You may have heard the terms “copy editing” and “proofreading” used interchangeably in job ads or in discussions between you and a client. Both terms have similar definitions but the job functions are different. If a client asks you to copy edit, he wants you to revise his first draft of copy. Revising a first draft may include fixing misspellings and grammar mistakes, along with rewriting awkward sentences and eliminating redundant words, thus guaranteeing that ideas flow coherently. Copy editing is an elaborate editing process to make copy readable and useful.
Proofreading differs in that it is the last perusal before the client submits the document for whatever purpose (e.g., publication, printing, distribution, grading, archival, etc.). Proofreading still consists of fixing misspellings and grammar errors, but the proofreader may not have to reword sentences, rearrange ideas, and restructure entire paragraphs. A client may also ask the proofreader to make sure all photos are captioned and placed correctly, all hyperlinks work, sources are spelled correctly, titles of people are capitalized correctly, and so on.
Average Pay Rates in the Industry
Both copy editing and proofreading pay similar rates, assuming proofreading takes more time than copy editing. Rates depend on the overall project, your skill level, academic background, and amount of time to complete the project. If you have the minimum requirements to work as a proofreader or copy editor, you can earn between $15 and $30 an hour.
Charging by the hour or by the page is more common than charging a per word rate. Depending if you specialize or not, an aspiring copy editor or proofreader can ask for $2/page or $15-$25/hour. Seasoned copy editors and proofreaders can ask for $5-15/page or $20-$45/hour. I’ve seen job ads posted by Fortune 500 companies offer a pay rate of up to $65 an hour for copy editing work.
Your Level of Experience
Most likely you already understand the basic skills a copy editor or proofreader needs: superb grammar and spelling skills. You must have a razor-sharp eye to scrutinize minute details. Clients are relying on you for quality control. A client might need you to follow a specific style like AP Style or MLA Style; reword facts and scientific data; substitute foreign words with familiar words; double-check math formulas and equations; format footnotes and citations; and so on. The type of tasks that you will perform depends on the client and the type of project. Usually no two projects are ever the same. Control fanatics and nit-pickers make excellent proofreaders because they refuse to let mistakes slip by.
You will excel in this field if you have a two or four-year college degree in English or education. In a way this provides tangible proof that you have existing education in writing and editing. Clients will automatically assume that you have impeccable communication skills. Whether you have a college degree in this field or not, you still need to create a compelling portfolio that will convince prospective clients to hire you.
If you lack relevant education or previous experience–as many aspiring editors do–then you must find a way to show prospective clients that you have valuable skills. What have you written in the past week or month? Probably a lot of stuff if you are truly a writer. What have you written that sounds and looks professional? Have you written some type of formal document, like a resume, report, academic paper, or other? If you review all of your writings, you can probably find a handful of professional documents that you can include in your portfolio. If not, it’s time to get to work! It’s acceptable to create a document from scratch and use it in your portfolio. These samples will show prospective clients your skill level, writing and editing ability, and your professionalism.
Landing Copy Editing and Proofreading Jobs
Copy editing and proofreading jobs are always abundant and in-demand. Many individuals and businesses that hire freelance writers also hire copy editors and proofreaders to improve the same work. What good is an article if it is plagued with embarrassing misspellings and poorly-worded sentences? What good is a technical manual if the reader can’t follow the directions because the text is unreadable? Copy editing and proofreading are just as important as the writing. Imagine if government agencies, the military, scientific research institutes, magazine publishers, and big businesses never hired copy editors and proofreaders to peruse and polish their written documents. It would cause chaos and confusion in communication. Did you know one or two misspellings in a government-published document can cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars to redo and reprint the document? It happens many times.
Any place where you see copy is where you can find an opportunity for editing work. Individuals create resumes, authors produce manuscripts, companies create documents and presentations, students create essays … all of these people can and do use copy editors and proofreaders.
Whether you are just getting started or you are looking for more work, you can find copy editing and proofreading jobs at the popular job sites like CraigsList.org, Monster.com, Indeed.com, and CareerBuilder.com. These job sites display individual job ads posted by a business or staffing agency. You can always find freelance work at any of the well-known outsourcing marketplaces like Freelancer.com or Upwork.com. At these sites you bid on projects. To find relevant copy editing and/or proofreading jobs, simply type in the appropriate keywords, such as “proofreading,” “editing,” or “copy editing.” Landing one job usually leads to another job, and another job begins to generate ongoing work with the same clients or through referrals.
Depending on how you decide to find your next project, you may want to create your own business website to promote your services and showcase your work with past clients. An optimized website will also let prospective clients find you through Google.com, Bing.com and Yahoo.com, thus generating free advertising for your business. You can also link your website to your business profile on busy social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. A personalized website also lends more credibility to you and your services because it adds a special “human touch” and “human presence.”
How to Reply to a Job Ad
When you see a job ad that appeals to you, reply to it, addressing the requirements and interests of the client. Review this sample job ad and figure out what the client wants:
A busy travel agency in California needs a copy editor to read and proofread a 15-page vacation planner which is intended for people who want to travel to Rome this summer. The text is in MS-Word and runs 4,500 words. We need you to correct mistakes in the copy and make it read fluently and creatively before we add photos and print it. Experienced editors only.
This job ad is requesting an experienced editor. It does not specify how many years of experience that you need. If you know you are capable of working on this project, regardless if you have a portfolio of samples or not, you can still respond to the job ad. You never know if your skills are a perfect match for what the client is looking for.
In your response, address the needs of the job poster. Highlight your skills in editing copy. Do your best to feature samples or clips that relate to travel or vacation planning. Assure the job poster that you are knowledgeable and skilled to exceed his expectations.