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

Monday, September 12, 2011

How to Find Medical Editing Freelance Work

As a self-employed medical editor, I'm often asked how freelancers can find medical editing work. This topic came up recently on the Freelance e-mail list (also called the Publishing Industry Freelancers list) and in a discussion within the Freelance Editing Network, a LinkedIn group. Today I'm sharing with you both my response in those discussions and the response of my colleague Susan London.

My Advice
First, see the Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Medical Writer; it applies to medical editors too [updated 1/13/2020].

To develop a clientele in medical editing, you may want to contact the managing editors of various medical journals to pitch your services to them. There are plenty of places online where you can find lists of medical journals so that you can then hunt down their websites to find contact info, including these:

  • List of All Journals Cited in PubMed (download a text-only file listing information about journals indexed in PubMed and MEDLINE, to search them for journal-name abbreviations; PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that allows free access to citations and abstracts in journals in medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary sciences, health care, and preclinical sciences)

I also suggest that you consider joining the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA); it counts medical editors among its members, including me. The AMWA website has lots of excellent resources for both medical editors and medical writers. Its private e-mail list is great for networking and learning from colleagues, and members who are freelancers can purchase an entry in the website's freelance directory [updated 1/13/2020]. You can also follow AMWA on Twitter. And once you are a confirmed member of AMWA, you can join the AMWA LinkedIn group [updated 1/13/2020].

There is a large market, for those who are persistent, in doing medical editing for researcher-authors who are non-native speakers of English and need their journal-article manuscripts polished before submission to U.S. and UK journals. See the article "Building Good Relationships with ESL Authors" from Science Editor, the publication of the Council of Science Editors (CSE).

Susan's Advice
In response to my post to the Freelance e-mail list, Susan posted some additional helpful information, and she gave me her permission to share it with others as long as I credited her. So here's what she posted to that list:

What Katharine said! All great advice. I'd add just a few things.

The Council of Science Editors also has a Job Bank open to all.

The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) has many medical writers and editors among its ranks, a great freelance discussion list for NASW members [updated 1/13/2020], and job postings for members.

Katharine interrupting here: And, I add, BELS—the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences—offers certification of applicants' skills as editors in the life sciences through a rigorous 3-hour examination. I have this certification, and it has made my services more desirable to some clients.

A wonderful medical writer, Emma Hitt, sends out a list of medical writing and editing jobs weekly (the HittList), although it goes out to hundreds (maybe thousands now) of subscribers, so standing out is hard [updated 1/13/2020].

[If you are] interested in a certain genre of medical writing or editing, [you] might want to look into organizations specific to that area, such as the Association of Health Care Journalists, mainly for reporters and feature writers.

I'm still a big fan of cold calling, as hard as it can be. Just prepare a brief pitch, research some companies, and give them a call and be sure to get to a top person in publications. The worst that happens is they decline. In that case, always ask (1) if they know of someone else who might be looking for a medical writer or editor and (2) if you could send along a résumé for them to keep on file should their needs change.

As with all types of freelance writing and editing, you have to get a foot in the door, [and] then things get easier.

Your Advice?
If you're a medical editor, what advice would you add?


Juliette said...

I've found that making personal contacts in a university setting has proved foundational in growing my client base.

As somebody who's always had an affinity for international students (I even married one, ha!), connecting with and offering my editing services to internationals was a natural effort. Granted, I now live in Germany and finding new connections isn't difficult, but getting connected to internationals at US/UK/Canadian universities isn't hard to do if you have a school nearby.

One thing that grew out of these connections was my involvement in teaching at a local university. I work with about 15 PhD candidates per semester in a 'Scientific English Writing Lab'. Not only have I personally enjoyed working one on one with the students, but I've also grown my client base as they graduate and 'take me with them'. The bonus is that it gets my introverted self out working with people on a regular basis! =)

While it's important to stay abreast of online sources, I think it's also a good idea to try and 'reach out and touch someone'. =)

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Great techniques, Juliette. Thanks for sharing them.

A. B. Syed said...

Katharine, this is enormously helpful information, thanks for this, and for a very useful blog.

pbwsaxo said...

Yes, thank you very much for this helpful information! Best of luck to you!!!

Unknown said...

Dear Katharine,

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I was wanted to hear your opinion about working as freelancer for huge scientific editing companies such as Cactus (Editage, which you've mentioned elsewhere in your blog in a different context).

I've recently finished my PhD in biology, and I really would like to become a scientific editor. Nailing such a job with a publisher seems impossible. I've been rejected dozens of times, even though I hold a reference letter from a world-leading scientist that says "This guy has to become an editor!"

Seems right now that Cactus is the only way of getting my foot in the door, albeit very tentatively. Jobs are highly irregular, the company tries to deduct from your pay in every way possible, and at its best your pay is 12 USD per 1,000 words, which is shameful. But what's the alternative? I can hardly see any right now. I was surprised a bit by your advice to call publishers and offer my services. I'm skeptic. Don't they advertise if they need editors? What will I show them if I barely even started?

Becoming an independent freelancer seems too like an unachievable dream right now. Companies like Cactus control the market. How is there any place left for individual freelancers? How will anyone hear of me? The fact that I have no savings to fall onto certainly doesn't help.

I'm quite baffled. Thanks in advance!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hezi, with all of the changes in publishing, there are very few in-house jobs for medical editors, so freelancing is the way to go. It will take you a few years to get established, however, so be persistent. And yes, it does work to call and email publishers, though you will have to contact a lot of them, and most of them will require that you take an unpaid editing test before they agree to give you editing projects.

Yes, it can be hard to get freelance work if you don't have some experience, but you have to keep contacting publishers you want to work with. Eventually, someone will give you a chance. And you can take freelance projects from editing services like Cactus to build experience and your list of clients. You won't make much money working with such services, but at least you will be able to show better-paying potential clients that you have the editing experience that they want. There are other editing services besides Cactus. I maintain a folder on Dropbox that contains a periodically updated document listing quite a few editing services and links to their websites. You might want to seek projects from some of them.

After you have built up editing experience, you eventually will want to move on to better-paying clients. You will have to become very good at hunting for them. Read this post on marketing for freelancers for ways to get your name out there in front of potential clients.

I wish you fortitude and good luck.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I came across your Message and I am wondering if I can pick your brains regarding my situation as it is similar to mine in some ways.

I am a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry, followed by 9 years postdoctoral experience at Oxford. About 4 years ago I had a family situation which forced me to leave my postdoc job. I want to stay in touch with science and am wanting to pursue a career in scientific publishing in order to stay within science. The career I am interested in is as an editor in an open acces journal, overseeing the process of submission and peer review...etc. What would work for me is a freelance or work from home model. From your experience, what would you suggest as a starting point? I've tried looking through job listings in nature and the like as well as on the plos jobs page but I can't seem to find adverts for such positions.
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Kind regards

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hello, Sell My Books. Editors who oversee manuscript submission and peer review nearly always have in-house jobs as journal employees; journals generally are not willing to subcontract that kind of work to freelancers. That's why you aren't finding advertisements for such work. You may have to start out as a freelance copyeditor. Please see my advice above to Hezi.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hezi, I had posted an additional reply to you in 2016, but someone recently (2019) spotted an error in it that I could not edit out. Here it is again, but corrected:

P.S. Hezi, you can also subscribe to the HittList, a free weekly subscription email that includes job listings, for potential freelance opportunities. In addition, you may need to take some courses on topics specific to editing. See my guest post "How to Become a Medical Editor" (for the blog of Editors Canada) for ideas.

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