Dream a Dream: Life of a Freelance Editor

life of a freelance editorIn a previous post, I shared some of the reasons that went into my decision to become a full-time freelance editor a little over a year ago. I had a dream that I could make a living by editing for authors I truly cared about, and I’ve turned that dream into a reality. When I posted that blog, I received numerous comments, including this one that inspired the post you’re now reading:

“Have you ever turned down an editing assignment? What parameters do you set for yourself in considering assignments? For a brief time when I considered going full time freelance, the fear of having to take any and all assignments always brought me up short. Currently I have a day job that I’m happy with, but I’ve always wondered how freelancers manage their workload. Personally, I know that if I were totally reliant on freelance work, I would find it impossible to say “no” to anything.”

Do freelance editors turn down assignments? Yes, and here's why. #writetip Click To Tweet

So here goes:

“Have you ever turned down an editing assignment?”

Yes, I have. I always offer a sample edit to authors who are looking for line editing or proofreading; occasionally, a writer who swears his manuscript needs nothing more than a spell check sends a sample that is clearly in need of more substantial editing.

If a manuscript is so full of major flaws that it reads more like a first draft, I won’t take the job. Correcting grammar or misspelled words won’t help a manuscript that is in need of major revision, and I would rather lose the work than take someone’s money when I know I am not really helping him or her.

“What parameters do you set for yourself in considering assignments?

As I mentioned in Four Easy Ways Self-Publishing Authors Can Save Money on Professional Editing, the writer/editor relationship is based on communication and trust. If either one is missing, no one will be happy with the results.

First, I have to believe I am the best person for the assignment. I can proofread a PhD thesis, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting major restructuring for one. But when an author of a self-help book about overcoming grief approaches me, I’m confident that my background and experience are a perfect fit for that genre, and I’m excited to discuss with that author how I can help bring the best possible book to the reader.

Second, my schedule and the author’s schedule have to mesh. If you need your 85,000 word novel copyedited by tomorrow, I’m not the right editor for you; I usually schedule work several weeks out, particularly for larger projects, and I won’t compromise quality to rush through a project.

On the other hand, I want to be as accommodating as possible, and I can usually fit in smaller projects very quickly. Several weeks ago I dropped everything to edit a 800-word Q&A for a writer who had a request for it from a large, national website—but she had to submit it by midnight. I  edited it immediately for her, and it went live the next day.

Third, I want to be excited about the work I do. Life is too short for drudgery! I want to wake up every morning and be excited to start my workday—that’s one of the perks of being a freelancer, in my opinion. Over the next few weeks, for example, I am evaluating two novels of different genres, copyediting a self-help book, coaching a PhD who has a great idea for a book but doesn’t know how to put it together, and working with a memoirist to revise her manuscript. Every one of those opportunities excites me, and I can’t wait start my day!

“I’ve always wondered how freelancers manage their workload. Personally, I know that if I were totally reliant on freelance work, I would find it impossible to say “no” to anything.”

When you first start out as a freelancer (and this applies to freelance writers, too), it’s very difficult to say no to paying work—and you probably can’t afford to do so very often. The key is to value yourself and the work you do; if you don’t value yourself, how can you expect others to value you? It’s better to say no to something that doesn’t feel right career-wise than to just accept any paying job, because in the end, you won’t be happy with yourself if you compromise yourself. As with any other small business start-up, you need to have enough savings to cover your expenses for several months so you can focus on quality work. Taking the wrong job can set you up for failure or damage your professional reputation for the future.

I love the projects I take on, and I’m excited every day to get to work. If your dream is to write full-time, I encourage you to plan and save to make your dream a reality. If you need a little motivation toward that goal, read “5 Freelancing Lessons You Can Learn From a Five Year Old,” a great article that lists the first point as “Imagine More.” Now that’s good advice for all of us!

Have you dreamed of becoming a full-time freelancer? What is the biggest obstacle in your path? What are you doing to overcome it?

Happy Writing,



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16 thoughts on “Dream a Dream: Life of a Freelance Editor”

  1. Lots of great background on what you do, Candace. You make a fantastic point about valuing yourself and the work that you do. You need to have confidence in yourself before someone else will.

  2. This actually gives me confidence to turn down less-than-throlling projects, even those not writing/editing related. Sometimes just because you can isn’t a good enough reason to justify a should.

    1. That’s the perfect way to say it, Oliver. When I was 19, I turned down a job that my college advisor had arranged for me because I just didn’t feel passionate about it (she was not happy with me!), but even then, I couldn’t imagine myself in a job that didn’t felt like drudgery. Follow your bliss!

      1. As I get older, I appreciate this more and more. I work a job that I couldn’t be less passionate about, and I’m sad to say it shows.

        Oh well, I’ll keep living the dream in my spare time until it over takes all my time 🙂

  3. I’m in the trying to work myself out of a well-paying dissatisfying career in favor of a who knows if it will pay highly satisfying writing life and so it’s always good to read about someone who is making the dream work!

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