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, 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?

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 »

When Should I Use a Semicolon?

The semicolon is perhaps the least understood punctuation mark. Rather than try to wrangle this mythical half-colon half-comma beast, some writers steer completely clear of it, but doing so can lead to comma splices,* which are just as bad as an improperly used semicolon. Other writers pepper their prose with semicolons because they think it lends sophistication. However, excessive use of semicolons can seem pretentious or overelaborate. A third category of writers are hesitant to use semicolons in their writing; they use them from time to time but never feel quite sure whether they’ve done so correctly.

Yet the rules are quite simple. There are two major uses of the semicolon… Read the rest of this entry »

“If” vs. “Whether”

This week, I’ve created a new category of blog post called “Advanced Grammar.” This category is for the things they don’t teach you in school, even in college. This category is also for controversial grammar-related issues or those that I can’t find a satisfactory answer to, some of which I’ve already written about here and here. Without further ado, let’s examine “if” and “whether.”

Both “if” and “whether” are meant to be used when discussing possibilities or uncertain events. There is, however, a slight distinction, and saying “if” when “whether” would be more appropriate is one of those colloquialisms (i.e., common phenomena in speech) that often makes its way into formal writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Between vs. Among

OK, so a mistake here isn’t going to make or break you, but there is a difference between “between” and “among,” so why not learn it? If all of the following sentences sound right to your ears, read on.

A. It came down to a contest between Sally, Greg, and Consuelo for class president.
B. I couldn’t decide between lavender and strawberry scented air freshener.
C. Neil Armstrong truly was a giant among men.
D. Katniss decided that the forest was the safest place; she could easily hide among the trees.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leaving the Body

This has nothing to do with astral projection or any other form of out-of-body experience…but, inspired by a recent article in Discover magazine, here are five ways for writers to “leave the body.”

  1. Kick with your feet.
  2. Listen with your ears.
  3. Look with your eyes.
  4. Smell with your nose.
  5. Think with your mind.

All five of these verbs describe actions performed with, or processes involving, a certain part (or parts) of the body. The crossed-out part goes without saying. So don’t say it! This is what I mean by leaving the body: if the body part that’s doing the action is self-evident or can be guessed at with a bit of common sense, leave it out of your writing. Read the rest of this entry »

A Couple Shades of Gray

My wife enjoys reading popular novels of the day, so it was no surprise when I saw a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James lying around the house. The paper cover was bent, however, revealing to my casually roving eye the author bio on the first page. I was only looking at it absentmindedly, but I guess a couple of problems drew my full attention toward it.

The first sentence reads: Read the rest of this entry »

Gems Are Made by Cutting

This week’s is a quick but timely entry (I also plan to add to an earlier post, “Adieu to ‘you’ but more of ‘your'”).

The other day, I heard a radio spot for a well-known local diamond retailer (okay, why not? The Shane Company) talking about how—if I recall correctly—similar diamonds can receive different grades “depending on where the occlusions are located inside the diamond.”

Two problems with this. Read the rest of this entry »