How do I become a copyeditor, too?

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Dear Dr. Freelance: I have been a freelance proofreader for four years, but want to know, how do I become a copyeditor, too? I have taken a copyediting class, and have asked one client to let me copyedit for them. Am I missing anything? What happens if my current client turns me down? — Shaking in My Boots

Dear SIMB: I think you’re on the right track by taking a class and pitching yourself as a copyeditor to existing clients. Good for you.

Let’s take your first questions first. How do I become a copyeditor, too? and Am I missing anything? I think you might help yourself significantly by undergoing a mindset change. I see from your website that you already list several services — again, a good start. But based on your question, you still seem to think of yourself first and foremost as a proofreader.

Here’s an analogy: A dentist who only did tooth polishing would probably go out of business. People also need cavities filled, root canals and extractions. But if your mouth hurts and you’re not sure why, you go to the dentist to have him figure it out. I would argue that the vast majority of possible clients out there don’t even draw a distinction between the various subcategories of editing. And what to call ourselves is a matter of ongoing debate — but I think simply by using “editor” with confidence, you could broaden your appeal. (Consider it a promotion after four years of service!)

The client’s goal is to have their content look and sound sharp — or have their pain alleviated. To really stretch our dental metaphor, if a patient were to ask for something that the dentist isn’t qualified to do (put on braces, for example), they can still look good by offering a referral. Same is true if someone were to ask you to edit a book on a topic outside your expertise.

I guess the point is, you shouldn’t worry about getting hired for a job that you’re not qualified for, so cast a wide net.

Which brings us to your second question: What happens if my current client turns me down? You should touch base with *all* of your clients, past and present, to let them know that you’ve added to your service line, and then start reaching out (whether by cold-calling, email marketing, or job boards) to prospects in other areas of your expertise. One “no” should never deter you from pursuing your business diversification plan.

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  1. says

    Jake-excellent point about clients not even differentiating between subcategories. I would think existing clients would be the perfect place to propose copyediting services. In fact, I would suggest proposing that every time.

    For example, if they ask for your usual proofreading, you can pitch that for $XX (don’t give it away!), you can edit the copy and save them having to deal with it. You show them what’s in it for them by saving them the hassle and the time. I bet most would jump at it.

    Great suggestions, Jake.

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Yes, Cathy — sometimes clients don’t realize what they’re missing out on till they see how much it helps!

  3. Lori says

    So true, Jake. The ONLY time anyone ever questioned my ability to finish the job was on a ghostwriting job – a book manuscript – when the guy was trying to get out of paying me.

    Proofreading requires a certain element of editorial insight, so I don’t see any problem transitioning into it. It’s more intensive, but I think SIMB is ready.

  4. Dr. Freelance says

    @Lori, good grief, that’s a crummy ruse. You just have to trust there’s a special circle in the Inferno for folks like that. I’ll have to ponder what the appropriate Dantean punishment would be…