Monday, February 06, 2012
On-site or off-site? Part 1
If you’re a magazine editor looking for a freelance copy editor or proofreader to help out during production, or you’re a freelancer hoping for magazine work, you might be wondering: “On-site or off-site?” I’ve found there are pros and cons for both workflow scenarios and both parties, and I’ll share them with you over the next couple of blog posts.

Freelancers working on-site:
 When I go into the office, editors give me full-colour, glossy layouts (variously called proofs, irises, boards or van dykes), which I mark up with a pen. The editor reviews the recommendations and makes changes onscreen while I start the next article. Sometimes, I read and enter changes onscreen. (This usually requires familiarity with the application InCopy, but picking up the basics is fairly easy.) If needed, I can pop over to editors’ desks to ask or answer questions, and we resolve problems together.

Magazine editors: The nice thing about bringing someone on-site is that you can discuss copy problems immediately and in person, and perhaps save yourself time by having him or her enter changes (or sit down with your designer, if that’s your process) – but first you need a workspace for your freelancer, preferably a quiet one. Having a freelancer on-site means you’ll have his or her services all to yourself; however, if pages are delayed for some reason, you’ll also pay for idle time. To ensure you have help when you need it, book your freelancer a few weeks or months in advance. Good ones are in high demand!

If you’re asking a freelancer to read copy before production – pre-layout, as Word documents – having him or her on-site probably isn’t necessary, as there is less urgency and the work is likely more spread out, time-wise. As long as you’re both comfortable using Word’s “track changes” feature, it’s a reliable, straightforward tool for providing detailed feedback from a distance.

Freelancers: You might find that you look forward to working on-site – I like how it offers variety to my routine, interaction with colleagues, and a chance to briefly feel like part of a magazine staff again. If you’re a real creature of habit, though, it could take some getting used to; you’ll be on someone else’s schedule, and you won’t have much control over your working environment (noise, distractions, interruptions). Other factors for freelancers to consider: travel time and expenses (not billable) and having to dig out your office attire!

For me, the main disadvantage is that I have to put other projects on hold or do them at night and on weekends. On a typical day at my home office, I’m shepherding multiple writing or editing projects to completion, and that’s not feasible when working on-site, even if there’s down time. Aside from replying to a few emails or making a quick call, it’s simply awkward to do one client’s work at another client’s office.

Is it challenging to juggle multiple projects? Sometimes, although I’m careful not to overbook myself. It would be nice to devote one to two weeks out of each month exclusively to a magazine, but I can’t afford to turn down all other projects, especially if the publication’s schedule is a moving target or the articles come to me in a sporadic fashion. Magazine copy editing offers steady work, but pay rates tend to top out at about $35 per hour plus HST. It’s not minimum wage, but it also hasn’t increased in the 10 years I’ve been copy editing – the only thing that’s gone up is the sales tax. Meanwhile, the cost of running a freelance business has crept upwards. I love magazines, but I have to limit the number of publications I copy edit for.

Having off-site freelancers has its pros and cons too — we’ll look at that next time!

- Jaclyn Law
About Me
Jaclyn Law

Jaclyn Law is a writer and an editor with more than 17 years’ experience. Formerly copy chief at Chatelaine and managing editor at Abilities, she has freelanced full-time since 2006. Her clients include magazines, websites, non-profits and corporations. Jaclyn is president of the Toronto Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada.
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