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Why proofreading? Richard Sheehan

Posted on 24th February 2013

Richard Sheehan, author, copy editor and proofreader
Freelance since 2012


What made you want to be a freelance proofreader/editor?

I'd been working in IT for twenty years and I was burned out and needed a new challenge. At this point I was a self-employed IT contractor. For a number of years I'd also been a writer but knew that to earn a living as a writer would be an incredibly difficult thing to do. It was suggested to me that I would make a good proofreader and that it was possible to earn a living doing so and this seemed like a good compromise. I could be involved, to some degree, in publishing while honing my writing.

What experience did you have and why did you think you'd be suitable?

I had no specific proofreading experience, but had been writing for about ten years and the more I thought about it and then investigated it, the more sense it seemed to make.

You did the Publishing Training Centre's course - what made you choose that course and would you recommend it?

My investigations had made it clear to me that If I wanted to try and make a career in proofreading I would have to invest in training that was recognised in the publishing industry. The PTC course seemed to be almost the industry standard, so that was the course for me.

I'd definitely recommend it. It gave me a good grounding in the skills and taught them in a logical, progressive manner. Subsequent courses with both PTC and SfEP have reinforced my belief that the PTC proofreading course is the one to begin with to build a solid foundation.

What contacts did you have before you started out?

The only contacts I had were writers that I knew.

Who/what was your key target market when starting out and how did you hope to attract them?

As a writer, I was attracted to the fiction market and initially I contacted local publishers to see if I could get any work. I also made a point of meeting other editors and proofreaders via the SfEP local groups and I was very lucky, and very grateful when I got some work from another member of one of those groups.

How have you built on those contacts/developed your business since then?

I was very fortunate in getting regular work from a local publisher. At the time I was still working full time in IT and over the months I was able to increase the amount of proofreading work I did and decrease my IT work. I also attended SfEP and PTC courses on copy-editing and upgraded from being an Associate to Ordinary Membership of the SfEP. I contacted other publishers and went on a marketing drive. I followed the advice of other proofreaders in my approach and also looked to other avenues for work, such as student thesis work.

What value do you personally get from your SfEP membership? How was it as an associate compared with now being Ordinary/Advanced?

I would say that without SfEP membership I wouldn't be where I am now. When I started I recognised that SfEP were highly regarded in the publishing industry and I knew that I needed to follow a path towards membership. Everyone I spoke to said that being in the directory was worth every penny and so that was what I geared myself up to doing. Being an Associate was okay, but membership has taken my career up a level. Since being in the directory I've had a number of excellent enquiries from publishers and I now have regular work from several sources.

What, if any, negatives are there to being a freelance proofreader/editor?

I think being a freelance is a mindset thing. You have to accept that sometimes income will be infrequent, money doesn't come in regularly and you have to budget accordingly. Also, clients will sometimes want a quick turnaround on work and you'll need to work long hours or through the weekend. I don't consider them negatives though. This is how it is and now I can have time off when I want to if I schedule things properly. I can nip to the local bookshop when I feel like it and I can organise other aspects of my life without having to worry about the old nine-to-five structure. As a writer I can plan to go to events I never would have time for before. The commute is pretty good too!

What are your top tips for someone looking to start out?

My top tip would be SfEP membership. Get signed up as an Associate and then work towards membership and get in the directory.

Other tips? Take on freebie work if you can. Offer to proof a local newsletter or something similar. Get out and meet people in the SfEP local groups. Read widely about editing and proofreading. There's lots of information out there on websites.

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Written by Kate Haigh.