Freelance Proofreading Opportunities

Each year, in excess of 100,000 books and journals are published in the U.K. Each of these will have started out as an author’s manuscript complete with errors, inconsistencies and spelling mistakes which need to be removed.

This takes the form of two processes, copy-editing and proofreading, both of which are very often carried out by freelance copy-editors and proofreaders from home. This is more cost effective for the publishers, given that the volume of work can be unevenly spread throughout the year, and will require specialists from differing fields.

Like any other freelance work, check out any company if you are taking on a large quantity of work, as freelancers and other contractors are always the last to be paid in times of economic difficulty for a company, or for less scrupulous companies. A particularly high risk sector is vanity publishing (eg former company Minerva Press Ltd)
Whilst no formal qualifications or previous experience are necessarily required, a good command of English, a systematic approach and an eye for detail are obviously necessary.

The copy-editor’s task is to remove any errors or inconsistencies in the author’s copy prior to publication. This doesn’t just mean spelling mistakes, but also punctuation and grammatical errors, inconsistencies and even factual errors.

A typesetter will then produce a proof copy of the item prior to publication. This proof, together with the copy-edited manuscript, will then be passed to a proofreader who will check that the typesetter has not made any errors and also check for any mistakes the copy-editor may have overlooked.

You can expect to earn in the region of £12 an hour as a proofreader, although the more specialist knowledge you have, the higher the fee you will be able to command.

Age and location are no barrier, with work usually sent by post or courier. Although there are no formal qualifications you can obtain, you will find many training courses advertised in the press – home study courses, one-day workshops and residential courses, together with books and guides to get you started. None of these courses and guides can guarantee work, so be very wary if you see any that claim to provide work at the end. Below are details of some of the recommended guides and training courses available to you, together with details of useful contacts.

‘It must be emphasised that this is a difficult field to break into, and only the best (and most persistent) will succeed in finding regular work. This is NOT a quick-fix career change.’

If you’re still wondering whether you are cut out for proofreading I’ve included a short proofreading test for you. This has been devised by and reproduced here with the kind permission of Trevor Horwood, author of one of the best guides I’ve come across. He started out as a proofreader late on in life, having grown tired of the motorway driving and office politics of his sales job, and now works successfully full time.

There are 30 errors in this test, but don’t worry if you can’t find them all. I’ll e-mail you the answers if you need them. If you do find them all, it doesn’t necessarily make you a born freelance, and if you miss a few all is not necessarily lost. If you are the kind of person who enjoys this type of ‘spot the deliberate mistake’ game, then you should certainly enjoy life as a freelance. Feel free to consult a dictionary or any other reference book you have to hand.

Recommended Guides

As I mentioned above, I would strongly recommend the following book as a starting point.

“Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing – A Guide” by Trevor Horwood.

It covers the book production process, how to read and correct proofs, copy-editing, rewriting and project editing, reference books and training options and a glossary of publishing jargon. Once you’ve mastered the theory, there is a section of exercises, complete with analysis and explanations, together with chapters on how and where to find work and 101 potential customers (with addresses and telephone numbers).

What makes this guide unique is its link to a web-site. Like any other, the publishing world experiences constant change. Companies may move or be taken over, and information requires updating. To address this problem, any changes, together with links to the websites of organizations mentioned in the book, are made available to owners of the guide.

Take a look at all the 5 star reviews it receives at Amazon

A money-back guarantee is offered with this guide. If after reading the guide you feel that you are not cut out for freelancing, simply return it to me within thirty days and your money will be refunded in full – no questions asked. (Please note that this money-back guarantee applies only if the guide is purchased direct, not from Amazon or any other bookseller.)

To order your copy of “Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing – A Guide”, please send a cheque, postal order or international money order for £15.00 sterling, payable to Mrs L O’Connor, together with your name and address to:

Mrs Lynne O’Connor
91B Acton Lane,
London, NW10 8UT

Postage and packing is free within the UK. For any European destination please add £1 towards additional costs. For destinations outside Europe, please add £3.00 towards postage (£18 total). Please note that all cheques must be drawn on a UK bank. If you wish to pay by credit card, or Paypal balance, click on the link below:

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Alternatively you can order it from Amazon or through your local bookshop.

Freelance Proofreading & Copy-editing – A Guide

Other books you may wish to consider are listed below.

Please note that some of the following are American books, and as such will refer to US spelling and style, both of which differ in subtle but important ways from their British equivalents, and should only be considered if you intend to work in the US market. They can all be ordered over the Internet from Amazon by clicking on the titles.

Books on Proofreading and Copy Editing

Lapsing into a Comma Bill Walsh Price: £ 10.99
Paperback – 256 pages (1 October, 2000)

For lovers of language, Lapsing Into a Comma is a sensible and very funny guide to the technicalities of writing and copy editing. Author Bill Walsh, chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post, humorously discusses the changing rules of proper print style in the information age. Is it “e-mail” or “email”? According to established grammatical rules, it should be e-mail, but in common practice, we often use email (which should be pronounced “uhmail,” but we all know not to do that). Therefore, email is OK.

Also available as an e-book for immediate download from Amazon

Sample pages can be viewed on the US site at

Copy-editing Judith Butcher Amazon Price: £35.00
Hardcover – 483 pages (August 1992) Cambridge University Press

Since it was first published in 1975, Judith Butcher’s “Copy-editing” has become established as a standard reference guide. The new edition has been revised and redesigned to provide an up-to-date and clearly presented source of information for editors, authors and all those involved in the process of preparing typescripts and illustrations for printing and publication. From the basics of how to mark a typescript for the designer and the typesetter, through the ground rules of house style and consistency, to how to read and correct proofs, “Copy-editing” covers all aspects of the editorial processes involved in converting author’s typescript to printed page. Formerly head of the copy-editing department at Cambridge University Press, Judith Butcher takes a clear and practical approach to problems and pitfalls. Like its predecessors, this new edition is intended for new and experienced editors alike.

The Copyeditor’s Handbook Amy Einsohn Amazon Price: £11.42 US Edition
Paperback – 576 pages (May 2000) University of California Press

This is a practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft. Addressed to copyeditors in book publishing and corporate communications, this handbook explains what copyeditors do, what they look for when they edit a manuscript, and how they develop the editorial judgment needed to make sound decisions. The major topics include: procedures for copyediting on-screen and on hard copy; basic reference books and online editorial resources; mechanical conventions; solutions to grammar problems; handling of tables, graphs, illustrations, reference, notes, bibliographies and indexes; and typecoding and specification. The book is designed to be used for self-instruction or as a textbook in copyediting classes. The 15 practice exercises, ranging from sets of sentences to 900 word articles, are accompanied by answer keys and detailed line-by-line explanations. There is also a glossary of copyediting jargon, grammar terms and a checklist for analyzing the idiosyncracies of a publisher’s “housestyle”.

Oxford Writers’ Dictionary R.E. Allen (Editor) Amazon Price: £5.59
Paperback – 448 pages (April 1990) Oxford Paperbacks

Would you write council house or council-house, referendums or referenda, vice versa or vice-versa, razzmatazz, or razzamatazz, or razz-ma-tazz, or …? This comprehensive and authoritative dictionary of writing style and usage is an indispensable aid to writers, journalists, editors, publishers, and anyone who wishes to write correctly and effectively. * Straightforward guidance and rulings on problems of grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation * Broad coverage includes names of people and places, and foreign words and phrases * Helpful and informative on aspects of usage, such as capitalization and abbreviations This book is intended for writers, editors, journalists, publishers, and anyone concerned with writing correctly and effectively.

Proofreading Plain and Simple ; May, Debra Hart Amazon Price £7.66 US Edition

Includes proofreading exercises, examples of how to make corrections, the most common and most critical errors to catch, and a chart of the most common proofreading symbols.

A well-organized and concise reference for those who need to proofread written material. Excellent reminders for those who are experienced in proofreading, pointing out the pitfalls of proofreading one’s own work (and even recommending graceful ways to proofread friends’ and coworkers’ materials). Good review of the basics of editing, appropriate use of proofreader’s marks, and many excellent recommendation and reminders about the objectives and goals of proofreading. Should be part of your professional library. (Review taken from the Amazon site)

Powerful Proofreading Skills; Tips, Techniques and Tactics Debra A. Smith, Helen R. Sutton
Amazon Price: £8.78 Paperback – 94 pages (May 1995)

Explains basic proofreading rules, guidelines, strategies, and tips.

US Edition

Penguin Guide to Punctuation R.L. Trask
Amazon Price: £5.59 Paperback – 176 pages Reissue (7 August, 1997)

Focusing on British and Commonwealth punctuation, but also explaining American usage, this text contains clear and up-to-date definitions of each type of punctuation. It includes the correct use of capital letters, contractions and abbreviations, italics, boldface and the special characters available on a word processor.

Mind the Gaffe ; R.L. Trask. Amazon Price £6.39
320 pages (July, 2002)

What is the difference between “imminent” and “immanent”? When is it appropriate to use the phrase “Hobson’s choice”? Can anything be described as “very real”? There are so many obstacles on the way to writing clear, precise (“accurate”?) English (“english”?) that it is a wonder (“wander”?) anyone ( “anyone” or “any one”?) can make themselves understood. In this guide, Professor Larry Trask gives advice on how to write simply and effectively and to avoid blunders and howlers which might otherwise leave your readers either bemused or rolling on the floor with laughter. He also adjudicates on hundreds of contentious issues (should “aggravate”, for example, only be used in its strict meaning of “make worse”), helps the reader decide when it is appropriate to use British or American spelling (“millipede” or “millepede”) and warns of the dangers which careful writers might encounter with e-mail. The result is a book that should be of use to all writers who want quick, sound advice on making their prose as readable and clear as possible.

Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook: 2009
“The Writers’ and Artist’s Yearbook” (W&AY), published by A&C Black, has a long-standing reputation as a ‘must-have’ for any writer looking to get published. In addition to an extensive listings of publishers, agents, print media, producers etc., it contains a wealth of advice(nearly 200 pages’ worth) from professional writers, publishers, agents and producers. In separate articles, famous authors such as Joanna Trollope, Terry Pratchett, Bernard Cornwell and J.K. Rowling address various aspects of the writing process and discuss a wide variety of genres. Many other highly informative pieces cover diverse issues such as self-publishing, marketing your book, writing for TV, radio and theatre, the electronic world of websites and e-publishing, and financial aspects such as tax.

Writer’s Handbook 2007 Barry Turner (Editor)
Completely revised, updated and enlarged, the 2009 edition of “The Writer’s Handbook” contains over 6000 entries covering every area of writing. In addition to the key areas of UK and US book publishers and agents, magazines, screenwriting, TV and radio, theatre, film and video and poetry, this edition contains the following features: an enlarged and extended US section; the appeal of biography; the uses and abuses of the English language; the challenges and rewards of self-publishing; Peter Finch on poetry; and media contracts. A new feature is that it now includes free online access to the companion website and FAQs, a fully searchable directory, and a wealth of information for writers.

2009 Writer’s Market (Writers Market 2007)
For the past eighty-eight years, Writer’s Market hs been providing aspiring writers with the no-nonsense advice and authoritative guidance they need to get published and to get paid. With updated listings and “need-to-know” publishing advice, the tradition continues with 2009 Writer’s Market, providing writers with: Over 4,500 listings for consumer magazines, book publishers, trade journals, and contests and awards, along with complete contact information for top literary agents; Dynamic interviews with established writers and industry insiders, including publishers, editors and successful freelancers; Essential publishing information and advice, including pay rates, a guide to book publisher imprints and valuable self-marketing tips

Handbook for Proofreading (American Edition) ; Anderson, Laura Killen Amazon Price £7.95

Demonstrates the basic methods of proofreading, introduces proofreading marks and tells how to create a style sheet, check facts, and add typesetter instructions.

Go Ahead, Proof It K D Sullivan Amazon Price £5.63

Includes proofreader’s marks and tips for catching spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and provides formats for numbered lists, captions, runni heads, and tables of contents.

Excellent for beginners or as a basic refresher.

This book covers basic proofreading elements that will be extremely helpful to anyone who is new to the field or wants to pursue this career. There are many insider tips that are extremely useful. Also serves as an excellent refresher for people who have been proofreading for a few years. Not all-inclusive as far as grammar, syntax, etc., go (pick up a grammar book for that), but absolutely excellent for the basics and insider tips. (review taken from Amazon site)

UK Training Courses

Looking for a proofreading home study course? The only courses recognised and recommended by many publishers in the UK are those run by The Publishing Training Centre at Book House, an educational charity dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in publishing. Once you have successfully completed one of The Publishing Training Centre’s distance learning courses, your services can be listed on The Publishing Training Centre’s Freelance Directory which gives publishers access to freelancers. Visit their website at or telephone 020 8874 2718 for more information on their courses and good advice on working freelance within the sector.

Contact Points has an excellent report on proofreading, together with reviews of various courses and guides on the market. Updated and expanded for 2006, it takes a good look at the fascinating process of book publishing and the potentially lucrative rewards available to the successful freelance proofreader/copyeditor.

In addition to mentioned above, one website I recommend you check out is for The Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The SfEP is a non-profit-distributing organization with the twin aims of:

  • promoting high editorial standards
  • achieving recognition of the professional status of its members

There are currently around 1400 members (mostly in the UK), providing a wide range of freelance editorial services to the publishing community and beyond. Among the Society’s publications are a monthly Newsletter called CopyRight and the annual Directory, which provides details of services provided by members. On their website is a long list of companies that use freelancers and the type of specialist fields where freelancers are needed.

Online Proofreading Employment

Global Company sometimes seeks qualified freelance proofreaders. You must be completely equipped for handling work through the Internet. We are only interested in those who are professional, highly skilled with at least three years of practical experience. Apply by filling out our online application. You will be asked to provide the following information:Your resume in Microsoft Word or Acrobat PDF format, Two professional references, Areas of technical expertise, Minimum hourly rate, Style manuals used and titles of publications copyedited. Contact Name: Dale Adams.Apply online for proofreading vacancies.

ACADEMICWORD seeks people with OUTSTANDING English writing skills to proofread and copyedit academic and technical texts. We seek applicants from a wide range of academic backgrounds, including the natural sciences, social sciences, health sciences, engineering, law, and the humanities. Projects can vary from 10-page research papers up to thousand-page book manuscripts.

Editors are paid per assignment and work from their own computers, with assignments delivered and returned by e-mail. ACADEMICWORD offers competitive compensation and flexible work schedules.

If you are interested in applying, please use the form at You will subsequently be sent at a preselected time, a timed 30-minute editing test.

Promoting Your Service

If you want to offer your proofreading services, consider creating your own website. For ideas, take a look at the following sites:

English Proofreading and Editing Service English Proofreading provides a one-to-one personal proofreading service to help your written text make the right impression.

Site Build It – This site shows you how to use the Net to build a list of quality clients whether you’ve been selling your services for years, or thinking about starting regardless of whether your business is primarily online or off, and no matter whether your clients are from your neighbourhood or from another continent.

Proofreading Test

This test has been prepared by Trevor Horwood, author of the book ” Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing – A Guide” which is described above. E-mail me if you need the answers. The test contains a total of thirty errors.

As we enter the new millenium its difficult to avoid thinking about how the world is changing. In the 1980’s few people had even seen a computer, let alone owned one. Now they are on most childrens’ christmas wish-lists. In the 1990’s satelite television was a new and wondrous thing – no less than sixteen channels through one aerial! Compare that figure with the hundreds available today. Digital broadcasting has changed our lives to such an extent that the question is no longer ‘TV or not TV?’ (to misquote Shakespear), but ‘Could we manage without it?’ Can you imagine life a hundred years ago, when there was neither television or radio. For us, it doesn’t bare thinking about, but perhaps our great-grandparents were equally as content to sit round a piano as we are to stare at a screen. There would have been no disagreement about what channel to watch, at least.

Which would you choose as the best of the two period’s in which to live? In 1900 there was certainly less leisure time, accomodation was terribly cramped, there were two world wars to come, (not to mention the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, which was responsable for the deaths of more British people than the Second World War preceeding it), a holiday was a luxury and there was no modern conveniences. I am not, of course, inferring that all is now perfect. Today we have global warming, gridlocked traffic, GM foods, BSE, ME, AIDS and many other unwelcome contractions and anagrams – problems all partly or wholly atttributable to technological advances. On balance, though, I think I would prefer to take my chances in todays silicone-enhanced world of bits and bites than in the troubled times of our forbears.


One Comment

  1. Of course, what a great site and educational posts, Regards.

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