go about writing your email. What do you include, and how do you phrase it? Here is an example of an email I sent to a publisher. As you can see, I wasn’t sure if this person managed freelancers, so I just politely asked to have my email passed along.
I hope you’re well. I’m just emailing to enquire as to whether you’re looking to grow your freelance roster. I’ve been working for a number of digital publishers in a freelance capacity for several years, including [publisher] and [publisher], in similar genres to those you publish – crime/thriller, romance, and contemporary fiction. I’m a professional member of The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, and have completed accredited training.
I wasn’t sure of the correct person to contact at [publisher imprint] regarding this, so I’d be very grateful if you could point me in the direction of the editor who manages freelancers.
Thanks so much. I look forward to hearing from you.
The result of this email? I received an email address of the correct person to contact. I was then able to send her a similar message about my experience, and she asked to see a CV. A while after that, I was on-boarded as a freelancer.
Here are some tips on compiling your cold email:
- Be concise and to the point. Publishers are busy, so keep it short and sweet.
- You don’t need to be overly sales-y.
- Relevant experience and training is important (you might only have the training, in which case, that’s fine – remember, you can draw on other experience e.g. student newspapers, or transferrable skills).
- If you have a website/portfolio, put that in your email signature.
- You don’t have to offer up a CV right away. Sometimes they don’t open attachments anyway, so best to wait for them to request one.
- You can offer to take an editorial test, particularly if you’re new or lacking in experience.
- Don’t follow up too quickly. Give it a few months. Publishing is slow.
An email from a newer, inexperienced freelancer might look like this:
I hope you’re well. I’m just emailing to enquire as to whether you’re looking to grow your freelance roster. I’ve completed training with [provider] in [copyediting/proofreading] and I’m familiar with [genres you enjoy/read]. I’m a member of [organisation].
I’d be happy to take a test to demonstrate my skills, and can forward a CV if required.
Thanks so much. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you’re able, try to personalise it a bit (maybe you’ve read and enjoyed a recent publisher blog post, or you’ve attended one of their events).
There are downsides to cold-emailing: things can take a long time (staff might change, meaning you’re on-boarded more slowly; they might have lots of emails to get through; they could have enough freelancers and might only email when they need someone urgently). This is why I recommend a broad approach if you’re starting out and looking for experience. Keep a spreadsheet tracking all your cold-emails and any responses. Target smaller publishers too.
Finding managing editors
Another tip is to use LinkedIn. You can request to connect with managing editors (I’d recommend including a personalised note, rather than a blank connection request) and send them a message asking about joining the publisher’s freelance database. If their profile has a professional email, use that instead.
Other methods to find editing and proofreading work with publishers
Events and networking
Attending writing and publishing events such as conferences, book launches, and writing festivals is a great way to meet people in the industry. Many events have talks where speakers who work in publishing will discuss a particular topic, or host Q&As.
One of my earliest clients came from a writing conference. I was pitching a book idea to an editor, and mentioned I did freelance editing and proofreading. I emailed her after the session enquiring as to whether the publisher was looking for freelancers. I ended up on their books, and they are still one of my most regular clients today.
Take the opportunity to go to these events where you can. You never know who you’ll meet. And you can email speakers or people of interest afterwards too.
Another excellent way to find editing and proofreading work is via referrals from other freelance editors. Network and build relationships with your colleagues authentically. Don’t just do it for the sake of getting referrals!
Editors are incredibly generous and lovely people and if they think you’re helpful, nice and professional they are more likely to refer work or opportunities to you, rather than someone who is only out to take everything they can get. If you’re genuinely interested in supporting your colleagues, befriending people, and helping where you can, that speaks volumes. I was able to get work with a particular publisher early on in my career because a kind editor friend passed my details along to them.
But where can you find other editors? Here are some ideas:
- Business + Professional Development for Editors (Facebook group)
- Fiction Editors of Earth (Facebook group)
- The CIEP, which has a forum and regular online/in-person meetings
- Editors Canada
- The Editorial Freelancers Association
- ACES: The Society for Editing
The downside of publisher work
The one drawback of working with publishers is that you can’t necessarily command the rates you want. Publishers have their own strict budgets. They set the rates, not the freelancer. Fiction publishing in particular can be low in terms of rates, although the manuscripts for publishers are usually cleaner and more straightforward. You don’t tend to communicate with the author either, so there’s less hand-holding and guidance needed.
You may decide to take a few low-paid jobs to gain experience early on in your career, and then gradually move away from that as you gain experience. I would just caution you to be careful when doing this, and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.
There are ways you can make a decent hourly rate working with publishers. Not all of them are cut from the same cloth. Some fiction publishers pay more than others. And you can improve your efficiency by learning how to use things like macros. Just be mindful when deciding what type of rate you accept – consider what you need to earn for your cost of living.
Non-fiction does tend to pay better than fiction when working with publishers, so bear this in mind too.
Working with authors instead…
It’s much easier to command the rate you want – or at least the industry recommended minimums or median rates from the CIEP and EFA – when working with authors independently, one-on-one. There’s also justification for a higher rate in these cases, because authors who are self-publishing or are new to writing often need more guidance, hand-holding, and help.
Part 2 of this series is all about how to find editing and proofreading work with authors. Enjoy!
Do you have any other tips on how to find editing and proofreading work with publishers? If you’re a new editor and have tried some of the methods listed here, I’d love to know how you got on.