KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I Went From Employee to Self-Employed Editor

Everyone who ends up an editorial freelancer comes to self-employment from a unique path. Lots of us on the Copyediting-L e-mail list told our own tales yesterday, which inspired me to share mine here.

I had been working for book publishers as a production editor or the equivalent since 1984. Though I loved what I was doing, I hated the office politics. And by 1994, I had spent 7 years commuting by car, train, and subway for a total of 3 hours each weekday, having to drop my daughter off with a babysitter before school at 6:30 a.m. and then to retrieve her at 7:30 p.m. after the train ride home from work. It hit me that I just could not stand the thought of doing that to my second child, who was then on the way.

So without the cushion of savings that everyone tells would-be freelancers to have available when starting up their business, I began freelancing full time 2 weeks (yes, you read that right) after the birth of my first son in December 1994. With no savings cushion, my husband and I couldn't afford for me not to start working that soon.

At first, my clients were all former employers. When individual contacts at those several companies later moved on to jobs with other publishers, they "took me with them," and I then had freelance projects both from former employers and from the companies those contacts moved on to. Over the years, I got comfortable contacting new-to-me publishers for projects, and then after I was well enough established, new-to-me publishers contacted me to offer projects. I also developed a reputation for being skilled at ESL (English as a second language) medical editing. (My final former employer was a medical publisher, and I honed that skill while working for that company.) I didn't actively seek out such authors; publishers and satisfied ESL authors referred more such authors to me. Now, loads of them track me down.

Just over 16 years after that son was born, I'm doing quite well as a full-time freelance editor, and I'd never go back to employment willingly. I went on to have one more child after that one, in September 2001, and just as happened with his older brother, I was working on freelance projects full time just a couple of weeks after he was born.

If you subscribe to Copyediting-L, watch for (or search the archives for) the subject line BIZ: Freelancing... what made you "go" there? to read other freelancers' stories. And if you're so inclined, please tell your story here, in the comments. We can all learn from one another, and it's enjoyable, reassuring, and inspiring to hear others' stories.


Kristine Hunt said...

I was working as a supervisor in a health insurance call center/claims quality control environment. I hated it. So when it was time to go on maternity leave with my first son, I quit instead.

I was making more than my husband at that point, but it was best for the whole family. I stayed home with my son (who was very ill for the first month) and shortly thereafter, started freelance copy editing.

My husband worked for a small, private college with a press, and they needed someone to work a project. He suggested me, his English-major wife, and the rest is history!

And that is also how I got on the path of scholarly book editing, specifically.

Averill Buchanan said...

I've pretty much always been self-employed, but have come to working freelance as an editor and proofreader through a different route. I started my working life as a self-employed graphic designer & illustrator, but found as time went on that I was more interested in the words than the images. I was already re-writing clients' copy to make it fit and proofread it as a matter of course. After 13 years, I sold my business and went to university to study English literature. Ten years later I emerged, overqualified and broke, but itching to work with writers and publishers. Self-employment rocks!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

It's so cool to learn about colleagues' backgrounds. Thanks for sharing your stories, Kristine and Averill.

Anonymous said...

I'm still working my way from full- time employee to full-time freelancer - but today I got the letter from HR confirming that I am dropping another day from the day job!

I started my business in Aug 2009 after realising I was doing a lot of good work for people on the side, for free; a colleague asked if I could help some of his students, copy-editing their dissertations, I set up as a sole trader and here I am today. Dropped a day at the day job in Jan and got a lot of work in for Libro, so decided to drop another day from May. This works well, as I can schedule work in so I have more time free in the evenings, do gradually more and more work, and the freelance work pays more than the day job per hour, which leaves me even more protected. I'm glad of OH and his steadfast support, though - and of my understanding friends!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Liz (aka libroediting), I like the way that you're easing into full-time self-employment. Very smart during a financial recession!

Anonymous said...

Thank you - and yes, sorry, this is Liz - it seemed to make sense and be less scary, as I never thought I was a natural entrepreneur. Luckily, being good and reliable means I get a lot of word-of-mouth business as well as that I gain from social networking etc.

Dave Gardner said...

I started my writing/editing career as a research aide at a university marine laboratory. At first, the professors and scientists would ask me to "take a glance at" their documents to catch inadvertent typos and grammatical gaffes (some were not native English speakers). Then, it came time for me to participate in a research study and write my portion of the work for publication. I found that I liked the documentation part better than the field work. I also tried writing general-interest science articles for the local newspaper. Getting the byline (and the check!) was more than satisfying. I've since migrated from being a biologist, to being a science teacher, to being a newspaper staff writer, to being a scientific/technical writer/editor. Although I've been employed for most of the past 30 years as a technical writer/editor, I've also been freelancing through those same years. Many times, particularly during economic slowdowns when layoffs were frequent and regular jobs were hard to find, my freelance editing and writing (and photography) clients were enough to keep the lights on and food on the table. Although I like regular employment, the freedom of freelancing as an independent contractor always beckons. And, if you have enough clients, you'll be busy and not need a "staff position." Thank you for your insightful post.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Dave, thank you for sharing the interesting story of your career progression. I would imagine that you've never been bored with your work.

Leah said...

There is a brand new forum here for self employed moms, http://selfemployedmums.forumotion.co.uk/ be great if you joined and contributed with some of your great advice. Promotion there is free. x

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