16 January 2012

Successful freelance proofreading – keeping your skills current

Written by Louise Harnby

Doing something else – that is a philosophy which in these dynamic times we must surely all embrace.’ Patrick Forsyth

One of the most positive steps any proofreader can take on their journey as a successful freelancer is to ensure their skill sets are current. The above-quoted concluding line from Patrick Forsyth’s Managing Change (Kogan Page, 2012) sums up this need – publishing is changing, books are changing, payment terms are changing, the tools proofreaders can employ are changing, as are the methods we use to communicate with our colleagues and clients. We must change, too – we must do something else. ‘Doing something else’ for me means ensuring I am aware of and reacting to the changes taking place in our industry. Some people might exchange these words for Continuing Professional Development.

The following is a short list of skills you might consider adding to your own ‘doing something else’ goals for this year. It’s certainly not exhaustive and some of the skills might not be relevant to you. But if nothing else they may serve as a reminder that all of us regularly need to reassess what we are doing and how we are doing it.

Onscreen proofreading

Onscreen editing is not new – editors have been working directly in software programs such as Microsoft Word for years. But proofreading is moving that way, too. Several of my publisher clients have already embraced onscreen proofreading, and others are seriously considering it in order to reduce the printing and postage costs that bite so hard into already tight production margins. The question ‘Do you do onscreen proofreading?’ is one that you are increasingly likely to hear. Being able to answer ‘yes’ may, in the next few years, determine whether you continue to get work from even current clients, never mind new ones.

  • Do you know how to use Track Changes in Word?
  • Do you know how to use the Comment Box tools in Adobe, PDF XChange or your preferred PDF editor?
  • Do you know how to use customized stamps with PDFs?

If your answer to any of the above questions is ‘No’, take a look at these useful links that will teach you what you need to know:

Ancillary tools – working efficiently

Many publishers are moving away from hourly rates of pay and towards a fixed rate for the job. In order to maintain a respectable hourly rate you can use ancillary tools to enhance the efficiency with which you work. Some proofreading functions can only be carried out with the use of your beady eye and no software on the market will replace your brain’s ability to know whether an apparent error actually needs to be changed. However, there are tools available that can complement your brain and eye and give that final polish to the job. If you don’t yet know how to use these, I’d seriously recommend that you give them a try.

  • ReferenceChecker: This is basically a really clever macro that checks text-based citations in a manuscript against a reference list or bibliography.
  • PerfectIt: The king of consistency, this is a must-have when you want absolute perfection. It works with Microsoft Word documents. The developer claims, ‘It finds mistakes that no spelling or grammar check will discover, which makes proofreading faster and helps you to impress even the toughest client.’ No disagreement from me on that front.
  • Macros: There are hundreds to choose from but the two best sources for proofreading and editing macros that I’ve come across are from Jack M. Lyon at The Editorium and Paul Beverley at Archive Publications.

Social networking opportunities

Are you on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook? If not, consider joining. I’ve picked up huge amounts of useful information by connecting to other editors and proofreaders through these social media networks. And you can use these as professional tools. I never tweet personal things on Twitter; all my tweets are about proofreading, editing and publishing. Through Twitter I’ve made contact with many new colleagues from all over the world who are constantly sharing their insights and valuable experience with me. On Facebook I’ve set up a business page; my personal page is only viewable to friends, but my business page is available to the public. I use it to post resources that I feel will be of interest to my colleagues and any interested browsers. LinkedIn has many active discussion groups for editors and proofreaders, many of which are truly international in flavour. Some colleagues have even picked up work on these forums.

The publishers I’ve talked to aren’t yet using social networking sites to find new proofreaders, instead preferring the tried and tested methods of directories (such as the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services), recommendations from other publishers, and following up prospective letters. But who is to say what the future may bring?

Do you have a website?

If you don’t have a website, consider building one. You don’t necessarily have to pay out any money; all you need to spend is your time. To name but two free platforms, Weebly and WordPress are worth considering. They make website creation absurdly easy – you don’t need any coding knowledge but simply drag and click the function boxes you want. With plenty of custom designs to choose from, it really doesn’t matter if the graphic artist in you never quite emerged. Or, you can do it yourself from scratch if you want to take the time to work out how. To see a few examples, visit:

A website is a great way to generate an easily accessible forum on which to show off your experience, promote your skills, and record your portfolio. It doesn’t replace a paper CV, which is still important when contacting potential customers so that they have something to put on file, but it is a good complement.

Do you really need a website? Well, maybe not yet, but change is all around us and this may be one way of future proofing yourself. And, of course, you may just pick up the odd client or two!

To wrap up…

Ask yourself if you are ‘doing something else’, if there is at least one thing you could learn in the next few months that you’ve previously dismissed or shied away from. Embracing change and updating skills are essential if we are to make ourselves the proofreaders of choice for both our current and our future clients.

Comments (3)

  • Gisela

    17 January 2012 at 16:22 |
    This article is VERY helpful. Thanks for making it available.
  • CJ Coe

    19 January 2012 at 19:08 |
    Helpful content; thanks. Also, the "p" in "Wordpress" should be capped ("WordPress").
  • Marketing Team

    20 January 2012 at 10:46 |
    Hi CJ, we have changed 'WordPress'.

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