How I Got Started as a Freelancer

Episode I: The Fandom Menace

In 1999, a Colorado company called Fantastic Media was the headquarters of the official Star Wars and Star Trek fan clubs. It sold licensed Star Wars and Star Trek merchandise and published three different magazines. And because of the hype leading up to the release of Star Wars: Episode I, business was booming! The company was growing fast. So, once I joined and became Editorial Assistant (which started as an internship as I worked toward my Creative Writing degree), I was able not only to learn the editorial side of the publication process, but also to help out with circulation, ad sales, and distribution for Star Wars Insider and Star Trek Communicator magazines. At one point, I was handling advertiser relations, coordinating production and distribution, and still proofreading every page of Star Trek Communicator. I also wrote several features and activities for Star Wars Kids magazine and the aborted Harry Potter magazine (we planned and created several issues before the licensing deal fell through). In this way, I came to know magazine publishing inside out.

I also learned where my interests and talents best applied. What I liked most about working on all those magazines was the editing process. It felt great to see excessively long articles with grammar, punctuation, and style issues turned into well-organized, readable passages that followed the rules and fit the space allowed. I fancied I was pretty good at it—that I could “bring out the best and shrink the rest.” One of the first pieces I edited that I was really proud of was a 1,400-word column that I reduced to 700 words.

E-learning E-lation at MicroMash

So, when Fantastic Media closed its doors in 2003, I was happy to take a Copy Editor role at MicroMash, where I worked on a very different type of content: computer-based learning courses for accountants. No accounting background necessary: I worked alongside technical editors who reviewed the courses for accuracy. I learned how to input changes and use tags in XML, as well as to select from different layout options and make sure the courses would be displayed nicely on users’ computer screens. However, by 2006 MicroMash had been sold to a Texas company. I was offered a position in Fort Worth, but I elected to stay in the Denver area and look for new work, because I had just settled down with my girlfriend and had a baby boy.

Ditching My Day Job for Diapers

After trying out a couple of different roles—one in educational publishing for kindergarten classrooms (the commute was too long) and another in advertising (the environment was too frantic)—in July 2007 I decided to transition to stay-at-home dad. Starting with a novel I copyedited in my free time for the editor of the humor website misinformer.com, I had proofread or edited several books as a freelancer already, and I was doing occasional contract work for MicroMash too. I had joined the Editorial Freelancers Association so that I could learn from other freelancers and access the EFA’s JobList. The plan was for me to be a full-time dad and part-time freelancer while my girlfriend went back to work.

But a few months later, our relationship ended, and I was left to raise a 2-year-old on my own. Suddenly I had to come up with enough money to pay all the bills. But with the recession underway, the job market had dried up. Finding an editorial position that didn’t require me to relocate seemed like trying to fish in a bathtub. Plus, I still wanted to spend as much time with my son as I could.

So I pursued freelance opportunities more urgently and started to market myself. I bought a web domain and designed my own site (thankfully, a friend helped me improve it). I created brochures using Microsoft Publisher, printed them at Kinko’s, and mailed them to potential clients. I soon formed productive long-term relationships with some publishing service companies and a publisher of psychology and self-help books. I registered Intelligent Editing as a trade name. (I considered incorporation, which some people advise, but I just never saw the need for it.)

Ten Years without Tenure

I’ve been doing purely freelance or contract work, sometimes full-time or overtime, for 10 years now. I’ve worked mostly on nonfiction trade and academic books, but I recently got the chance to copyedit another novel. I’ve also done editing and QA for training simulations; proofread for ad agencies and catalogs; edited press releases; edited transcripts; edited website copy; and edited articles for blogs.

Some day, I hope to work on a book about astronomy or numismatics, as those are two of my passions. It would also be great to work for a university press. But who knows what the future holds?

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