An American Editor

December 18, 2013

The Business of Editing: Opportunity Knocks

Filed under: Business of Editing,Editorial Matters — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , ,

In previous essays, I discussed how one should present oneself to the world at large as well as what one should be — solopreneur or company (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (I), Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (II), and Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (III)). As I pointed out in prior essays, being a “company” does not have to mean you actually have employees or subcontractors; you can be a solopreneur in company guise.

I am back to the topic for a limited purpose: to discuss opportunity. It has been approximately 9 months since the publication of the last essay in the “Solopreneur” series, and a lot has happened during that time that makes me believe we should be revisiting this question.

During those 9 months, I have had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with colleagues about the issues and I have had opportunities presented to me that would not be presented to colleagues who avoid the label “company.” The most recent example of an opportunity occurred a week ago when I was asked to undertake an editing project in the upcoming year that will run 16,000+ manuscript pages.

I understand that many editors (a) do not want to work on such large projects and (b) do not want to undertake projects in the areas in which I work. I also understand (c) that if your field is, for example, fiction, it isn’t likely that a novel will come along that runs that many pages (not counting, of course, some seemingly never-ending series). And I also understand that (d) many of you prefer to work on short pieces, such as journal articles or magazine articles. All of that is well and good and no one should think that large projects are better for everyone.

The issue is one of opportunity. The opportunity to say no or yes. I like the big projects because they provide a revenue stream that I can count on. They also mean I have less downtime between projects and that I have to spend less time, effort, and money on marketing. But the real reason why I think and act like a company and not a solopreneur is for the opportunity to decide that I prefer certain types of work or wish to shy away from other types.

I’m sure that some of you who prefer to work on short pieces, such as journal articles, are saying that this is not relevant to you. But it is. Just a few weeks ago, I finished a journal project that involved 109 articles that needed to be edited within a relatively short time frame. I think this was an opportunity that I would have missed out on had I not been a company.

While working on those journal articles, other opportunities came my way. The result is that I have several major projects already booked for 2014. However, at the same time, I turned down several opportunities. The key is opportunity.

But there is another aspect to opportunity that is a companion to the yes or no opportunity: the opportunity to change directions.

Consider my own story. I am a lawyer. I practiced law for a number of years before finding my way into publishing. When I found my way into publishing, it was with a law-book publisher. In other words, I hadn’t strayed far from my training and experience.

When I became a freelancer, I fully expected my business to be focused on legal publications, and that was who I marketed to. But one of the first responders to my marketing was a copyediting supervisor for the medical division of a publisher offering me an opportunity to edit medical books, something I had never done. We talked about it and I decided that maybe I should give it a try and pursue a different course than to focus on law-related books. That opportunity to change directions is what put me on the path that I still follow today.

Even then I was portraying my services as a company, and it was the thought that I could handle multiple projects simultaneously and relieve her of the supervisory burdens of handling several editors that drew the supervisor to contact me initially.

Opportunity comes in many guises. Whether we decide to grab an opportunity when it appears is secondary to whether we are afforded the opportunity to make a decision to grab or not grab.

I learned early in my career that I needed to make opportunity knock on my door before it went knocking on a colleague’s door. It is difficult to say yes (or no) if I am not even asked. Getting asked is key in our business.

Over the past year, I have been offered many opportunities that would not have been offered except that I am viewed as a company with more capabilities than a solopreneur can offer. For example, only a few months ago I was asked to submit a quote for the editing portion of a project bid. I was asked to quote an editing price for quantities of 5,000, 10,000, and 15,000 manuscript pages per month. My client assumed that I could either handle that amount of workflow or could/would hire enough editors to do so. The client’s assumption was based on my presenting my business as a company.

Again, what we are talking about is how we present ourselves. We can have the trappings of a company without having any employees but ourself. It is how we invoice, how we answer telephones, our signatures, our domain names, etc. that give us that aura.

I know I repeat myself, but I want to emphasize that the issue is one of having opportunity knock on our door, not of being forced to do work of the type that we do not want to do or of being required to hire or contract with other editors. It is the opportunity to say yes or no to projects that we otherwise would not be asked to do or to change directions. Today we may love editing large manuscripts without having to deal directly with authors; tomorrow we may discover through a presenting opportunity that we really would like to work on smaller projects and deal directly with authors. Without opportunity knocking on the door, how would we ever find out?

I’ll close on a humorous note. Here is opportunity knocking in action. 🙂 Relax and enjoy “Opportunity Knocks — The Honeymooners.” It is well worth watching.



  1. In response to “what we are talking about is how we present ourselves. We can have the trappings of a company without having any employees but ourself. It is how we invoice, how we answer telephones, our signatures, our domain names, etc. that give us that aura.”

    I work on the small end — one on one with authors or PEs — who perceive freelance editors as people no matter what our businesses might be called. In fact, my efforts to have clients cut checks to my business name have almost universally failed. Nevertheless, I correspond and invoice on my company letterhead, always include my company name in my e-mail signature, direct people to my company website, etc. This does not seem to change the editor-as-individual perception but it does inspire clients and prospects to take me seriously as a professional and treat our work together as a business transaction.

    Maintaining my image as a solopreneur will keep me out of the opportunity loop for large projects, which is fine since I’m not interested in obtaining that work. I stay open to new opportunities by keeping my fingers in multiple pies, i.e., not dumping my low-paying, long-term catalogue proofreading jobs; keeping relationships open with people in other fields, such as designers, who always have a diverse project load with differing support needs; staying in contact with former clients who aren’t sending me work right now for whatever reason, but with whom I had shared affability or compatibility; and communicating to new prospects, or reminding established customers, that I perform more than one service.


    Comment by Carolyn — December 18, 2013 @ 7:06 am | Reply

  2. I do understand that presentation/image affects the opportunities we’re offered, but there’s no point in being offered projects I don’t have any intention of or capability for accepting. There may just have to be one group of freelancers that is happy to stay small and another group that greatly prefers to work large.

    Those who prefer to work on a comparably small scale still have to appear businesslike in all we do, though. It’s what I’ve been preaching to colleagues for years: Be business-like, and you’ll be treated in a business-like manner. That’s why I have an e-mail address that reflects my domain name, business cards, a website, invoices that include my business name, etc., and no one answers my phone but me. It’s why I carefully proof my e-mail and blog postings before hitting Send/Post/Comment.

    I do occasionally have to remind people that (a) I offer more than one service and (b) I’m almost always available for new assignments. I try to convey that message, especially (a), in various ways.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — December 18, 2013 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  3. Interestingly enough, I just saw something on LinkedIn from someone with a business identity – an editing company, with a business name rather than an individual’s – who is stuck with $18,000+ in unpaid work for several individual authors. He doesn’t want to take any actions to urge them to pay because he’s afraid they’ll badmouth his company online and other authors won’t work with him as a result. The question becomes, does he want to continue to do work for nonpaying customers or does he take action to get paid, as a business entity would? I’d take the chance of being badmouthed over sitting on thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices!


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — December 18, 2013 @ 11:50 am | Reply

    • Good grief! He’s afraid of being badmouthed by deadbeats? Afraid of being considered unprofessional because he demands to be paid for his work? I’d much rather be maligned for standing up for myself than being a doormat!


      Comment by Carolyn — December 18, 2013 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

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