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An Editor's Toolbox

Freelancers today have a dizzying array of tools available to make their work easier. As much freelance work, particularly in publishing, happens electronically and remotely, we’ve come to depend on technology to run our businesses.

Both new and established freelance editors might wonder if all of these bells and whistles are necessary. Let’s begin to answer that question by looking at the kinds of tools at our disposal.

The Basics

Freelance editors often perform their primary job functions in commonly available software programs and operating systems. Open-source and proprietary software for word processing, desktop publishing, indexing, and more are part and parcel of many freelancers’ days. Because much of publishing is globalized and electronic, one typically also needs Internet and email access to work.

Time Management

Software and web-based tracking tools allow freelancers to manage their time efficiently. We can track ourselves from the level of minutes spent on specific tasks to project planning and scheduling over many months. Other freelancers swear by penciling in due dates on a paper calendar.


accounting tools one can generate and track invoices, track accounts receivable, and manage tax information. Some products even manage online payment transfers. Or one can keep a simple tally on paper or in a spreadsheet.


Online reference tools have become ubiquitous, including subscription-based dictionaries and style manuals, search engines, periodical databases, and scanned book repositories. Almost every necessary reference is available online, whenever and wherever we need it. Professional magazines and newsletters provide a wide variety of content on style, Q&A forums, and technical knowledge. Many freelancers find that using hard-copy references works better in some circumstances, however.

Finding Clients

Online forums now allow us to interact with potential clients efficiently and quickly, and are taking the place of cold-calling and sending out résumés. Marketplaces vary from bidding sites and directory listings to postings on mailing lists and social media groups. Many editors maintain websites or blogs where they advertise their services and provide insight into their editorial approaches. Other freelancers attend local meetings and events in which they can interact directly with potential clients.


Freelance editors have many networking opportunities, including discussion forums, mailing lists, and social media. Much of this activity happens online, but conferences and local chapter meetings of larger associations remain popular face-to-face events. Freelance editors often still benefit from the tried-and-true business card or small items like pens with their business name.

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How many of these tools are strictly necessary? I believe that it’s possible to keep things very simple and still be effective, both for new and established editors. In my case, at bare minimum I need internet access, Word, Excel, Acrobat Reader, and Google.

My editing work is done in Word. I communicate directly with clients via Gmail. I keep in touch with colleagues via email, my website, the online networking platform LinkedIn, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I track my time in Excel and Google Calendar.

I calculate rates and project fees in Excel, use an online currency converter for overseas client invoices, and generate invoices in Word. Occasionally I accept payment via PayPal. I use online style manuals, dictionaries, Google Books and Scholar, WorldCat, and many other reference sources. Occasionally I edit PowerPoint slides or web copy in proprietary formats like WordPress.

What might I add to that already long list of tools? I am a member of scholarly and professional organizations, but I could join and subscribe to more of them. I could use more complex accounting, invoicing, and time-management software like Toggl or Harvest. I could expand my client services by learning proprietary indexing or proofreading markup software like CINDEX or Adobe Acrobat Pro. I use a few Editorium products to make editing in Word more efficient, but I could add others like PerfectIt. For that matter, I could learn a bit more about how to write my own macros in Word.

Is your head spinning yet? Don’t despair! One can make freelancing as complex or as simple as desired. Maybe you only have a few clients—then complex invoicing might not be necessary. Perhaps you have a natural talent for time management, and simply keep a visual reminder on your calendar. If most of your clients are local, you may need business cards or simple brochures rather than a complex website.

You might relish the powerful tools available to us, or you might prefer to keep the technology to a minimum. That is the beauty of freelancing: you choose.

Kristine Hunt has run her freelance editing business, Crystal Clear Copy Editing, since 2002 . Her passion is editing academic writing, particularly the humanities and social sciences, when she isn’t tending her herb garden or talking to her children. Kristine will complete her master's degree in history in 2016.

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