5 Tips to Boost Your Writing Income As a Proofreader

Carol Tice

Stefanie Flaxman - Revision Fairy Logo showing characterized stephanie flaxman as a fairy holding a pencilBy Stefanie Flaxman

Have you ever thought about adding proofreading services to your repertoire?

One of the smartest things that you can do for your freelance business is diversify. If you’re a writer who has a knack for catching errors, put it to use.

Yes, Little Miss Aspiring Carrie Bradshaw, I know this sounds depressing. Your writer-life fantasy probably includes contemplation in a cozy office that smells of rich mahogany, followed by a ritualistic sipping of five-dollar lattes as captivating words waltz from your fingertips onto your keyboard.

By now you should know that a freelance writing career is no fairy tale. Marketing and expanding your services are always part of the mix.

Here are five tips to help you increase your income by offering proofreading services.

1. Impress your current clients.

Chances are that you don’t write all of the copy that an existing client produces. Browse Web content that you didn’t write, and make suggestions for improvement—you even may spot a glaring error.

Does the client need some writing just proofread? You can do that! After you’ve demonstrated your meticulous editing ability, the client may assign you more writing gigs.

2. Charge per word.

Metro PCS advertises that the total price of a wireless telephone plan includes all taxes and fees. Their slogan is “Not $40-ish. 40.” I dig the “no surprises for the customer” attitude.

Figure out an appropriate per-word charge depending on how fast you work. A client can quickly determine her fee with this model.

I offer three levels of proofreading services ranging from $0.01 to $0.02 per word. Since I specialize in fast turnaround for small business documents, I also charge an additional fee for turnaround time. Clients calculate cost with the formula, “total fee = (proofreading service fee + turnaround time fee) x word count.”

3. Use PayPal.

People trust PayPal, and the established payment transaction company helps you address a prospect’s fear of giving you her hard-earned money in exchange for services. Let a potential client know that you understand this apprehension by making a refund (if warranted) simple.

4. Meet deadlines.

I recently edited a 160,000-word novel and returned it by my deadline. An email reply from my client read, “Thank you very much for being the first person to get the book back to me by the time you said you would.”

I would never miss a deadline, but tardiness is common and oftentimes tolerated. Stand out by demonstrating punctuality.

Also, when a client wants a piece of writing edited, it is essentially perfect from her perspective (no matter how many mistakes you do find). Don’t make her wait for the final product.

5. Love it. Live it.

Find clients with complementary personality types and writing styles to create a powerful team.

I love working with writers. The best editors passionately enhance and perfect raw copy with an intuitive sensibility. The collaboration makes the writer’s intentions shine.

Although the writer is the “star,” consider “behind the scenes” work to contribute to the writing process, utilize your proofreading skills, and boost your freelance income.

Stefanie Flaxman corrects business, marketing, and educational documents in 24 hours. She’s a professional proofreader and the founder of Revision Fairy® Small Business Proofreading Services. Connect with Stefanie on Twitter.

The Webinar is coming up next Tuesday! Congratulations to Elizabeth, who is the winner of Wednesday’s free-ticket contest with her question about the best way to find better-paying clients.

Don’t miss out. Get your freelance-writing questions answered — live!



  1. Katherine Swarts

    Depressing but true; the person who takes deadlines seriously (Point #4) is the exception rather than the rule. Unless, of course, it’s a matter of “meet this date or you’re fired/your electricity gets cut off/your bill goes up 10%.” So being on time when there are no serious immediate consequences says clearly to the client, “I consider you as important as my own best interests”; and that’s what really brings in the repeat work and referrals. Doing a good job is fine, but in the end, everyone wants to be treated like the most important person in the world.

    • Stefanie

      There’s definitely a “customer service” aspect to freelancing. Even though you’re the CEO of your freelance business, you’re also “head of Customer Service.” It’s important to treat each client with your undivided attention. Like you mentioned, Katherine, exceptional, personalized service makes clients want to do repeat business with you. Thanks for your input!

  2. SmittenbyBritain

    I would love some recommendations on resources for how to begin freelance proofreading. This sounds very intriguing.



    • Carol Tice

      I think it often grows organically out of what you’re already doing. I hope Stefanie will weigh in as well, but when I see sites that are poorly proofed, I’ll often point out a few typos and then ask if they’re looking for a proofreader…a pretty obvious way to find prospects and pitch yourself to clients as a proofreader.

    • Stefanie

      I’ve always loved copy editing, proofreading, and working with writers, but my previous full-time jobs involving writing, editing, and business administration facilitated my transition to full-time freelancing. I gained the experience (and confidence!) that I needed to run a freelance business.

      Experiences always build on each other and give you new ideas and opportunities.

      Melissa, are you currently proofreading full-time and looking to switch to freelance work?

  3. Stephanie Sides

    I’m curious about your suggestion to “diversify.” All the pros I’ve listened to or consulted with recommend the exact opposite: narrow your scope to make it really clear what you do, which, in turn helps potential customers find you (e.g., proposal and technical writing related to the health care industry). Could you please write a future blog posting about why you think diversification is the way to go?

    • Carol Tice

      Personally, I’m a fan of multiple niches. You can see the advantage in what happened in the downturn. For instance, if you only wrote about real estate, you might have starved to death since that industry collapsed in the past couple years. But if you also write about insurance…you’ve got somewhere else to focus.

      At this point I’m known for my writing about small business, careers, retail, restaurant, big public companies, insurance, business finance…so there’s always something popping. Works for me — would love to hear from others. Certainly writing a smattering of this and that I think doesn’t end up with as good pay rates…but it’s no crime to have multiple income sources, yes?

    • Carol Tice

      I should add I once had a nifty sideline going for several years — I indexed reference books for a university. I think that’s another example of how to develop little add-ons that can bring in another income when you’re slow.

    • Stefanie

      Stephanie, I agree with you that having a focus or niche (or multiple niches) helps potential clients find you.

      To clarify my point about diversifying your service offerings, I intended to address an attitude toward business more than your specific writing or editing niche. Since multiple streams of income benefit freelancers, I wanted to encourage others to be open to other types of freelance work.

      For example, if a new freelance writer has her heart set on only writing for print magazines to make an income, she is going to be disappointed. But if she’s open to writing Web articles, blogs, proofreading, etc., earning a living freelancing is more realistic.

      The article that I link to on ProBlogger is a great story about having multiple projects as you work toward your goals.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Alan Kravitz

    Very informative post, Stefanie. I love the explanation of your pricing levels and turnaround times. Very straightforward.

    • Stefanie

      Thanks, Alan! I like to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. 🙂

  5. VJ

    Thank you for writing this article! I sent out 10 resumes to publishers about two months ago applying for freelance proofreading jobs — without success.

    I have worked as a legal secretary for 27 years (civil litigation), and definitely have experience with working under pressure in a demanding environment that thrives on detail, and high turnaround; composing correspondence, proofreading, editing, word processing skills, research, etc.

    I recently completed a children’s writing program, and I would appreciate any suggestions!

    Thank you, again!

  6. Stefanie

    There’s a lot of competition when you apply to freelance proofreading jobs.

    I’ve found that many people think of freelance proofreading as a hobby or something to do “on the side.” So, lots of individuals apply to these jobs because they think that proofreading is easy. Effective proofreading is actually a specific skill that I, personally, take seriously.

    I don’t know what publishers you were interested in, but since you have experience as a legal secretary, I’d target companies and legal firms where your expertise would be a good fit. Focus on your strengths (the ones that you mentioned in your comment and other detailed qualifications that make you stand out as a candidate), and find those who would benefit from your background.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Stefanie —

      I always try to target industries where I have a specific expertise that sets me apart. I find I get a lot of responses that way, and few if it’s just a general topic or I have no personal connection to the subject matter.

      • Stefanie

        General subjects or topics outside of your background often sound fun or intriguing, but you have to work your way into those fields, just like when you take on any new experience. It takes time, so beginning with a greater focus on what you know is helpful–and will increase your odds of getting results.

  7. Laurie Boris

    I love proofreading jobs! Proofreading engages the analytical part of my brain. I’m good at it, and I make deadlines. Unfortunately, it’s an undervalued skill in some markets.

    • Stefanie

      That’s true, Laurie. Many writers/companies don’t feel like their writing needs polishing, and they don’t want someone else altering their work. Sometimes they’re correct—it depends on the skill level of an individual writer, of course.

      Great relationships develop, however, when writers recognize that their writing’s clarity and effectiveness can be improved with the help of a copy editor or proofreader. It becomes a team effort to produce the best piece of writing possible.

  8. Claudine

    Carol, I cannot wait for the webinar. Right now I’m discussing a project with a new client who wants to pay by the word. I’ve not done this before but his work is really grinding out articles so I am thinking of supplementing the more “real” work I have with this. He is quoting rates from textbroker and writeraccess as standard rates for per-word work. Since I’d be a fool to make a move without your feedback….what do you think of these sites and their rates?

    • Carol Tice

      Textbroker? These are real bottom of the barrel places.

      And there’s no such thing as “standard rates.” There’s only what the market will bear — what writers are willing to work for, and clients are willing to pay. Every situation is different. Get a lot of information about exactly what’s required before you name a price.

      I quote what I’m willing to do work for, which is what you should do. See my post on negotiating for some tips on how to make sure you get a fair rate for the work.

      See you at the Webinar!

      • Claudine


        Thank you. I read several posts. Can you throw out a number of what you think is competitive for the Los Angeles area in today’s market? I’ve been reading posts by others on LinkedIn groups and it runs the gamut, but not as low as textbroker (are they domestic or are they offshore and thus working for 70% of US competitive rates?)

        As a general rule, I just avoid this sort of work and wonder if I should do that here. I’ve pressed him for a lot of detail as your blog on negotiating suggests as all those small details make a big difference in how much time I will spend.

  9. Claudine

    PS: Thank god for you to give us solo practitioners such solid guidance and insider info. I’ve been a writer for a long time, but not in this model so I really needed the feedback from someone in my field. My other “mentors” are design professionals — apples to oranges in many ways.

  10. Melissa Paulik

    Very interesting. I have a fairly full plate of writing projects, but every now and then, I have a client who needs my help with editing content they decide to write themselves. Sometimes it’s typos, but often it’s helping them sort out their thoughts, keeping sentences readable and using proper punctuation.

    The thing that keeps me from offering proofreading services is that I feel like I can’t make a mistake. I use all the proofreading tricks with my own documents:
    – read them with fresh eyes
    – print them out
    – read them backwards
    – read them aloud
    – give them to my spouse to read

    Errors still slip through from time to time. How do you deal with it when you, as a proofreader, end up missing something that the client notices later?

    BTW, I’ve reread this comment 3X, and I’m sure it contains errors!


    • Stefanie


      That’s such a relevant question! Thanks for asking!

      Since proofreading is essentially about making a document perfect, the fear of not catching an error is definitely something I’ve dealt with. Many perfectionists (like myself) become proofreaders because they like that responsibility, but you can also end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself.

      A simple solution is to consistently deliver excellent results to your clients. Your positive relationship with a specific client then becomes more important than a small mistake that you may happen to make on an off-day. There are mistakes and there are MISTAKES. Even if the worse happens, you act accordingly depending on the client’s needs.

      It’s just like any other job. Humans are human, and mistakes happen. You can’t let that fear keep you from working.

      Your question also reminded me of one of Carol’s fairly recent posts about Fear. I’d check it out if you haven’t already.

  11. JELindholm

    I’ve been considering adding a proofreading service to my blog to try to generate some income from my writing. This article gave me the push I needed… Thanks!


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