Editorial freelancing – guide by Louise Harnby

Business planning for editorial freelancers (2013) by Louise Harnby and the Publishing Training Centre is a guide for people who are setting up as freelancers, whether as editors or proofreaders.

The book provides guidance firmly rooted in professional practice. It draws not only on Harnby’s own experience, but also – in the form of numerous mini-case studies – on a variety of other practitioners. There’s also an entire chapter devoted to more extensive case studies.

It’s very much a practical resource. There are plentiful lists of top tips and references to useful resources of all kinds, including publications, tools, organisations, and training providers.

The content is wide-ranging and includes many topics that newcomers sometimes find challenging – for example, finance, marketing, and networking. The chapters I most enjoyed reading were ‘The many worlds of editorial freelancing’ and ‘Client focus’. Between them, these chapters will help freelancers decide how to position themselves in the market.

I do have some criticisms – and also some suggestions for any further edition. First, the criticisms. One of the book’s key points runs as follows: “Proofreading, copy-editing, substantive editing, structural editing…and so on are very different skills. Make sure you understand the differences”. This is good advice but the book could do more to help the reader here: though the text does characterise such skills to some extent, it does so only in passing – the book lacks a patient, systematic, explanation of the distinctions. It also lacks an index, which as a reader I found plain annoying.

Second, the suggestions. The clients that the book envisages for freelancers consists primarily of (a) traditional publishing (books, magazines, etc.) and (b) indie (i.e. self-) publishing. There could be more consideration of the opportunities provided by companies and the third sector, notably in the areas of content marketing and grey literature.

Though the book doesn’t set out to provide comprehensive advice on small business in general, someone starting out would benefit from more attention to risk and continuity planning – for example, insurance, written agreements, limitation of liability, IT security, and, above all, cash flow.

Overall, Business planning for editorial freelancers is short, inexpensive, and professionally written: I cannot think of a single reason why someone starting out as a freelancer would not want to read it.

In a previous post (26 May 2011) I reviewed a comparable book – How to succeed as a freelancer in publishing, written by Emma Murray & Charlie Wilson. If I had to choose between the two, my vote would go to Business planning for editorial freelancers: though Murray & Wilson are more empathetic, Harnby is more concise and authoritative.

But I don’t want to choose – they’re both good books, so my recommendation is: read Harnby first, then read Murray & Wilson.

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