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Proofreading Service – Book it in

Posted on 7th November 2018

As ever, I feel the need to start this blog post with an apology for having been so lax at writing them lately. It's been a busy time on the road in the UK (on the hunt for Kateproof's proofreading HQ), but hopefully things are calming down a little now so I hope to get some more posts written in the near future (though let's not hold our collective breath on that one).

With this recent spate of non-work-related busyness, I thought it would be worth discussing my approach to getting booked up more than a few months in advance. As a freelancer, especially a proofreader/editor as I only have one set of eyes and can't automate the work (despite what some software people might currently claim), the concept of feast and famine is something one needs to be prepared for, with potential for real peaks in work to be followed by troughs, the likes of which can leave even the most seasoned freelancers pulling their hair out and wondering if they'll ever get their proofreading service back on track!

But in my experience, there's a balance to be had between having work lined up – and thus money due to come in – and getting booked up too far ahead and this causing potential issues down the line.

I hope this blog post will be of interest to both other freelancers and potential clients, as I want to explain the pros and cons of my editing and proofreading services being booked up in advance.

Proofreading service scheduling: pros and cons

Pros of having editing and proofreading projects booked in more than a few months in advance

  • The obvious one is that it reassures the freelancer that they have work on the horizon, ergo money coming in. This also helps with cashflow forecasting.
  • The client has a set deadline to aim for knowing the freelancer has scheduled the work in.
  • If I have a lot of fixed projects in the schedule and there are breaks in the calendar, I can plan training/CPD, holidays or time off to fit this schedule.

Cons of having editing and proofreading projects booked in more than a few months in advance

  • Force majeure (aka unforeseen circumstances that in my scenario mean I cannot do the work to the agreed schedule) is something I mention on my Ts and Cs but I don't like invoking this. However, as a sole trader, if I am ill or have to take on an emergency carer role, I will potentially not be available to work.*
  • If I get a big string of proofreading or editing projects booked in for months in advance and then a client needs to change their schedule, it's often the case that I can't just put it back a week or two but the client will need to wait a few months.
  • If I am asked to help out on a last-minute or urgent project, if I'm fully booked, I'll have no spare time to fit this extra project in.
  • When a client has scheduled a proofreading or editing service in advance, it can be problematic if the length of the file changes. If a 50,000-word thesis proofread becomes a 90,000-word proofreading project (honestly, I have occasionally had examples of such big word count changes), then clearly I will need more time to complete this and if I am fully booked, then that might cause issues.
  • If the project scope creeps then this too can affect my time required for a project. While I may be happy to offer a copy-editing or proof-editing service instead of a proofread, or agree to a paid-for second round of checks if this is what the final version of the file requires, there simply may not be the time in my schedule to accommodate this.

* In my freelance proofreading experience, touch wood, I've only once been so ill (with labyrinthitis, so I couldn't move my head without feeling sick and spent 3 days lying flat on the bed, then a further 4 days feeling wobbly) that I couldn't do any work. I had a long ongoing fiction proofreading project for a client's back catalogue of science fiction novels at the time and the client was more than understanding, and I was still able to hit the original deadline. However, if I'd had more individual projects, perhaps all on one-week schedules, the impact on one project could have had repercussions on all others until I was able to catch up. As an aside, I do have a great network of proofreader and editor colleagues and have passed work on in the past when circumstances have arisen that meant I could no longer do the work but I realise that clients book me to do the work for many reasons and to be passed to a different editor or proofreader might not be ideal.

My approach to a fully booked proofreading schedule

When I do book in a proofreading project

With all the above in mind, I take bookings up to a few months in advance, but never such that it fills all of my schedule. By retaining some spare capacity, I hope that I have the flexibility to take on last-minute editing or proofreading work, and also have time to reschedule work if I am ill or have to deal with other emergencies. This is also often why unless it's a last-minute job, I will allocate more time to the project than I absolutely need, thus giving me leeway if the project scope or size changes, I have computer/tech issues, illness or something else crops up. I usually allocate a week to even the smallest of projects, meaning I can also then fit in other projects around it.

I have one or two repeat projects each year, and they get booked in quite a long time in advance. As they are repeat and I am 95% certain (force majeure exists on the client's side too, of course) the project will come in and be on time, this has fewer risks compared with booking in proofreading or editing projects for new or one-off clients, for example, for PhD students, many of whom are on schedule until the supervisor decides to suggest major changes to the thesis or wants time to review things. Certainly if deadlines are flexible for the client, I often suggest waiting until the final draft is almost ready before booking the work in.

Who pays for cancellations?

I don't like to take payment upfront or deposits, largely because I know schedules can change and I don't want to be the arbiter in deciding whether someone has a 'valid' reason for changing the schedule or cancelling altogether. But my Ts and Cs do include a clause about last-minute cancellations and me reserving the right to charge for the time. Again, this isn't something I like doing but it protects my time/earnings if I have no chance to fill that slot, and hopefully makes it clear to clients that confirming the booking is a commitment. After all, many clients I know like to have the deadline to aim for.

I'd be interested to know how other freelancers approach these issues, and if you're a client wanting to schedule something in advance, do still get in touch and we can discuss options. I appreciate that you might want to know early on in the project how long to allocate to the editing or proofreading service and also get at least a ballpark costing for this, so please don't be put off contacting me to discuss your project and editing or proofreading requirements.

Written by Kate Haigh.