In Part 3 of this series, I talked about brainstorming a big list of the skills that you have that are related to writing and words. And another list of who you know (or can get to know) that might pay you to use those skills.
I thought this week I’d give an example of one possible income stream for a writer and how I got into it. Besides sharing my own experience and approach, I’ll offer some tips about how to get into it if you have NO experience in it. I’m hoping this will be useful and that you’ll see how you can apply this kind of process to other skills as well.
One of the ways I’ve earned income over the past few years has been copyediting. Copyediting is like proofreading on steroids. It involves checking for consistency, cross-checking for accuracy, checking for logic, making sure the work conforms to a certain style (AP, Chicago, or the publisher’s own style sheet, usually), etc.
You may have no interest in nor the necessary skill set for copyediting, but that’s ok! I think this general process applies more widely.
It was several years ago and my income had dropped sharply one year. (I think that was thanks to the hundreds of hours I devoted to a drum corps adventure–which I’ll never regret but which definitely led to, “Ack! I’ve got to earn some money!”) So I made my list of skills, which included grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And I thought, “Hey, maybe I could do some freelance copyediting.”
I knew I had the skills, because I had done copyediting before–right out of college in two different editorial positions at magazines, and more recently, as a part-time copyeditor at the Star Tribune, a major daily paper, for 10 years. I knew the copyediting symbols, had familiarity with both AP and Chicago style, and, most importantly, had the base skills (the grammar, etc.) That was SUPER important because although I had copyediting credibility due to jobs I’d held, real boots-on-the-ground copyediting was not a large part of any of my prior jobs. My title at the Trib was copyeditor, though, so even though copyediting was only a minor part of my duties, I knew my resume would work.
What I didn’t have was a huge amount of confidence. Did companies have you copyedit in Word? On hard copies? How much familiarity with certain style sheets did I need? How fast did I have to be? Would I discover I really DIDN’T have what it takes to be a copyeditor?
I tried to stuff those fears, and I moved on to the second part of my brainstorming: Who will pay me to use these skills? Huh. Nobody I knew at the time. I couldn’t think of anything. The idea of just going out and saying, “Hey, I’m a copyeditor. Want to hire me?” was pretty daunting.
So, I wasn’t feeling super confident about this. But then I realized that I had worked for many publishers, especially in the educational market, over the 10 years prior to that. So I sent out some emails that said basically:
It’s the start of a new year, and I’m touching base with my freelance clients. I was just looking at the holiday postcard that [you] sent out, and I wanted to update you on the various kinds of freelance work I love to do.
Then I listed those freelance skills I had to offer, including:
* freelance copyediting and proofreading (I was an English teacher, a magazine editor–for CENTRAL FLORIDA MAGAZINE and WOMEN’S SPORTS & FITNESS, and then a copyeditor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for ten years. I have excellent editing and proofing skills.)
I sent out probably 10 or so emails like that, and, slowly, copyediting assignments came my way. All I did was send out those initial emails. So I haven’t pursued it as a huge income stream or anything, but it’s brought in several thousand dollars most years for the past few years. If I wanted to expand it, I could. I see listings for copyeditors regularly, including this one that was in my email this morning from a packager who works with publishers.
Also, a couple of years ago at a local networking event for Minnesota publishers, I met two editors from a Minnesota press that basically helps authors self-publish. It offers all sorts of editing services to authors, and mentor Lisa and I have just signed on to be one of the editing teams that bids on authors’ projects there. Lisa is doing developmental and content editing, and I’m jumping in with copyediting. We’re only on our first project, so we’ll see how that goes!
My point is, there are people who will pay for these skills I have. It’s just a matter of my approaching them and selling myself!
Here are some things I’ve learned over the past few years.
- Most of my worries were for nothing. Every company does things its own way, and the editors/project managers explain the process to freelancers.
- I’m never quite sure what to expect from a project until I accept it and dive in. Little by little, as I do more projects for different companies–and individuals–I’m learning what fits best into my wheelhouse.
- If I don’t understand something, I just need to ask!
- It’s good to have a network of other people who do similar work, so that I can run general questions by them first, and not feel foolish asking an editor something that turns out to be pretty basic. (We also have MFR clients who use us as their network when they don’t have one.)
- Projects rarely run on schedule, so I try to be clear up front about my availability, even beyond the “finish date” the editor gives.
- I wouldn’t want to copyedit full time, but I like doing it now and then. It satisfies the grammar Nazi in my soul.
If you think you have the basic skills for copyediting, here are a few things you need to know or tips to get started:
- basic copyediting marks
- Chicago Manual of Style online (or buy the book)
- Associated Press Stylebook online (or buy the book)
- tracking changes in Word (basic video here)
- PEN (Professional Editors Network) is a great organization I’ve heard about over and over but have never joined. I think it’s time. Just joined–thanks for the nudge, Julie.
- send out emails to publishers and packagers, especially smaller ones (look at Evelyn Christensen’s great markets list here)
- sign up at the Writing for the Education Market blog–and put copyediting in your profile!
- copyediting is usually project-based and paid hourly
- the going rate for many educational publishers is $25-30/hour–typically an hour equates to 6 pages
- start out with small jobs to get some experience and raise your comfort level
- project confidence–even if you don’t feel it!
So, if you have the skills and an interest in copyediting, maybe that will be part of the way you earn a living as a writer. If not, what other skills do you have that you can apply this process to? Follow these steps:
- Identify your skills.
- Figure out who needs those skills.
- Figure out who can afford to pay you for those skills. (Sadly, the answers to who needs the skills and who can pay for them sometimes have little overlap–your job is to FIND that overlap and get work in that part of the market.)
- Jump in! Most areas of writing and editing just require you to start. You might feel unready. You might not know what to expect. That’s OK. The only way to figure out if it’s right for you is to get in there and give it a go. Just like we encourage kids to try different sports, musical activities, hobbies, etc., to find the ones they are both good at and like, you have to do the same thing with income streams as a freelance writer.
OK, I hope this was helpful. Would love to hear in the Comments what skill you’re going to try to earn money from in the next six months:>)
The series so far:
Part 1: How I Define Making a Living as a Writer
Part 2: Identifying My Ideal Writing Life
Part 3: Shifting the Seesaw
Part 4: Choosing an Income Stream to Focus On