F is for freelancing, and it’s good for your resume
“We don’t hire copy editors.”
I know it’s not only the Lincoln Journal Star that’s crushing the dreams of grammar-obsessed journalism students, but that’s how it felt when the Journal Star’s recruiter said those words to me last month at my college’s career fair.
So, outside the newsroom, where can you be a copy editor? You could just abandon all hope of a paid position and become a grammar vigilante—that one’s tempting. But really, quite a few companies outside the news industry need editors. Large companies sometimes have communications departments that hire in-house copy editors. But, companies of all sizes hire freelancers.
Freelancing. It can seem scary. You don’t have a guaranteed income or set working hours. But journalism students are perfect candidates for freelance copy editing. You’ve literally taken classes on copy editing. Every journalism professor pounds the AP Style book into your head. You’re docked for bad grammar; you had to become an expert. You’ve already developed an eagle eye and a sixth-sense for bad grammar.
Even if you don’t want to be a copy editor long-term, it looks way better on a professional resume than working at a coffee shop or clothing store until you find a more ideal job. It’s the perfect way to pay the bills and develop professional skills.
So now that I have you convinced, there are some great articles out there about where to start, what you’ll need to get going, and how to find work. But what do you do when you’re getting paid $4 per page and you feel like you need to spend 30 minutes on one paragraph? Or the writer has obviously never reread their writing and the article needs completely reorganized? I asked someone who is very familiar with freelance copy editing.
Joel Puchalla is the project supervisor for the journals department at the University of Nebraska Press, and has done his fair share of freelancing. When given the scenarios above, he said, “Do the work you’re getting paid for.”
“I’ve had this conversation many a time,” he said.
Puchalla said there’s always a tendency to zero in on broken rules, but you have to remember the purpose of copy editing.
“It doesn’t matter if the footnote citations are exactly how Chicago says footnote citations should be; it only matters if the reader will be tripped-up by the mistake.”
So while it’s important to have that eagle eye for details, you have to remember why the details matter. They’re not rules for the sake of having rules, they’re rules for the sake of clarity. Which is why a journalists make great copy editors—we’re all about clarity for the sake of the reader.
Abby Stryker is a senior journalism and English double major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She has indeed been paid to edit copy on a freelance basis, though her first job consisted of poorly written blog posts by a woman promoting her multi-level marketing business. Not exactly fulfilling, but it’s a start. She persisted, and will be freelancing for the University of Nebraska Press, where she interned in the acquisitions and EDP (editorial, production and design) departments. She looks forward to making money by fixing grammar.