How to become a freelance copy editor (in Australia)

What qualifications does a freelance copy editor need?

If you’re good at writing and enjoy correcting other people’s writing, have a really good knowledge of syntax, grammar, spelling and punctuation, and are a super pedantic person, you have the potential to be a great copy editor. If you have all of the above plus formal training – for example, tertiary qualifications in writing and editing – you are probably already a great copy editor.

Most potential clients would rather hire a qualified person with copy editing experience than an unqualified person with copy editing experience.

So if you are thinking of becoming a freelance copy editor and don’t have any formal training, I suggest you consider undertaking formal training so you can gain a qualification. If you already have some qualifications, I suggest you take advantage of the professional development opportunities offered by IPEd and other writing/editing-related organisations to continue to develop your skills.

What tools do you need? Style guides and programs

Unlike an editor employed by a publisher, a freelance editor has to buy all their own equipment and online programs and platforms. In Australia the essential items you’ll need to purchase will include:

  • The Australian Style Manual (online); the 6th edition hardcopy is out of date. Or, if you are editing texts destined for overseas audiences, other style manuals (usually online).
  • The Macquarie Dictionary (9th ed. hardcopy, or online); or, if you are editing texts destined for overseas audiences, other dictionaries (hardcopy or online).
  • PerfectIt – an essential or at least time-saving tool for copy editors.
  • The most up-to-date version of Word (either Mac or Windows).

Not essential, but helpful: books that have been written by editors, about editing. In Australia we have The Editors Companion by Janet McKenzie; and the Australian Style Manual can be treated not only as a reference to look up items as you need to, but as a learning tool – if you read its contents from start to finish, you will learn a lot about editing. There is also a lot of information about editing in general and the different types of editing on the IPEd website: about editing; and if you become a member of IPEd, you can access their member resources.

What should a freelance copy editor charge

Let’s say you live in Australia and have just completed an editing qualification, and your only editing experience has been as a volunteer, or as part of your editing course. Due to your editing qualification you are able to join IPEd as a professional editor. You want to start working as a professional editor but don’t know what to charge or how to charge.

As a general rule of thumb: the less experience in editing, the less you should charge. The more experience you have in your specific area of editing, the more you should charge.

If you are a newbie freelance editor and want some guidance on what to charge and how to charge for your services, I suggest you:

  • Join IPEd, and check IPEd’s reference page about what editors charge. 
  • Join SEB (private Facebook group) and discuss rates, quoting, invoices and other matters related to freelancing with other members of the group.
  • Ask IPEd about their mentorship program where some mentors assist mentees in finding clients or planning how to expand their client base.

How can a freelance copy editor find work

If you’re committed long-term to being a freelance copy editor, and have good copy editing and client skills, you can establish a strong client base – that is, ongoing work – through a combination of marketing, providing value for money and building strong relationships with your clients.

  • Network and share information with your professional colleagues, other related groups such as professional writers networks, and organisations in the industry in which you have chosen to specialise – for example, science faculties at universities, medical industry specialists, or trade or indie publishers.
  • Be committed to regular online marketing and networking via Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other platforms. Join private as well as public online groups. Maintain a professional-looking website and respond promptly to queries via your contact us page. Write blogs about copy editing-related subjects and utilise social media to share blog posts by you and others. Build other shopfronts for your business on free online platforms and keep them up to date and alive.
  • Register your business with professional industry organisations. For example,  I’m a member of Australia’s peak editing organisation, IPEd. This is a great way to network with industry colleagues and be listed on their register of editors. Membership of IPEd also enables you to join Secret Editors Business (SEB) which is a private Facebook group where professional editors share information and ask and answer technical and other questions about editing.
  • Paid advertising can work well. I have found Sensis Yellow Pages is good value for money nowadays. Paid targeted Google Ads can also work.
  • Really look after each client, always ensuring you give value for money, so they tell other people about you and/or come back to you later. Maintain a relationship with each client both during the job and after the job has finished, through tools such as online or email catch-ups, regular newsletters, or posting and commenting on social media platforms where they also interact.

Sally-Anne has been a freelance editor and self-publishing services provider for 30 years. For other articles relating to freelance editing, go to: Why networking with other editors is important; Safety for freelance editors; or The benefits of working from home.

Image: Copyright WOCInTechChat.




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