21 top tips to make the most of your freelance copy-editor or proofreader

Suggested by the SfEP's community of freelance and in-house members and the result of years of experience, these tips highlight the points that are important to consider when using a freelance copy-editor or proofreader to produce a readable publication without breaking the bank.

Here we present tips from a freelance perspective. They detail what freelances need most to work to the best of their ability, and give an insight into what they appreciate, expect and desire.

These tips were originally compiled to celebrate the Society's 21st birthday in November 2009. They have since been joined by a set reflecting the requirements of project managers and managing editors.

While planning your project

  1. Keep the manuscript simple. If you're an author, consider how best to prepare your manuscript. If you're an in-house editor, brief your authors on manuscript preparation.
  2. Be clear about the difference between editing and proofreading and why each is equally important. Please see the SfEP FAQs on copy-editing and proofreading if you're not sure.
  3. Be aware that getting a manuscript into shape takes time. Be up front about your budget and be realistic about what you can expect me to do for the money that you have available.
  4. Know what different freelances do and be aware of our particular specialisms and skills.
  5. Choose someone who has good training and/or experience and the relevant subject specialism, where possible. Having chosen me, trust me. And if I'm willing and able to take on more responsibility, consider using me as a project manager.
  6. Smooth the way for a good author–editor relationship. If you're an author, know what to ask me to do and be clear about what you expect from me. If you're a desk editor, check that the author will be available at the right time to answer my queries or consider passing on my name and say that I'll be in touch in due course.
  7. Recognise that, as well as editing and proofreading, a house style is essential to ensure a high-quality product. If you don't have a style guide, please commission an SfEP member to help you compile one, which can include specifying a published reference book. The SfEP guide Your House Style: Styling your words for maximum impact may help.
  8. Please don't send me a contract full of jargon and legalese that doesn't apply to me as a self-employed freelance. If you don't have a suitable contract, you may find that I have terms and conditions that are acceptable to you. You can also check out the SfEP's suggested terms and conditions.
  9. Brief your freelances well, pay them reasonably and promptly, and make the most of their expertise. If you do, you will get the best freelances, who will ease your burden considerably, stay in business and be loyal to you.

When sending the work

  1. Keep me in the loop. Give plenty of notice of work that will be arriving on my desk and let me know in reasonable time if the schedule changes. I'm then much more likely to be able to rearrange my other work and deliver your work by your deadline.
  2. Don't give artificial or short deadlines that make me work long hours when I don't need to! But if you want me to work nights or weekends, please be prepared to pay extra for it.
  3. Please ensure that you provide me with all the necessary final documents to edit or proofread and the relevant information about the project and the people involved.
  4. A concise but comprehensive brief will allow me to make decisions without pestering you and will save you time, money and problems further down the line. Look over the whole text, or at least a couple of inner chapters, before writing a brief – the first chapter may not be representative of the whole text. Think through what you want me to do and, if you haven't had time for a good look, tell me what you haven't assessed.
  5. It pays to build a close working relationship with me. Ask me if there are ways that my job could be made easier or more efficient. You may not be able to do anything but occasionally something that doesn't take up much of your time will save a lot of mine.
  6. Pick my brains. Many freelances have years of experience and varied client lists so I may well have come across similar issues before. You're hiring an expert – I can save you from reinventing the wheel.

While I'm doing the work

  1. Treat me as part of the team that will bring your publication to fruition. Encourage me to ask questions as necessary to clarify the brief or devise solutions to any problems that I may spot.
  2. Be aware that I often have several projects on the go. When you phone me, ask if it's a convenient time. Also remember that I may not be able to start your job immediately.
  3. Please tell me if you're going on holiday or on leave and whom to contact instead, especially if my deadline falls during your absence. If you work in house and are leaving your position, please introduce me to your replacement.

After I've signed off

  1. Please acknowledge receipt of work when it comes in. This is very important for both of us.
  2. Set aside some time (perhaps 20 minutes) to give constructive feedback at the end of the job. Let me know if I've done a good job or if there's anything I did that wasn't wanted or could have been done differently – including any areas in which I could have used the time better – and whether queries were phrased appropriately.
  3. Please send me a copy of the product when published. I'll enjoy seeing it as much as you will!