How to make it as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor

Jenny Messenger is a freelance editor and runs Atomic Typo, a business offering proofreading and copyediting for arts, humanities, and other non-fiction texts. Since being named a Rising Star in 2021 she has increased her confidence and been better able to manage her business.

What did you apply for in your Rising Star applications and why? 

I found I’d taken on work that strayed into the territory of project management, but lacked the overarching skills to deliver whole projects. I therefore applied for the Editorial Project Management training course offered by the Publishing Training Centre and a coding course. During our conversation in the interview, the judges found out that I didn’t know very many people in the industry, so awarded me a BookMachine membership rather than a coding course.  It was a great idea that I hadn’t thought of myself.

How did you find the application and interview process? 

The application process was very straightforward; I’d been thinking about the questions for a couple of weeks and then took a few days to write them up. The interview was a bit nerve-wracking but the two judges I spoke to were very kind, while also making sure they asked tough questions. The process helped me to think far more about my career goals and the things I needed to achieve them – the conversation itself with two professionals was worth the time spent applying.

Would you recommend others to apply for a Rising Star award? 

Absolutely. It’s a great initiative for people in all kinds of printing-related industries, but I think it’s especially encouraging for freelancers (like me) who don’t have the traditional support networks that come with in-house employment. The application process itself is really useful as a kind of evaluation of where you are in your career, and winning an award is of course fantastic motivation.

How has the award affected you and your career? Do you feel more confident? 

The Rising Star award certainly made me feel a lot more confident in my career. I started my freelance business during the pandemic – although I’d been proofreading for friends and colleagues in the world of academia for several years, I didn’t know a lot about running a business or what the differences were between proofreading, copyediting, and line editing. I took a short business course offered locally to understand the basics of business planning, finances, and marketing, and then I did a few courses with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) to formalise my editing knowledge. The Rising Star award, though, made me feel much more like a professional quite early on in my freelancing, and it shows I am taking my career very seriously.

What does your current role involve day to day? 

At the moment, I typically work on short texts (up to around 20,000 words) on mainly Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences subjects – this could be anything from Plato to tourism. Sometimes I’ll have a book-length project on the go (a PhD thesis, a single-authored book or an edited volume, with chapters from different authors), which will take a few weeks to complete. Most of my work is copyediting, which involves enforcing consistency in spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting, and, because I work with academic texts, referencing. Inevitably, I send a lot of emails (though sometimes clients call me, which is nice). I work from home, so I have a lot of freedom as to how I organize my day – I try to stick to 9 am to 5 pm, though, to fit in with clients’ schedules.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to advance within the freelance editing industry? 

I’d really recommend joining the CIEP, which offers its members a lot of resources to help with going freelance. I’d also suggest picking a niche to get started – you can always branch out later on, but it makes sense to pick an area where you might already have contacts. For me, it was academic writing in Humanities disciplines – I knew a lot of people in that area as I’d recently finished a PhD. Working for larger proofreading companies can help give you experience more quickly, too. I’d also really recommend being strict about tracking how long a project takes you so that you know how much you’re actually being paid! And lastly, I’ve found that I’ve taken on a real mixture of tasks, so I’d suggest being open to moving beyond editorial work to broaden your skillset. For instance, I’ve done indexing and conference admin work under the auspices of my business, just because somebody asked if I was interested, and so I can now offer these services to other clients.

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