Freelancer of the Month March 2013 – Wendy Monaghan0
Hi Wendy! Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your business?
I provide editing (copyediting and substantive editing), plain-English rewriting and proofreading services to individuals, businesses, and government and non-government clients. I don’t edit fiction. My major client is a large non-government organisation. Many are academics or PhD students, but I also work with authors of general non-fiction. I have edited a wide range of documents: government reports, annual reports, magazine articles, journal articles, scholarly books, theses and dissertations, marketing material, training manuals and website content. I have in-depth knowledge and experience in human rights, immigration and refugee policy and community development, but I am certainly not limited to those subject areas. I’ve edited texts on sociology, history, the media and health to engineering, economics and sports medicine.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.
It seems many freelance editors begin their career as in-house editors, but my journey has been quite different. I began as a publishing sales representative with Penguin Books Australia in the late 1980s after studying journalism at RMIT. It was three months before Christmas—the busiest time of the year for the sales team. I took over responsibility for the Melbourne city territory, including the largest and most successful independent booksellers in the inner suburbs. My first list to sell in was the Christmas list. The sales manager later referred to those early months for me as a “baptism of fire”.
In the years to come, I worked in Sydney and Canberra for Penguin Books and later in the same cities for Melbourne University Press. I learnt so much and loved everything about publishing – the excitement of the new lists, visiting booksellers, talking about books, reading books, meeting authors, networking with the publishing in-house staff and attending sales conferences and book fairs. It never felt like ‘selling’.
I stopped working for a few years when my children were little, but once the youngest was at pre-school, I started to get itchy feet; I wanted to work again, but not full-time. I started to think about editing as a viable new career. A colleague who knew about my interest in editing invited me to edit the first edition of a new magazine for the non-government peak body FECCA (Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia). FECCA liked what I did, and we signed an agreement. I managed everything related to the magazine: commissioning authors, picture searching, editing, proofreading, liaising with the designer and printer, and managing advertising and subscriptions. I edited the first 16 editions. During those years, I completed a Certificate in Professional Editing and Proofreading and attended a number of workshops run by the Canberra Society of Editors of which I was a member. Four years later, my family moved interstate to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and I started to build my own business. I joined the NSW Society of Editors, kept up my professional development, and, in 2011, I achieved accreditation as an editor via the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd). My first clients were contacts through my work with FECCA, but since then my client base has grown a great deal.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
I’m quite particular about how things should be done and how clients should be treated. I don’t like cutting corners, so I love the autonomy of running my own business – being able to do things my way. I can choose which jobs I take on. I can also be available for my children, who are now teenagers but seem to need their mum just as much as they did when they were little!
Have you got any advice for aspiring freelancers?
Try to get some experience in-house before attempting to freelance. This will give you some contacts to get you started, not to mention the skills and experience. Connect with other freelance editors, join your local or national editing association, attend relevant workshops, talk to an accountant for financial advice before you take the plunge, and consult a tax agent who is knowledgeable about the tax implications for freelancers. Invest in good-quality ergonomic office furniture and equipment. You will need to be willing to spend time and money on marketing your services. Establish a professional-looking website. In addition, be aware that you will often work extremely long hours to meet deadlines, and you won’t have co-workers to fill in for you if you are unwell, have a family emergency or just need a break.
What are the downsides to working for yourself, if any, and how do you overcome them?
Working for oneself at home can be isolating and lonely. I have time with family and friends, but I do miss the daily face-to-face contact with customers and co-workers – sharing experiences and ideas, supporting each other. I overcome this by networking via social media, especially Twitter and various forums.
How do you go about promoting your business/finding clients?
Most of my clients find me via my website www.wendymonaghan.com.au, my listing in the NSW Society of Editors’ freelance directory, or the listing of accredited editors on the IPEd website. I also have a Facebook page, and I use Twitter and LinkedIn. I have tried a few other methods of advertising: fliers in conference bags, donating my editing time to charity auctions, and listing my services on business directory websites. All of these methods have paid off to some extent.
Have any particular developments occurred within your business sector that have affected the way you work or the way in which you are taking your business forward?
The competition from countries such as India and Malaysia appears to pushing down editing rates internationally, which is affecting clients’ expectations of how much they should pay for quality editing. I think this is affecting the editing rates more in the US than in Australia, but it does mean that I’m always investigating ways of improving my productivity.
What is your most treasured work-related possession?
May I mention two? The first is my IPEd Certificate of Accreditation. The second is my first edition of The Macquarie Dictionary, which I purchased in 1982. I no longer use it because it’s out of date, but I couldn’t possibly part with it.
What do you enjoy reading when you’re not working with words?
I enjoy reading investigative journalism and analyses of contemporary issues, particularly politics, human rights, social justice and so on. However, for sheer indulgent pleasure, it has to be fiction.
What’s your favourite book?
What a tough question to answer! May I list more than one? Peace by Richard Bausch, The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton, Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I could go on.