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?


Ad for Virtual Reality Device Contains Glitch. See for Yourself

According to Adweek, electronics company Samsung spends upward of $600 million a year on advertising in the United States alone.

For only about $0.05 million more a year, the people at Samsung could hire a competent proofreader.

Then they could avoid giving the impression that they gloss over details and/or cut corners in their rush to finish a product, whether it’s a TV commercial or a smartphone. That kind of thing’s important when you’re trying to get people to shell out $500 to $800. Read the rest of this entry »


Before and After: The Gettysburg Address

For this blog post, I thought it would be fun to take a famous speech and work backward, adding unnecessary words and phrases, making it so verbose as to be hard to recognize. I think my effort succeeds in showing how simplifications and reductions of the kind that a good copyeditor routinely makes can help a meandering piece of writing cut to the heart of the writer’s sentiment in a way that is truly memorable. Read the rest of this entry »


Do you need an editor?

Gary D. Robson

Yes.

That was a short article, wasn’t it?

At the MPIBA conference last weekend, just about everybody had stories to share of authors who don’t think they need an editor, or copyeditor, or proofreader. Most of them, in fact, don’t know the difference between those three (more on that in a moment). Well, if Stephen King needs an editor and a proofreader, so do you.

Let’s say you’ve just banged out an absolutely amazing 100,000-word novel. You have created unique and believable characters. Your have brought each scene to life, so that readers feel, see, smell, hear, and even taste the places in your book. And with the average word being about five letters long, you have pressed a half-million keys (not counting spaces and punctuation marks). The odds of doing that without a mistake are infinitesimal.

I’m sure you proofread your own work. If you’re like me, you’ve probably proofread…

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10 Ways for Writers and Editors to Trim a Piece without Losing a Shred of Content

Just as your time is valuable, so is your readers’. Who wants to read something longer when they could read something shorter?

In most kinds of writing, the fewer words you use to get your message across, the more impact your writing will have. If you use too many words, your readers will have trouble determining what’s truly important and will start to pay less attention. They’ll start skipping ahead and may miss crucial details and subtle turns of phrase. As a result, sooner or later they’ll wind up confused. If they’re still interested at that point, they may have to go back and reread. If that seems too tedious, they may just give up. To keep readers riveted, look for ways to reduce verbosity. Read the rest of this entry »


7NEWS Snafus

Denver’s Channel 7 ABC News (KMGH) is always making mistakes in heads, decks, captions, and so forth in its online and on-air news stories. In what’s bound to be the first of many blog entries, I’ll share some of them from recent times. Read the rest of this entry »


The Top Eight Websites I Can’t Live Without

Fact checking is a vital part of any copy editor’s job. Copy editors should check not only authors’ facts; they should also check their own facts when replying to authors in comments or queries. Because even copy editors can hold mistaken presumptions.

For example, I recently was preparing a reply to another editor’s blog post, in which I meant to illuminate the difference between homonyms and homophones (a difference I had not long before seen someone else point out in a LinkedIn discussion). Before I clicked “Post,” however, I did something important. I looked up the definition of “homonym.” Read the rest of this entry »