As much as I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I was also fascinated with the business of editing. As a little girl, I would write for hours and fill notebooks with stories of my own worlds. I was convinced I would grow up to be an author. Until one magical day, I stumbled across a job that I now know is called “freelance editor.”
“You can’t just be a writer. They don’t make a lot of money, and life would be hard,” my mom would tell me. I know she was just trying to be helpful, but those words stuck in my little brain and being the defiant, sassy child I was, I decided I wouldn’t listen. I would continue to write everywhere, and on the bus to school, I would beg one of my best friend’s older sisters to fix my spelling. I knew nothing of editing, but I figured spelling was important enough to fix.
In elementary school, I had to research a job that I found interesting. I went to the library at my little public school and checked out a book on writing and editing. I don’t remember much about this, just that the book was one of those nonfiction books that gives you basic information about a career. That’s when I discovered editing.
You mean I could read books all day long and help make them wonderful? I thought. It sounded perfect for my little self.
Over the years, my career dreams shifted from editor, to vet, to F.B.I agent, to artist, to dental hygienist, and finally, back to editor when a good friend persuaded me to join him for the Writers’ Workshop on our college campus. I met a charismatic and dedicated group of writers who loved what they were doing. And I loved what they were doing too.
I listened to them critique each other’s work and talk about books they were reading for class. I enjoyed the words they would use like “literary analysis,” “theme,” “motif,” “query letter,” and “manuscript.” I wanted to do what they were doing. I wanted to know all about stories so I could offer editorial advice.
It wasn’t until after I finished a year and a half long mission trip in Scotland and Ireland surrounded by poets and writers of the past and breathing the air of my ancestors that I finally took the leap and changed my major to English.
But there was a long road ahead of me. I quickly realized as I took classes that I would need to work hard and learn as much as I could. Being an English major didn’t suddenly make me a good editor. I set my sights on an emphasis in Professional Writing, added in a few editing classes to my coursework along with plenty of creative writing classes. When I graduated, I felt confident in my budding abilities. I thought I had it all figured out.
Being a stay at home mom, I lovingly set my dream of working for a big publishing house (or even a smaller press) aside in favor of being a freelance editor. I set up a website, posted on social media advertising my services, and waited for the clients to roll in…
But… no one hired me.
I had made a serious miscalculation. I knew I was passionate about being a freelance editor and had worked hard to develop my skills. I knew I cared about each author and their manuscript deeply. But no one else did. And without any editorial internships or experience, any potential clients on social media would pass me by.
My husband was in the throes of applying for med school, and after a year out of school with dashed plans to attend grad school, I felt the grand dreams I had for myself after college were slipping away. I ended up taking on a job at a daycare where I could be with my son every day. It was discouraging. I loved the kids and the work, but it was in no way what I had imagined for myself. I wanted to write and edit, and suddenly, neither were happening.
I scoured the internet one day, hoping to find a solution to my bone-dry business when I stumbled on a site for freelancers called Fiverr. I looked through the different editing gigs others were offering and felt sure I could create my own gigs as a freelance editor. I signed up, created a gig for resume writing and manuscript editing, shared my new profile on social media, and waited for any potential clients to click on my page and order a gig.
Silence met me again, only to be occasionally broken for the random spam message. I was discouraged, but took the loss as expected. I kept my profile but didn’t do much with it.
Eventually, my husband was accepted to med school, and we moved our family to the east coast. We faced a few financially stressful months with two children in tow. I was desperate to work but also stay by my children’s sides.
In August of 2020, I received my first client. He was eager for someone to look over the first five chapters of his manuscript and after looking at my profile, he hired me. I put my heart into editing his work. He was pleased and left me my first five-star review. I glowed for days after.
Realizing the Dream of Being a Freelance Editor
With the review now on my profile, I was sure I would get more clients! Months rolled by until all the leaves in Virginia had all changed colors and fallen to the ground. It was days before Thanksgiving when I got my second client, a wonderful man who was working on a middle grade manuscript—my absolute favorite genre. We hit it off and worked back and forth on his book until the end of the year.
Three days before Christmas, I finished his edits and received the most wonderful (and needed) Christmas gift: a full manuscript order that would bring in a good chunk of change for our family. This wonderful client wanted to give her father a fully edited version of the book he had written years ago. The only catch: I needed to finish it by Christmas Eve. I locked myself in my room for hours and worked late into the night, but when I submitted the finished version to the client and read her words of thanks, I glowed.
Why do I share all of this with you? Because maybe you are in a similar place. Maybe you feel like your dreams to write or edit for others have stalled out. Maybe you are about to give up on those dreams.
I’m here to tell you: don’t. Don’t give up.
Sometimes we can control how things unfold, and other times, we must wait, knowing we are doing our best. I’ve wanted to be a freelance editor for over three years, and this year, I’ve completed over 70 orders, several of them manuscript length. I felt like, before I could offer my help, you needed to know the road that it took to get where I am now. You need to know that success isn’t instant so that you can withstand the slow growing flames of your dreams. I’ve seen this both as a freelance editor and as a writer.
So, are you going to keep fanning those embers? Or will you let them grow cold?
Join me in the second part of my article where I will discuss how I built out my editorial gigs and found steady clientele and how I can help you do the same.
Olivia Fisher is a writer and editor who loves to read and write middle grade fiction. When she isn’t imagining living in a treehouse or chasing down her two young boys, she enjoys curling up with a book, writing her next epic adventure, or fighting off the ghosts of the Bermuda Triangle while hauling up the untold treasures and hidden histories of the civilizations deep within its secretive waters. While only some of that is true, she does love animals, babies, and trying to live in the state of child-like wonder that we all secretly, or not so secretly, miss. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter or hire her for your next writing escapade on Fiverr.