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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
So, just who are you?
The main sites I look at (note that I’m working from a UK perspective here) are:
- Directories such as those of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and the Society of Indexers
- Freelancers’ own websites
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!)?