I went freelance at the start of 1993, working from my house in Dublin. I didn’t have a computer till midway through that year — work arrived at first by courier or in the mail, on paper. I had some reference books and, if I was lucky, a publisher’s style guide to consult. For many of the questions that inevitably arise in the course of our work, there was nobody to ask — I no longer had a mentor sitting in the same room.
Very early in my freelance career I joined AFEP (Association of Freelance Editors & Proofreaders — now Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers, or AFEPI Ireland). It had around 15 members then (now it has more than 100). I used to meet up with some of these colleagues from time to time, in cafes or in members’ houses. We produced a booklet containing our details, which was sent to every publisher in Ireland. But after I moved out of Dublin in 1998, I had less to do with the association.
I did virtually no networking from then until 2013. That was 15 years — more than half of my freelance career to date. I was isolated. I had regular clients and was rarely short of work, but I may have persisted too long with some clients that didn’t pay well.
Facebook changed everything for me. In 2013 I became an admin of the new Editors’ Association of Earth group (which now has around 9,000 members). There are perhaps 500 editors, based all over the world, among my Facebook friends. For a time I became much more involved in AFEPI Ireland as well, having got to know some fellow members online.
Last November, having finished some big jobs, I found that work was quiet for a time. My network kicked in with leads, ideas and referrals after I mentioned that things were a bit slow. In the pre-network days, a dry spell was a much bigger worry, and more difficult to remedy.
You learn a lot in editors’ networks. The main thing I have learned is to take a less prescriptivist and more descriptivist approach in my work — to be flexible and context-aware. Before I was enmeshed in networks, there was no way for me to benefit from that lesson. The imposed rigidity of in-house ways was hard to shake off.
I have met dozens of my Facebook editor friends in real life, mostly at conferences; some have stayed in my house. For me, this kind of contact is very important, and represents the antithesis of my previous isolation.
So, an editors’ network is about getting more and/or better work; about learning; and about fun, sociability and friendship. The point of a network is that you put as much into it as you get out. You give what you can and take what you need.
My advice to anyone who hasn’t already done so is to join a large network such as the Editors’ Association of Earth, and start to give and take. We now have the tools that facilitate sharing of our experiences and our jokes. Let’s make full use of them.
Previous post from Brendan O’Brien: Winning in the Freelance Game.
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