11 Jan 2024

Working freelance

Click any of the frequently asked questions below to see the corresponding answer.

Freelance or freelancer?

Which one is correct?

While ‘freelance’ and ‘freelancer’ are both interchangeable as nouns, the latter is the CIEP’s preferred style and is used throughout this website.

Is freelance proofreading or copyediting a viable way of making a living?

Many CIEP members make a living from freelance proofreading, copyediting and related skills in publishing. Rates of pay vary widely and it takes time to get established.

The CIEP guide Going Solo can help you with those vital first steps.

How can I find work?

There are a number of ways to drum up work:

  • Personal contacts are the most successful way of getting work. If you have had an editorial job in house, tell everyone – at your old company and elsewhere – that you are going freelance, giving them all your contact details and a good idea of what you can offer. Use Christmas cards to remind people that you are available, and read trade journals so that you can drop colleagues a line when they are promoted or change job. Use any excuse to keep in touch.
  • Networking is the active pursuit of professional contacts. The CIEP offers networking opportunities through its local groups, forums, professional days and annual conference. You can find information about publishing and 'chat' to like-minded people by visiting the CIEP's Facebook page and by following @TheCIEP on X. You might also wish to join organisations like Business Link, chambers of commerce and other business forums.
  • Directories – The CIEP maintains a searchable online Directory of Editorial Services offered by our Professional and Advanced Professional members. It is secure, can be updated at any time and has proved to be one of the major benefits of CIEP membership. Various other directories online also list people offering freelance editorial work; however, their success rates (for the freelancer) can be quite patchy. Check up on them carefully before contributing your details; many of them, unlike the CIEP Directory, can be used by spammers to harvest email addresses.
  • Advertising – As a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member, you can take an entry in the CIEP Directory, but you can also advertise. Business cards are one obvious way to promote yourself; your own website is another. Advertising in the trade press (The Bookseller, Publishing News) may be expensive, but an advert in Yellow Pages is free – though some people say this makes you the target of marketing campaigns. You can send leaflets to local businesses – find them in the local Thomson Directory and from business groups – or get together with complementary freelancers (e.g. designers, typesetters, translators) to offer a one-stop shop.

Can you refer me to people who will give me work?

As a professional body, the CIEP is not licensed to act as a recruitment agency. It does, however, provide various opportunities for its members to get work (see above).

What are my chances of getting work?

Variable, particularly at the start. You will be competing with the established workforce, many of whom trained in a publishing company and have years of experience. And you will be vying for jobs with the many newcomers who are doing the same as you. You need to get experience and a track record. It's a Catch-22 situation.

However, some areas of publishing are more in need of freelancers than others. If you have a specialism, you stand a better chance of finding work with publishers producing publications in your subject. For example, if you have a degree in engineering or law, or can cope with medicine or complex mathematics, you will probably get more business than if you are hoping to work on bestselling novels.

CIEP members are also finding new markets for their skills and services among self-publishers and non-publishers – industry, commerce, charities, local government – in fact, any enterprise or individual that produces text. However, if they have not used editorial professionals before, you may need to persuade them to try you. 

Why is the CIEP so pessimistic about new freelancers finding work?

The vast majority of our members confirm that it's really difficult to build up an adequate client list if you don't have either specialist knowledge or contacts in publishing, or both. We also find that newcomers underestimate how much there is to learn, how high their standards have to be and how long it takes. It helps to be businesslike and able to sell yourself.

Even these advantages may not be enough. Publishers are trying to reduce costs by eliminating or severely curtailing the editorial work done on their books, journals and websites, and often do not value the skills that were formerly expected. Many publishers now send proofreading and copyediting work abroad, to save money.

You need to be very determined, very patient and set on this career to succeed. You also (usually) need another source of income for a while.

How can the CIEP help me?

In all sorts of ways. Apart from our name, our Professional Practice Code and the Directory, we offer classroom training, distance learning, local groups, a conference, forums and other support, including free legal advice for members at our professional grades. We have been told the CIEP forum is 'worth its weight in gold' (though we haven't weighed it) and there are specialist forums too, including one for 'newbies'. In fact our whole membership is one big network for help, advice and contacts, as well as a great way of keeping in touch.

What's the pay like as a freelancer?

Usually not very good. Every year the CIEP publishes suggested minimum hourly rates for freelance proofreading, copyediting and project management, but they cannot be enforced; in any case, each individual freelancer has to agree their rates with each client. There are always some who will work for less than these rates, especially when starting out or working on a project of particular interest, and many publishers habitually pay less – some much less – than the suggested minimums.

You are unlikely to have a steady flow of work, at least until you are more experienced and established. The usual pattern is 'feast or famine' and even then 20% of our members consider themselves under-employed. Your overheads – computer, printer, scanner, supplies, postage – may be higher than you think, even if working from home, and you need to put aside money for replacements, sick pay, pension, tax, professional development and holidays.

How do I get a client to pay me?

This is not really an area where the CIEP can help. Professional and Advanced Professional Members can also get free legal advice from the legal helpline – a 24-hour telephone advisory service on all legal and related problems. Many members report slow payment, but non-payment is rare. The Better Payment Practice Campaign is an extremely useful source of information, especially about your legal rights.

This topic is regularly discussed on the CIEP's forums, where the more experienced can advise. Ensuring that you get paid is, of course, a prime function of a trade union – the National Union of Journalists is the union for freelance editors and proofreaders.

Can a freelancer work for just one client?

For His Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC – what used to be known as the Inland Revenue) to consider you to be self-employed/freelance, you really need to work for a number of clients. If you work for just one or even two, HMRC may decide that you should be on the company payroll, with National Insurance and PAYE deductions.

Attaining self-employed status in the eyes of HMRC (and keeping it) can be a minefield – check out its Employment Status page.

Can I find editorial work if I live outside the UK?

The CIEP has a number of members outside the UK. More important than your location are the skills you have to offer. Wherever you are, if you can edit or proofread material written in (or translated into) English, there will be companies or government agencies or website owners who need your services.

Editorial work is now truly international, with editors or proofreaders often working for clients in other countries. Payment may be a problem though – you have little or no protection if a foreign client chooses not to pay you – and bank charges and exchange rates can make a big difference to what you eventually receive.


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