4 Things I Learned From Copyediting My First Book

Among those of us who look to the internet as sources of side income, copyediting and copywriting are looked upon as solid but unsexy methods of making a bit of  coin. There are several threads on the RVF that paint it as an ideal job for reading and writing enthusiasts. On the surface, it provides a location-independent source of income where a man can set his own hours and choose his clientele. I recently copyedited a manosphere book for a fairly well-known author, and like any other first venture I learned a few non-intuitive truths that added to my understanding of the profession.

1. You Can’t Put Lipstick On A Pig

Though the book was from an author I respect, in any editing job there’s always an initial fear that the writing will be beyond repair. Luckily, the author had a clear and consistent plan and executed it well. My changes helped the work to sound more professional and expand on some of the important points, but had the writer not possessed the requisite strength of content from the beginning I doubt anyone’s editorial review could have saved it. When I made side money in college editing essays, the pieces I felt the worst about sending back to the authors were the ones I had improved significantly, but still sucked anyway because of the bad starting point. If the ideas are good, the quality will show through. If the ideas are bad, the best copyediting in the world will not produce a winner.

2. You’re Not Living The Tim Ferriss Dream Life

Looking to sip margaritas while watching your bankroll explode? This isn’t the line of work for you. Reading words on a page sounds easy, but it’s incredibly exhausting work. You’re grinding with maximum attention on the copy at all times. It’s possible to improve your speed (and therefore earning potential) up to a certain point, but you never reach the “set it and forget it” point that many location-independent business models strive for. Whether you’re improving the writing with suggestions about ideas or simply fixing typos, every time you fail to fix an error it’s a black mark against your brand. It’s stressful, hands-on, reputation-driven work that isn’t for everyone.


3. Customers Will Pay Well For Quality Work

Though some of my favorite blogs feature content about starting writing or editing businesses on oDesk, Elance, Fiverr, or other websites, they are quick to point out that at the outset you are competing against other people who will “work” for bottom dollar. Since I already have a job to pay the bills and my free time is valuable, it is more important to me that I make decent money on the occasional jobs I do. Because of my reputation writing at ROK and other ventures, and the fact that I was willing to prove myself by editing a small portion of the book before the author committed to paying me, I was able to command significantly more than I would have made on services where the writer is going in blind.

4. Emphasize Customer Quality Over Quantity

I don’t need this side hustle to pay the rent. Thus, I don’t have to take on customers who impose unreasonable deadlines, are inflexible with their requests, or want to low-ball me. In any business there’s an inflection point where taking on new clients just for the sake of having work provides headaches larger than the amount of money you’re earning, and “firing” your worst clients is a proven business strategy. Luckily I am still far away from that point. Being able to serve customers I like and respect while editing work on subject matter that interests me (manosphere topics) provides work that I actually look forward to, which might not be true if I cast a wider net to make a few extra bucks.

For the reasons mentioned above, copyediting is a solid way to make extra money that aligns with activities I enjoy and am good at. Like any other side hustle, however, there’s a startup cost to building your reputation, finding customers, and getting into the groove of each new job, as well as many lessons to learn along the way. But it’s not bad work if you can get it.

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19 thoughts on “4 Things I Learned From Copyediting My First Book”

  1. An insightful article on the practicality of working as a copy editor/writer.It’s useful that you don’t glamorize it and tell it like it is.Perhaps you could inform your readers of the amount of time you spend on this side hustle and the potential earnings it could get you ,just to gauge if the endeavor is worth it for those with such inclinations.

    1. BK writes. He edits. My recommendation is that he selects a format he can work to (ie business guide to sell in airports, the great American novel, whatever); lay out an outline; write it and self publish on Amazon. Own the copyright. Enjoy the royalties.

  2. I don’t know if I could handle copyediting… I am an original bookworm, but I think I love it too much to want to get involved with production, and turn it from a ‘beloved hobby’ into a ‘9 to 5’
    I made that mistake with the gaming industry. utterly destroyed my interest in computer games. Decent money, but once you get into the production side, you can do nothing but criticize the obvious flaws of others, and your enjoyment plummets.
    I think anyone that truly loves and respects the written word should avoid the kludging aspects, even if it’s worth a few extra pennies on the side.

    1. ANYTHING is fun until you start doing it as a job. I thought that was common wisdom?

  3. I used to do copywriting to get through college. I wanted to get back into it to make some more spending cash for travels, but as you have stated, Indians, Kenyans, etc. are willing to work for peanuts, ever moreso these days. Doesn’t help me that my niche has taken a major hit as well. Oh well.

  4. Solid post BK. A buddy of mine did some copy editing a while back part time and he said it was grueling. Did it for about a year and quit because of migraines. Tough stuff, man.

  5. You can be a ghostwriter for rich chinese international students, way more dough ti make from that

    1. Do you have experience with this? I’d be interested in hearing more. Feel free to submit a guest post or email me.

  6. Excellent description of copyediting. Tells it as it is. I’m a freelance editor and translator, so what BK describes is day-to-day stuff in my world. If you take it seriously, copyediting can be very demanding, and very rewarding. You are constantly under pressure, not just from clients, but also from yourself. You’re constantly raising your own bar to make sure you keep ahead of the competition, and your fear for your reputation is ever-present. Keys to success in this game? Never let up on quality, make every effort to gain knowledge relevant to your field, and never feel to proud to ask for advice.

  7. As someone who writes academic papers for extra money, I have noticed something similar.
    Yet I will point out the following:
    1. In the first 2 years I strted, I never said NO to a job. Now It’s almost 50/50. You need to learn to say NO to potential customers, as a strategy (To attain best customers)
    2.Most people will not appriciate your ACTUAL quality, but your PERCIVED quality. This means that you actually need to invest in “Customer Relations” (e.g. promise to deliver in one mont and send it a few days earlier). This creats the brand
    3. Learn to outsource, but be aware that it will be very hard to find “your level of quality” at lower prices. So you outsource work that customer cannot tell the difference.
    All in all BK is on the money
    The Male Brain

    1. #2 is a good point, the Scotty Principle.
      Often they won’t notice “actual’ quality, but they will certainly notice a lack of it. To make a baseball analogy, you know that umpires called a quality game when you didn’t notice their presence throughout the game.

  8. I’ve been a freelance writer for 3 years and yeah I agree it’s not easy work. Making a living online is in general a very tough gig–maybe tougher than running a brick and mortar business. And that’s not just because I’m providing a ‘hands-on’ service, either; I have worked for dudes who do affiliate marketing and stuff who say they work 80 hours weeks. The fact that they were ridiculously hard to get in touch with confirms that.

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