Sure, quality is key, but don’t forget quantity

Here is part two of my column on finding work as a freelancer, written several months after the first. It appeared in the American Copy Editors Society quarterly newsletter.

I love taking a look at a photographer’s contact sheets these days: scores of photos on a computer screen covering a couple of seconds of action. I used to say the secret to news photography was buying in bulk, rolling your own, and shooting enough to get lucky. Now, technology makes it even easier.

That comes to mind as I contemplate the efforts of freelancers hoping to make a decent living. The process still confounds me, but clearly it’s a matter of filling a contact sheet with scores of opportunities and hoping one is a winner. I wrote in the last newsletter that a business card at a coffee shop brought me my most lucrative freelance copy-editing relationship, but that all the networking I’ve done has had little effect on my bottom line.

That has since changed. Two new jobs both came from referrals, both people I met on Twitter, including one I’ve never met face-to-face. One job is a university accreditation document; the other is an in-house freelance copy-editing job at a big financial services company. After a lean winter, I find myself waking up with the sun and driving to an office four days a week.

So, anecdotally at least, it’s a great time to be a freelance copy editor. There has been an optimistic buzz out there among colleagues. It stands to reason that as employers feel more flush, they first turn to temporary help to deal with some of the awful typographical mistakes they’ve been allowing out the door.

No one can say whether the recovery is real for copy editors. It’s likely that newspapers desks will never be what they once were, but it’s good to know there is a need in some places for talented wordsmiths.

There is no telling where the next job will come from, so when you’re looking for work, quantity is important. It’s not enough to hope your Twitter friends recommend you for a job. Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, a longtime freelance copy editor who has mentored many people who are new to the field, suggests we start by putting our investigative skills to work.

“Absolutely every time a potential client’s name comes up on an e-mail list, in a news story, in a magazine feature or anywhere else, search for a company’s website online,” she said in an e-mail. “Bookmark it. Find out everything you can about that company.”

And then call or write, asking them if there is something you can do to be of service to them.

O’Moore-Klopf, who also shared advice in this space in the previous issue of the ACES Newsletter (if you don’t have it, e-mail me and I’ll send it), also suggests searching online for publications — books, magazines, newsletters, blog sites — that produce the sorts of materials that interest you. Send lots and lots of e-mails.

O’Moore-Klopf has a booklet for sale called “Getting Started as a Freelance Copyeditor.” It’s on her website, www.kokedit.com. Go to Library and scroll down. That page contains her “Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base,” which, she said, “contains loads of links to useful info on the basics, education and certification, business tools, editing tools, networking and finding work.”

She also recommends a similar booklet produced by Ruth Thaler-Carter, who spoke about opportunities in freelance editing at the ACES conferences in Philadelphia. Thaler-Carter’s “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” is available for purchase on the Editorial Freelancers Association website (www.the-efa.org).

I admit I haven’t seen these publications. I can say both these editors have excellent advice, especially for new freelancers.

While researching and sending many queries is important, O’Moore-Klopf says networking can be a big help in finding gigs. She suggests:

The Chicago Manual of Style also recently added an online forum. Membership is required, but with it comes the ability to search the guide, with quick access to the pending 16th edition.

These forums could help you become a better copy editor, but the real benefit is getting to know other editors and getting tips and referrals for jobs. The way to do that, O’Moore-Klopf said, is to “make sure to give; don’t just take.”

There are opportunities out there, and there needs to be because there are so many of us. We can all help each other by sharing advice, leads and referrals.

As one of the first stops in taking advantage of this rumored recovery, I suggest also visiting the new “freelancers forum” at www.copydesk.org, the ACES Web site. It’s a new section of the ACES forum, and we hope it will become the place for serious editors to discuss issues related to freelancing.

If you have any tips to add to the list, please head over there and share. (Registration is required.)

3 thoughts on “Sure, quality is key, but don’t forget quantity

  1. Thank you, Mark!

    My “Freelancing 101″ booklet got a really nice review in the May 2010 journal of the Society for Technical Communication. I’m still blushing over it: Reviewer Diane Martinez said in part: “… Thaler-Carter’s honesty and her obvious veteran and expert status as a freelancer makes this booklet a motivating and valuable reference.
    “… Thaler-Carter is up front about the advantages of freelancing … but she is also quite candid about the pitfalls that you may find yourself in if you do not think through the prospect of working for yourself carefully.
    “… I find Freelancing 101 an inspiring, motivating, and practical resource that anyone with freelancing aspirations most definitely should read.”

    Another resource for freelance editors in which ACES members might be interested is an e-mail discussion list I started at Google Groups:
    http://groups.google.com/group/freelancewriterseditors/about?hl=en

  2. Good advice and good posts, Mark. Thanks.
    I’m not a full-time freelancer–I work in a staff editing job–but I’m getting into freelance work in my off hours, and this sort of advice is very helpful.
    I hope the freelancers forum on ACES gets off the ground; I think it’d be a valuable source of counsel and tips too.
    Regards,
    Frank Steele

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