Everyone has a voice worth hearing. This is something I believe in – stories belong to all of us – but it took me a long time to include myself as a part of ‘everyone’. Starting my own editing business helped me find my voice because I love helping writers share theirs.
I could never do that!
When my brother started his own business as a wedding photographer years ago, I thought, Wow, I would never be brave enough to do that! But time went by and I eventually decided that for once in my life, I was going to throw myself wholeheartedly into something I care about without worrying endlessly about all the negative what-ifs. I switched them around: what if I try anyway, before I feel ready, before everything is perfect? Yes, I might start my own business and fail, but what if I don’t?
Why I started editing
Friends and family had been asking for my advice with various writing projects since I’d left teaching, from a travel memoir to biochemistry papers. They knew I would make honest and thoughtful suggestions, and I had an eye for detail. Their feedback encouraged me to pursue freelance editing and proofreading because I saw they appreciated my help.
I initially started freelancing to reconnect and contribute to the world in general after a career break. After a lot of deliberation and further study, I took on a couple of freelance clients, friends of friends, and studied some more.
Getting work online
When I’d built up some experience, I joined a popular freelancing platform and took on a few projects that I was confident I could do well. Sometimes clients were surprised at how well I’d helped them, which got me thinking about the reputation of certain freelancing sites. I was also concerned about ethics. For example, clients asking for help with grammar were not best placed to judge how well people had corrected their grammatical errors.
I’m grateful to those platforms for connecting me with clients around the world and helping me discover work I loved, but I also wanted to distinguish myself from some people on there who were not giving freelancers a good name.
Soon I’d been freelancing for a while, but I hadn’t really thought of it as running my own business. I was inspired by one of my clients who ran her own business in a completely different field. I thought that if they could do it, maybe I could too and started looking into it.
Owning your reputation
Some clients on the platform I was using were not having good experiences with other freelancers. This worried me. If a client wants my opinion on their work, I am committed to being honest and supportive, but is everyone?
I took on some beta reading projects and found someone who had previously been told, “Your writing is all over the place.” Not helpful! I didn’t need my experience coaching and mentoring in education to know that there were better approaches than that. Criticizing someone else does not make you look good. I wanted to help writers develop their work, so their writing can be enjoyed by others, not trash their confidence.
I eventually decided to start a business because I wanted to be responsible for my own reputation and pricing, not be tied to a platform. It was a natural progression, but it felt like a big, scary step into the unknown!
Deciding to go for it
Considering how long my husband and a close family friend had been encouraging me to start freelancing, I made the decision to start my own business relatively quickly. By now, I knew I could help people with their writing and apply my attention to detail to their work. I had accumulated some skills and experience and could articulate my responses in a thoughtful and constructive way.
There are so many excellent free resources online about running a business that I was confident I could figure it out as I went along. I love learning new things, and I had a long-term writing project lined up so I knew I would have some income.
A key moment for me was when I thought, What if I try? If it all comes to nothing, never mind. I stopped being afraid of failure.
Investing in yourself
With some money from my initial freelance projects, I invested in membership of a professional organization (the CIEP – the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) and training to give clients confidence that I could do the job I said I could do. Membership of the CIEP also gives me some fantastic opportunities to connect with other members and learn from their experiences.
I also invested in some kit such as Office 365. The cost still makes me shudder, but it is worth it to run my business professionally. Other essentials for me are PerfectIt, the Chicago Manual of Style and some other online reference books, and my favourite reference websites (I have a sudden urge to make a list. Update: I made a list of my top editing resources). I’m in the I 💚 Grammarly camp because, although some of the suggestions are rubbish, the thought of writing emails to clients without it fills me with terror. Editors make typos too, but we feel terrible about it for a really long time afterwards!
Comparing yourself to others
I fell into this trap at first – don’t do it! Especially if you are starting out and they’ve been doing it for years. Initially, I felt self-conscious that I didn’t have an MA in English Literature or Creative Writing; my sister is the English graduate!
Instead of comparing myself to other editors, I thought, OK, what was I doing while they were doing that thing that makes me feel inadequate? I had a lot of answers and it helped me figure out my strengths. After all, psychology, science, and teaching have a lot to do with storytelling.
Find something that sets you apart. I love working with world mythology because myths are our oldest stories and inspire a lot of fantasy fiction. Reading stories from other countries, cultures, and times reveals so much that people have in common, showing threads that unite us as humans.
Supporting, not judging
As an independent editor, I get to be part of my client’s team. We’re on the same side. I’m not an acquisitions editor, a mysterious gatekeeper who says if you can or can’t publish something. I am not forced to make decisions based on how financially viable I think the project is, stifled by looking out for the next bestseller.
Working ethically is central to me, and I don’t accept a project if it’s not ready for that level of editing yet. Writers should feel empowered by editing. The suggestions I make are just that, not mandates, and it’s the writer’s choice to use them or not. I’m not the grammar police either, though I think that might require a separate blog post …
When some of my writing was edited by a professional colleague, it felt like such a treat (thank you, editorial team at World History Encyclopedia). Their comments were insightful and empowering, they did not make me feel like I’d made a mistake, and their suggestions made my work look good. It helped that, by then, I was well practised at receiving feedback because the first time can really sting!
You don’t have to hire an editor
You can self-publish your book by yourself. Yes, you can! But it is a lot of work. Traditionally published books have been pampered by a sizeable team of professionals. If you can afford it, depending on your goals, you might like to treat your book to a bit of that too. Getting feedback will help you see your work in new ways, and if you plan to write more than one book, it will likely be a valuable investment in your writing.
A fresh, trained pair of eyes will spot things you are too close to your work to see. Maybe you are very busy or really don’t enjoy proofreading (and proofreading your own work is notoriously difficult – tips on proofreading your own work here).
If you hire a professional, you can rest assured that the details are taken care of. If you’re on a tight budget and have no opportunity to save up, find a couple of volunteer beta-readers and persuade anyone you can to look for typos for you. That should get you off to a good start.
What if the time is now?
If you’re like I was, you might feel inclined to play it safe and put your own goals on the back burner until the time is right. But the timing will probably never be perfect, so what if you gave yourself a push? What small step could you take? You don’t have to be a leading expert to get started, and you might just learn a lot on the way.
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