An American Editor

August 30, 2010

Who Speaks for the Freelance Editor?

The title asks the question; the answer is no one. What brought this to mind is a commentary in this week’s BusinessWeek, “Misrepresenting Small Business,” which asks the question more broadly.

When I began my editorial career 26 years ago, I searched for an organization that could help me launch my career, look out for my interests on a national level, and could help me find work. Remember that this was in the early days of the Internet, so socialization online was still in its infancy and online searching was like today. At that time I had little success.

Subsequently, I discovered the EFA — Editorial Freelancers Association — a New York City-based group that had the right name and was, semi-conveniently, near my backyard (I live in upstate New York, a mere train ride away from the Big Apple). So I joined the EFA with high hopes and expectations, only to discover that it failed on many counts, with its big strength being a place to schmooze over the water-cooler. I was a member for many years until I realized that the return wasn’t worth the investment.

From conversations with several colleagues who are members today, what I considered faults in the EFA years ago remain what I consider faults today, yet the organization continues to draw new members to replenish the ranks of those who leave it.

So, I ask the question again: Who represents the interests of American freelance editors? It seems that although the need for a viable, national group that addresses the shortcomings of being self-employed is even of greater importance today than ever, there is a vacuum. I suspect the vacuum has many causes, not least of which is either the unwillingness or inability of many freelance editors to fund such an organization with high annual dues. Yet I remain convinced that not only is such an organization viable and needed, but that once it is established and demonstrates its prowess at representing freelance editors, membership would bloom.

What should such a group do? There are numerous things, not least of which is to create a national certification program and tie that program in with jobs. Finding work is one of the hardest things the self-employed do. Some of us are good at it; others could be good if they could overcome their shyness; whereas others will never be good at self-promotion even though they may well be the best editors available.

Here are some things that a quality national organization should provide for freelance editors:

  • Full-time staff whose jobs revolved around making connections for trained editors and for training editors to high standards.
  • Negotiate group discounts with software companies like Microsoft. Most editors use Microsoft Word. Why couldn’t, for example, the organization negotiate a volume license?
  • Provide a software help desk — not on how to install the product but on how to use the product most efficiently.
  • Provide continuing education courses around the country in various editing specialties.
  • Lobby for state and national legislation that addresses our needs, including appropriate tax legislation.
  • Provide legal advice, especially about contracts.
  • Combat the movement of work based solely on labor costs.
  • Educate the publishing industry so that the value of members is both understood and appreciated as reflected in a pay scale that isn’t retrogressing to the early 1990s rather than moving forward to the 2020s.
  • Provide a social outlet for members.
  • Anticipate changes in the publishing industry and help prepare members for those changes.
  • Provide a class magazine filled with how to articles along with more general articles.
  • Teach members new skills so that members can expand their services.
  • Provide business advice.
  • Negotiate discounts with service providers such as FedEx.

There are lots more “things” that a quality national editorial association could do for editors. All one needs to do is look at what other successful organizations provide members. But the big thing is to have an association that is focused on our needs as a group and not on the needs of the few who run it.

Now all we need to do is find someone to start it. Any volunteers?

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