The life of a freelance proofreader

When I tell people I am a freelance proofreader working from home they sometimes say ‘Lucky you. You can pick your own hours and take holidays, as many as you want whenever you like.’ But there is the matter of client publishing deadlines and the fact you do not get holiday pay, or even sick pay if you fancy a duvet day. If you do not work, you do not earn. Don’t misunderstand me I am not complaining. I chose this lifestyle. It has its rewards, but also has its penalties.

One major benefit is that there is no commuting and that means not sitting in traffic jams on buses or in cars. No time lost when I could be using my time more profitably. It takes about 10 seconds to commute to work across the lounge to my office to an extension built on at the back. It has great views of the garden, which is a joy to look at when it is in bloom in the spring, but the office is rather steamy on a hot summer’s day with virtually two walls of it glazed and with the sun on it from sunrise until around midday. Then there is the office equipment kicking out extra heat. No air conditioning.

There is a certain flexibility about working from home as a freelance. You can determine your own working hours as long as you ensure that you meet the deadline set by the client. This could be as little as a four- or five-day turnaround for the latest issue of a journal that also involves collating the authors’ corrections and replies to copy-editing queries, as well as raising new proofreading queries of your own: some of the references cited in the text do not match the list of references at the end of some papers, the author switches from the required passive voice to an active voice, and then back again. The author should not be using those contractions, such as can’t and won’t. And so on.

At the other end of the scale it could be a three- to four-week turnaround for a 600-page academic book that involves chasing up the author for replies to copy-editing queries, raising your own queries, and collating replies to both sets, as well as collating the author’s corrections and proofreading the index, abstracts, and keywords. And you can bet that when your schedule is tight with juggling two or three projects, each with its own deadline, then all the answers to queries and the authors’ corrections arrive close to the deadline or even after it!

A freelance has the flexibility to work into the evening, at weekends, or even at bank holidays – for no extra pay of course unless you can negotiate a premium for an urgent turnaround over unsocial hours – as long as he or she remembers to take time off when the pace slackens and perhaps takes that ‘weekend’ or ‘bank holiday’ off midweek when it is quieter. It can be tricky trying to schedule household maintenance such as redecorating rooms – especially the office – but it is great for online shopping as you are there almost all the time to sign for deliveries, both business and personal. No standing in queues at the supermarket checkout for me now. It is more time-efficient to have groceries delivered.

The downside is you can go from very slack to extremely busy (and the reverse of course), often in a short space of time, making it difficult to plan and achieve a good work/life balance. There is also the danger of isolation from working alone. But after so many years I would not have it any other way. Working from nine to five in an office five days a week would probably drive me crazy now!

Now, where are those author corrections? They are late.