Posted on May 26, 2022
How a Designer-Turned-Editor Built Her Business on Reedsy
Jessica McKelden is a freelance editor specializing in romance novels. She worked with Tule Publishing and many of their New York Times bestselling authors before setting up her profile on Reedsy. Aside from editing, Jessica is also a graphic designer.
You know that feeling when you start a new book? The excitement around meeting and getting to know new characters, exploring new settings, or discovering a mystery? I’ve always chased that feeling, and for me, that came in the form of reading every single romance novel I could get my hands on. Little did I know that I’d be able to make a career out of it down the road.
Rediscovering my love for publishing
While I was growing up, my mom wrote romance novels, and I tagged along with her to every writing event possible — from book signings to critique group meetings. I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I was starstruck every time I got to meet a big-name author I loved. I liked to write, too, and I'd always had a natural affinity for it, so it was a no-brainer that I'd follow in my mom's footsteps.
Throughout my teens, I wrote my own novels during NaNoWriMo, and I loved to fill out character questionnaires and plot beat worksheets for every new writing project I came up with. But just before I graduated high school, I took a retail position, which offered me the opportunity to learn graphic design on the job. I quickly fell in love with print design, which slowly took over as my main creative outlet.
But I never lost my love of reading, even as I started my own freelance design business. Around this time, self-publishing was really taking off, and I devoured two or three or four books each week.
Fast-forward a decade, and when the opportunity to edit a book for a friend fell into my lap, I jumped at it. That’s when I fell in love with the publishing industry all over again.
Finding book editing projects through Reedsy
Because of my previous networking as an author’s daughter, I landed a freelance proofreading position at a small romance publisher and really learned a lot there. Then, in the fall of 2020, Reedsy reached out to me on LinkedIn. To be honest, editing as a career wasn’t on the radar for me at all. I’d never heard of Reedsy, so it was a complete surprise to me! I was curious, though, and figured I had nothing to lose, so I signed up.
Reedsy’s vetting process went really smoothly for me. I didn’t have much in-house editing experience at the time, but I had great testimonials and a slew of books in my portfolio, including some from NYT bestselling authors. I was quickly accepted to Reedsy’s marketplace.
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My first couple requests came through in a matter of days, and my fourth request ended up being my first accepted project. (And that client has actually hired me three more times since then!) Then I landed another project, and another, and it snowballed from there. Within four months, I was getting so many jobs on Reedsy that I had used up all my vacation time at my design job. I believe it was my husband who initially suggested I quit and begin editing full time. And so I did.
Building my editing business in my own way
Shortly after I began editing full time, I joined a business coaching program, Wandering Aimfully, which helped so much. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that this editing business is my business, and I need to treat it as such. Too many freelancers — editors especially — get bogged down on how things have worked in the past or how others do things, when this is such a great time to create a business in a way that works for you.
Experiments with combined editing offers
One such example of building my business to work for me was deciding what stages of editing to offer authors. In traditional publishing, each type of editing has to be completed in its own stage. When I started freelancing through Reedsy, I actually believed that I was only good at copy editing, so I only offered that — until I realized that I was accidentally developmentally editing my clients' books as well! I find it nearly impossible to turn off my developmental-editing brain while working on a copy editing project, and vice versa.
As an experiment, I tried offering both developmental and copy editing in the same round. Now, a little over a year later, about 95% of my projects include both developmental and copy editing. My clients love this because it saves them time and money, and because I charge for both edits in the first place, there's no threat of scope creep. It might not be the traditional way of doing things, but it works great for me and for my clients.
Getting good at using Reedsy’s platform
Experimenting with the way I pitch my services to clients is just one part of building an editing business — I’ve also really honed a process that works for me that involves templates, scheduled check-in messages, and more. I truly believe that freelancers get out of Reedsy what they put into it. Taking the time to test out different techniques on the platform can pay off.
One thing I continually remind myself of as I refine my business systems and processes is that, when I make a decision, I'm not tied to it forever. If I choose my initial rate, I can raise my rates again whenever I want. (And freelancers should never be afraid of raising their rates!) If I want to pivot how I pitch my services, that's totally okay. It's easy to overthink a decision, but I'd rather make a decision and then change it later, than to never decide at all.
And Reedsy didn’t just help me. My mom, who had moved on from writing by the time I started editing, actually became an editor too. After seeing what Reedsy had done for me, I sent her my referral link and she signed up as well. It’s been really fun to build our businesses alongside one another, and I love having someone to talk about tough editing projects with. Plus, it helps to have a little healthy competition, as sometimes we get the same requests!
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I love the freedom of creating my own offers, pitching potential clients, and tailoring projects to exactly what the client needs — and through Reedsy, I can do all that with ease. Reedsy is an amazing platform that puts tons of eyes on me, allows me to book exactly as many jobs as I want each month, and has helped me quickly surpass my income from my corporate day job. Without it, I’m not sure I would have ever known building this type of business was possible.
For more tips for career development and inspiring stories from publishing professionals, like Sarah Lahay's story about traveling with the circus, follow Reedsy on LinkedIn.