The Freelance Editor’s Handbook: A complete guide to making your business thrive

Suzy Bills (University of California Press, 2021), 336pp, £20
ISBN 978 0 520 38133 9

Reviewed by Tanya Boughtflower

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Becoming a freelance editor is a daunting proposition for most. How do I set up a business? Where do I find work? How much should I be charging? The Freelance Editor’s Handbook steps in to hold the hand of the wary and guide the new business owner through the process of launching oneself into the world of freelance business. Please notice my emphasis on freelance business, and not on editing, as this handbook is really about starting your own business. If you are a newbie looking for tips and tricks specifically related to editing, this is not your guide.

Author Suzy Bills is a freelance editor herself, having successfully made the move from an in-house position. The handbook subsequently grew out of her experience teaching freelancing courses at Brigham Young University in the United States. In a well laid-out, thorough manner Bills walks the reader through the pros and cons of becoming a freelancer, the intricacies of setting up a new business in the United States, how to find clients and market your business, the necessity of work/life balance, and dealing with myriad financial considerations including American taxes and pensions. Also included in each are helpful samples, charts and checklists to explain, illustrate and summarise the content of each chapter.

As the book was written in consultation with entrepreneur Aaron Ostler, much of the information presented can be broadly applied to starting any freelance business and did not pertain specifically to editing. Such topics included choosing a business name, setting up a website and marketing through social media and traditional means. However, knowing that Bills has a background as a freelance editor herself provided the assurance that her suggestions were not simply boilerplate, and are suitable for the editing business.

Bills is a passionate advocate of freelancing as a lifestyle and the freedoms associated with it, noting that the freelancer sets their own rates, the amount of work they accept, and where and what hours they work. Although this notion is present throughout the book, chapter 3 is dedicated to putting it into practice through the establishment of a strategic mindset and goal setting. At times I found these sections verged a little too closely towards what one might hear from a motivational speaker (visualisations and affirmations), but at their core they include practical information about setting clear goals and adopting strategies to achieve them.

For me, the most useful chapters were ‘Winning at the Pricing Game’ and ‘Using Contracts and Invoices to Get Paid and Protect Yourself’. Choosing how to price projects has always been a quandary for me – by the word? Hour? Or project? Bills clearly lays out the pros and cons of each approach and methodologies for coming to an appropriate price. I have also adopted large parts of her sample contract into my own contracts, especially when dealing with American clients.

In my overall assessment of The Freelance Editor’s Handbook, I would feel confident recommending it to someone considering starting their own freelance editing business in the United States. For most members of CIEP, however, my endorsement of it is less wholehearted as much of the information, including a chapter devoted to taxes in the United States, refers specifically to the vagaries of the American situation. Certainly, some of her advice is broadly transferable, such as developing a business plan and considering the need for various types of insurance, but the specifics do not always apply. The resources available through the CIEP website, including Going Solo by Sue Littleford, may be better suited to members of CIEP located in the United Kingdom.

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