Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Long-Awaited Indy Freelancer Survey

Back in March I sent an extensive survey to approximately 100 publishing freelancers currently or formerly based in Indianapolis--we had quite an industry here in the 1990s when computer books were booming. I heard back from quite a few (although probably not a statistically significant sample) and finally found the time to quantify the results for you. So here goes:

1. What is your primary freelance specialty (copy editing, proofreading,writing, etc.)?
Five people said copyediting, three said proofreading, three said development editing, one said writing, one said indexing, and one said project management (many people gave more than one answer)

2. How many years have you been a freelance editor?

Average length of time was 5.5 years.

3. How long did you work "in house" before going freelance?

Average length of time was 7.25 years.

4. Why did you decide to become a freelancer?

43% said it was because they were downsized from their jobs. Others chose the profession to stay home with kids, earn extra money as a side job, because they were unhappy in their current careers, and because they didn't want a "real" job.

5. How many projects do you do in a year?

This varied widely depending on how big the projects were--from 6 big books a year to 60 smaller articles. Average was 28 projects.

6. How many hours per week do you work, on average?

Average was 42 hours, but ranged from part-timers to people who work 75 hours a week some weeks.

7. How do you go about finding work?

Networking/word of mouth were the big winners here.

8. What is the best thing about freelancing?

57% of people said it was setting their own schedule. Others like the extra money, the lack of a commute, and the absence of office politics.

9. What is the biggest drawback of freelancing?

55% said it was the difficulty of scheduling--some weeks they have too much work and others they have none. Others mentioned the unpredictability of the paychecks and the need for discipline.

10. What are your favorite websites for freelancers?


11. What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?

  • The best editors are organized, good with details, patient, have a good memory, and enjoy reading about a variety of topics. You work on your own all the time, without any interaction from other people.
  • Work in house before trying to be a freelancer. Stick to a regular working schedule as much as you can when working from home. Communicate often with the editors you are working with to let them know of issues with the project. Work to expand your professional network so that you're not reliant on just 2 or 3 clients.
  • Realize that you may have to work two jobs to pay the bills until the freelance picks up enough for your needs. Don't get discouraged. Don't do free work to "get your foot in the door." Be open to working on something that isn't "your thing"; it could lead to just the perfect thing.
  • It takes time to build your client base, but don't give up too easily. There are a ridiculous number of people trying to make it in this business, and if you don't have faith in what you're doing, you won't last!
  • Put aside whatever financial cushion you can to be ready for late checks or projects that run long. Consider health insurance options carefully.
  • Be afraid - be very afraid.
  • Get to know exactly what the client wants, preferably from an employee or freelancer doing the same work. In the case of a corporate book publisher, that may mean memorizing the Chicago Manual of Style, obtaining in-house style guides, and reading through samples of similar books from them. In the case of academic authors, it may mean reading through style guides and journals for their discipline. In the case of individual unpublished authors, it may mean doing more coaching, basic English tutoring, and computer instruction than “editing.” Most individuals do not want their work to be edited; they want to be coached and then have their work proofread.
  • Networking and get to know people before you leave an in-house position. My friends/co-workers/close acquaintances/and people I know who know someone are responsible for my success.

12. How is the pay?

42% said it was good. 29% said it's OK. 29% said they couldn't afford to do it if they weren't married (to a spouse who gets insurance through their employer).

1 comment:

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