What Does an Editor or Proofreader Do?
There's a slight difference in the work of an editor and that of a proofreader, although many people do both jobs, as customers for one service usually also require the other.
The main work of the editor is to take an author's raw manuscript, check the spelling, punctuation and grammar and then mark up the manuscript for the typesetter according to the instructions given by the publisher.
A proofreader, on the other hand, takes the final page proofs - after the typesetter has finished with them - and checks them meticulously for both author's and typesetter's mistakes.
Both are very responsible jobs - a single mistake in a book, such as incorrect instructions or even just a wrong telephone number, could easily cost a publisher many thousands of pounds in reprinting costs if they slip through the net. However, as you'll see, editing requires a little more initiative, whereas the proofreader basically just follows instructions.
How to get Started
You don't need any special qualifications to launch yourself in this new career. However, you will boost your chances of finding work - and your likely earnings - if you organise some sort of training first. Many further education colleges have short courses in editing and/or proofreading. Ask your local FE institute for details. You will also find there are correspondence courses on offer, which are advertised from time to time in the national press.
If you prefer, there are several books on the subject suitable for studying on a 'teach yourself' basis. Copy Editing, published by Cambridge University Press, is the authority on the subject and is used by many large publishers.
Incidentally, editors and proofreaders have their own professional association - the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders (SFEP) - which works to promote their interests and generally help and advise on matters which affect the profession. They can also advise on sources of training.
How to get Editing and Proofreading Work
There is no shortage of work for freelance editors and proofreaders, as the number of publishers who use freelancers rather than in house staff to do this work is growing by the month. There are over 25,000 companies involved in publishing in the UK alone, from the very largest to the very smallest, so you can see the potential that exists for this service.
However, publishers won't come to you if you don't tell them that you are available. The best way to get work is to either telephone or write to as many publishers as possible (or better still, write and then follow up with a telephone call). Ask to speak to the Senior Editor. The vast majority of publishers are listed in books such as The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, The Writers' Handbook and The Directory of Publishing, which are available in most main libraries.
Because of the huge diversity of publishing it is a good idea to specialise in something, preferably something that reflects your own personal interests. For example, if you like romantic novels then offer your services to publishers of romantic novels. If you are interested in either gardening or motoring, then again write to relevant publishers. As a professional editor or proofreader, you should be able to work with any subject, but working in this way will make your work easier and more enjoyable.
Try and convince the Senior Editor to give you a small test project, then proceed from there if they are pleased with your work. Obviously the quality of your work is important, but how much you are offered in future could well depend on being able to develop a good working relationship with the Senior Editor.
There are no set fees for this service. Current rates are around £20 per hour for editors and £12 per hour for proofreaders, perhaps less if you are relatively inexperienced. This all depends on what you negotiate with the company you are working for. Quite often the work will go to the editor or proofreader who can do the job for the lowest cost.
Carrying out the Work
The various courses and textbooks listed will teach you the basics about editing and proofreading. Above all, you must listen to what the publishers tell you they want. Ask for a written brief before taking on an assignment. Most publishers have a house style for editing and proofreading and this must be followed in detail.
Much of the work is common sense - for example, correcting spelling and typing mistakes, punctuation and grammar, and checking for missed words and sentences. If you're editing you might also have to check facts and figures, instruct the typesetter how to lay the page out, and even make decisions on cutting parts of the text if it won't fit the page. All this is done by marking up the manuscript or the proofs, using Standard Correction Markings.
The development of computerised desktop publishing has revolutionised the publishing industry. Certain facets of the industry, particularly magazines and newspapers, now use DTP programmes such as Quark Express and Aldus Pagemaker to put together their publications. Pages can be designed and text inserted onto the page by one person - the sub editor or editor - rather than the editor having to check it and then pass it to the typesetter. This has speeded up the whole publishing process.
It is therefore desirable (or necessary, if you intend to edit magazines and newspapers) to have some experience using DTP programmes.
Again, your local FE college should provide DTP courses, and there are various distance learning courses advertised in the national press.
A related, and highly lucrative, service you can offer to your customers is INDEXING.
This is, as the name suggests, making an index of the contents of the book which will appear in the end pages. This can be done manually, although it can at times be a tedious job. If you have a personal computer with a database programme then a book can be indexed very quickly and easily indeed. You will normally earn at least £10 per hour for this, or between £100 and £400 for indexing an average book.