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

Last updated 23 March 2023

As a copyeditor, proofreader or indexer, you may think that getting yourself onto a publisher’s list of freelancers 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.

Avoiding playing ‘pin the tail on the donkey’

I have shepherded dozens of books through copyediting, typesetting, indexing and proofreading, and I also handle these stages on large, complex encyclopedias. As such, a big part of my day-to-day job consists of hiring other freelancers to carry out these tasks.

Sometimes I 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.

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 done properly 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 freelancers. But I won’t hire someone just because they’re on an approved 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 may not 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 themselves in their own words (how careful they are, how detail-oriented, how logical), you can’t really judge between them 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. I’m not interested in playing ‘pin the tail on the donkey’. So, once I’ve narrowed down my choices, I do more research by looking the candidates up in other sources.

Pin the tail on the donkey

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 Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) 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 CIEP 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.

Freelancers’ own websites are another great source of information. However, 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.

So here’s the point of this post.

A freelancer may be the most brilliant, highly qualified and helpful person I could ever hope to work with, but, if I can’t get a sense of that from the information that is available about them, I won’t offer them 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 and as thoroughly as you can be.

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 delivers editorial services that empower non-profits, charities, businesses and authors to confidently share their expertise and impact. An editor since 2009, she aims to see the big picture while pinpointing every detail. She has been described as ‘superhuman’ and a ‘secret weapon', but until Tony Stark comes calling she's dedicating her superpowers to text-based endeavours.


  1. Ebook Marketing UK on 1 March 2013 at 20:52

    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 2 March 2013 at 08:25

      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 1 March 2013 at 23:49

    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 2 March 2013 at 08:18

      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 2 March 2013 at 14:00

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

    • Hazel@WordstitchEdit on 2 March 2013 at 14:17

      Glad you found the post helpful, Jill!

  4. Lynn Watt on 5 March 2013 at 20:53

    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 5 March 2013 at 21:39

      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 6 March 2013 at 11:23

    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 6 March 2013 at 12:29

      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 6 March 2013 at 23:46

    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 7 March 2013 at 07:23

      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 […]

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