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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

7 lessons from the first year of my book editing business

I launched my proofreading and book editing business from our local Aldi car park on 19 July 2022. By that I mean I published an Instagram post which told everyone I was officially open for business.

A selfie of a caucasian woman wearing sunglasses, with thumbs up. She's in her car in an Aldi car park
Launch day! 19 July 2022, from my local Aldi car park. Photo credit: Siân Smith

Here’s a recap of my clients and projects from July 2022 to July 2023:

  • First-time author, Lisa Towers, who felt her original book edits could be improved. (Simply Anxious, 30,000 words).

  • First-time author, Tulshi Varsani, writing about how the importance of mindset and how we can change it (Happiness Within, awaiting publication, 80,000 words).

  • Established author, Rachel Cullen, working on her fourth book, but self-publishing for the first time (awaiting publication, 85,000 words).

  • Ongoing proofreading for local businesses: terms and conditions, business letters, newsletters, workbooks, blog posts.

  • Book Champion for The Female Body Bible, receiving my first ever advanced copy of a book in the process.

You’ll notice that every single one of these clients is a woman. All the book projects centre on health and wellbeing.

I consider myself lucky that from the moment I decided to run my own editing business, I knew whom I wanted to work with and why (non-fiction, mental health) and I was relieved that finding a niche in the proofreading and editing world is encouraged (though not mandatory). I decided to run my Instagram and Facebook pages before I was open for services, offering a behind-the-scenes insight into my proofreading training and building excitement around my eventual launch date. My ultimate business goal was to work solely with women authors self-publishing books in health and wellness. I’d assumed my business would start with various business proofreading projects, due to my background in e-commerce. Plus the fact that I was new on the scene would surely mean I’d need to build up a decent bank of testimonials before I could branch out into book editing.

Two weeks after launching, however, I received a DM on Instagram from Lisa Towers. I’d been following her page for a while, enjoying her content and stories, and engaging as a genuine follower. I didn’t even know she’d written a book until she told me she’d looked at my profile and wondered if I’d edit her book, as she wasn’t happy with the job done by the previous proofreader.

A full length book. On mental health. Written by a woman. Was this for real?!

I had to stop myself from assuming it must be down to luck. Because although I was certainly lucky in the sense of timing, I’d been marketing my business for 4 months before this point.

I’d even had to turn work down before launching (a local mortgage advice company had asked if I could proofread their web content, ahead of a re-brand launch). Clearly, the way I was making myself known was working.

So, a year later, what have I learnt about being a freelance proofreader and book editor?

1. You can change your job title

It took a few months for me to realise that I needed to stop introducing myself as a copyeditor, because most people instantly hear or assume you mean ‘copywriter’. However, if you tell someone you’re a book editor, they understand straight away that you work WITH written content, and that you work with books rather than SEO or writing blog posts. I even ended up writing a blog post about this decision. I’ve still got some work to do on pre-empting most people’s follow-up questions after I introduce myself as a book editor (I cannot do every single role that you’d find at Penguin Books), but that’s for another post!

2. Don’t stress about qualifications

Your passion, connection, and conviction are regarded just as highly as experience and qualifications.* Of course, it helped that I had 14 years of proofreading experience under my belt, with my subsequent proofreading qualifications from the CIEP providing reassurance to potential clients. But do you know what? Time and time again, I’ve been told that it’s the way I approach the work with genuine enthusiasm and how my ‘marketing’ is more about ME rather than my business that has reassured authors that I’ve been the right fit for them. (Don’t worry, I insist on conducting a sample edit before any booking is confirmed, just to prove that I have the skills as well as the passion.) I can’t stand for any bullsh*t these days, and I think it shows in the way I present myself and talk to people.

*I understand, however, qualifications are a necessity for many businesses!

3. Create whatever services you want

If you feel yourself drawn towards launching a new service, do it! Again, I’d assumed I would be taken on to do smaller proofreading jobs, which would eventually lead to bigger copyediting jobs and then I could add services such as manuscript appraisals much further down the line. But when I was copyediting my second book in October (Tulshi’s manuscript), I spotted some structural aspects of the book that I had some ideas about. Luckily for me, Tulshi was open to changes within her book and she had the time to expand on a couple of chapters while I was copyediting the rest of the book.

This gave me the confidence to create this as a singular service ‘at some point in 2023’.

That point came around a lot sooner when Rachel said she was after some feedback on her current manuscript. I was completely honest with her, told her she’d be my first client to use my manuscript appraisal service, and decided to launch this at the end of January 2023.

It's now my favourite and most popular service, so it’s a good job I realised I already had the knowledge and experience to do it!

A selfie of a caucasian woman wearing glasses, holding a yellowand white mug. A computer screen is behind her.
Launching new services so I can work on what I love! Photo credit: Siân Smith

4. Create a circle of colleagues

Fortunately for me, I learnt incredibly early on that creating a circle of those working in your industry is crucial to survive the self-employed world. Literally on day one of launching my Instagram page, Jessica Kate Brown invited me to her Editpreneurs page on Facebook. Here, I’ve met fellow editors and proofreaders who all strive to support each other. Some have been running their editorial business for years, others (like me) are newbies, just getting things going.

I found comfort when talking to fellow newcomers who were also getting overwhelmed: we shared tips on how to break it down or what tools were out there to help. The more experienced out there both inspire and reassure you to keep going. I’ve also found surrounding myself with other mums in business to be essential, too. Sometimes you just need to vent about how bloomin’ tough it is! (And sometimes, they can help find a solution to your pain point.)

5. Identify what you need help with

Speaking of finding solutions, from day one I’ve picked out what I need help with and what I can teach myself. My weakest point (like many) is marketing and SEO. So I joined a marketing programme (run by Hi Communications) before I’d officially launched. I’ve just paid for my second year because this is still something I need continuous assistance with. I paid for an SEO workshop because I was totally clueless on this.

However, I’ve been (and still am) extremely picky about what I pay for. My outgoings need to remain extremely low while I’m establishing my business, even as I enter my second year in business. Don’t feel you have to say ‘yes’ after every discovery call you have or to each new fellow small business owner you connect with.

6. Run your business YOUR way

This is something I’m just starting to discover. Now that I’m working fewer hours in my employed job, I can start to enjoy the freedom that comes with being self-employed. Part of this is working with my productivity levels. Yes, sometimes this needs a helping hand with a concentration playlist or setting a timer, but overall it means spending an afternoon content creating if the flow is good, working on the sofa when I’m in research mode, heading out for some fresh air when my eyes are tired.

Mind you, I do work best with a routine and am definitely guilty of forcing a schedule, rather than allowing patterns to form and seeing how things develop. Hopefully, I’ll learn a balance of the two: creating a routine that’s flexible enough to change according to mood, hormones, and (of course!) the kids’ needs!

A caucasian woman with blonde, wavy hair, wearing glasses. She's wearing a grey hoodie with black animal print and has a laptop on her lap. She's sitting on the sofa
I can work from the sofa, if I want to. Photo credit: Siân Smith

7. Create your victory wall

And finally, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and feel like things aren’t going anywhere, remember to celebrate all you have achieved. This is something Esther reminded me of a few times on the occasions I’d turn up to our business coaching sessions, feeling despondent or uninspired by the current status of my business. Those victories don’t need to be financial or client-based, either.

As well as onboarding dream clients and revelling in their wonderful feedback, I’ve also achieved the following:

• Learnt how to use Canva

• Discovered more about Instagram Reels and trending audio

• Stuck to a monthly blog post schedule

• Found a social media plan that works for me

• Launched a newsletter

Above all, I’m now spending my days doing something I absolutely love. A couple of weeks ago, we were camping for the weekend, and I made sure I was getting to bed early because I knew I was starting a new manuscript appraisal on that Monday. Sure, I get overwhelmed by the aspects of running a business (creating a newsletter has been my most frustrating achievement so far), but I genuinely love working so closely with my clients, learning more about the publishing world and the English language, and knowing I am challenging myself (and succeeding!) every day.

As for my next year in business? Well, I’ve already got three amazing clients booked in for between July and December, and I’ve just started deciding how I want my business to develop over the next 12 months. Now it’s time to make it happen!

A pile of books on an outside table, with a mug of tea next to them and a laptop in the background
Bring on my second year as a book editor! Photo credit: Siân Smith

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