How to get freelance work from ELT publishers

Over the past five years, publishers have come to rely on freelancers like never before. When publishers find someone they like, they send the freelancers more work than they can handle. From the other side, many ELT professionals would love to do some freelance work for a publisher, but have no idea what that work would look like or how they could get started in the first place.

Does that sound like you? This article will answer all your questions. We’ll first look at the type of work that’s out there. Then, we’ll break down how you can get some of that work and how to thrive once you find it.

What do freelancers do for publishers?

What work is out there? The short answer is proofreading, copyediting, development editing, and writing.

Proofreading frequently involves comparing a manuscript to a typeset page or a designed screen. You make sure all the necessary elements are present and call out any typos or grammar errors for deletion.

Copyediting is a bit more involved. Let’s say we have a unit in a book. You’re going to check that the unit was well-written. The publisher will have created lots of rules for that unit. Some of those rules will be about vision (e.g. teenagers should enjoy it), some about pedagogy (e.g. just one correct answer for each item), and others will be style guidelines (e.g. use a serial comma). To copyedit the unit, you’ll first have to absorb all those rules. Then you’ll make sure they were all applied properly.

With development editing, you’ll also be checking something, but you’ll be especially concerned with the pedagogy of the material and likely have more opportunities to make substantial changes. You might suggest changing an entire activity.  And if you don’t think something is working–maybe the author’s tone is off, the questions aren’t quite right, or you just have a better way–you might re-write it yourself.

In the case of writing, you’ll get a “writing brief” that will explain the vision for the product as well as the pedagogy and style guidelines. These are likely to be very prescriptive. You’ll write questions or tasks or text presentations (or something else) to the specifications of the publisher.

In any case, you can expect some back and forth. At first, you’ll discuss the task and the work processes in detail. Once you begin, you’ll likely send work in, get feedback from an in-house development editor, and then submit additional drafts.


How to get work?

The first job is always the hardest to get, but some things can make you a more attractive candidate.

First, you need to feel confident in your skills. If you’re not sure if you have what it takes, consider doing some coursework in copyediting or buying a good book.

Second, it helps if you have your own company. At the very least, make a website for yourself. Consider registering your company as an LLC. Those things aren’t required, but they will make people take you more seriously.

Third, look for any opportunity to do editing work. I got my start editing term papers and work reports for friends. It didn’t pay a lot, but the experience was invaluable. I honed my skills paying attention to details and could speak to those skills when applying for jobs.

Finally, reach out to people in publishing. Send a friend an email or look up people on LinkedIn and message them. Don’t be afraid to bother people. Set yourself a reminder and send your contacts an email every month. The day will come when your contact is desperate for help. You want to make sure you’re at the front of their mind when that day comes.


What will make you stand out?

After you get that first job, you’ll want to prove yourself. Of course you want to turn in good work, so pay attention to details and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you need to. People will appreciate that you’re making sure you understand the task and are considering the problems. In fact, strong communication skills are a large part of the job.

Also, be eager to learn and use whatever business systems the publisher uses. You may find the systems difficult to use at first, but your publisher will be very grateful if you take the time to master their systems with as little hand-holding as possible.

If you do those things and turn in good work, you’ll quickly be on your way. They payoff will come both in the paychecks publishers send you and in knowing that your efforts are helping thousands of students achieve their goals.




Author’s Biography: Jeremy Schaar is an MATESOL student at The New School. He has taught English in Russia, South Korea, and the U.S. He got his start in ELT publishing as a freelancer, then started his own company, and now works full-time for a publisher.