An American Editor

August 22, 2011

Working Alone — Or Not?

Today’s guest article is by Ruth Thaler-Carter. Ruth is the owner of Communication Central, the sponsor of the upcoming conference “Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century” conference sponsored by Communication Central and scheduled for September 30 – October 1, 2011, in Baltimore, MD (see Worth Noting: Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century), as well as a freelance editor and writer.

Ruth’s article is a response to my recent article, One Is the Loneliest Number. Needless to say, I will respond to Ruth’s article. Ruth argues for the solo freelancer remaining solo.

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Working Alone — Or Not?

by Ruth Thaler-Carter

As my favorite professional time of year approaches – time for the Communication Central conference (September 30–October 1, in Baltimore, MD, this year), I’ve been thinking about the meaning of being an editorial entrepreneur; a freelancer, in less-lofty parlance.

Colleagues have talked here about the nature of freelancing in terms of someone working alone versus as part of a larger entity or
partnership, perhaps even with subcontractors or employees. Many colleagues believe that the future of editorial freelancing is in grouping together and functioning as teams or even companies with employees, or at least subcontractors. Some colleagues believe that the day of the one-person freelance operation is approaching its nadir; others see a continuing future for the one-person business—as long as that person has a network of colleagues to make it  possible to find and accept more complex projects.

I’m firmly in the camp of being and remaining a sole practitioner—doing all the activity required of a freelance writing, editing, proofreading, desktop publishing, and speaking business myself. I like being hands-on for my business, knowing my own skills and working around any limits I might have, controlling when and how I work—all aspects that make freelancing deeply appealing, and being a sole practitioner an ideal way to exercise those preferences. I’ve never felt a need to partner formally with another colleague.

But this doesn’t mean that I work in a vacuum, or would want to. I’m certainly not antisocial; I’m one of the most extroverted, gregarious people you’ll ever meet. I may not want to share my projects and profits with colleagues as a permanent business model, but I often partner with colleagues: a graphic designer who can bring artistic skills to a project, a tech writer who can create content on a level that’s beyond me, a photographer on a professional basis. I still get to do what I love doing—the writing, editing, proofreading, layout, etc.—and can take on projects that otherwise I would have to turn down, or at best do less of and profit less from. Having colleagues to turn to for such partnerships means that I can take on projects that would otherwise be beyond me. Most of those partnerships have turned out well, but not well enough to tempt me into changing the structure or nature of my editorial business. I still prefer to position myself as not just an entrepreneur, but a sole practitioner.

I do interact regularly with colleagues through professional
organizations. I’m a huge fan of networking, in person and, nowadays, electronically. As some readers of this blog know, I’m very active in several memberships associations. This is the main way that I overcome the potential isolation of being a one-person shop and connect with other people. Not just clients, but colleagues, many of whom have become friends as well.

I look forward to the Communication Central conference because I think that a gathering of colleagues is a valuable—perhaps even invaluable—resource for any freelance writer, editor, proofreader, website developer, graphic artist, indexer, etc. We’re all trying to succeed in an increasingly competitive world for editorial professionals, as publishing contracts, e-publishing expands, and outsourcing continues to drive down prices in some areas. We need each other more than ever these days—even those of us who intend to retain a solo business structure.

It’s ever-more-important to meet and learn from each other, and occasionally work with each other. Maybe not as ongoing formal business partners, but as backup or added value for specific assignments and projects, as well as for advice and even a shoulder to lean or cry on. It’s important just to know that there are people available to turn to when an intriguing project is on the horizon that you can’t tackle alone.

We also need to expand our perception of how and where to market our skills. We can learn about marketing without fear from each other without necessarily poaching on each other’s territory or client base.

Meeting in person is also a great opportunity to learn from each other about the tools we need, how they work, and how to make the most of them.

There’s just something special about putting faces, voices, and personalities to those e-mail addresses, Twitter handles, and other electronic networking environments of our current era!

I might have developed a business model that combines the best of both worlds: the sole practitioner and the partnership or group. I’m committed to retaining my identity as a one-person shop, but I still see interacting with colleagues as a key element of the success of my editorial business. The advice and insights, and occasional project participation, of colleagues help me maintain my solo business and keep it growing.

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Although I understand the desire to work solo, I wonder if it will be possible to do so and earn a reasonable living in coming years. What do you think? Do you agree with Ruth Thaler-Carter? What do you envision the future freelancer’s working environment will be like?

4 Comments »

  1. I think it’s a numbers game. Just as the print publishing industry is shrinking and changing, so too are editorial opportunities, making it increasingly difficult to operate as a pay-the-bills-level solo business. However, I believe that a percentage of publishing will endure, as well a percentage of determined and enterprising freelance editors.

    To apply some well-worn cliches: It’s a jungle out there, and only the strong survive.

    It’s also a big world, and even the horse-and-buggy people still exist in remnant form. When one’s trade is outmoded by the times, the few people left in it become in-demand, high-dollar practiitioners serving the reduced industry.

    Comment by Carolyn — August 22, 2011 @ 5:32 am | Reply

  2. [...] the preceding article, Working Alone — Or Not?, guest author Ruth Thaler-Carter discussed the positives of being a solo freelancer. Although a [...]

    Pingback by Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future? « An American Editor — August 24, 2011 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  3. [...] see my original article, One Is the Loneliest Number; Ruth Thaler-Carter’s response, Working Alone — Or Not?; and my response to Ruth, Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future?) Advertisement [...]

    Pingback by Is This the Wave of the Editorial Future? « An American Editor — August 30, 2011 @ 4:07 am | Reply

  4. [...] collaboration has been embraced by many (see, e.g., Ruth Thaler-Carter’s guest article,  Working Alone — Or Not?), collaboration is such a loose alliance that it won’t work over the long-term if the idea is [...]

    Pingback by What Should an Editor Do? « An American Editor — August 31, 2011 @ 4:05 am | Reply


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