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The accidental freelance: celebrating 10 years self-employed

This week marks the tenth anniversary of me taking my first piece of freelance editorial work as I began what has been an amazing journey. This seems a great opportunity, then, to reflect on a career path that, while unexpected at first, has so far been truly rewarding.


In the autumn of 2013 I had returned to the UK from several years living abroad, teaching English as a second/other language, and wanted to continue working in language in some capacity. I’d done some editing on an ad hoc basis, checking over the odd essay, paper and document for friends and work contacts, and decided this was the direction to go in. Indeed, on searching through some old emails, I was reminded that I’d actually been speculatively writing to companies seeking editorial work as a fresh graduate in the early 2000s, so it seemed this was a path I was always destined to take.


With the decision made, I decided the first thing I needed to do was get some proper training, so signed up to do the introductory courses in both proofreading and copy-editing from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP, then SfEP). These in-person training days were absolutely invaluable, first to set me on the right road in terms of skill development (simply having a language teacher’s knowledge of grammar was not going to cut it!), and secondly to meet some likeminded people embarking on a similar journey, giving me confidence that it wasn’t such a wild idea to pursue this career. I cannot stress enough how important I think a solid initial grounding through good training is, if you too are considering a career in editing.


My initial idea had been to seek regular employment, either with a publishing house or another company working within language services. I landed a few interviews, and while none of these resulted in me securing the roles I’d applied for, one was to completely change the course of my professional journey. In the feedback following my unsuccessful interview with a language services provider, they explained that while I wasn’t quite the right fit for the role in their office, they were impressed enough with the skills I’d displayed in their editing test that they’d like to use me in a freelance capacity, if I’d be interested. I agreed, thinking it would be a good way of earning a few quid and developing my skills while I continued to try to find a regular job.


However, within months I’d had a full pivot, finding I was enjoying the freelance work so much that I threw all my efforts into finding more clients and making a real go of earning a living this way instead. Later that year, after a lot of speculative emailing, I landed my first opportunity to copy-edit an academic monograph, a strand of our profession that really interested me and which I felt my skills and interests would be well suited to.


Since then, I have progressed steadily, building my experience and client base, working on some really fascinating projects both in publishing and non-publishing, from the memoirs of high-profile politicians and diplomats, to the user interface of perhaps even higher-profile technology, from fascinatingly in-depth and important academic research, to potentially transformative materials in the education and cultural heritage sectors. While I have continued to specialise to a great extent in academic books, I count myself extremely fortunate to have maintained such a diversity of work that to this day keeps each week feeling fresh and exciting.


CIEP have been with me all the way through this journey. Being a member has afforded invaluable benefits, with my progression up the membership ladder, ultimately to Advanced Professional status, giving me several huge boosts along the way. As well as their training courses and brilliant resources and reference materials, which I have made great use of, I have also really enjoyed participating in local group meetings, which offer a great place to exchange ideas and also just to feel a sense of colleagueship that is often difficult to find as a freelance remote worker.


So, to summarise, I feel the key ingredients to a so-far successful freelance editorial career, which I would suggest to anyone thinking of following a similar path, have been the following:

  • Get some good initial training – we all pick up skills as we go along, but starting from a solid base, for me, is vital.

  • Join a professional body such as CIEP – the help and resources they can provide will be invaluable.

  • Take every opportunity that comes your way, as you never know where it could lead you – if I’d said no to that initial offer of freelance work because I was still seeking regular employment, I would not be where I am today. And, can you believe, I still do an hour or two of work every day for that same company that gave me my break a full decade ago!

  • Be persistent – my editorial career certainly has not all been smooth sailing, with some fallow periods in the early years and the odd extremely awkward project, which we all experience at some stage, but if you can keep pressing on through those difficult times, you will hopefully be rewarded in the long run.

  • Never stop learning – whether it’s taking training courses or just enjoying the latest books, blogs and other such materials on language, you should always be seeking to expand your knowledge and skills. Language is constantly evolving, and as editorial professionals so should we be.

To finish, I’d just like to offer a few thanks to some key people – firstly to Gemma Cooper at RWS for not giving me that job in late 2013 and starting this ball rolling; to Tom Stottor and the team at the erstwhile Imperial College Press for giving me my break in academic publishing; and to Helen Stevens for welcoming me so warmly into the West and North Yorkshire CIEP local group and then letting me stay even though I moved to East Yorkshire barely a year later!


Here’s to the next ten years!

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