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Working from Home as an Independent Contract Proofreader: Considerations and Qualifications

@ ProofreadingPal
April 8, 2019
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I never intended to become an independent contract proofreader, working from a lounge chair in a tropical forest on the Pacific coast of Mexico. But I love words and water, so that’s what happened.

With a degree in journalism, a variety of editorial experience, and a passion for languages, in 2005 I left Ohio to take a “dream job” with a new translation company based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Although editing translations from other languages to English was rewarding, after eight years in the high desert I yearned to live by the sea—without leaving Mexico, which had captured my heart.

First, I did an online job search using keywords such as proofreader, editor, contractor, and work from home. Then, once the search was successful, I resigned my in-house position, loaded up a lot of pets, and moved to a fishing village on the coast. Six years later, I can’t think of any better way to earn a living . . . even if I had not become an “accidental immigrant.”

Anyone who considers freelance editing or proofreading as a career probably has a lot in common with me. You like to be your own boss and set your own hours. You are intellectually curious and never want to stop learning. In terms of skills, you have mastered the fundamentals of English, and you’re familiar with the Microsoft Word Track Changes program as well as one or more style guides. If you’re a U.S. citizen living abroad, you prefer to earn U.S. dollars and contribute to Social Security while avoiding double taxation and the need to obtain a work permit. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s now possible to work remotely from your home office (or patio lounge chair) anywhere in the world.

From my experience, companies who hire independent contractors in this field follow one of three basic models. Some firms handle only book-length manuscripts, offering long turnaround times, the chance to develop a “rhythm,” and the opportunity to work directly with the author. The flip side of leisurely deadlines and personal contact is the fact that you work on a manuscript for several consecutive months, and then wait another 30 days past the invoice date before getting paid.

Other firms provide only one service. For example, a number of companies now specialize in editing foreign students’ college application essays. In exchange for earning a high rate of pay per essay, the contractor is charged with editing documents written by non-native English speakers, whose grasp of the language is often so weak that major rewrites are required. Because the semi-annual application seasons are relatively short, the work is not continuous, and many of these firms are headquartered outside the United States. Therefore, even if they pay in U.S. dollars, they don’t submit forms to the IRS, so the self-employed contractor is solely responsible for keeping accurate records and managing all accounting matters.

Having worked as an independent contractor for both book- and essay-editing companies, I can honestly say that I prefer to work for an American firm like ProofreadingPal, which not only maintains a running total of contractors’ earnings, pays monthly by direct deposit, and uses W-9 forms for tax purposes; it also provides a full range of editorial support—from reference guides to tips on every aspect of editing to monthly “proofreading pointers.” It also offers assignments 24/7, turnaround times ranging from 30 minutes to seven days, and word counts ranging from under 100 to more than 20,000 words.

Even though a contractor’s basic task doesn’t vary—grammar editing that includes the correction of spelling, punctuation, verb tense, and sentence structure, as well as ensuring accuracy and clarity—no order is ever the same. For instance, over the course of a single day, a contractor can edit a letter of reference, a term paper, a business document, and an academic journal article of varied lengths, writing styles, and forms of English (e.g., U.S., U.K., or Canadian English). If the proofreader encounters an issue with a customer’s order, in-house staff are available online to handle any problems.

In short, a company like ProofreadingPal offers its contractors the best of both worlds: location independence and individual support. Whether you live in the States, across the border, of halfway around the globe, you always feel like part of a team.

Lynne W.

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