Freelancer of the Month December 2012 – Alan O’Brien


Welcome to our new feature! Every month we’ll be asking one of our advertisers a few questions about themselves and their business. First to sit in the FaP hot seat is Alan O’Brien of AOB Proofreading.

Hi Alan! First of all, tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer. 

In 2005 I read an advert for a proofreader. Up until then it hadn’t occurred to me that this could be done for a living! I found out more about what proofreading was, and started on the Publishing Training Centre’s excellent distance learning course, later that year. And I’ve never looked back really. Finally a job I enjoy doing!

What do you enjoy most about running your own business? 

Jobs I receive vary hugely in subject matter, even from clients who are similar, e.g. students with academic assignments. The variety makes it exciting because now and then you read fascinating material.

Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers? 

Getting a website is a must, and shows you are serious about what you do. If you can specialise in certain areas, e.g. you’re a proofreader or copy-editor and you have a physics background, then you are likely to have a niche in which to operate. From that you can target specific clients who will value your subject knowledge above competitors who don’t have your specialist subject knowledge.

What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them? 

There is that perceived lack of predictability regarding regular or sufficient income, which is a constant dynamic even for many established freelancers. But more and more in these austere times, ‘normal’ jobs, i.e. those where you’re on the payroll, are being made redundant. So, for me, that advantage of a 9–5 payrolled office job providing a safe, guaranteed income is now somewhat of an illusion.

How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients? 

I email specific publishers who produce the subject matter that I am experienced in. I also have listings in paid and free directories and websites.

What is your most treasured work-related possession? 

My Mountain Dew energy drink  :-)

What do you enjoy reading when you’re not working with words? 

Sitcom scripts (I have written a few myself); Liverpool Echo; books on the paranormal/unexplained, and spirituality; Facebook.

What’s your favourite book? 

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

What’s the funniest typo you have corrected? 

Pubic sector, when it should have been public sector. I like situations like this where you’re one letter from disaster ;-)

What qualities would you say are required when proofreading? 

Attention to detail is an obvious answer, but I’ve learned you really must be attentive in a methodical way! With medium to long jobs I will often need to write a list of tasks separate from regular proofreading that need to be done, e.g. checking the headings, cross-references and contents’ correlation with the contents page. Good time management is key to charging the right amount for your services.

FILE005Alan O’Brien is a freelance proofreader based in Liverpool, UK. He runs AOB Proofreading, a proofreading business for publishers, businesses and individuals. 

21/12/2012 |

Special Christmas offer – join Find a Proofreader for just £15 (expired)


It has been a fantastic year for Find a Proofreader. We bought the site in April and redesigned and relaunched it in May, and since then over 100 advertisers have joined us from all over the world. That’s a 300% increase in advertisers, so we’re very pleased. We’ve also had 17 articles submitted to our new Articles page which has added value to the site and given people yet another reason to visit!

To celebrate a successful year and to end 2012 with a bang, we have decided to offer a special discount to new advertisers over the Christmas period. Anyone who joins between now and January 1st 2013 (midday UK time) will get a 25% discount on their listing! That means that a standard listing under any of our categories (Proofreaders/Editors, Copywriters, Indexers etc) will cost just £15 instead of £20!

If you’d like your listing to really stand out, you can take advantage of our specially discounted Category Featured listing. These have been temporarily reduced from £45 a year to £35 – a snip when you consider all the extra visits your profile will attract!

We look forward to adding lots of new proofreaders, editors, copywriters and other freelancers to the site soon! We’d like to also take this opportunity to thank all our existing advertisers for their support this year. Roll on 2013!

19/12/2012 |

Selling Yourself – Adding an Editorial Portfolio to Your Website (a guest blog by Louise Harnby)


An editorial portfolio to your website gives potential clients confidence that you’re a good fit for them.

Imagine this scenario: Mr Indie Author has spent 7 years thinking about his debut novel, 19 months writing it, and 3 days trawling Google and various directories like the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services and Find a Proofreader in order to find someone to put the final polish on his masterpiece. He has a headache. Who should he trust to do the job? It’s personal to him. It’s taken 7 years, 19 months and 3 days to get this far and he doesn’t want to blow it. There are thousands of proofreaders out there. He wants someone who knows what they’re doing, who has experience, but there are so many to choose from who fulfil his criteria. It’s like an editorial minefield. Lots of them say they proofread fiction, even the particular genre of fiction that his novel falls into, so how’s he going to make a decision? And how are you going to help him?

Why should you include a portfolio?

I’ve lost count of the number of times that people who’ve selected me over other proofreaders told me that they liked the fact that they could see a list of projects I’d worked on in the past – my portfolio. When a political science student visits my website because she wants her Master’s dissertation proofread, I can show her a list of 17 books that I’ve worked on in the same field. If a publisher is looking for a proofreader with experience in proofreading business and organization studies titles, they can peruse a list of 28. For law, I currently have 15 titles listed, though I’m due to add a couple more in the next two weeks. If Mr Indie Author, whom we met earlier, wants his novel worked on, he can see that I’ve done the job on 30 previous occasions. All this gives the potential client confidence in your ability to do the task you claim you can.

Google Analytics tells me that (my blog aside) the #1 page on my website in terms of page views is my home page – 13,000 this year. The #2 page on my site is the one entitled Qualifications, with 2,831 hits. Coming in at #3? It’s Portfolio, with 1,976 hits. So around 15% of visitors to my website are interested enough to want to know what I’ve proofread (though they’re even more interested in where I trained). Many of these visitors are curious colleagues who read my blog, but some are authors, students, business people and publishers who turned into clients because what they saw there matched their requirements.

Where should you put it?

If your portfolio is extensive, I’d advise placing it somewhere other than on your home page. Your home page should be clean and crisp; it should help the visitor navigate their way around your site easily. If you work in different market segments you might consider following my lead and including buttons on your home page that link to different portfolios – I chose academic, fiction, and commercial non-fiction but you might decide to do it by subject area or client type. It doesn’t really matter as long as the information is clear and easy for your visitor to locate.

How should you do it?

Simple web-text lists: My preferred way is simply to put the list in full view on a dedicated page. This will make it easy to find for your visitors and ensures the information they seek is right in front of them. If you have a large, rather unwieldy portfolio (my Academic Portfolio page is a good example), it’s worth embedding jump-to instructions to help your readers navigate. For more information see my article Website Tips for Editorial Pros: Using Jump-to Instructions.

PDF: Another option is to upload PDFs – if you have a large portfolio this will ensure your website is less cluttered, but it means visitors need to have PDF reading software. Some of your less tech-savvy clients might not have this or might be nervous about downloading files.

File-sharing tools: You can also use a file-sharing tool like Box or DropBox. Again, however, this is making things even more complicated for your visitors because they have to have Box/DropBox accounts. Keeping things simple is often the best way.

What if you don’t have a large portfolio?

While you’re building your business and your client base, your portfolio may look a bit on the thin side. In that case, call the projects “selected works”. Flesh out the page with testimonials. If you haven’t received any, then ask your clients if they’d consider writing one for you. Most are more than happy to oblige. You can also create a client list to show visitors who you are working with. Consider the portfolio a work in progress and add to it as you go along.

Ideas for you to try

Take a look at the different approaches some editorial freelancers have taken to promote their portfolio online.

  • An Eye for Perfection: Editor and proofreader Jennifer Hinchliffe includes a “Portfolio” tab on her menu ribbon. With one click her visitors can access a portfolio that is sharp, easy to read and really attractive to the eye. Jennifer’s elected to limit her portfolio to the past couple of years’ worth of work. She’s gone for clarity over clutter.
  • Louise Harnby | Proofreader: I, too, have a “Portfolio” tab on my ribbon menu that links to three separate portfolios: academic, fiction and commercial non-fiction. I have a large portfolio of work in a number of academic specialties. I’ve elected to compromise on the issue of clutter in order to provide a really comprehensive overview of my experience.
  • Biomedical science editor and journals specialist Anna Sharman lists all the periodicals she’s worked on in the “Freelance experience” section of her website Sharmanedit. There’s a link from each journal title to its publisher. This is clever because Anna makes her portfolio into a resource centre for her potential clients and maximizes her SEO while promoting her own expertise.
  • Beth Cox at Without Exception also uses a “Portfolio” tab, but this time the projects are presented article-style. This gives the visitor a real sense of Beth’s commitment to inclusion issues, a core focus of her business, by telling the story of her editing work past and present.

A cautionary note … ask first

Always ask permission. There are some big-name businesses who forbid their freelancers to use their names or products for self-promotion purposes. A student may prefer you to wait until they’ve been awarded their Master’s or doctorate before being listed, while a journal article author may prefer their paper to have been accepted for publication first. Publishers tend to be fairly relaxed about this because their marketing lead times are so long, but an independent author may not want you listing their book two months before they have a major blog tour arranged! Ask first.

Louise Harnby  is a freelance proofreader based in Norwich, UK. She began her publishing career in 1990 with medical publisher Williams & Wilkins. Later, she moved to SAGE Publications, where she spent 15 wonderful years in the world of social science. She set up her freelance business Louise Harnby | Proofreader in 2005 and specializes in proofreading social science, humanities, fiction and commercial non-fiction books for academic and trade publishers. Connect with her at: @LouiseHarnby, and, or visit her blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour for more editorial business-building tips.

16/11/2012 |
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