Generally speaking, copy editors check written material for errors and awkward writing. A freelance copy editor is a person who is self-employed in this field. He or she often works out of a home office editing copy for various clients but might sometimes work on-site at client locations, depending on the wishes of individual clients. Freelance copy editors work for magazines, newspapers, book publishers and websites. They also edit marketing pieces, advertising copy and a variety of other written material for ad agencies, corporate creative departments, educational institutions and other organizations.
The freelance copy editor, who might be the last person to look at a written piece before it goes to print or is published online, performs many of the same duties as a staff copy editor. The freelance copy editor reviews written copy for things such as correct grammar, spelling and word usage. He or she tightens up verbose writing and smooths out transitions to make copy flow better. Sometimes, significant rewriting of a piece can be the responsibility of the copy editor, but the job generally is one of correcting and smoothing rather than redoing. Freelance copy editors also write headlines and photo captions and are sometimes called on to verify facts, especially for publications that don't employ fact checkers.
Magazines, book publishers, ad agencies and other organizations often use specific editorial style guides in creating their written materials. Two style guides that are commonly used are The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style. Client organizations sometimes develop their own style guides. An important aspect of a copy editor's job is to ensure that the correct style is used. Freelance copy editors, because they might have a variety of clients using various editorial styles, often must be well-versed in the standard styles and be fast learners to quickly come up to speed on client-specific styles.
As self-employed workers, freelance copy editors can go through extremely busy periods followed by dry spells, so they often must spend a significant amount of time marketing themselves and their work. To find new clients, freelance copy editors often network, attend events for client industries, join organizations for freelance writers and editors and advertise their services through websites, brochures and other means. A freelance copy editor might have a four-year journalism degree, an English degree or another language-related degree. Many freelance copy editors start their careers as staff editors, gaining experience and contacts, before taking the plunge into self-employment.