Don’t sell yourself short – be selective!

I recently had an experience that I’d like to share with you.

A couple of weeks ago, I responded to an advert on LinkedIn for freelance proofreaders for ‘the UK’s leading independent digital publisher’. If they liked the CV and covering letter you sent, they’d send a proofreading test to see if they wanted to take things further. This seemed like a great opportunity to build my client base…

After sending through my tailored CV with a kick-ass covering letter, I waited a few days, and was full of anticipation when I received a test from them in my inbox.

The test itself was pretty much as expected. The company only publishes eBooks, so it was to proofread several pages of a book as it had been scanned in via e-reader, tracking any errors I found in Word’s ‘Track Changes’ function.

I completed the test that evening, fired off an email to the company, and waited for a ‘thanks’. And waited…

After a week of radio silence (and suspecting that I’d not been successful), I emailed, politely asking if they’d had a chance to look at the test I’d sent, and if it would be possible to have some feedback. They duly responded the same day with an email asking if they could send me a ‘test manuscript’, for which they’d pay me. This was quickly followed by a rather lengthy email detailing all the formatting changes I’d need to make for it to match house style (in addition to proofreading for errors introduced by the e-reader).

So the role wasn’t just for a proofreader – it was somewhere in between proofreader and copy-editor. The bulk of the copy-editing (suggesting changes to sentence structure and punctuation; querying anything unclear with the author/translator) had been done as the books had been copy-edited when they were previously printed, but as it didn’t fit the new publisher’s house style, all the formatting needed to be done as part of the ‘proofreading’ process. That wasn’t a problem for me; I had all the tools necessary to do a good job.

As with these things, there had to be a catch somewhere. A big catch.

We pay £50 for work on a manuscript under 80,000 words, and then more when they go above that.


Excuse me? £50 (the equivalent of $78.43 in the US) for doing an involved and skilled job? I’d hate to try and work out the hourly rate there.

To put things in perspective, I worked out the average rate I’d been paid for the last ten or so books I’d worked on as a proofreader (ignoring for the time being the elements of copy-editing involved in the role). What they were offering was at least half what anyone else had paid (and these were mostly small independent publishers, who don’t have a lot of cash to splash but value the people who work for them), and in some cases four times less.

Yes, you read that right. Four times less.

I duly sent them a polite email in return.

…there are too many requirements for the rate of pay you’re offering.

I’ve done a fair amount of work for various publishers in the last two and a half years, and during that time have been paid different rates depending on the book length, publisher and whether it’s been copy-editing or proofreading work. To give you a guide, this is what I’ve received for the last few titles I’ve proofread: 22,937 words = £65; 79,190 words = £250; 134,050 = £375; 74,425 = £230; 78,748 = £230; and 47,790 = £140, averaging £236 for 80,000 words.

As you’re asking for a lot of formatting changes, there are elements of a copy-editor’s role involved, which would normally pay more than a ‘straight’ proofread.

Although the publishers I have worked for tend to pay different rates, most have been small independent publishers who can’t afford to pay a lot, yet have on average been able to offer more than twice the amount you’re able to.

I’m sorry to say no at this stage, particularly after you’ve spent a lot of time emailing me the information, but I can’t really make my business sustainable unless the pay I receive equates to a high enough hourly rate.

I’m still waiting for a response.

The moral of this story? While it’s good to build your client base, it’s not good to sell yourself short. Yes, it would be nice to have an additional source of income, but not if it’s barely pocket money…



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