5 Mistakes I Made When I Started My Fiction Editing Business

Sophie Playle

Starting your own editing business can be scary.

You have no colleagues to turn to for advice, no managers to steer you in the right direction. Instead, you end up feeling your way in the dark. Or at least, that’s how it seems.

There are plenty of resources out there that offer fantastic information – from books to blogs to courses to online communities. But you’ll never know everything you need to know right off the bat. Which means you’ll inevitably make mistakes.

And I made my fair share when I first started out! Here are just a few:

1. Didn’t use Track Changes

Despite previously working in the editorial department of a large publishing house, I hadn’t even heard of Track Changes. So the for first manuscript I ever edited, I slowly and painstakingly added comments explaining each tiny edit that needed to be made – ‘Add a comma after this word’, ‘You don’t need a capital letter here’, ‘Delete this phrase’. Yikes! Once I discovered the joy of Track Changes, editing got a lot easier!

2. Tried to serve too many (very different) clientele

On my first website, I offered copy-editing and critiquing to fiction authors and publishers and marketing copywriting to businesses and creative agencies. That’s four different types of client, all looking for different things. This made it really hard to focus my website content, and I’m sure it made people less likely to hire me because I was clearly diluting my skills between creative work and corporate work. I decided I enjoyed the fiction stuff more, so dropped the copywriting.

3. Dropped over half a grand on a logo

I paid a professional graphic designer a ton of money to create a super-slick logo for my business. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with it. But a few months later … I totally rebranded my business and changed the name, so the logo was completely wasted. I should have got my foundations right before spending so much money. As well as that, I’ve since realised that I don’t need the slickest logo ever to look professional – I just need something simple that works. Bigger investments like that can come later down the line!

4. Didn’t specify how much post-project help clients could expect

This is something I now include in my terms and conditions and my email correspondence with clients. When I first started out, I would hand over the edited manuscript and think job done. My clients sometimes didn’t think the same thing. They would have a few questions, which was fine. But then one client got back to me with fifty pages of queries and rewritten sections he wanted edited. Knowing I had probably messed up by not specifying the parameters of the project, I did the work and sent it back with a note saying this wasn’t my usual practice and to please not send this much post-project work in the future. He flew off the handle; I ended up in tears. It was a mess. I’ll never make the same mistake again!

5. Didn’t track my hours

It was probably over a year into my business before I started timing how long an editing project would take me – and boy, do I regret not doing it sooner! Timing myself allows me to build an accurate idea of my editing speed, which in turn helps me provide accurate quotes to clients. No more guessing what I should be charging – now I know what I need to charge. A simple spreadsheet containing a few pre-made calculations in relation to the project length, time spent editing and the fee I charged tells me how much I make per hour, per project and per thousand words, and I use this information to help me quote for new projects.

Some of these mistakes felt worse than others, and I’ve made a lot more than this short list. Importantly, though, I made sure to dust myself down and learn from my errors. I didn’t give up on my business, even though sometimes I wanted to.

And though I spent lots of time and effort researching how to run a fiction editing business before I started out, it was still impossible for me to have learned everything I needed. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know!

Branding your business and building a professional website is something a lot of new editors and proofreaders struggle with. If you’d like a helping hand in this area, I have just the thing: The Visible Editor.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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