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Advice for new freelancers: Hang a card, talk to Kathy

This column appeared in newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society in early April. In the months after I wrote it, I’ve become more convinced there is a strong demand for good editing, and I have found myself busy with multiple projects in recent weeks. I followed up this column with more on the topic in the ACES newsletter that came out last month, and I’ll post that column soon.

I’ve had several people ask me in recent weeks for advice on how to find work as a freelancer. And while I give what advice I can, I always preface that advice by saying “I really don’t know.”

I have spent a great deal of time and effort marketing myself and introducing myself to potential employers. But that has yet to bring in enough steady work to make freelancing a viable option.

I tend to be an optimist even in the face of the abyss, as long as I can keep the abyss a couple of months in the future. I have applied for a number of “real” jobs here in central Ohio, some with enthusiasm, but I can see how editing from home could work. I just have to figure out the formula.

I see a need for good editors. And I know good editors who keep busy. I have been busy at times and idle at times. When I’m busy, it’s easy to think I can be busy all the time, that I can put in 30 billable hours a week of editing and make a decent living. When I’m idle, I find it hard to imagine that this could ever be possible.

I suppose it’s not accurate when I say I don’t know where to find freelance work. I think I do know. I’d much rather be able to say “this is how I have found work” rather than “this is how I think work can be found.”

If I were to just give advice on what has worked for me, I would suggest you first stick a business card up at a coffee shop. I pinned a card on the board at my coffee shop a year ago. That coffee shop is frequented by a vice president at the local community college, and she noticed my card at a time she was looking for an editor. For all the networking and cold calls (OK, cold e-mails) to various organizations, it was the business card that got me noticed.

What I took from that was the realization that with all the points of contact, it takes just one to find a client. And clients lead to more clients. Or so I’m told. I also have learned that a dozen or three dozens points of contact may lead to nothing.

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf has been an independent editor for more than 15 years, having found a niche in editing medical journal articles for authors who aren’t entirely comfortable writing in English. She has been a mentor to several copy editors, and she maintains a Web site full of advice for those starting out. She confirmed what I have found: that there is a broad need for editing beyond the newspaper world.

“Don’t just think in terms of the traditional situations for employment,” she said. “Editors work in many places besides newspapers, magazines and publishing.”

Just about any business could use an editor. One freelancer I met said she found some success editing menus for foreign-born restaurant owners. O’Moore-Klopf mentioned public relations materials, corporate newsletters, annual reports, white papers.

Research organizations that interest you, she said. “Read their industry’s materials, and join associations that will get you in contact with people in a position to hire or contract with editors.”

And yes, she said, make use of business cards.

“Hand out your business cards absolutely everywhere you go, including such places as banks and office-supply stores; you never know who will need your services,” she said.

“Put your name and contact info on everything you touch,” she said.

O’Moore-Klopf said the need for marketing is constant, and she suggested joining and participating in professional organizations. I belong to the American Copy Editors Society, which provides some great Web-based resource, a terrific annual conference and a wonderful newsletter. Its traditional focus is on newspaper journalism, but it is expanding its scope and increasing its relevance for those seeking employment in freelance copy-editing. The Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-efa.org) has an active jobs board and an opportunity to post a profile to help make connections with potential clients. Two freelancers I spoke with before joining said they easily covered the cost of their dues, one from the job listings and one because her profile immediately attracted an active client. I have yet to see those results, but I am a member and I keep looking.

Some other points from O’Moore-Klopf: Be helpful to colleagues, it may bring referrals; maintain a professional-looking Web site (“it’s your calling card”); keep in constant contact with clients, including sending small gifts to regular clients; use targeted advertising judiciously; investigate potential clients constantly; contact former employers about the possibility of copy editing; and, if you can, specialize.

O’Moore-Klopf has a wealth of advice and information on her Copyeditors Knowledge Base at http://www/kokedit.com/library.shtml. It’s an excellent first stop for any freelance editor. O’Moore-Klopf also is active on Twitter as @KOKEdit.

Mark Allen is working as a freelance copy editor from his guest bedroom in Bexley, Ohio. He is available. Bookmark http://www.markallenediting.com and follow him on Twitter at @EditorMark.

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