The Monthly Q&A: Sophie Dougall

Sophie is a freelance editor at her business Sophista. She's been working as a professional editor for three years.

How has your month been?

I've had a good mix of work this month. I do a bit of work for a start-up whose parent company is American. I proof all their employee forms, contracts, marketing collateral, promotional handbooks and basically any correspondence coming from the US. I change the English to Australian English and check references and any colloquialisms, jargon etc. I also did a job for a design agency which I really enjoyed as it was on hard copy and most of my work is online, so it was good to use proofreading marks again. I've had a job put on hold for a wellness booklet as the author is still collating photos. Most of my work is one-off and ranges from academic theses to web copy and fiction. I love the variety.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

I try to be aware of not being too available out of work hours unless there is an urgent request. We all have smart phones these days and are so accessible. I try to find a balance between being responsive to clients and having my own downtime on the weekend and switching off so I can be more responsive during work hours (as I write this on a Sunday night I can see a work email conversation popping up on my screen so I'm trying hard to switch off from it!)

I love working on my own, so I don't get lonely, but I do miss having colleagues around to brainstorm with or problem solve. I fill that void by being part of the Secret Editors' Business Facebook group, where there's always someone to give wise advice. The RMIT alumni community is very active and I enjoy being connected to the friends I made there. I live out of Melbourne, so I also attend the Gippsland Editors group lunches where I connect with local editors.

Keeping up to date with technology is ongoing too. I try to keep myself informed with software updates and technology trends, which can be challenging as it's constantly evolving. I also try to attend as many Editors Victoria dinner meetings as I can to keep up with changes in the industry.

What do you love most about your work?

I love having flexibility in my week to plan it as I choose. Having deadlines with each job makes it easy for me to plan my week and, as long as I deliver, I can plan my week around my work. After a long corporate career, including a stint in a call centre where every single minute of your day is monitored, I still appreciate having a job where no-one is looking over my shoulder and I can make a cup of tea whenever I feel like it: freedom!

I love helping students and PhD candidates to improve their work, fixing up the things they don't like doing but that I love!

Coming from an events background, I love the project nature of editing and seeing a publication come to fruition. Working on web copy with keywords provided by the client, my input can be measured by the increase in hit rates to a site, which is really rewarding.

How did you get here?

I've always loved language and studied linguistics at uni - and I speak French and German. I had a long career in event management via fashion and finance and completed a Masters of Business in Event Management. I would often find myself editing correspondence in my corporate roles and really enjoyed it (I even reformatted these questions - can't help myself!) My lightbulb moment came when a friend casually mentioned that she wanted to study editing and the dots joined for me. I was fortunate to be accepted into RMIT's Professional Writing and Editing Diploma and absolutely loved it. I learnt so much in my time there and continue to draw on it during my daily work. During my student years I was lucky enough to secure a few coveted internships. At Melbourne University Publishing I worked on some great titles and learnt so much from the talented editors there. I also did 12 weeks at Hardie Grant, which was really varied and interesting. I then did a week at Pacific Magazines working on Who Weekly, writing captions and proofing the celebrity gossip pages! All these internships confirmed that I was on the right track to doing what I loved. I couldn't wait to get into it!

I found it hard to find a suitable full-time job after I graduated, so decided to give it a go on my own. I did a short small business course which was really beneficial for setting up my own freelancing business. I also did Jackey Coyle's Dance Steps workshops (beginners and advanced) and I really recommend doing those to get you on your way and to make sure you're on track with marketing, planning, finance and social media.

I initially received work through word of mouth from friends and corporate connections, but now receive most of my jobs through online searches. I pay a company to manage my search engine optimisation, but it pays for itself every month with the enquiries I receive. The most valuable thing about it is that the enquiries are really specific to what I offer. When I was managing my own keywords I'd have people emailing me looking for work or for editing children's books, basically not the type of enquiries I was looking for. Now every enquiry is targeted and relevant.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year?

I tend to get jobs on a very short lead basis, so I couldn't even tell you what next week is going to be like (for example, those emails that are coming in now are setting up my next few days of work). One of the positives of working for myself is that I don't resent the late nights at the desk when they happen, as I know I can manage it and balance it out with some down time the next day. But generally I aim for a manageable 35-hour week. It's one of the reasons I chose to work for myself, to have a good work-life balance.

If you didn't have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

I'd love to be producing soundtracks for movies. They say that anything's possible and dreams do come true but I don't think that job is ever going to happen for me! But watch this space! Without trying to sound clichéd, though, I do have many 'pinch me' moments when I'm sitting in my sunny office, listening to music, managing my own day and not wanting to be doing anything else (well, work-wise anyway).

Thanks so much, Sophie!

You can find Sophie at, or on social media: 
Twitter @SophieVonD
Facebook sophistaediting