Five Tips for Freelancing for Publishers

A lot of editors ask me how to get started in freelance editing for publishers (so many that I actually started a class to show you how to get editorial work from book publishers and packagers). Other than having the skill to do the work, the most important element in successfully freelancing for publishers is having the right mindset.

So here are my top 5 tips for freelancers interested in getting editorial work from publishers:

  1. Only pursue this work if you can think of traditional publishers as something other than the bad guy. Many editors who work primarily with indie authors develop a cheerleading attitude towards self-publishing (which is fine!) but sometimes they treat traditional publishers as if they were villains preying on poor, helpless authors. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes publishers are villains, and publishing has A LOT of problems with diversity, and it’s rare to find a traditionally published author who hasn’t been exploited or disappointed in some way. But “y’all are evil, will you pay me to edit for you?” is not really conducive to establishing congenial relationships with book publishers.
  2. Only pursue this work if you can stand up for yourself. Publishers aren’t the bad guy (with a few exceptions) but that doesn’t make them the good guy. They are corporations, first and foremost. If they can exploit your labor, they will. So, you have to be able to advocate for yourself instead of being humbly pleased with whatever crumbs you’re offered. Know the value of your work and expect publishers to know it, too.
  3. Start small. Small presses don’t pay as well as larger publishers but they also have less competition. If you’re just starting out, working for smaller presses can be a great way to get experience that you can use to trade up to bigger publishers and bigger paychecks.
  4. Your client is the publisher, not the author. This in particular is a mindset people who work primarily with indie authors struggle to embrace. If you’re working directly with an author client, you’re deeply concerned with helping the author achieve their vision for their book. But a publisher doesn’t care about that. They’re publishing the book because they think they can make some money from it. Your job is to keep the acquisitions editor who hired you happy, even if that makes the author sad.
  5. Don’t assume freelancing is a step towards staff employment. It’s possible that working as a freelancer for a publishing company could lead to a staff job, but don’t count on it. What publishers need from freelancers is fundamentally different from what they need from staffers.

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