Upskilling Tips for Freelancing
By Amelia Bashford, Misha Manani and Rowan Groat
Freelancing is a brilliant career option with plenty of advantages, from working flexibly to being in control of the work you take on. Whether it is full-time or part-time, it is a great way to build your profile in the publishing industry and gain hands-on experience in whatever aspects you are interested in. We have spoken to two freelancers in publishing to find out more about their personal experience and to hear what advice they would give to those hoping to build a career in freelance. To finish off, we have also listed some useful resources and opportunities available to those interested in understanding more about freelancing in the publishing industry.
In Conversation with Rachel Rowlands (http://www.racheljrowlands.com/), Freelance Book Editor
You set up your own business in 2017. Why did you decide to freelance and how did you get started?
Rachel: “I have previously dealt with health issues that made being in a workplace and on public transport difficult. This was pre-pandemic, so there was not the same openness to remote or flexible working. I also live in Manchester, and I wanted to work in fiction publishing after leaving university, but I could not afford to move to London. I looked into ways I could work for myself instead. I started doing paid critiques for authors, as I have a degree in English and Creative Writing and write fiction myself. I managed to gain proofreading and copyediting experience for companies too. One of those was an IT publisher who was willing to give me a lot of guidance while I worked freelance for them; the other was a fiction publisher. I also took some training courses while building up my experience. It snowballed from there to where I am with my business today.”
For five years you have worked with various publishers from Hachette to Hashtag Press. How do you decide which books to take on?
“When I work with publishers, they usually send me an email asking if I am available on particular dates to work on a title, so availability and deadlines are the first thing I factor in. If I think the deadline is too tight, or I already have too much work on, I will decline. Publishers sometimes include the genre, and occasionally the premise, when emailing work offers. Sometimes I take into account content, for example, a publisher might warn me if a book contains something like animal abuse or self-harm, and depending on how graphic that is, I will decide if it is something I want to work on. Editing and proofreading are close, detailed work, so it is important to feel comfortable with the subject matter.”
What tips do you have for aspiring freelance book editors?
“I discovered helpful organisations quite late in my freelance journey. Joining organisations like The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has been great not only for learning but for forming a network. When you have your own business, you obviously work by yourself a lot, so connecting with others in your industry is so important. This does take time, but you can take that first step early on and build from there.”
We love that you work on a variety of genres from thrillers to fantasy. Could you tell us a little bit about a title that has been your favourite to work on?
“I have enjoyed working on Donna Ashcroft’s feel-good romances. I also loved proofreading the Warhammer fantasy book Dominion by Darius Hinks. I work on a lot of self-published books and there is so much talent in that sphere too. I am working on a YA fantasy series at the moment, which is steeped in folklore and magic, so that has been a lot of fun!”
What significant advantages and challenges have you faced whilst freelancing?
Advantages: “Flexibility and controlling my own time, working at home in comfort (with a cat on my lap, usually), doing something I love in publishing outside of London, the satisfaction of doing everything myself and building a business on my own.”
Challenges: “You wear many hats (there is no IT department to go to with a problem!), you have to constantly market yourself, and your income fluctuates. Also, doing your own taxes (ugh). “
“The good news is, if you are able to develop solid business skills, these things are not as scary as they seem and you can build a really stable career for yourself.”
In Conversation with Archna Sharma (https://neemtreepress.com), Founder of Neem Tree Press
What encouraged you to start your own publishing company and how did you get started?
“I could not find specific types of books for my two young sons and I also found it disturbing that few books were getting translated into English from other languages, whereas the flow the other way was a torrent. I also anticipated that it would be an intellectually rewarding path. It is a thrill to discover a debut author whose submission resonates with Neem Tree Press’s vision.”
As you work on a variety of international and British literature, how do you decide which books to take on?
“We assess obvious aspects like subject matter and writing style. However, we also look at any topical marketing hooks we could use to drive a publicity campaign. The latter is incredibly important, particularly when we deal predominantly, at least to date, with debut authors. We also look at how engaged the author is likely to be in marketing their book and if they already have a platform to do this from.”
What are your top tips for those hoping to start their own publishing company?
“Before you start, narrow your focus/genre and be clear about the market for your books and who your readership will be.”
“Do a (simple) financial model to make sure you understand the economics of the book business. Try to guarantee you account for any and all costs you might incur in getting a book from acquisition to sale.”
“Determine how much money you need to get started and be really focused on cash flow.”
“Build as large a pipeline of authors/books as you possibly can so you can secure a good distributor before you even think about actually going to print.”
“Gather your publishing infrastructure around you – editors, designers, production, publicity, sales and marketing, distribution.”
“Get a mentor who has been in the publishing world for some time or, even better, get work experience in a small publishing house where you are more likely to get some perspective on all aspects of the business and its processes.”
What are the advantages and challenges you have faced so far?
Advantages: “I work for myself and am in total control of both the decision-making and output.”
Challenges: “The challenges are significant if you are small and fairly broadly focused like we are. We get many fabulous direct submissions, but many do not fit with our list. We have taken on some agented books, but I suspect we need to be a little larger as a business before we actively go and seek books from agents. The struggle also is to narrow our focus, so we build a devoted readership, rather than having the relatively broad platform we have currently.”
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
“As an independent publisher, it is all about a narrow focus on readership, but no one in the industry articulated how important that is. I think if you have worked in the industry, a lot of knowledge would have seeped in through osmosis, but if you are coming in as an outsider, I think you need to immerse yourself in the publishing ecosystem to gain some experience before taking the plunge.”
Where do you see Neem Tree Press in the next ten years?
“We will continue to build an extremely robust backlist and frontlist, with an equal split between fiction and non-fiction. I would love the company to expand and become a home to many incredibly talented and driven people. And, of course, I anticipate us becoming extremely profitable with, hopefully, some fantastic sellers and prize-winning publications!”
The Publishing Training Centre: A useful blog post detailing some top tips and the perceived advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer.
BookMachine: Written by a self-employed writer and editor, this article covers what you need to know before becoming a publishing freelancer. Why not follow Kelly Urgan on Twitter for more freelancing insights?
Reedsy: Recommended by many, though it does come with its issues (you need to have already worked on at least three books as an editor/editorial assistant to sign up). However, it is a great way to build your portfolio and earn some decent money.
A Future in Freelancing: Pan Macmillan have partnered with Creative Access to create and deliver a remote two-day traineeship for those hoping to become a freelance proofreader. It is specifically open to individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.
We hope you enjoyed reading this double spread for Issue Thirty-Seven, and many thanks to both our interviewees for their useful insights! Join us again for Issue Thirty-Eight in which we will cover Upskilling Tips for Bookselling.