Proofreading has become one of the most popular (and lucrative!) work-at-home niches in recent years. And if you have a knack for spotting errors, you can turn your love of reading into a nice side-hustle. That’s exactly what Phon Baillie did — then she decided to create Art of Proofreading to teach others how to do the same!
Phon Baillie is the owner and creator of Art of Proofreading. With over 16 years of experience in publishing, marketing, and content industries, she has proofread over 1600 books (including New York Times bestselling novels!).
You read that right. Sixteen. hundred. books.
Needless to say, she knows her stuff.
As a mom of a young son, she also knows what it’s like to build a business from home while maintaining a work-life balance that allows her to be there for the people who matter most.
That’s why I invited Phon to join us for an interview today on the blog!
Phon, thank you so much for joining us today.
Can you tell us, how did you first start getting into proofreading and copyediting?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer and was a voracious reader growing up. I was that kid walking to and from school with her nose in a book.
When I was in university, a communications teacher told me I had a natural talent for editing. I had no idea I could make money from what I was doing for free for friends.
So I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered editing, publishing, and working with content as a viable career.
Shortly after, I went to publishing school for post-grad studies. Publishing school was great, but I have to be honest and say it didn’t prepare us for real-world experience. I had to learn a lot on my own; I didn’t have any connections, and the program didn’t prepare us for finding work or marketing ourselves as freelancers.
I worked for a bit as a freelancer before I worked at a global book publisher as a proofreader. There I worked on fiction and nonfiction books, marketing materials and art, and I trained new proofreaders.
It was a lot of fun and I learned so much about book publishing, but the 9 – 5 life wasn’t for me. After a few years, I took the plunge and became a freelancer again, and have been ever since!
What does your typical day look like working from home with a family to take care of?
I wake up a bit earlier than my family so I can prep myself for the day ahead. I journal, read, and go over my goals for the day. After I’ve dropped my son off at school and my husband has gone to work, I focus on work and nothing else. I don’t worry about the morning mess, laundry, anything. I just do my work, making sure I take little breaks.
I start with taking care of questions from students in my proofreading and copyediting course, and marking assignments. Then I’ll settle down to proofread or copyedit a fiction novel, and will focus on that the rest of the day. At lunchtime I’ll go for a walk to grab food or just to get some fresh air.
I stop working 45 minutes before I have to pick my son up. That’s when I’ll tidy up, and rest with a cup of tea before my second job as a mom begins. When my son’s home, it’s all about homework, laundry, making dinner, etc.
Sometimes if I have a tight deadline, I’ll leave my laptop open and will sneak in a half hour of work while my son’s doing his homework or dinner’s in the oven. You can proofread quite a few pages in a half hour. But there’s generally no work until my son’s in bed.
After that, I’ll work for a bit more and then spend time with my husband. He’s very supportive of my schedule; he knows I’m juggling my Art of Proofreading work and my own editing projects. From the beginning he’s found it so fascinating that I get to sit and read for a living.
Is proofreading and copyediting a viable work-at-home niche for moms/parents?
Definitely! It’s so great because you can easily jump in and out of your project if you have to.
If you manage your time well, it can be very low-stress. Any problems or issue you come across can be fixed and don’t have to hang over your head and cause you stress.
You can drop everything and go to the park if you want. And for us parents, having a flexible, easy-to-manage job really allows you to balance family, work, and other responsibilities.
I actually supported my family on my sole income as a proofreader and copy editor for a few years after my son was born. My husband went back to school full time, so I took care of the mortgage and bills.
Do you need a special degree to get started as a proofreader?
No, you don’t. You don’t need to have a degree, certification, paid membership, or any sort of accreditation to work as a proofreader or copy editor.
The industry isn’t regulated and you don’t need to have your skills verified. But you do absolutely need to be properly trained. Clients are savvy and have expectations, and can spot poor work. If you want to work in a specific niche that requires expert-level knowledge or familiarity with certain content, then of course it’d be in your favor to have a background or special training in that field.
“I have really young kids at home. Can I function as an effective proofreader/copy editor if I also have to take care of my kids?”
When kids are baby/toddler age it’s practically impossible to get a lot of work done in a set period of time. I know. I’ve tried. Young kids require a lot of attention!
When my son was a baby and toddler, it was hard to work for a big chunk of time during the day, but being able to squeeze in a few minutes here or there made a difference.
You can work when the kids nap or wait until they’re asleep so you can get a big portion of work done. You’ll have to find what works for you, and just make sure you keep an eye on the deadline.
What types of proofreading/editing jobs do you typically take on?
I do a lot of work for publishing houses, big and small, so I’m always proofreading or copyediting a fiction novel. But I work on all sorts of content including reports, transcripts, articles, product labels, design briefs, marketing communications, etc. And my clients include entrepreneurs, businesses, and authors.
When you have the proper proofreading and copyediting skills, you can work on any kind of content. I’m fortunate enough that my network will refer people to me regardless of the type of project.
You also have a fun job as a proofreader for romance novels. Can you tell us what that’s like?
I’ve been proofreading romance novels for about 15 years now for big publishers including Harlequin and Avon, as well as self-published authors. I really enjoy it; the stories are entertaining and I never get bored. I proofread and copyedit all subgenres of romance including Western, Christian, Victorian, Sci-fi, YA, thriller, mystery — you name it, I’ve read it.
Do you think other people can work on romance novels, too?
Yes, of course! It’s the most popular genre on Amazon, and a billion-dollar industry. And self-published authors need people who can help them improve the quality of their story. Proofreading or copyediting romance books is no different from working on a novel from another genre.
“What if I don’t want to read a certain type of content. Can I specialize in certain types of written media?”
Proofreading is proofreading, regardless of the type of content you want to work on. So it’s entirely up to you what you want to work on, and if you want to focus on a specific niche or two.
I have a student who focuses on proofreading and editing just for food-related content since she’s a chef. Another student of mine is a nurse and only works on medical and health-related projects.
Proper training will give you the skills to work on content in any industry. What sets certain niches apart is specific industry knowledge. For example, if you want to proofread medical content, then you’ll need to know specific language, terms, and industry knowledge.
How much can I make as a proofreader/copy editor?
Standard rates are from $20 – $35 an hour for a proofreader, and copy editors can make up to $60/hour. Some niches will pay higher than others. However, some project rates are flat-fee or by the word. It depends on the client.
I always tell my students to charge what they’re worth. You don’t want to have such low rates that you attract cheap, high-maintenance clients. You don’t want to do work you’ll resent, so price yourself according to the industry standard, and you’ll attract clients who are respectful of you, and want to pay for quality work.
Any advice to moms/parents looking to start a proofreading/copyediting side hustle from home while juggling parenthood?
I’ve started side hustles on top of my full-time proofreading and editing work, while being a parent, so I know how challenging it can be. You have to be okay with taking time from other areas so you can have a side hustle.
Look for pockets of 20 minutes or more where you can squeeze in work. Maybe you’ll have to have shorter times at the park, or ask a friend or family member to help out.
Delete social media from your phone; you’d be surprised how much time an average person spends scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.
How can I get started as a proofreader or copy editor?
The first step is to be properly trained. Do your research and make sure the teacher is a working professional or has a background in proofreading and editing for all kinds of content. This is important because you want to have skills that are applicable to any industry.
I have an online course, High-Level Proofreading Pro, that teaches both proofreading and copyediting, plus how to market yourself, find work, and manage business details like contracts and invoices.
I share exactly what you need to know so you can work on the same level as myself and my cohorts. So that’s over 16 years of industry knowledge that you can learn in as little as 2 weeks.
You also need to learn how to work with US and UK English so you can take on global work and broaden your market. Being Canadian, I have extensive experience working with both US and UK English, which I also teach my students.
If you want to learn how you can get started, I have a free masterclass you can sign up for called The 4-Step Framework For Starting A Freelance Editorial Business.
Thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to give us a peek into your world, Phon!
As you can see, no matter what your schedule looks like, if you have 20 minutes here and 10 minutes there, you can turn that time into a viable income right from home.
Interested in starting your own proofreading side-hustle? Here are some helpful links to get started:
Phon Baillie is a professional proofreader and editor with over 16 years experience in the publishing, marketing, and content industries. She’s also the founder of Art of Proofreading. Phon has proofread over 1600 books, including many New York Times bestselling novels. When her nose isn’t buried in a book, she’s chasing after her son and trying out new cookie recipes. You can read more about proofreading and copyediting, and get free training, at artofproofreading.com.