How do I hire a copyeditor or proofreader?

[6 minute read]

I’ll look at this from two points of view – the publishing industry’s and everyone else’s (author or a business). But the first tip is for everyone.

Find your copyeditors and proofreaders via the directory of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading

Everyone in there is a Professional or Advanced Professional member, who has had to prove their worth through training, experience, references, perhaps having to take the Institute’s editorial test and, in the case of Advanced Professional members, having to provide evidence of their commitment to continual professional development.

There are more than 700 people in the directory (724 as at the date I drafted this piece, if you’re curious), so use keywords to reduce the list.

Go by the type of service you want (try reading my recent post on ‘The 5 kinds of editing’, if you’re not sure), by subject, by type of material, by location, if you’ve an interest in hiring people in your local area, and/or filter by Professional or Advanced Professional members. Or you may want an editor who matches the variety of English the text is going to be published in. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading directory contains people from around the world. About a third of members are outside the UK. Some are ex-pats, but many more are speakers of Englishes other than the UK’s, and that may be precisely what you need.

Publisher or pre-press looking to expand their freelance pool

First stop, the directory of the CIEP, of course.

But perhaps you’re looking to find several new freelancers in one hit, and you want people to come to you rather than spending time sifting through reams of people who may not have the capacity to take you on as a client (or the wish, as they may not work on your kind of materials, or they may be winding down their business).

In that case, consider taking out an ad with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading to be sent to your target group of CIEP members. You might find that a more cost-efficient way of finding a pool of people.

Or you could just contact me direct, if you’re looking for someone to work on scholarly humanities and social science!

Authors and businesses

If you’re not in the habit of working with freelance copyeditors and proofreaders, though, you may be worried about what to look for. Let me help with this handy list – I expand on each point afterwards.

Image © Sue Littleford 2021

1           Decide what you want done, and when you need it by

Obvious, but often overlooked.

What do you want done? A developmental edit, a copyedit? I’m pretty certain you don’t want a proofread, unless you’ve already had a copyedit and the material has been typeset or laid out. I talk about the different kinds of service in a recent blog post called ‘The 5 kinds of editing’.

What’s your timescale?

It’s essential to allow enough time for your editor or proofreader to work their magic. This is not work that can be done in a couple of minutes with a quick glance. Short pieces, such as news articles for a website, can be turned around quickly – if your editor/​proofreader is actually available. Books and journal articles take longer.

2           Think ahead!

I had one publisher client who measured the quality of a freelance copyeditor or proofreader, in part, by how far in advance they had to book them in. Good people may have had a cancellation or postponement that allows them to take on your job right away. Most won’t.

And from my point of view, it’s heartbreaking to be offered what looks like a great job that you could have started in maybe a couple of weeks – or maybe a couple of months – only to be told, sorry, we need someone right away.

And that doesn’t work for you, as a client, either: if you’re looking for someone right now, you’re reducing the pool of good people you could recruit from, and loading it with people who haven’t got a steady workflow going, for whatever reason. That doesn’t make any kind of sense.

3           Find a reliable source of candidates

Anyone can call themselves an editor – the industry is entirely unregulated at present. That’s why I always recommend finding your editor via the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading directory.

We both hope nothing would go wrong but it should be a comfort to know that all members, of whatever grade (we have Entry-Level, Intermediate, Professional and Advanced Professional members), have signed up to the Institute’s Code of Practice, and Dignity Policy, and in the worst case, you’ll have recourse to the Institute’s Complaints Procedure.

You’re unlikely to get that level of confidence with a non-member.

4           Take time selecting a longlist

Take a look at editors’ experience, the kind of work they do, the kind of clients they tend to work for. See who has posted testimonials from satisfied clients, and whether the people giving the testimonials are in your sort of situation. Even if you choose not to use the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading directory, check out each editor’s website and LinkedIn profile, if they have them.

Don’t ignore your gut! If you feel that someone would be great, go with that. If you just don’t feel that someone is right for you, trust your instinct.

5           Take time selecting the editors to approach

Take your longlist and cut it down to maybe four editors to approach first.

  • Email them with details of your job, and any time constraints: if you’re not sure what to include in your initial email, check out my post ‘How much does copyediting cost?
  • Ask the editors to give you an estimate and a timescale: be sure you’re clear about any deadlines you have.
  • Be realistic: it takes (very roughly) ten hours to edit 25,000 words, don’t ask the editor to accept 50,000 words on a Tuesday afternoon and have it back by 9 am Wednesday (people actually do that, bizarrely). For more info on how long things take to edit, again, see my earlier post ‘How much does copyediting cost?
  • Be honest and upfront: be open about the job – nasty surprises will push up the price later; tell them that you’re contacting [number] editors about this job – just think for a moment how you’d like a prospective client to behave if you were the editor, yourself.

Some editors will decline immediately, on grounds of availability, so that’s short and sweet. Others will come back with a price and timescale. Best of all, others will come back with questions, and a tentative price and timescale. They’re taking your request seriously and ensuring they can give you the most reliable price they can.

If you don’t get enough from this round, contact your next four choices from your longlist and repeat.

6           Make a decision

So now you’ve got a handful of responses from people and you need to choose the copyeditor you want to work with.

Don’t make your decision purely on price, please!

Buy cheap, buy twice

Remember the adage: buy cheap, buy twice. No one wants to have to spend more money on a second edit, because the first was a disaster. No one wants to lose time to a second edit, to make up for the shortfall of the first.

Instead, make your choice according to which editor feels most appropriate for the text you want edited, and who would work with you in the way you like working with people. If that happens to be the cheapest, then that’s a bonus.

One last point – do let the unsuccessful candidates for the job know that you’ve awarded it elsewhere. It’s horrible putting effort into a quote and then being ghosted. Don’t be that client.

7           Be prepared for the business end

Be ready for contracts, deposits and keeping up your end of the bargain.

Some editors will require a deposit to secure your place in their schedule. That’s fine. Most freelance editors are sole traders. If they reserve your space and you drop out late in the day, they’re left hunting around for replacement work, to replace the income you’ve just denied them. If you keep rescheduling at short notice, they may return your deposit and tell you to come back when you’re really ready.

Some editors will send you a contract to sign and return. It should describe the work to be done (e.g. the title and length of the text, what kind of edit you’re having) spell out what your responsibilities are, and what the editor’s are. It should spell out expectations and agreements. The editor may well expect the text to arrive in a Word file, ready for editing, and you may have agreed that after the files are returned, the editor will spend up to, say, five hours dealing with your own queries and responses.

The contract should stipulate prices and payment arrangements. If the job is big, be prepared to be asked to make stage payments at defined points. Remember – a freelancer has bills to pay every month, so cashflow is always critical to them. Help them out by agreeing to stage payments, if they’re requested.

The contract should spell out dates (when you will provide the text to be edited, and when you should get it back) and deliverables (e.g. a copy of the text with tracked changes on and a clean copy; a list of queries; a note of stylistic issues; a spelling list). It should spell out the remedies if something goes wrong on either side of the bargain.

The contract may not even exist as a separate document. Your exchange of emails that sets out the work to be done and the pricing, timing and payments constitutes a contract. This is why editors and proofreaders prefer not to negotiate over the phone. Both parties need the security of a written record of what was agreed.

And when it’s all done – pay your editor promptly. One of the joys of the freelance life is being able to choose who you work with. And we do like prompt payers, so if you’re hoping to work with that same freelancer again some day, treat them well!

In summary

  • Do your research
  • Think through what you want done
  • Think through time and any other constraints
  • Act early
  • Give some time to finding your editor
  • Be businesslike – hold up your end of the deal

1 thought on “How do I hire a copyeditor or proofreader?”

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