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  • Writer's pictureSarah Lustig

How freelance editors can prepare for the future of publishing

In last month’s post, I examined the possible changes coming to the educational publishing market. This month I’ve been thinking about how freelancers can identify and prepare for the possible challenges those changes present. Follow these simple steps to help futureproof your business.

1. Identify the possible changes to your sector

Start by brainstorming the changes you can foresee in your sector of the industry. If you’re not sure where to begin, read about your sector in industry publications and websites. A quick internet search on the future of the publishing industry will provide lots of articles to delve into.

In my last post, I assessed the changes that might be coming to my sector – educational publishing. They were:

  1. A move towards digital rather than printed resources.

  2. This could lead to a shift in ways of working at all stages – writing, development editing, copyediting and proofreading.

  3. Authors will write either directly into content management systems (CMS) or into offline templates.

  4. Development editing and copyediting will take place in the CMS or the templates. Editors will need to have a knowledge and understanding of the formatting. The role might include checking that the CMS or template has been used correctly.

  5. Proofreading will no longer involve checking how material will look when printed, but rather how it will appear onscreen. This will change some of the checks that need to be carried out at this stage.

However, these changes might be different for editors working in fiction publishing, trade non-fiction and other areas.

Once you have created a list tailored to your sector, it would also be useful to put timelines against each item you identify. Do you foresee the change happening in the next year or over the next five years? This will inform the schedules for any plans you then make to adapt to these changes.

2. Undertake a SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is a tried and tested business planning tool. A business owner uses it to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their business. Often it’s presented in a table, like this:

Your strengths might suggest opportunities. Whereas any weaknesses in your business might help you identify threats to it.

Use the list of changes you have made to fill in a SWOT analysis table. For each item you have identified that directly affects your business, determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to it.

Here is a completed (imagined) example using point 4 mentioned above (Development editing and copyediting will take place in the CMS or the templates):

In this example, the copyeditor already has experience of working within a CMS, however they don’t have any formal training. They have identified that this means they might not be aware of best practice and therefore they might not be providing their clients with the best possible service.

3. Extract action points

The SWOT analysis will give you concrete areas where your business could improve. Next, you can extract action points from the analysis.

Action points, or objectives, should be ‘SMART’ – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

In the example above, the business owner could create two action points:

  • Undertake training in the use of CMS for educational publishers.

  • Undertake training in the use of templates for educational publishers.

To make these objectives SMART, they will need to research specific courses they want to complete. The objectives are measurable, because they will know when they have completed the courses that they have achieved the objectives.

These action points are achievable, as long as the freelancer sets aside the time and money needed to complete the courses. They are relevant to the weaknesses highlighted in their SWOT analysis. Finally, they will be time bound when the freelancer sets an appropriate deadline to complete them, such as six months.

4. Training

I recently completed these steps for my own business, specifically examining my training and experience with digital products.

I completed two courses with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) in 2010 and 2012 – one on Managing Digital Products, another covering Digital Editing. Both were extremely useful.

However, it has been some time since I completed those courses. I felt that with an area as fast changing as digital products, it would be a good time to refresh my skills in this area.

With this in mind, I have started the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s course on Editing Digital Content.

5. Work opportunities

Once you have completed any training you have selected, seek out opportunities to put your training into practice. If you have a website or social media page, update them to include the training you have completed.

Don’t be afraid to list projects you want to work on. I have just added a project wish list to my Subject specialisms page. Potential clients won’t know what projects you might be interested in unless you make it explicit. It can’t hurt to have a wish list.

6. Start the process again

Preparing for changes in the industry is not an activity that we can complete or undertake just once. The industry will continue to change and evolve. When you have completed these steps, go back to the beginning and start again. Treat the process as a cycle.

Conduct a review of your practices at suitable intervals. This can be done each year, or you might want to do a lighter review every three months. The time scale isn’t important. What’s important is making the commitment to your business to ensure this activity doesn’t fall by the wayside.


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