I’m not one to jump through hoops. I try to avoid them. In my professional career, I haven’t always had the required experience, but I’ve always had determination. And I still had that determination–and then some–when I started to freelance.
When I started freelancing after taking a break from working to take care of my grandson and help my husband acclimate to life after retirement, I didn’t do any planning. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t succeed as a freelancer. That doesn’t mean I did everything right; it just means that I tried. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. The word can’t isn’t in my vocabulary.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I didn’t have the skills or experience that I needed for a career as a freelance proofreader. I have the required experience. I have been a writer, researcher, and an English teacher. I just wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared emotionally, and I wasn’t prepared as an entrepreneur. I didn’t know what to expect. I really hadn’t thought about starting a business; I just did it. I didn’t have a business plan. I didn’t set goals. I just decided that I wanted to freelance.
In looking back, it’s amazing that I was successful. I didn’t have a professional business letterhead. I didn’t have business cards. I had chutzpah. When I was trying to decide if there was room for another editor, I went through the Colorado Springs telephone book and looked for the business listings for editor. Three businesses were listed. I thought that since there were only three listings, there was room for me. That was certainly naiveté on my part, but that didn’t stop me.
I made phone calls to all three editing businesses; only one person returned my call. Even so, I was excited because I would have the opportunity to talk to someone who actually worked as an editor. We played some telephone tag before we finally connected. That was okay. I was willing to wait. It was enough for me that I would have the opportunity to talk to someone who was a bonefide editing professional.
Getting the chance to talk to an editor was important because it would give me the chance to ask all the questions a person might want to ask before beginning a new career. I asked why she chose an editing career. I asked how long it took her to become a success, and I asked who her clients were, and what she charged. Yes, I asked her what she charged. I needed a starting point. I needed to know if I could make a living and pay my bills as a freelancer.
Our conversation, even though brief, gave me the courage I needed to continue. The person I interviewed didn’t sugarcoat her answers. She told me that there would be difficulties. She said that it would take work and perseverance on my part, but she said that there was definitely a need for editors. This was all I needed to hear.
After our conversation, I thought all I needed to do was let businesses know that I was ready to proofread. I thought that they would beat a path to my door. The editor I spoke to told me that even though businesses need my help, they would be the hardest to convince. I didn’t listen. I thought I could overcome any obstacle through perseverance. Even today, I believe perseverance is the key to success.
After speaking with the editor, I did a bit of research and composed a list of publishers to call in Colorado Springs. Yes, a list of publishers to call. Remember that at this point, I thought the sky was the limit. I thought that all I had to do was make the call and get the job. I really believed that no one would turn me down. I was right.
My first freelance proofreading job came after I had the guts to call a local publisher on my list. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t know whom to ask for, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I did have the courage to make the call. I decided to make the call because I didn’t have an excuse not to, and I followed through. The important thing here is that I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head tell me that I couldn’t or that I would fail. I made the call and actually spoke to someone in an editing department. I surprised myself, and it turned out well.
From the beginning of the conversation, there was a rapport. I don’t remember the conversation. I don’t remember what was said. I do remember that I hadn’t actually prepared first. I didn’t think about being turned down. I just remember talking to someone about the possibility of freelancing as a proofreader. The next thing I knew, the person I was talking to asked if I could come to the publishing office for a more in-depth interview. I almost jumped through the phone. Of course I could. I arranged to meet with the person the same day.
The interview went well, and I had my first proofreading project before I walked out the door. I was elated. This was my chance to prove myself. I was on my way. In looking back, I was wrong. It was a beginning, but I still had a lot to learn. I earned only a little money for my efforts, and the publisher published only four books a year. There was no chance of steady work, and I really didn’t understand the proofreader’s role in the editing process. I thought that a proofreader did what I had done as an English teacher. I thought they just commented on what the author had written and read the manuscript for grammar and mechanics. I didn’t make a distinction between proofreading and editing. Now I understand the difference, but I didn’t when I first started proofreading.
My first proofreading assignment didn’t lead to more projects from that client, but I didn’t give up. If anything, it made me want more than ever to continue as a freelancer–because it was so enjoyable. However, as I was looking for another project and client, I took the time to do the research I should have done before the first publisher hired me. I read everything I could check out of the library on proofreading and copyediting. Most of the books were outdated. That didn’t matter.
The first book on editing I read from cover to cover was Copyediting & Proofreading For Dummies by Suzanne Gilad. It was my Bible. It discusses editing on a level that any editing outsider can comprehend. It was basic but it provided some of the information that I should have taken the time to learn before deciding to freelance. I have since discovered other books; one of the best books for proofreaders is Mark My Words by Peggy Smith. Professional proofreaders wrote both books, but Mark My Words goes into more detail and provides exercises as well as quizzes for those who really want to improve their proofreading skills.
I haven’t stopped learning. Even today, I try to review my skills or work an exercise or two in Mark My Words when I have a lull between projects. One of the things I like about freelancing is the opportunity to continue to improve my skills. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I also know that I am better today than I was when I first started proofreading.
In looking back intellectually, I probably would do things differently if I could have a do-over. But acknowledging how I operate, I probably would have started my freelance proofreading career in exactly the same way. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not one for jumping through hoops. I learn more by doing.
My first experience as a freelance proofreader gave me the courage to pick up the phone and call the next publisher on my list. After several phone calls and months of waiting, I got that job too. The months in between editing jobs gave me the opportunity to get business cards and a business letterhead and do some marketing.
My second job as a freelancer provided an opportunity for some on-the-job training. It gave me the chance to do some substantive editing, some research, and some analysis and to learn that publishers are as individual as the freelancers they hire. It also reinforced my determination to continue freelancing. Everything that I’ve experienced in my short freelancing career has taught me more than ever that it isn’t the destination; it’s the journey.
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