Freelancer Tipsheet: Copyeditor Monica Byles

By Jantien Abma |

We went to whitefox freelancer Monica Byles for some expert advice on maintaining a successful career as a freelance copyeditor. Read on to find out if any of Monica’s tips are new to you, or whether you’re already a copyediting superstar. Remember, you’re up against decades of editorial experience!

Monica Byles Tipsheet (1)

  • Congratulations – you’re a freelancer! You’ve jacked in your monthly pay packet and decided to go it alone. You will be able to edit in your pyjamas and put on the next wash instead of going to budget meetings. You’ll have greater flexibility to fit in your pilates class or a coffee with a friend. However – don’t underestimate how long your work will take you and try to keep to office hours as far as possible, partly so people can get hold of you.  I have kids and often work into the night, but work done at midnight needs to be just as good in quality as what I produce at 9.30am.
  • Research everything for accuracy. 99% of what you need is online, but may need digging for. It’ll make all the difference to the book, and you don’t want to let any howlers slip through that create correspondence from the nerds with the publisher.
  • Whether you’re working on fiction or non-fiction, it’s a great idea to book yourself onto a creative writing course. You can truly help where an author has a slightly awkward turn of phrase – you need to be able to write well just as much as they do.
  • Keep your enthusiasm high! You ain’t going to get rich quick, but you will have a fascinating and varied working life. Over the past year, I have edited crime thrillers and emotional dramas, gardening advice and natural history, proofread tomes on the royal family and geology, researched statistics on just about every subject you can think of, and indexed titles on Roman Britain and superjuicing. Sadly, I had to miss out on the Mitfords and the Vikings. You’ll never know what will turn up next, and if you like learning, this is the life for you.
  • Most publishers use the following online dictionaries for spelling and style:
  •  If your narrative is based in a particular timeframe, check that the venues the action takes place in would have existed in that month and year. You can Google, for instance, [restaurant name] + launch/grand opening/closed to check this.
  • If you get an abstruse scenario re a particular phrase, hyphenation or use of commas, and it doesn’t feature in the favoured dictionary, try Googling the phrase for other peoples’ views on usage. Beware, however, and exercise discretion as there are many people posting who don’t know their stuff.
  • Build up your crib sheet at or towards the start of the book, and again at the end of editing in case anything’s crept in. And for goodness’ sake, if you change anything, e.g. ‘on to’ to ‘onto’, make sure you don’t change it globally, but on a case by case basis. Some scenarios just won’t be right with the change, e.g. ‘They moved on to the club,’ rather than ‘They moved onto the club’.
  •  Start saving for your pension now if you haven’t already. You’re not earning megabucks but you want to be able to eat when you’re older! And don’t put all your eggs in one basket with clients – people move on in their careers, and suddenly you’re no longer getting the calls. Network, be nice and ring round. It’s part of your job.

Best of luck!

Monica Byles, London

5 July 2016

LinkedIn: Monica Byles

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