Top tips

We’ve compiled two sets of top tips from our membership – one from the point of view of project managers and managing editors, and one from the perspective of freelance copyeditors and proofreaders.

Rooted in years of experience, they highlight the points that are important to bear in mind when producing a readable publication without breaking the bank. Choose the set that's most appropriate to your role or read both to get a better understanding of how everyone can best work together on editorial projects.

21 top tips to make the most of your project manager or managing editor

Here we present tips from the perspective of a project manager or managing editor for anyone brought into an editorial project for a specific copyediting or proofreading task. They detail the most important things that, from the manager's point of view, are required to produce the best publication possible, and give an insight into what a manager appreciates, expects and desires.


When receiving the work
  • When taking on a project, be realistic about the time you have available. Manuscripts are almost always delivered late so you may have to overlap projects, but watch out for potential logjams. Tell me when you expect to start, because I'll know if the text can't sit around for a week. And if you really don't have time, say so: you'll be respected for your honesty.

  • Use your common sense and don't accept work that's beyond your expertise.

When receiving the work
  • As soon as you receive a job, check that all the material is present and review the brief thoroughly. I've put time and effort into making the brief as clear, comprehensive and concise as possible and every detail is relevant to your task. Make sure you understand the brief and ask sensible questions where necessary – if you don't understand it, the chances are someone else won't either. Let me know immediately if there's anything missing or if you need additional information or are in doubt about what to do or what areas your role covers. I can deal with these things only if you let me know.
  • Please contribute your expertise. If you notice aspects of the job that aren't covered by the brief, or a better way of working presents itself on reading the material, discuss this with me as soon as possible and tell me what needs to be done. On second or subsequent proofs, however, don't contradict style decisions already taken; this raises new problems and increases the time and budget for corrections.
While doing the work
  • Retain the author's voice, even if you prefer a different way of expressing things: it's their text.
  • Keep a style sheet, listing your decisions regarding spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation, etc. as well as any assumptions and decisions you've made during the project. Please include this when you return the work.
  • Communication is an important element of the editorial process, so make it a rule to keep everyone informed. Give regular progress updates and tell me about any discussions with the author.
  • Please keep me informed about the quality of a manuscript, particularly if it's in a poorer state than you've been led to expect and it will take longer than anticipated to pull together. If the work is taking longer than expected, tell me as soon as possible, giving reasons and evidence. That way there's scope to renegotiate the timing and/or fee we'd previously agreed, if appropriate, and consider any impact on production schedules.
  • Please do ask questions about the work, rather than struggling in the dark and hoping you've made the right decision. But use your judgement: be sure to make the decisions it's your job to make and don't question every tiny detail. When you have queries, assess whether you should get in touch straightaway or whether you should wait until you've stored up a batch, to avoid asking isolated questions. Remember, some problems will resolve themselves as you become more familiar with the text and you'll probably get to know it better than I do. But if an issue is crucial or affects the whole book, getting advice early on will save everyone time and avoid a last-minute headache. Please keep your communications succinct, giving examples and precise references.
  • If you need to phone because an issue is complicated and/or urgent, please remember that I'm working on lots of projects, so tell me who you are and which project you're working on and check that I'm free to talk before launching into a long discussion.
  • When sending me a list of queries, give me enough time to respond. Queries are usually tricky and I may need a few days to contact publishers, commissioning editors, authors, etc. in order to get the right answer.
  • It's good to notify me and let me step in if authors are not responding to queries, etc. I always tell them when I've sent a book to an editor, so authors should have cleared some time as per their contract.
  • Be economical with my time. If it's obvious that I'm snowed under, please save that not-so-crucial question for another day.
  • Be a team player and remember that everyone is under the same pressures as you. Establish a good working relationship with me and with all other freelancers and third-party project members, such as graphic designers and typesetters, so that I don't get embroiled in differences of opinion. Be quietly confident in your own skills and expertise and express your views fairly without being too insistent. Be aware that we all have complementary talents to contribute according to our particular tasks.
  • Please be tactful and patient with authors and phrase your queries so that they're quick and easy to answer. It's helpful when you suggest solutions to which authors can say just yes or no. The same applies to the queries you present to me.
  • Be reliable: always meet your deadlines without being chased. This will also help your reputation. Keep me well informed of planned holidays and let me know about unexpected illness or absences as soon as possible: I'm usually understanding of personal circumstances but more likely to be supportive if I'm aware of the situation upfront. A bit of flexibility is also appreciated at times – for example, working a bit later than usual to finish a job. If it looks as though you'll miss the handover date, let me know at least a few days in advance: I may need to advise others, reduce your workload or find someone else to complete the job.
When returning the project
  • When returning a job, please list what you're sending back so I can check that I have it all. Draw my attention clearly and succinctly to any important issues, such as outstanding queries or design issues. Don't return a job on the deadline saying you haven't had time to check it thoroughly: this leaves me doubting the state of the manuscript with no time to rectify it. Rather ring in advance to negotiate an extension, or specify the tasks you won't be able to complete, so that another person can be briefed.
  • If not specified in the brief, check how the work should be returned. Reliable and timely delivery is crucial so I may have assumed you'll use Special Delivery if returning hard copy.
  • Even when you meet a tight deadline, please understand that, because I'm dealing with many projects at the same time, I can't give you feedback as quickly as both of us would like.
  • When you're chasing up payment, I'll usually help you, but try to get a named contact in the finance department to deal with your enquiry.
  • It's good to remind me if you're available for work, but try to avoid 'spamming' or over-frequent phone calls soliciting assignments. This takes up my time and may be counter-productive for gaining future work.

21 top tips to make the most of your freelance copyeditor or proofreader

Here we present tips from the perspective of a project manager or managing editor for anyone brought into an editorial project for a specific copyediting or proofreading task. They detail the most important things that, from the manager's point of view, are required to produce the best publication possible, and give an insight into what a manager appreciates, expects and desires.


While planning your project
  • Keep the manuscript simple. If you're an author, consider how best to prepare your manuscript. If you're an in-house editor, brief your authors on manuscript preparation.
  • Be clear about the difference between editing and proofreading and why they are equally important. Please see the CIEP’s FAQs on the difference between copyediting and proofreading if you're not sure.
  • Be aware that getting a manuscript into shape takes time. Be upfront about your budget and be realistic about what you can expect me to do for the money that you have available.
  • Know what different freelancers do and be aware of our particular specialisms and skills.
  • Choose someone who has good training and/or experience and the relevant subject specialism, where possible. Having chosen me, trust me. And if I'm willing and able to take on more responsibility, consider using me as a project manager.
  • Smooth the way for a good author–editor relationship. If you're an author, know what to ask me to do and be clear about what you expect from me. If you're a desk editor, check that the author will be available at the right time to answer my queries or consider passing on my name and say that I'll be in touch in due course.
  • Recognise that, as well as editing and proofreading, a house style is essential to ensure a high-quality product. If you don't have a style guide, please commission a CIEP member to help you compile one, which can include specifying a published reference book. The CIEP guide Your House Style: Styling your words for maximum impact may help.
  • Please don't send me a contract full of jargon and legalese that doesn't apply to me as a self-employed freelancer. If you don't have a suitable contract, you may find that I have terms and conditions that are acceptable to you. 
  • Brief your freelancers well, pay them reasonably and promptly, and make the most of their expertise. If you do, you will get the best freelancers, who will ease your burden considerably, stay in business and be loyal to you.
When sending work
  • Keep me in the loop. Give plenty of notice of work that will be arriving on my desk and let me know in reasonable time if the schedule changes. I'm then much more likely to be able to rearrange my other work and deliver your work by your deadline.
  • Don't give artificial or short deadlines that make me work long hours when I don't need to! But if you want me to work nights or weekends, please be prepared to pay extra for it.
  • Please ensure that you provide me with all the necessary final documents to edit or proofread and the relevant information about the project and the people involved.
  • A concise but comprehensive brief will allow me to make decisions without pestering you and will save you time, money and problems further down the line. Look over the whole text, or at least a couple of inner chapters, before writing a brief – the first chapter may not be representative of the whole text. Think through what you want me to do and, if you haven't had time for a good look, tell me what you haven't assessed.
  • It pays to build a close working relationship with me. Ask me if there are ways that my job could be made easier or more efficient. You may not be able to do anything but occasionally something that doesn't take up much of your time will save a lot of mine.
  • Pick my brains. Many freelancers have years of experience and varied client lists so I may well have come across similar issues before. You're hiring an expert – I can save you from reinventing the wheel.
While doing the work
  • Treat me as part of the team that will bring your publication to fruition. Encourage me to ask questions as necessary to clarify the brief or devise solutions to any problems that I may spot.
  • Be aware that I often have several projects on the go. When you phone me, ask if it's a convenient time. Also remember that I may not be able to start your job immediately.
  • Please tell me if you're going on holiday or on leave and whom to contact instead, especially if my deadline falls during your absence. If you work in-house and are leaving your position, please introduce me to your replacement.
After I've signed off
  • Please acknowledge receipt of work when it comes in. This is very important for both of us.
  • Set aside some time (perhaps 20 minutes) to give constructive feedback at the end of the job. Let me know if I've done a good job or if there's anything I did that wasn't wanted or could have been done differently – including any areas in which I could have used the time better – and whether queries were phrased appropriately.

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