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Some resources for people thinking about becoming a proofreader

Posted on 1st August 2016

Recently I seem to have had a flurry of queries from people asking about how I got into proofreading and what I would recommend for them to do the same. I have sent a tweaked version of an email to all of them but I thought that perhaps it would be useful to turn it into a blog. Most of this isn't new, it's not comprehensive and other routes into the industry might suit different people with different backgrounds and requirements. As I always say, if possible, attend a local CIEP group as a guest to get some face-to-face bespoke advice.

Failing that, here's some general information that might help those of you just starting to think about whether proofreading or copy-editing is what you want to do.

In 2013, I wrote a blog with five people's perspectives on how they got into publishing and the content in those Q&As is still largely valid. I recently did a follow-up blog that might be of interest. For both blogs, I recommend you read all five individual sets of replies. If nothing else, they hopefully highlight that there are many different ways of earning a living in the proofreading/editing industry.

Louise Harnby's website is a mine of information. If you do decide to go for it, her books are also to be recommended. I'd probably recommend you get her Omnibus edition before splashing out time and money on other courses (and no, I get nothing for recommending this so there's no bias).

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), formerly The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), is the only official body in the UK and has lots of information but it focuses primarily on publishing work, more specifically non-fiction. Being a member doesn't suit everyone but the community is generally lovely and helpful and if this will be the first time you will be working for yourself, knowing there are people out there to communicate with can really help alleviate the loneliness and fears, especially if you are new to the industry.

The Publishing Training Centre is the training company I would recommend if you are certain you want to become a proofreader AND you want to work for publishers (again, I get nothing for this recommendation; I am merely basing this on stories I've read/heard from others in the industry. Legally, I obviously want to make it clear that numerous other courses are available). I did the Basic Proofreading distance course (it took me about 10 months to complete alongside a day job but that's because the tutor can have up to a month to mark the papers) and it really is a very comprehensive introduction to the work and the industry. However, if you have proofreading experience and don't want to work for publishers, I don't think this level of detail is always necessary.

For example, my husband (Peter Haigh) became a freelance editor and proofreader and though I've mentored him, he also gained some very basic knowledge from an online course and then worked through Barbara Horn's 'Copy-editing' book (out of print but copies do end up for sale online). Pete's a chartered engineer and that's his USP, focusing on work for companies and academics. If you're totally new to the publishing industry, having contacts in your former company/industry will help you stay focused as you try to build your client base. Once you then have some experience under your belt, if you want to branch out, that will then be easier than taking a scattergun approach to start with.

As I say to everyone who asks for advice, there is no one route into the industry and no one ideal course or plan of action. Reading lots of blogs and having a serious think about your business ideas are both really important: jumping into a course with no plan for what comes after might turn out to be a waste of time and money. One thing to remember in all of this is that if you are hoping to be successful, this is about becoming a micro-business and all that entails; the proofreading/copy-editing is obviously important but you also need to consider the other business skills and the reality of working for yourself.

If you're not based in the UK, or even if you are, the following might also be of interest. However, the nature of many proofreading and editing jobs is that they can be done anywhere in the world and, with the development of e-learning, it might be possible to do courses from suppliers not based in the country where you live.

The Copyeditors' Knowledge Base by Katharine O'Moore-Klopf has loads of information and links to numerous other websites related to the industry.

The Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI) is the Irish equivalent of the SfEP.

The Editors' Association of Canada is exactly what the name suggests.

The American Copy Editors Society and the Editorial Freelancers Association are both based in the USA.

There are lots of websites for states in Australia but the Institute of Professional Editors Limited covers the whole country.

Mediterranean Editors and Translators is more of a forum rather than a society but if you want to meet like-minded professionals, be it online or in person, this is another great resource.

Written by Kate Haigh.

Edited in March 2020 after the Society for Editors and Proofreaders became the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.