• Advice

Sarah Kolb-Williams on the Rise of Independent Editors

Just ten years ago, if you wanted to become an author or book editor, traditional publishing was pretty much your only option.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of authors and editors have left the world of traditional publishing behind to take charge of their own work and become their own bosses. And with over 200,000 self-published titles released last year, it’s no wonder that the demand for independent editors is booming!

This week, we talked with Sarah Kolb-Williams, a Freelancers Union member and freelance writer and editor, to ask how she accomplished her dream of becoming an editor and author and the benefits of this new style of flexible, independent work.

Why did you start your own business?

Initially, I thought I wanted to work in traditional publishing. But after being swept away by the incredible potential for self-published authors, I made the logical leap to self-employment. Self-publishers don’t ask for permission to publish—they just do it. This was an incredibly attractive concept, and I quickly realized I didn’t want to ask someone else for a paycheck ever again.

I started my business because I wanted control over my own schedule and my own work. I now focus almost exclusively on my two favorite subjects: science fiction and the publishing industry. Most of my clients are independently publishing authors.

What project are you working on?

I’m wrapping up my first book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing. The book helps self-publishing authors on a budget self-edit and revise their own manuscripts before spending money on a professional editor, then determine what kind of editing they need and find a suitable freelance editor for the project. (The process has also shown me the author’s side of the publishing experience firsthand, which has been a fantastic learning experience.)

What has been your most interesting project?

I recently copyedited a high-profile illustrated novel full of gorgeous steampunk illustrations. The book debuted at SF Comic Con this summer—which, as a huge fan of sci-fi, was incredibly satisfying for me personally—and the experience inspired me to seek out other projects that combine words and visual art.

What tips would you give to a new freelancer or aspiring entrepreneur?

It’s definitely important to have a plan, but at some point you have to stop planning and make the leap. Quitting a full-time job and going out on your own is terrifying, but there’s only so much preparation you can do when you’re spending most of your productive time working a job you’re not happy with. If you don’t give yourself that time and put yourself out there, you won’t be open to new possibilities that come along.

What mug do you use when you work?

I have a small collection of favorite mugs, but I try to use this ancient heat-sensitive Star Trek mug whenever possible. You know that feeling you get when you watch your car’s odometer pass a big milestone? That’s how fun it is to look down at my mug at random and catch the transporting Starfleet officers with no pants. (It’s the little things.)

Sarah Kolb-Williams is an editor, editorial consultant, and serial comma enthusiast. She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband, dog, and overflowing bookshelves. Find her at or on Twitter: @skolbwilliams

(Want to share your story with our members? E-mail lvanthoen [at] and we'll set up a time to chat.)