Issue 55 - Revision & Self-Editing - Joanna Penn, Kate Sullivan, Annette Rogers

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“I’m a grammar stickler.”
“My family makes fun of me when I find typos in the newspaper.”
“My church always asks me to edit the newsletter and bulletins.”
“My boss has added editing to my job duties.”

Many writers have the natural ability to find mistakes in text, to make clarifications to syntax, and to perfect rough copy. It’s likely a side effect of a voracious reading appetite or just an extension of the love for playing with words and language that made you a writer in the first place.

But have you ever considered turning your natural editing talents into a side job or even a full-time freelance career? It’s quite possible, and success is likely to come to those who can combine shrewd editing skills with a business mindset.  

The market for freelance editors is consistent—a fact, which may be due to the ease of self-publication, or perhaps attributed to the growth of English as a worldwide choice for communication. The income potential varies widely, depending on how many hours you can spare and how much effort you’re willing to put into marketing; but it’s definitely not insignificant.

Interested? Here are three steps to setting up your own freelance editing shop.

Step One: Gather Your Experience

Gathering experience refers to both assembling all your past editing work and if necessary, collecting more experiences to round out your qualifications.

Brainstorm every incident of editorial work you’ve done within the past couple years. Don’t be intimidated here—I’m talking about anything from volunteering to edit the minutes at the PTO to proofreading sales reports as part of your current career. Consider personal projects, volunteer work, paid work, and so on.

Next, gather those experiences together into a polished list, which will eventually morph into a resume of sorts. In addition, if you have copies of your work, collect and store them in one place (preferably digitally, using a scanner if necessary).

Those with very little or no experience will need to generate some. Volunteer your editing skills to the clubs, churches, organizations, charities, and committees in which you’re active. Take on small volunteer projects in exchange for a recommendation or a copy of the final publication. Focus these freebies on charities and small nonprofits, as larger organizations must understand that editorial work is work with value, and professionals with this skill deserve to be paid for their work. Places to look for opportunities? and   

“Take on small volunteer projects in exchange for a recommendation or a copy of the final publication.”

Step Two: Formalize Your Arrangement

At this point, it may be too early to arrange a formal business front (unless you’re gung ho about this and positive that’s your goal). However, you’ll still need to formalize a few things, so that you can present yourself as an able professional.

Begin negotiations within your personal life, first. Where will you work? What hours? Whose support do you need in order to realize long swaths of quiet editing time?

Then, put together your professional life. If you feel the need to name your business endeavor, ascertain the requirements for that (generally a simple form at the county level, if you’re not forming a formal business otherwise). Then, establish a neutral e-mail address and consider starting new (business-focused) social media accounts, too. If you’re able to put together a brief website, this would be the time to do so. If not, don’t fret. You’ll get another go at it later on.

This is also the time to set some tentative rates and set up a means of keeping records, even if that’s as simple as a column on a spreadsheet for income generated and a column for expenses paid. The taxman will want his cut of every dollar that you bring in—even if it’s a paltry sum at first! Keeping good records is an absolute necessity.

Your last step toward professionalization is some self-education. Sure, typos stick out to you and misused serial commas make you cringe—but do you know what a cold pass is? Do you know what edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is the most recent? Read up on the business of editing, focusing on current websites and one or two recently published how-to titles.

“As your career progresses, your balance between job seeking and marketing will even itself out.”

Step Three: Make Some Cash

There are two main ways of getting paid freelance work: you approach those who have stated need, or they approach you. In other words, you can apply for advertised freelance editing projects, or you can market yourself so that projects find you.

Generally, the balance skews toward the first way—applying for advertised, open freelance editing projects—early in your career. These projects are widely listed on websites, such as and even here, at Women On Writing. They fill fast and have their pick of hundreds of applicants, so two things will help you get over this hurdle: apply to as many projects as fit you and be tenacious. It’s at this step that I’ve seen many a potential freelancer give up after three or four unanswered applications. It’s going to take a lot more effort than that to “make it” in this business. For example, when I first established my freelance business, I worked eighty-hour weeks, drumming up clients through those very websites.

As your career progresses, your balance between job seeking and marketing will even itself out. Happy clients will have more work for you or will recommend you to others. Your name and areas of expertise will become known. You’ll grow your social media reach and find more offers in your e-mail each morning. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing!

These three steps will get you to your first freelance editing paycheck, and the pride you’ll feel when it arrives is certainly well-deserved! As you march on in the field, you’ll begin to repeat these three steps and deepen your professional commitment to the practice.

So, the next time you find a typo in a publication, consider the simple path of starting a freelance editing career, and see what ugly errors you can prevent!    


Allena Tapia specializes in writing for the education market and Latino topics. She also provides editing and translation services. Find her at GardenWall Publications ( and Freelance Writing (


Previous columns:

The Gatekeepers: A Guide to the Deciders on Your Writing Journey

Sowing and Reaping: Are You Getting These Benefits of Blogging?

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Many Paths of Freelance Writing

Own It or Outsource It: The Writer's Guide to DIY Decisions

Smart, Not Saturated: Social Media Solutions for Writers

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