Kathy Steer became a freelancer in 1998, after working for a number of years in-house at Hamlyn and Quintet. She has specialised in cookery, gardening, health, home décor and crafts and works for a number of publishers in the UK and abroad. She’s one of our favourite Americanizers. We spoke to her last week about finding and managing work as a freelancer.
So, how did you get into freelancing?
I secured a couple of work placements in London after I graduated from university. I didn’t know whether wanted to go into magazine publishing as a sub-editor or into book publishing, so one of the placements was at the BBC’s Good Food Magazine and the other was at Hamlyn, which at the time was part of Reed International. After finishing at Hamlyn I was offered a full-time job as a cookery editorial assistant and after a year I was promoted to assistant cookery editor. I learnt how to proofread, copy-edit, Americanize and project manage my own titles. After one more year I became a project editor for another publishing house in London, and a year after that I took the plunge and went freelance. I worked in-house for a number of magazines at first (though I had the opportunity to decide where I wanted to work and for how long). I then started to get proofreading and copy-editing jobs from some book publishers, which meant I could work from home –and I haven’t looked back. I did enjoy working in-house but the overriding factors that made me go freelance were the flexibility and the varying types of work and subject matter.
What do you enjoy most about being a freelancer?
I love the flexibility of working from home as it means I can choose my own hours instead of working a nine to five job with a commute to and from London. I live by the sea, so I can go out for a walk on the beach in the middle of the day to clear my head. And I also get to work on a lot of varied projects, which are extremely interesting. I could be Americanizing a book on gardening one week, then proofreading a health book or copy-editing a cookbook the next.
What about the irksome parts of the job? How do you keep track of your finances?
Keeping track of finances can get out of hand, especially if some invoices take a long time to be paid, so I log all my invoices and expenses on a spreadsheet. When an invoice gets paid, I mark it up. I also keep two folders: one for invoices that are awaiting payment and the other are invoices that have been paid. I also keep all my receipts in that folder. I’m very disciplined in keeping up to date with this.
Let’s get into the specifics. Do you find it easier to quote your work by the hour or by the overall project?
It’s a lot easier to quote by the hour as I have set hourly rates for proofreading, copy-editing and Americanizing. Sometimes a project takes longer than expected so quoting for the job may not be so financially beneficial. Some of the publishers I work for have set budgets and they seem very fair, so I am happy to work to their budgets instead.
Have advances in digital technology affected the way you do your work?
Yes, definitely. I used to have to wait for the work to arrive by post on a CD then I would have to send the completed work back on a CD, but now this is all done online almost instantly, either via FTP servers or via the large file transfer websites. It makes life much easier. I occasionally proofread and mark up corrections on PDFs. That’s great if the schedule is very tight, but I do still prefer to proofread on paper as reading on screen all the time can get very tiring.
Do you feel you get good feedback from your clients?
Yes I think so. I find feedback invaluable, whether it’s positive or negative, as I want to make sure I do the best work for my client. If I have made an error I would like to know so that I can improve and avoid making the same mistake again. It’s also great to get positive feedback on the work one is doing.
Does your work come mainly from existing contacts within the publishing industry or from writing speculative emails? How do you approach a publisher who doesn’t know you?
Now my work comes from existing contacts I have built up over the years, but when I started as a freelancer I sent out lots of emails with my CV plus follow-up calls to prospective publishing houses asking if there was any work. I still like to send round a few emails to publishing houses just to let them know that I am here and still working as a freelancer.
Do you think specialising in a particular area, such as food or business, is important for freelancers?
Yes. I have specialised in certain areas and have got to know my subjects very well.
If you would like to be listed on our database and receive not only leads but also useful tips on finding and managing your work as a freelancer, write to us at [email protected] with a copy of your CV.