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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

How it took me 14 years to discover the world of freelance proofreading and copyediting

I have had a natural talent for proofreading for as long as I can remember. My first paid job was when I was a teenager and my mum asked me to proofread the end-of-year school reports.

The original plan

It was around this time that I decided I would go to the University of St Andrews to ‘read English’ (whatever that meant) and after completing my degree I'd either proceed to stage school or ‘get a job in publishing’.

A girl in a blue school uniform, smiling and sitting on the floor
Teenage Siân dreams of working in publishing

I did, indeed, go to the University of St Andrews. School advised anyone who wanted to study English to apply for a double degree as you were more likely to get a place. I opted for English and Classical Studies, making plans to drop Classical Studies and graduate in English. It turned out I had an undiscovered talent for Greek and Roman literature, so it was English that got dropped and I graduated in Classical Studies.

The plans to go to stage school were forgotten by the time I’d started university, but the ambition to work in publishing remained throughout my time there. I managed to secure work experience at a few publishing houses and applied to as many graduate schemes as I could.

A girl wearing glasses, holding a book in a library
My final year at St Andrews – in the library of course!

A new plan

I hadn’t realised quite how competitive publishing was, so, unfortunately, that plan did not pan out. In the summer of my graduation, however, my long-term boyfriend (now husband) overheard his boss at work talking about a new book he was publishing and that it needed proofreading. My husband put my name forward. The best bit was, it wasn’t more work experience: it was paid work! I spent several weeks employed to proofread a gemstone encyclopedia and even got to write some extra copy for the book. My first publication was within mere weeks of graduating, how cool was that?!

I was then offered a permanent position there, mainly in the PR and marketing department. At that point I only ever saw it as something temporary while I applied for more publishing jobs. What I hadn't anticipated was how much I'd miss studying and writing. A completely new plan formed: I'd go back to university to complete a postgraduate master's degree, then a PhD and go into academia. Off I went to the University of Bristol to study a master's in Reception Studies and Critical Theory.

Another new plan

Oh my. This was my first introduction to intense critical theory, specifically feminist theory. I found it utterly fascinating and brain scrambling all at the same time. I took an intensive course in Latin (my undergraduate studies were all in translation) and wrote a dissertation on the use of women as land in the Aeneid (using my own translations #justsaying).

A girl with blonde hair and glasses at a university graduation ceremony
Despite the awkward smile, I was very pleased when I graduated with my postgraduate master's from the University of Bristol

Back to an existing plan

Once again, however, the end goal didn’t come to fruition. I was offered places for my PhD thesis but not the funding. Fortunately for me, my original place of employment took me back and I stayed with this company for another 12 years. This part about those years of employment or experience isn’t easy to explain succinctly on social media or my CV, even though it's an important aspect of the breadth of my experience. Because I was employed by the same person who ran several different companies, I held several different roles during my time with them.

I spent a few years working for their jewellery company (roles included as a PA, assistant buyer and internal communications officer) then I moved to their health and supplements company. Here, I was originally employed as head of research. My main roles were liaising with Trading Standards to check packaging and product claims were compliant, developing new product lines, and being in charge of all things compliance. Eventually this role progressed to include supply chain management.

Throughout all these roles I was always the one asked to proofread advertorials, books we were self-publishing (from a cookbook to a fact book on health and everything in between), the weekly blog posts, the seasonal mailers etc. These were the tasks I enjoyed the most and if there had been a role within the company that meant I could spend all my working time proofreading and editing I would have jumped at it! I’d fallen into supply management because I’m known for being organised and tenacious when it comes to getting things done. But I’ve always known that proofreading and working with written content is what brings me joy – and what I’ve always believed I’m best at.

What about the original plan?

My job role as head of research and supply chain management managed to survive covid, lockdowns and furlough. However, in January 2022 we were told that no one was going to keep their current job role because the company assets were being sold to another company. Of course, panic and fear set in. It's all a bit hazy now, but I recall how, within just a couple of days, I’d decided to look into editorial work again and see what the landscape was like since I’d first applied for jobs 14 years previously. Somehow I discovered that you could be a freelance (or self-employed) proofreader or copyeditor. I don’t know why I hadn’t realised this before.

Almost instantly, I decided to gain some proofreading qualifications and see if I could make a career solely from proofreading and editing (instead of proofreading 'here and there' alongside my other responsibilities). I was so fixed on this new plan that when my previous employer contacted me to ask if I would work for him on a new company he’d been working on, I said that I would if I could reduce my previous hours so that I could work on my own business alongside it – a condition he was happy with to make sure he could still work with me!

Even better was that this new job role was purely for proofreading and editing. I’d be working as content editor for any written content, which was mainly in the form of digital downloads/handbooks and blog posts. The timing of all this meant that I could immediately put into practice what I’d been learning on my proofreading courses.

Living my dream job as a book editor

And so, here I am, 14 years after the initial job hunting, carving out my own dream job for myself. I feel like the timing to work as an independent copyeditor and proofreader has all worked out in the end. Self-publishing has developed and changed significantly in the past decade, with high-quality content going down the self-publishing route instead of through publishing houses.

I’ve also found it easier than I expected to establish my specialist subjects, as my passions align with a huge collection of voices and writers. I don’t know if I would have been able to identify as a book editor who works with women authors and women business owners had I secured that graduate job at a publishing house. I set up this business to work with women authors in the health and wellbeing sectors: my first project was copyediting a book on anxiety recovery and I’m currently editing a book about mindset and meditation.

I don’t see my niche changing for a while, but it’s certainly comforting to know that running my own business and working with self-publishing authors means that I have the freedom to change fields if I want to. So far, all my plans have worked out in the end, so there’s no reason why this one shouldn’t either. Teenage Siân never doubted it.

I felt like I need to write this post to explain more behind the experience I've summarised on my website, which I've always felt need a bit more context behind it: But let me know if there's any more you want to know about me 👍🏻

A woman wearing a navy sweatshirt and glasses, with a computer in the background
In my office at home, copyediting a book (with a cuppa!)

94 views1 comment

1 comentário

21 de nov. de 2022

Great to know a bit more of your story.

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