5 Mistakes I Made When I Started My Fiction Editing Business

Starting your own editing business can be scary. You have no colleagues to turn to for advice, no managers to steer you in the right direction. Instead, you end up feeling your way in the dark. Or at least, that’s how it seems.

There are plenty of resources out there that offer fantastic information – from books to blogs to courses to online communities. But you’ll never know everything you need to know right off the bat. Which means you’ll inevitably make mistakes.

And I made my fair share when I first started out! Here are just a few:

1. Didn’t use Track Changes

Despite previously working in the editorial department of a large publishing house, I hadn’t even heard of Track Changes. So the for first manuscript I ever edited, I slowly and painstakingly added comments explaining each tiny edit that needed to be made – ‘Add a comma after this word’, ‘You don’t need a capital letter here’, ‘Delete this phrase’. Yikes! Once I discovered the joy of Track Changes, editing got a lot easier!

2. Tried to serve too many (very different) clientele

On my first website, I offered copy-editing and critiquing to fiction authors and publishers and marketing copywriting to businesses and creative agencies. That’s four different types of client, all looking for different things. This made it really hard to focus my website content, and I’m sure it made people less likely to hire me because I was clearly diluting my skills between creative work and corporate work. I decided I enjoyed the fiction stuff more, so dropped the copywriting.

3. Dropped over half a grand on a logo

I paid a professional graphic designer a ton of money to create a super-slick logo for my business. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with it. But a few months later … I totally rebranded my business and changed the name, so the logo was completely wasted. I should have got my foundations right before spending so much money. As well as that, I’ve since realised that I don’t need the slickest logo ever to look professional – I just need something simple that works. Bigger investments like that can come later down the line!

4. Didn’t specify how much post-project help clients could expect

This is something I now include in my terms and conditions and my email correspondence with clients. When I first started out, I would hand over the edited manuscript and think job done. My clients sometimes didn’t think the same thing. They would have a few questions, which was fine. But then one client got back to me with fifty pages of queries and rewritten sections he wanted edited. Knowing I had probably messed up by not specifying the parameters of the project, I did the work and sent it back with a note saying this wasn’t my usual practice and to please not send this much post-project work in the future. He flew off the handle; I ended up in tears. It was a mess. I’ll never make the same mistake again!

5. Didn’t track my hours

It was probably over a year into my business before I started timing how long an editing project would take me – and boy, do I regret not doing it sooner! Timing myself allows me to build an accurate idea of my editing speed, which in turn helps me provide accurate quotes to clients. No more guessing what I should be charging – now I know what I need to charge. A simple spreadsheet containing a few pre-made calculations in relation to the project length, time spent editing and the fee I charged tells me how much I make per hour, per project and per thousand words, and I use this information to help me quote for new projects.

* * *

Some of these mistakes felt worse than others, and I’ve made a lot more than this short list. Importantly, though, I made sure to dust myself down and learn from my errors. I didn’t give up on my business, even though sometimes I wanted to.

And though I spent lots of time and effort researching how to run a fiction editing business before I started out, it was still impossible for me to have learned everything I needed. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know!

Branding your business and building a professional website is something a lot of new editors and proofreaders struggle with. If you’d like a helping hand in this area, I have just the thing: The Visible Editor.


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By | 2017-09-05T14:01:39+00:00 April 18th, 2017|The Business of Editing|9 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages is a professional fiction editor. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before gallivanting off to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and she trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Every now and then, she slips her laptop into her rucksack and works from a different country for a few weeks.


  1. Carrie O'Grady April 18, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Great post! All top advice. I wish I’d known about your course this time last year…

    • Sophie Playle April 19, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

      Thanks, Carrie 🙂

  2. tonyfaggioli.com April 19, 2017 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Somebody made you CRY ??? This means WAR !!! lolol Actually, you made me cry on at least three separate occasions with my last manuscript, and I’m supposed to be a big, tough dude from Pennsylvania. So. Ya know. Misery loves company and all that 🙂

    • Sophie Playle April 19, 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

      I hope I didn’t make you cry, Tony!

  3. juliaproofreader@gmail.com June 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    A very honest, sensible blog post – well done for writing it!

  4. Jacqui - White Diamond Edits September 12, 2017 at 11:58 am - Reply

    A very honest post, Sophie. Don’t really want to know how many mistakes I’ve made over the years! A quick question if that’s okay? Or two, I suppose! Do you use specific software to invoice? For years I’ve used Paypal, and although it’s never caused me any issues, I’m aware I’m potentially losing money, especially when working with clients overseas. I live in the UK but naturally work with clients from all over the world, and I’m looking into other methods that may not cheat me out of so much money each project! Also, when dealing with overseas clients, do you invoice in £ or their regional currency? Thanks for any advice you can give 🙂

    • Sophie Playle September 12, 2017 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Jacqui. I use FreeAgent (http://freeagent.com … use code 43g3im21 to get a lifetime 10% discount) to send and manage my invoices (and do a lot more) and I love it. You can link to PayPal directly on the invoice, AND another service called GoCardless (which is much, much cheaper). I think GoCardless is going to switch over to just direct debits soon, though, so I’ll be looking into switching to Stripe (also supported by FreeAgent). You’re right that PayPal takes a lot of money, so if you can use another service to receive payments that’s preferable. You could also look into TransferWise for international payments – again, much cheaper than PayPal.

      I haven’t quite figured out what the best method of invoicing overseas clients is in terms of currency. If you invoice in the client’s currency, they know exactly what they need to pay. If you invoice in your currency, it can fluctuate a little for the client. I’d be interested to know what others think/do. I’ve been using a mixture of methods!

  5. Jacqui September 15, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks Sophie! That was really helpful and I’ll definitely be looking into some of those. I’m giving my business a slight overhaul at the moment so trying to find new (and easier) ways of doing things. I’m glad it’s not just me who is unsure of the whole currency issue, but I think it’s made worse by Paypal who take a sizable chunk of the client’s payment in that currency, meaning I lose more money!
    Thanks again!

    • Sophie Playle September 16, 2017 at 9:35 am - Reply

      Yes, PayPal’s exchange rate is not very good at all!

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