The Monthly Q&A: Brenton Thomas

Brenton Thomas is a Ballarat-based freelance editor and proofreader, whose business is Fresh Eyes Australia. He came to editing after a 30-year career in state and local government. In his two years freelancing, Brenton has proofread a lifestyle magazine, edited and proofread a number of annual reports, edited some websites and provided editing assistance for two doctoral theses.

How has your month been?

I have been very busy over August and September working on five annual reports for councils and community service organisations. Three of those are complete whilst for two of them I will be checking the proofs when they are received from the designers.

One of the theses had been an ongoing saga from March, and was only finished and submitted in early September. Although it was a frustrating exercise at times, when the candidate made a number of changes to the content, I did find it satisfying in the end to have helped her produce a high-quality, professional document that impressed the examiners, particularly given the state it was in six months ago.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

As I am relatively new to freelance editing and proofreading, the biggest challenge I face is attracting regular work assignments to establish myself as a professional in the industry and generate sufficient income to support myself. Fortunately, I have a partner who is working and is able to support me whilst I am making my way in this highly competitive field.

Given my previous work as a full-time public servant, it was foreign to me to have to approach many different individuals and organisations to promote myself and explain the benefits of my services. However, I am prepared to do the 'hard yards' in order to become reasonably well known in the field, hopefully establish a regular client list and attract a continuous flow of work assignments.

What I envision, somewhat idealistically, I know, is that rather than having to chase the work myself, I will in the future receive regular work from people approaching me requesting my services.

What do you love most about your work?

I love the variety of my work so far and the immense satisfaction I feel when I've helped someone improve their written material from a formatting, readability, consistency and error-free perspective. It's almost a perverse pleasure to return tracked-changes documents to clients and note their surprise at the number of corrections and suggested changes. They then realise the value of my editing and proofreading services, and that I saved them from the embarrassment of producing a poorly written piece of work that contained mistakes.

Being a freelancer, I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of determining my own hours of work, deciding which assignments I will accept and working from the comfort of my home office. The idea of returning to a full-time position working from Monday to Friday and reporting to a boss has no appeal whatsoever anymore.

How did you get here?

Although I have an applied biology associate diploma, my previous positions in the government sector were administrative. I often had to write and produce high-level strategic documents, business cases and annual reports, and I would often receive compliments on the quality of my writing and the presentation of my work. Over time, I developed a reputation as someone with excellent writing skills, a fine eye for detail, a good grasp of grammar and punctuation, and great skills in formatting Word documents, particularly tables! This led to many people asking if I could review their reports before they submitted them to their superiors.

Given these skills and abilities, I decided that I would pursue a new career as a freelance editor and proofreader after being made redundant in 2013. In order to gain some formal training in the field, I enrolled in the online professional editing and proofreading course offered by the Australian College of Journalism through the Open Colleges system. After two years of study I obtained my certificate in July this year. Two aspects of the course were particularly valuable: learning the hyphenation of compound adjectives, and understanding the correct use of the hyphen and en and em dashes.

Being a relative 'newbie' to the sector, I have greatly appreciated the professional training courses offered by Editors Victoria, and the networking experience and advice gained from more experienced editors at the regular Editors Victoria freelance lunches. I also intend to apply to join the mentorship program offered by Editors Victoria. It's an excellent initiative for new editors to gain experience and understanding of the industry from an editor who has been working in the field for a number of years.

To this point, I have felt that I don't have enough experience to approach the book publishing industry for possible freelance work. However, one of my goals is to proofread a book, probably a nonfiction work related to my areas of interest, such as the arts, sport, government, science and politics. Of course, I would accept any offer to copyedit or proofread any type of book.

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

In my two years of working in the field, my average weekly workload has varied considerably. From May to September, I have worked approximately 25 to 30 hours a week on annual reports. At other times the workload has been low, with perhaps an average of 10 to 15 hours per week.

If you are comfortable discussing salary, can you give an idea of an indicate rate of pay for the kind of work you do?

I charge $50 per hour. Some clients trust me to keep a tally of the number of hours worked on their assignments and I have invoiced them accordingly. Others will ask me to provide a fixed quote, which I calculate on the basis of the word count, the hourly rate of $50 and my work rate of 1500 words per hour for copyediting and 2000 words for proofreading.

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

Given my interest in sport, particularly tennis, and the arts, I would very much like to be an administrator in those fields.

Thanks so much, Brenton!

You can find Brenton at brentron.net/fresheyesaustralia and contact him by email at brenton@fresheyesaustralia.com.au, by phone on 0419 338 699, or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/brenton-thomas/77/96b/4ba.