Updated and revised: September 2007
- Resources of Editorial Freelancers
- The Client-Freelancer Relationship
- Demonstrating Professional Competence
- Types of Freelance Editorial Work
Editorial freelancers are self-employed contractors, or consultants, with expertise in one or more editorial functions or subject areas. Some editorial freelancers specialize in book, magazine, or newspaper publishing; others in corporate communications; others in technical documentation; others in online publications. Many editorial freelancers also have academic degrees qualifying them to work for research laboratories, educational publishers, or professional organizations. All have experience, skills, and creativity gleaned from education and practice. Their flexibility and innovation offer competitive advantages and valuable assets to any individual or business wishing to produce a professional-quality publication.
Resources of Editorial Freelancers
Editorial work requires meticulousness, an ability to manipulate ideas, a sensitivity to language, and finely honed skills. In addition, freelance work requires good business management — accounting, marketing, and office administration — as well as the skills and knowledge to use computers and other technology.
Experience. Some freelancers have gained experience by working on staff at a publishing house, in a publications department, or in a communications office of some kind. Some have worked in related fields, as teachers, librarians, or sales representatives. Others have learned on the job, sometimes with the assistance of colleagues. Through experience the editorial freelancer learns to predict a project's needs and potential problems. Because most editorial freelancers do not work for a single firm or perform only one particular task, they have the versatility to adapt to various situations. Clients seek editorial freelancers because they need professionals who can work independently. The client often expects an experienced and observant editorial freelancer to determine a publication's needs and to apply a range of skills to the task at hand.
Equipment and Reference Materials. The editorial freelancer's equipment usually includes a computer with high-speed Internet access, together with the usual accoutrements of an office: a desk, file cabinets, office supplies, a telephone-answering machine, and so forth. Many freelancers also own equipment such as printers, photocopy machines, and fax machines. Most editorial freelancers also maintain extensive reference libraries containing multiple dictionaries (sometimes in multiple languages), atlases, stylebooks, anthologies, encyclopedias, and journals.
Education. In addition to having earned bachelor's degrees and often advanced degrees as well, many editorial freelancers have completed continuing education and other specific courses that enhance their editorial expertise. These range from workshops in indexing or copyediting to courses in publishing and language arts taken either face-to-face or online.
Judgment. The editorial freelancer's main stock-in-trade is good judgment, and the freelancer's first exercise in judgment is to clarify the needs of a particular project. Together with the client, the freelancer evaluates the project and determines both its requirements and the freelancer's role as an independent contractor.
The Client-Freelancer Relationship
As self-employed businesspeople, editorial freelancers negotiate with clients to establish the terms of a working relationship. In this the freelancer's position is parallel to that of any consultant, such as a self-employed lawyer or accountant, who markets professional expertise and applies technical knowledge to the requirements of each situation. Like other professionals who strike out on their own, editorial freelancers must establish fees that will cover the costs of doing business, including administrative support time, health and disability insurance, office supplies, equipment, office space, sick time, and vacation time.
When freelancers negotiate with clients, they are discussing not temporary employment but the terms of a contract that lasts for a specified period. A contract need not be written in formal language to be binding and enforceable. It might be reflected in a short letter or email message summarizing a phone conversation in which both parties have discussed and accepted specific terms. The letter or email is then the written confirmation of the oral contract and serves to remind both parties of the terms to which they agreed.
Both freelancer and client need to negotiate in good faith. Good faith generally means honesty. Because neither party can predict the future, both must recognize that the unexpected can occur and that the terms of an agreement might need to be changed. A good-faith relationship is one of reciprocity, a quality that makes any renegotiation possible. In general, some basic principles apply to both parties.
The editorial freelancer is responsible for
- accurately representing skills, knowledge, and background
- agreeing only to terms that the freelancer believes to be feasible
- informing the client of any problems that arise, especially those involving changes in schedule or budget
- billing the client fairly and accurately, according to the agreed-upon terms
- keeping confidential any information that the client identifies as confidential
- trying to resolve problems fairly
The client, in turn, is responsible for
- accurately representing the work to be done, while allowing the freelancer to evaluate the project before agreeing to specific terms
- agreeing only to terms that the client believes to be feasible
- informing the freelancer of any changes in the project that affect the freelancer's work, especially those involving schedule or scope of work
- honoring the terms of the contract, with special attention to prompt payment
- representing the editorial freelancer's work accurately to other professionals, including those who ask for references
- trying to resolve problems fairly
Demonstrating Professional Competence
Freelancers who find work through advertising and direct solicitation usually demonstrate their competence with references from clients and promotional information, often a résumé or a brochure. Most freelancers establish their professional credentials by summarizing their work histories and by making one or more work samples available.
References and work samples are preferable to proficiency tests. Experienced editorial freelancers can maintain files of work samples, which can be submitted to prospective clients once the work in question has been published by its copyright holder. Only editorial novices should take proficiency tests; these represent unpaid time and impose an opportunity cost on the freelancer, who could be earning income during the time required to take the test.
Types of Freelance Editorial Work
Editorial freelancers perform a variety of tasks that often defy common descriptions of editorial jobs. For example, an editorial freelancer who takes on a copyediting project might also correct logical flaws in narration or make other changes that entail substantive editing. A freelancer doing a proofreading project might impose a consistent style, even though editing for style is generally viewed as the copyeditor's job.
With the increase in electronic publishing, many editorial jobs also take on different perspectives and new tasks. For example, a proofreader might be expected to verify links on a website page. A writer providing content for a website might also code and publish updated pages. Because editorial freelancers apply a variety of skills to their work, both freelancer and client must evaluate a project and agree on its needs. To establish a basis for such a discussion, both parties need to have a working vocabulary of terms that describe editorial functions.
Standardization of terms is lacking among editorial professionals and editorial freelancers themselves often disagree about the definitions of editorial tasks. The following glossary of terms should help to differentiate among editorial functions and so should facilitate communication between editorial freelancers and their clients. These definitions therefore describe editorial tasks but not the requirements for specific jobs or the skills of specific individuals.
Abstracting. Writing a succinct summary or synopsis of a work, often for an academic publication or professional journal. The length, style, and amount of detail in an abstract vary depending on its intended use.
Copyediting (sometimes called line editing). Any or all of the following:
- correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text
- checking for or imposing a consistent style and format
- preparing a style sheet that documents style and format
- reading for overall clarity and sense on behalf of the prospective audience
- querying the appropriate party about apparent errors or inconsistencies
- noting permissions needed to publish copyrighted material
- preparing a manuscript for the next stage of the publication process
- cross-checking references, art, figures, tables, equations, and other features for consistency with their mentions in the text
Copyfitting and Page Makeup. Rewriting text to fit format specifications.
Desktop Publishing. Performing publishing functions using personal computers. Common desktop publishing tasks include page layout and design, composition, embedding formatting codes for conventional composition, illustration, typography, indexing, documentation, manipulating and editing graphics, color separation, and preparing documents for online publication.
Developmental Editing. Any or all of the following:
- working with the client and, usually, the author of a book or other document to develop a manuscript from initial concept, outline, or draft (or some combination of the three) through any number of subsequent drafts
- making suggestions about content, organization, and presentation, based on analysis of competing works, comments of expert reviewers, the client's market analysis, and other appropriate references
- rewriting, writing, and researching, as needed, and sometimes suggesting topics or providing information about topics for consideration of authors and client
Evaluating a Manuscript. Reading and reviewing an unpublished manuscript and preparing a written report about the work that addresses the client's specific concerns, such as competition, audience, and timeliness of topic.
Fact Checking. Verifying the accuracy of content. The scope and specific tasks involved vary depending on the type of publication.
Illustrating. Expressing or translating editorial content as a visual image using traditional or electronic media. An illustration may appear on a work's cover, in its interior, or on a website, either as a color or monochrome image. Illustrators are expected to submit finished work in a form ready for production.
Indexing. Providing a comprehensive guide to the contents of a work and generally involving the following:
- reading page proofs or the equivalent to compile an alphabetical list of references to pertinent terms and concepts in the text
- choosing, grouping, and consolidating page references under main headings, subheadings, and cross-references as a guide to specific information.
Project Management. Any or all of the following:
- coordinating and overseeing all or part of the publication process for all or part of a publication
- supervising and sometimes selecting other contractors to carry out such functions as copyediting, proofreading, illustrating, indexing, typesetting, and printing
- facilitating communication among authors, editors, and others involved in the project
- evaluating and monitoring production costs
Proofreading. Comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage, marking discrepancies in text, and, when appropriate, checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type. Proofreading may also include one or more of the following:
- checking proof against typesetting specifications
- querying or correcting errors or inconsistencies that may have escaped an editor or writer
- reading for typographical errors or for sense without reading against copy
- verifying links in online publications
Researching. Gathering and verifying information to develop all or part of a publication.
Rewriting. Any or all of the following:
- adding original material to a draft
- deleting material
- reorganizing material
- collaborating with other editors
- producing another draft
- reworking print copy for online publication
Substantive Editing. Improving a manuscript in any or all of the following ways:
- identifying and solving problems of overall clarity or accuracy
- reorganizing paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order in which the text is presented
- writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow of information
- revising any or all aspects of the text to improve its presentation
- consulting with others about issues of concern
- incorporating responses to queries and suggestions and creating a new draft of the document
Translating. Rendering a work from one language to another while preserving the original meaning, tone, and style as much as possible.
Typemarking. Indicating on a manuscript or in electronic files the actual type specifications for each element (for example, heading, displayed material, or list), often by noting codes for each element.
Writing. Producing an original document from notes, outline, research, interviews, experience, or general guidelines. The following two kinds of specialized writing are now commonplace:
Technical Writing. Writing about computer hardware or software or about other technical products or equipment, usually with information provided by engineers or other technical professionals and including any or all of the following:
- working with programmers, engineers, or other technical professionals to clarify product specifications
- organizing information to enhance ease of learning or understanding by product users
- designing online documentation
Medical Writing. Writing about drugs or biological devices and products, usually with information provided by scientists or doctors and including any or all of the following:
- working with scientists, doctors, or other researchers to clarify scientific data
- ensuring that documents comply with regulatory or journal guidelines
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