Nope, that’s not a typo. A lot of digital ink is expended by freelance copy-editors and proofreaders on how many hours a day they spend working. Sometimes, this ends up being couched in rather restrictive language: at one extreme, there are people who are so beaten down with all the work they’ve been offered that they never get a weekend off, and, at the other, there are those who declare it’s impossible to edit more than a few hours a day without losing concentration and making mistakes. (Of course, there are many discussions too that buck this dichotomous trend – Sophie Playle’s recent post ‘How Many Hours a Day Does an Editor Work?’ is one example.)

So, to avoid any possibility it might look like I’m trying to say what I think editorial freelancers ‘should’ do, I’ve deliberately titled this post ‘a day in a life’ – just one life, with one set of personal and business goals, one personality, and one set of health circumstances, all of which are unique to this particular editor and project manager’s life.

That being said, I enjoy reading about how other freelancers pattern their work and I think we can all learn from these kinds of discussions, so I hope you find this example day illuminating in some way!

One day

Monday, 7:00 am        I begin the day by finishing off the edit of a 60,000-word book for an academic who wants a language polish before he sends the manuscript to his publisher. The book is highly complex and philosophical so, once I’ve reached the end and done a few global checks for slips and things I might have missed, I set it to one side to percolate in my head for a couple of days before I send my queries to the author.

09:30 am         Edit done, I cuddle a coffee while checking through the emails that have come in over the weekend. I owe the Society for Editors and Proofreaders short contributions to a couple of blog posts so I draft those out.

10:00 am         One of my current long-term projects is the management of a multi-million-word encyclopedia containing well over a thousand entries. I’m also copy-editing part of it and I have a number of authors’ replies to my copy-editing queries saved and ready to implement in my master files. The idea at this point is to be as thorough as possible resolving issues with the authors so that the next stage (proofreading) will go nice and smoothly. I make sure all of the authors’ changes adhere to the project’s style sheet – a document of 64 pages (and counting) that I’ve created and am maintaining with the other copy-editors. I have a couple of follow-up queries for the authors so I finish up by emailing those out.

11:00 am         That’s enough for now. I pop into town (the picturesque city of Wells, Somerset) to pick up some bits and pieces and then return for some lunch. I do intermittent fasting so this is the first time I’ve eaten today. Aside from the health benefits, I find it gives me a nice clear head when I’m working in the mornings.

12:30 pm         Back at my desk, I make my way through some emails and action some reminders in my database (a management system I designed in Microsoft Access to track my schedules and accounts). I also exchange a couple of emails with two fellow editors with whom I run the Mid-Somerset local group of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. We have an upcoming meeting on Thursday and need to let our members know what the theme for discussion will be.

1:00 pm           A bit of Twitter, then I’m on to an ongoing proofreading and collation job on a contributed volume (i.e., a book where each chapter is written by a different author). I had some queries for the client on how they’d like me to approach certain aspects of the proofreading and had put the work to one side. However, I now have answers, so I can move forward with the project, which includes liaising with authors about their corrections and incorporating them with my own.

1:30 pm           Catching up with another collation job, this time for a project I’m also managing. It’s a book of over 100 chapters (again, with different authors for each chapter) that’s already been through the copy-editing stage and is now being proofread and indexed. I’ve engaged a professional proofreader and indexer and they’re currently doing their respective things, and meanwhile I’m receiving corrections from the authors ready to add them to the proofreader’s amendments later on. I put a lot of hard work into editing the book, and I’m happy to see this has paid off in a clean set of proofs that requires very few corrections.

2:10 pm           A short break for more coffee and some porridge, then a quick phone call with my assistant to clarify some details about a filing task he’s doing for me (on these big projects, there’s a lot of admin to handle!).

2:45 pm           A new job! This is a big new title in the health and fitness world and I’m excited to be starting it. I checked it over and did some holistic clean-ups of the manuscript a little while back when it first arrived, so now I remind myself of what I’ve already done, re-read my brief from the client, and get stuck in.

4:00 pm           In some ways, beginning a job is the hardest part. However, in this brief period of time, I’ve added styles and typesetting codes to the skeleton elements of the book, started to put together a style sheet, and begun to get a sense of what issues I’m going to need to look out for as I work through the edit. That done, it’s a beautiful spring day here on the edge of the Mendip Hills and it’s time to take the dog out and get myself some free vitamin D. Then I’ll probably come back and do an hour more on the new job this evening after I’ve (temporarily) assuaged my current obsession with the exploits of Captain Jean-Luc Picard & Co.

Cornfield in the Mendip Hills
Walking in the Mendip Hills

Days vary, and I’m perhaps a little unusual as I’m a project manager as well as a copy-editor and proofreader. I usually have between eight and fifteen projects in progress at any one time (wildly varying in size – from a few hundred words to a few million). Some days I focus intensively on editing one project; on others I do very little editing and flit between projects, managing issues and planning upcoming stages. Like other freelancers, I also have paperwork and marketing to do. So I get quite a bit of variety, which might partly be why I’m comfortable (at least for now) working fairly long days.

There’s a saying among a community of fitness vloggers on YouTube that I rather like: ‘You do you, and I’ll do me.’ So, to return to the point at the start of this post, while it’s great to listen to others’ experiences and learn from them where there are benefits in it for you, most importantly find a way of working that suits your circumstances and life goals. Focus on doing your freelance life in a way that suits you.

About Hazel Bird

Hazel is an editorial project manager, copyeditor and proofreader who works with businesses, charities, publishers, academics and students to make their projects happen. She was once described as ’superhuman’ and is still wondering whether this is a good thing.

1 Comment

  1. SfEP members blog round-up May 2017 on June 7, 2017 at 8:31 am

    […] A day in the life of a freelance copy-editor and editorial project manager by Hazel Bird […]

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