Why being on a publisher’s list might not be enough to get you work

As a copy-editor, proofreader or indexer, you may think that getting yourself onto a publisher’s list is the holy grail of freelancing  and will be enough to get you hired regularly.

However, it’s often the case that the people on publishers’ lists who receive regular work have done so for years, and always work with the same contacts. Newbies to the list, and freelancers whose contacts move on, may find themselves languishing at the bottom of the pile, receiving little or no work.

I’m a freelance editor and project manager, and as such I both try to get myself hired and hire other people. So, I’ve occasionally experienced that frustrating languishing feeling myself, but also found myself rejecting the same names on publishers’ lists time after time, project after project.

Let me explain why this might happen and what you can do about it.

Pin the tail on the donkey

I shepherd between 10 and 15 books a year through copy-editing, typesetting, indexing and proofreading. As such, a big part of my day-to-day job consists of hiring other freelancers to carry out these tasks.

I’m very experienced at what I do, but I’ve only been freelance since 2009 and so often find myself hiring freelancers ‘blind’ – with no experience of working with them and no personal recommendation. Great for the people on the list who aren’t getting hired, you might think. But not so fast.

Pin the tail on the donkey

Before approaching someone with a job offer, I do a fair bit of research. Aside from the fact that I want to get the best and most suitable freelancer for each project, I could be working with this person for several months, and the fallout from them doing a bad job could make my life seriously irritating for much longer than that. I know this because, though the majority of my subcontractees have been fabulously talented and delightful specimens of humanity, a small minority have caused delays and hours of painstaking work to set right what they should have got right first time.

This is not my idea of fun, and in any case I value my evenings and weekends. So, like I say, I do research in an attempt to avoid this minority.

My starting point is often the above-mentioned publisher’s list of approved freelancers. But here’s my secret: I will not hire you just because you’re on a publisher’s list. However stringent publishers’ vetting procedures, there are people on lists who are less good than others (and a tiny minority who leave me wondering how they ever got on the list in the first place).

So, lists are a great starting point. But they are not enough, for three reasons:

  1. They are usually less comprehensive than broader directories (more on these below), having only a few fields of information and fairly basic details about people.
  2. Publishers don’t have time to keep their lists fully up to date with freelancers’ evolving specialisms and experience. And, equally, you usually can’t tell if someone did all their qualifications in 1985 and hasn’t updated their skills since.
  3. Such lists give no sense of the person – until you see how someone presents herself in her own words (how careful she is, how detail-oriented, how logical), you can’t really judge between her and another candidate.

When I hire someone, I want more information about them than a name, a brief list of qualifications and a list of subjects. So, once I’ve narrowed down my choices, I do more research by looking the candidates up in other sources.

So, just who are you?

The main sites I look at (note that I’m working from a UK perspective here) are:

  1. Directories such as those of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the Society of Indexers
  2. Freelancers’ own websites
  3. LinkedIn

All three allow a lot of detail and can be updated often. All three can serve as fabulous advertisements of a freelancer’s skills. And all three make the jobs of people like me much easier, in terms of matching up freelancers and projects.

The best sources are the SfEP and Society of Indexers directories. They provide all the key information, with the bonus that I know that the freelancers listed (a) will be qualified and experienced and (b) take themselves seriously enough as editorial professionals to pay to advertise their services. But sometimes I don’t find a freelancer on these sites – because of the cost, some excellent freelancers may not find it financially worth it.

Freelancers’ own websites are another great source of information. However, they can be costly and time consuming to set up (though they don’t have to be). Another factors is that I would never find a freelance directly through their site – i.e. by Googling. I would always go to the site for more information after finding the freelancer through another source.

The third option, LinkedIn, is therefore where I often find myself looking. And it should be an obvious starting point for many freelancers. It’s free and easy to set up, it’s easily searchable and it can hold all the information anyone would ever want to know about you.

But here’s where I often get stuck, and where those same names on publishers’ lists end up getting rejected again and again. A LinkedIn profile is a basic first step for letting people know more about you and your business, yet it’s amazing how many freelancers don’t have one (let alone their own website or a directory entry). I frequently try to research freelancers whose names I’ve found on a publisher’s list, only to find absolutely no trace of them anywhere in the great ether of cyberspace.

So here’s the point of this post.

You may be the most brilliant, highly qualified and helpful freelancer I could ever hope to work with, but, if I can’t get a sense of that from the information that is available about you, I won’t offer you work. You don’t necessarily need a fancy website or an entry in a professional directory (though both certainly help to make you look more professional and legitimate). Just make sure you’re findable somewhere and that, when you’re found, you’re represented as well as you can be.

In my next post I’ll explain what I look for in a freelancer’s LinkedIn profile.

Are there other project managers out there who experience this problem researching freelancers? Or are you a freelancer who’s found that joining LinkedIn or another directory has got you work (or not!)?

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. Ebook Marketing UK on March 1, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    This is a really interesting article and shows just how important keeping up to date with online marketing / social media really is in today’s world. Thanks for sharing; looking forward to hearing about the LinkedIn profile tips which will be very useful to self published authors too.

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 2, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Hi Rebecca – interesting that you mention self-publishing. In the same way that a brilliant book may never be found by readers if it’s not marketed properly, a brilliant freelancer may never be found if she/he doesn’t make her/himself findable. Glad to hear you found the post helpful! Best, Hazel.

  2. Sarah Nisbet on March 1, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Hello Hazel,

    What an interesting read, thank you. It’s really helpful to get an insight into the way that you (and, I’m sure, other editors/project managers) approach the hiring of freelancers.

    I’m off to make sure that my profiles are up to date…

    Best wishes,


    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 2, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Hi Sarah – delighted you found the post interesting! I hope others do too. Best, Hazel. P.S. I love your website’s background!

  3. Jill R. Hughes on March 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the reminders, Hazel. I need to update my LinkedIn profile!

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Glad you found the post helpful, Jill!

  4. Lynn Watt on March 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Hi Hazel
    This is interesting – and reflects my own experience! I don’t have a website of my own but I am an Associate of the SfEp, finding the cost of membership a little off-putting. But LinkedIn has been the most useful for me in showcasing what I can actually do – and for obtaining some work, widening my professional contacts, and learning more about developments within publishing as well.

    Best wishes, Lynn

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Lynn

      Great to hear that you’ve had success with LinkedIn – ‘showcase’ is a great word for how LI profiles can best be used. Glad you found the post interesting.

      Best, Hazel.

  5. Julia Bodie on March 6, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Hi Hazel,

    I found your post of great interest.

    I have to admit, that I was put off joining the SfEP when I first started freelancing as a proofreader/copy editor, due to the costs involved at the time! However, it may be something I should now look into.

    My LinkedIn profile has gained me some commercial proofreading and editing work, but I have yet to break into editing for publishers. The novels that I have edited to date, have been for private individuals – you have to obtain business where you can in this depressed economy.

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Julia

      Thanks for your comment – interesting to hear about what’s worked for you. I too was slightly sceptical about the cost of the SfEP at first, but for me it has been hugely worth it (my directory entry brings me most of my business – clients seem to trust it, and as a PM I certainly do!).

      Best, Hazel

  6. Rachel Daven Skinner on March 6, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Hazel, thanks for the great info! I’m in the process of having a website designed, including custom artwork, so glad to hear websites rank highly. 🙂

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on March 7, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Hi Rachel – glad you found the post useful. I hope your website does well for you!

  7. […] this post I explained why, where possible, I will only hire copy-editors and proofreaders I can read about […]

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.