How to Start a Proofreading Business: Be your own boss, have more freedom, and make more money

Dillon Wakefield (privately published, 2019)

Available on Amazon

Reviewed by Alison Terry

This book caused a stir when it was mentioned on SfEPLine. Alison Terry bought the book out of curiosity and kindly offered to write this review as a warning to potential purchasers. Are its claims well founded, or is it a case of buyer beware?

The curiosity of the SfEP forum was aroused in May 2019 by the release of this intriguing book, published independently by ‘Dillon Wakefield’. It wasn’t just the eager optimism of the subtitle that attracted interest, but the elusive identity of the author, who seems to have left no online footprint whatsoever.

The inclusion on the back cover of an undeleted instruction to the typesetters, ‘Basically just do the covers as you’ve always done them. I’ve liked the designs you’ve created for me thus far!’, caused a ripple of schadenfreude and aroused suspicion that the author might be hastily adapting generic entrepreneurial advice for various markets – hence, perhaps, writing under a different pseudonym for each book.

I just had to buy it (£2.32 on Kindle) to find out – if only to get my hands on the instructions for ‘How to quickly scale your business to the six figure level’!

Sure enough, apart from a few brief passages that specifically describe proofreading (listing superficial details that could have been gleaned from a quick Google search), the content could apply to just about any startup business. It was interesting to learn, however, that ‘the main objective of a proof-reader is to ensure absolute perfection in a written document’. Blimey!

Much of the advice seems better suited to sales or retail work – such as the emphasis on aggressive marketing, obtaining long-term commitment from clients, maintaining a conspicuous online presence, and so on. An enthusiastic suggestion to offer the tenth job free by way of a sales incentive is particularly hard to visualise in the setting of editorial work. The suggestions offered range from the mundanely obvious (switch off the TV while working; don’t write job bids all in uppercase) to the truly remarkable. Hey, why not mention potential clients in a blog post, then ‘take a moment and contact them by informing them about how you mentioned them’?

A disclaimer in the foreword mentions that ‘any … recommendations that are made within are done so purely for entertainment value’, and the topic of price setting certainly has comedic resonance. The new entrepreneur must remain competitive, yet is also urged: ‘When a client asks you to give them a ballpark quote, you can vaguely answer that it will cost anything between $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the expectations of the client and the scope of the job’. Other advice is equally paradoxical, such as keeping a separate 9-to-5 job while also committing yourself fully to building the business; and not drawing any salary for the first couple of years, yet employing other freelancers to cope with the massive workload that all your pushy marketing is bound to generate.

I’d hate to give the impression that success, particularly financial success, is not possible in this line of work. I certainly make a good living out of it now, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Could I have made millions overnight, if only I’d read this book? Browsing it made me consider what my own top tips for success would be – and they involve things that aren’t mentioned at all, like humanely disposing of pets, children and noisy partners; being ready to reshuffle Outlook bookings; and, last but by no means least, a natural aptitude for the work. ‘Dillon’ implies that anyone can do it with a certain amount of tenacity, but this is rather misleading; I suspect there might be a bit more to it than he realises.

Reviews of other editorial guides All book reviews