Taking Control: An Editor's Journey to Full-Time Freelancing
Clem Flanagan is a UK-based freelance editor and proofreader. In 2020, she has worked with over 20 authors via Reedsy on various manuscript and query letter editing projects, mainly in fantasy and YA novels. She loves Harry Potter and hates typos, and she’s here to share with you her experience of becoming a full-time freelancer during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hi, I'm Clem Flanagan, and I've been a freelancer for nearly a year now. I specialize in developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading YA, fantasy, and crime fiction.
How my editing career started
I'd tried to pick up freelance editing work straight after university, when editorial jobs in my area were thin on the ground. I worked in marketing and then publishing for a few years, but I needed freelance projects to expand my scope. However, I quickly realized that getting freelance work isn't that easy when you don't have a network established.
But then my partner's job took us to London. I saw it as an opportunity to build that freelance network I'd missed out on previously. I landed a job as an assistant editor for a body, mind & spirit publisher, where I honed my editorial skills. In my spare time, I attended conferences, webinars, workshops, and networking events. I used Twitter to reach out to professionals and participate in industry conversations. A year and a half after moving to London, I was starting to get freelance work; that’s when I joined Reedsy — one of the best things I've ever done for my career.
Why I went freelance full-time
Once I’d made some contacts, I started to put feelers out for work. About a year after I’d moved to London, I was editing a little at the weekends and writing reader reports in spare evenings. At a networking event, a freelancer mentioned Reedsy, and I started to build my portfolio so I could sign up to the website. I also started considering going freelance full-time, and here are some key reasons why I thought it was a good idea.
I live in the United Kingdom, where the publishing industry is heavily focused around London and, to a lesser degree, Oxford. Living in the southeast of the country is cost-prohibitive, and my partner and I love Scotland. As such, I wanted to work in editorial and live in Scotland — and the only way to do that was to go freelance. I also wanted more freedom around my working hours, a better work-life balance, and I didn't want to do other people's admin!
Better mental health
I have experienced mental illness on and off for many years. Sometimes, working in offices, in stressful environments, and having a long commute on top of all this just sent me into a spiral. I felt guilty for a long time — why was everyone else just getting on with it but I somehow couldn't cope in this environment?
Ultimately, I realized that my health and happiness have to be prioritized. Self-employment was an opportunity for me to forge a career in which I could maintain a work-life balance and not have to compromise my mental or physical health.
Being in the driver’s seat
I love that I am now in control of my life and my career. Previously, I was always waiting for a pat on the back from a supervisor, or my work was being micromanaged and controlled by someone else. It was not a healthy way for me to work, and I felt frustrated with other people's inefficient, slow processes.
I now get to work as fast or as slow as I like; I'm not stuck in endless meetings or tied to someone else's schedule. In the past year, I have made leaps and bounds in my career after spending years stagnating in antiquated corporate structures.
And, of course, I'm at home with my cats, Merlin and Achilles. That's the biggest bonus.
Working as a full-time freelance editor
My schedule is usually fully booked 2 to 3 months ahead. I work roughly nine to five, Monday to Friday, but I get to work at home, with my cats playing under my desk.
The initial struggle
Did you pick up on the fact that I have a thing with control? I am a planner at heart: I love spreadsheets and budgeting and planning things years in advance. But it's impossible to do that as a freelancer.
Letting go of that need to control was terrifying at first, and then it became a blessing: I learned to relax and focus on the work right in front of me. How could I do the very best possible job right now? How can I serve my authors right now?
On a personal level, I feel calmer and less anxious — I’ve learnt to live in the present and be grateful for what I have now.
Editing jobs from indie authors
About 75% of my freelance work comes from indie authors on Reedsy. I love working with indie authors, helping them tell stories that traditionally might not get the chance to be published. I feel that I am contributing something meaningful to the world of literature in my own small way.
Hear more from authors about their success stories to see what kind of impacts freelance editors can make!
When I went full-time freelance (after over a year of planning), the Covid-19 pandemic struck. I was convinced no one would hire me. Thankfully, I’d prepared well, and it turns out that many indie authors saw lockdown as an opportunity to write, edit, and get their manuscripts ready to publish. I'll be completely honest and say that I haven't received work from publishers, even ones I am connected to — they, like most businesses, are watching the purse strings tightly right now. I've been very lucky and have been able to work full-time throughout the pandemic.
Tips for going full-time freelance
There are plenty of tips for successful freelance editing you may find out there, but here are just a few things I’ve noticed from my own experience.
Network, network, network
If it wasn't clear yet, you need a network! The work doesn't just fall out of the sky.
Attend industry events online or in person and start a conversation with others in your chosen field — don't be shy. Ask a freelancer you admire if you could pick their brain, and then thank them by donating to their Ko-Fi fund or Patreon account, if they have one.
You also have to be able to prove that you are capable and qualified to work in your field (e.g. a copyediting certificate). For me, that meant taking a few courses to receive accreditation and refresh my skills. Because I live in the UK, I joined the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, the industry body for freelance editors.
If you're in the US, you may consider joining the Editorial Freelancers Association.
I recommend planning your move at least a year in advance. It will be a rocky start — there will be many insecurities and off-the-cuff moments — but you can smoothen the transition by:
- Finding as many income streams as you can (here’s where your network comes in handy);
- Working freelance in the evenings, on weekends, or even part-time before quitting your day job;
- Listening to podcasts on finance and freelancing to educate yourself on what's needed to succeed;
- Having between 3 and 6 months' worth of living expenses in a savings account;
- Putting 10% of your freelance income into an account just for your taxes.
💡 Top tip: use a time tracker app early on to quantify the effort you put in per project and use that as a basis to set your rate.
And, of course, my final tip is to join Reedsy. It was the best decision I could have made for my freelance career — you can sign up and start collaborating with authors to get a chance to win $100 referral credit :)
For more tips and article features about freelancing in the publishing industry, follow Reedsy on LinkedIn.