“Are you still doing editing on the side?”
Eight little words on WhatsApp, from a writer friend of mine, was all it took.
We’d been exchanging short stories and novel manuscripts for feedback for years, ever since we both finished the first draft of our first novel on an Arvon course, back in 2015. So, I assumed she meant she had something of hers she wanted me to read and comment on.
What I didn’t realise was that she was under the impression I was already charging for my editing services, and had recommended me to someone in her writing group for that purpose.
So, suddenly I had someone asking me to edit a piece of work by a particular deadline, and offering to pay me for it! We spent some time negotiating and then there were some shenanigans about when it would be ready and how much time I would have to complete it. But, I did the job, really enjoyed it, and got paid.
During this period, my husband, Dave, and I went for a long walk in the country and, somehow, the conversation turned towards paid editing and whether or not I might like to try and do more of it. By the time we got home, we’d hatched a plan that I would give it a go, with a view to quitting my day job in a year’s time (March/April 2022).
Dave set up a Trello board for me and we brainstormed the steps I would need to take, in order to get my new business off the ground.
My first order of business was to contact the three wonderful people I knew who already made their main income from editing, to ask them for advice. They were all very willing to give it, as well as promising to refer clients to me if they weren’t able to take on any particular jobs.
I used their rate cards as a starting point and figured out what I would charge for straight proofreading, and also for what I call Copy Editing Plus (proofreading, line editing and feedback on overall content). I then created a page on my website, detailing the services I planned to offer.
I contacted our tax accountant to check with him about what records I would need to keep, and any other information he would need regarding my change in employment status. He was amazing, giving me very clear and simple advice, and reassuring me every few weeks, whenever my brain suddenly went, “But what about VAT???”
Next, I developed a portfolio of sample documents. This included a writing and editing CV with testimonials from writers I’d previously worked with, a couple of pages of sample editing for both fiction and non-fiction, plus some examples of my own published work.
Around about this time, I came across a website offering advice for people wanting to go freelance, and I signed up for their upcoming boot camp. In the meantime, I contacted anyone and everyone I could think of, who might be able to offer me work – publishers, magazines, other writers, companies I found online that wanted proofreaders…
I also looked for job boards/sites that had freelance editing work available. I signed up for them all to try them out, but only one had an interface I liked, a good range of available work, and a payment system I could accept – Upwork.
Now, if I’d done the freelance boot camp before signing up to Upwork, I likely never would have tried it, because the boot camp advice was to avoid all online job boards, because there would always be people available who would be able to undercut you. Plus, the sites all take a cut of your fees, so you’d end up pitching for work at too low a rate, and then losing a lot of your money to the site on top.
However, even despite the fees and the potential for people willing to work more cheaply – I have so far managed to earn enough to more than match my day job salary (in fewer hours), two months in a row, and there seems no end to the clients who are prepared to pay me a decent fee for the high quality work I produce. And that’s about 99% through Upwork. So, if I hadn’t signed up, I might not have found any work at all, and might already have given up on my new career plan (though of course I’ll never know what other avenues I might have pursued that could have been successful).
So, as long as you are prepared to stick to your guns on price, and go into it with your eyes open about the fees, I would say that Upwork is certainly a valid source of work and income.
I quit my day job towards the end of June, finished there towards the end of July and am now happily freelancing, master of my own schedule!
And the range of work I’m doing (and really enjoying) has very much taken me by surprise. At the start of this journey, Dave asked me what kind of editing I wanted to do. My answer was fiction, ideally fantasy – which would have been a pretty narrow field.
In my first three months of paid editing, I have worked on both fiction and non-fiction of all different types. I’ve done fantasy, children’s, romance, suspense, thriller. I’ve edited wildly different memoirs, self-help books, website copy (for a wide range of companies), marketing materials, business books and more.
And I’m absolutely loving all of it! That’s perhaps the most surprising thing of all. I thought I was going to exchange the daily grind of my office job for the daily grind of editing work, in the hopes of being able to earn enough to live on, while having more time to work on my own writing projects. I really wasn’t expecting to find a job I really enjoy, and that feels incredibly satisfying.
There are frustrations, of course. I don’t deal all that well with uncertainty – and the work I’m getting is very ad hoc, often only turning up the day it needs to be completed. I’ve got some long-term clients, but none of them so far have been able to offer predictable, regular work. Constantly having to scan the job site and pitch for new projects takes up a lot of time. Some projects turn out to be a lot more work than anticipated, and end up not being worth the amount of time I have to spend on them. Some clients just reject on price without being willing to negotiate.
But, at the moment, I’m actually excited by it all (that may change over time, or perhaps I’ll just calm down and be able to get on with it and not worry about it all so much). And the work keeps rolling in!
I am having difficulties prioritising my own writing, but I’m working on it. I’m trying out different schedules to see which works the best. And I think I just need to get into the mindset of seeing my own writing projects as just as important and worthy of my time as the paid ones for clients. It’s a work in progress – but it’s going incredibly well so far, and long may it continue!