Antoinette Scully is the founder of Black & Bookish, an editor, educator, activist, and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to fill your bookshelves with beloved authors of the African diaspora. When she’s not hanging out online, she’s living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker. Books are must-reads if you want to start your own freelance editing business.
My time in university was hectic. I completed my Associate’s degree in music at a local community college. Then I transferred to a private university to complete my Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and humanities. During my college years, I had a lot of jobs. Growing up near Orlando, Florida, it’s not surprising that my first job was working for Universal. I started in foodservice and transitioned to a tech position, helping to run shows. I also worked as a library assistant through my university’s work-study program, tutor, violin teacher, and nursery attendant. It was a really busy yet fun time in my life. My friends used to call me “workaholic Antoinette” because I was always doing something. Eventually, I got married, moved from Florida to California, and decided to graduate school to get my Master of Arts in Teaching degree.
Starting my working life at a theme park definitely helped me learn how to work with diverse people. From library clerk to tutor to behavior intervention for children with autism to violin teacher, every job I’ve had taught me the importance of finding ways to connect with people whose lived experience is different from my own. Ultimately, educating people and giving them the tools to continue educating themselves is my highest calling.
From Blog to Business
I never thought I would be a writer or editor for a living. I worked several jobs in the library and education fields, and I was prepared to do that sort of work. After I became a mom, I decided to home school my children, and we spent a lot of time each week going to libraries. I realized that I had to make an intentional effort to find books by and about Black people for myself and my mixed-race daughters, so I decided to challenge myself only to read books by Black authors for one year and, of course, to write a blog about it.
That’s how Black & Bookish started. Within a couple of years, people encouraged me to start offering editing services and other author support services, like sensitivity reading and beta reading, in addition to writing book reviews and blog posts about literature and culture in the African diaspora. Over the years, Black & Bookish has evolved from a book blog into a small media company with contributing writers, resources for authors and readers, an effort to save a historic piece of Black property in Eatonville, Florida, and even a podcast.
Since I fell into my current role as a writer, editor, and podcaster, I didn’t have a traditional job interview. This job essentially grew out of a blog I started as a passion project and evolved into a business. However, I have to talk to potential clients before booking a project to make sure I’m a good fit for their project. Each initial consultation with an author is almost like an interview. They’ll ask me questions about my experience and qualifications, such as similar projects I may have worked on. Ultimately, they want to know what skills and knowledge I bring to the table that can help them improve their work.
Build Skills and a Network
There are three books I always recommend to aspiring editors:
- Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
- What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing by Peter Ginna
- Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton
Still, they have useful information for people who want to go into traditional publishing and small indie publishing. In addition to reading books about best practices in writing and editing, you need to build your business to stay on top of evolving trends in the business.I joined local writers and editors group, which helps keep my knowledge base current and creates client referrals opportunities. Also, look to experts in the industry who teach classes or workshops on specific skill sets you want more practice with or if you want to expand your service offerings beyond your existing skillset.
As a freelancer, you don’t need to worry too much about your CV. More important is having a portfolio of work you can point to and/or testimonials from satisfied customers. Potential clients will care more about knowing you have the skills to improve their work than the line items on your resume or LinkedIn profile. Whenever I finish a project, I send the client a happiness survey to get their feedback on how I did. I read every survey to find out what makes my clients happy and what I can improve next time to provide even better service.
Find Your Niche
One reason people seek out my services is that I have a niche. I’m a Black writer and reader, and I specialize in the bookish domain of the African diaspora. Black authors seek me out because I already understand where their work is coming from. White authors and authors from other demographic groups seek out my expertise as a sensitive reader to ensure that their work is an authentic representation of Black characters, dialogue, or history. So my advice is, find a niche that you can fill that exists as a gap in the market. Find a way to meet a unique need for your clients, and explain how you meet that need in a way others can’t.
Being a freelancer isn’t as easy as changing your email signature and making a website, although both of those are important steps — get on that! Still, clients won’t necessarily go looking for you, specifically. There are a lot of freelance editors out there. You need to make your presence known. A consistent social media presence is beneficial, but don’t underestimate the importance of word-of-mouth referrals. Tell everyone you know that you are a freelance editor, and ask them to spread the word. Join local writer, editor, and freelancer groups. Show up at bookish events and connect with people. When you’re a freelancer, your job is more than doing the work. You have to do the work of the work; in other words, marketing, advertising, organizing your schedule and billing, networking…. All of that is crucial if you want consistent work.