An American Editor

March 23, 2020

On the Basics — Passing the time in quarantine

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By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

The coronavirus crisis is forcing change on every aspect of society that I can see, and will have long-lasting effects on all of our lives, both professional and personal. I hope all of our subscribers here will be safe.

Among concerns is that scammers and spammers are ramping up their schemes to take advantage of this scary time, so be extra-vigilant. While situations like this bring out the best in most people, it also brings out the worst in others. I’ve already seen warnings about people going door-to-door peddling phony cures (although that’s likely to stop as more stay-at-home orders go into effect), and inaccurate suggestions are going the rounds in places like Facebook, especially its messenger service. Warn family and friends (especially older people and those who live alone) that the longer this lasts, the more fake “cures,” treatments and tips will circulate. Tell them not to take “advice” or buy anything from unfamiliar sources, and ask them not to “forward to everyone in your address book.”

We also have to be aware that being stuck at home for unknown lengths of time can create tension among family members, in addition to boredom. Domestic violence is expected to increase. I don’t know how to counteract that trend, but being aware of the possibility might help some of us hold it at bay.

It also could get dangerous to venture out if stay-at-home orders last for longer than we hope and people feel increasingly desperate or angry about the situation. If you have to leave home for groceries, medications and other essentials, try to have someone with you, be extra-alert, don’t forget your cellphone and don’t dawdle.

Between crisis anxiety and being stuck at home due to work closings and stay-in orders, we’re all likely to eat more than usual, and more stuff that isn’t healthy. Comfort food is one thing; junk food is something else entirely. Two suggestions: (1) If you’re doing a store run, don’t be tempted to stock up on junk food, even if the kids are demanding it; if you have some at home, stash it somewhere inaccessible. (2) Up your activity level – do calisthenics and hallway walking indoors, go for walks around the block every couple hours, take the kids or the dog on longer walks than usual, go to a park for a hike or stroll. You’ll feel better mentally and physically.

We’re also likely to spend more than usual on online shopping as a distraction, so be careful not to go overboard because you or your family members need something to do. Start looking around the house for projects to tackle that can be done without spending more money; make such projects into games and challenges for family and neighbors.

Don’t give up on professional development opportunities. While major conferences have been cancelled, most host organizations are finding ways to keep the learning and networking aspects going through Skype, Zoom, GoToWebinar and similar resources.

I came up with a few more ideas for passing the time as more and more of us are seeing restrictions on activity and in-person interaction with family and friends (not to mention clients, colleagues, employers and places we’re used to going to – stores, banks, museums, sports settings, concerts, meetings and more), as well as issues with work and income.

Find ways to help – family members, neighbors, colleagues, total strangers. Whether it’s running essential errands or communicating through GrandPads, videoconferencing and physical windows, the more we do to help each other, the better we’ll feel.

Sort, file and pitch – business and personal records, checkbook registers, credit card statements, clothes, unpacked boxes, souvenirs, photos, outgrown or never-used toys, expired canned goods and other staples or medications, collections, books, etc.

Plan to give away – any of the above that you realize you don’t need

Garden – mulch, weed, clear, soil-test, start planting; it’s good for your mental and physical health, and the results could help cheer you up

Catch up – on reading (book piles, magazines, newspapers in real life; online; in Kindle and other phone apps), laundry, redecorating, mending, repurposing

Write – that book you’ve been meaning to start or finish, poetry, letters to friends for mailing on paper or electronically, blog posts for later publication

Update – your résumé, will and health directives, savings and investment plans, marketing projects

Resurrect an old or start a new hobby

Learn a new skill or program — the Internet is awash with YouTube and other resources for learning on your own or at home with family members

Clean – the house, home office, car, garage, etc.

Assemble – puzzles, dollhouses, workshop/building projects, knick-knacks into art

Get out – walk around the neighborhood or drive and then walk/hike at a park

Communicate – with family and friends by phone, e-mail and Internet, both to reassure each other and to counter false information. You might even learn interesting things about family and personal histories that never came up before.

Invent games – for kids both at home and around your neighborhood. One of my friends posted about a game for kids that started in his Chicago neighborhood: putting teddy bears in your windows and coming together online to identify where they are – like an Easter egg or treasure hunt that can be done virtually as well as physically. Coming up with creative outlets and activities will, again, be good for our emotional and mental health.

How are you coping? How is your work life going so far?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

 

March 13, 2020

On the Basics: Tips for coping with the current health crisis

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Many AAE subscribers have been working from home for years, so the current movement to that model as a response to the coronavirus crisis (yes, it is at crisis level in many ways) is no big deal. Others work in outside offices and are faced with transforming their own or their colleagues’ work styles into being home-based.

Based on my many years of working from home, here are some suggestions.

At home

  • If you live with family members, let them know that you need peace and quiet, with minimal interruptions or intrusions, when you’re trying to work. Both spouses/partners and younger kids will think it’s great to have you at home with them, but might have to be tactfully educated about why you’re there, what you have to get done for work and when (or if) you can take a break to hang out with them.
    • Ask everyone to let you answer the home phone if you have one, so clients and colleagues don’t get your adorable five-year-old on the line or someone who forgets to take important messages.
    • Set aside a dedicated workspace and make sure everyone knows not to mess with your computer and paper files. If you have a room that becomes your office, consider putting a Do not disturb! sign on the door.
    • Have a laptop for work that no one else in the house is allowed to use, or invest in an inexpensive desktop setup that is also hands-off to everyone but you.
    • Get dressed in something more business-like than jeans and T-shirts so you feel like you’re working — and your family treats you accordingly.
    • Get out of the house every day, for a walk around the block, lunch with family or friends, trips to the store or library as needed or appropriate, etc.
    • Keep a schedule similar to your usual workday so going back to the office won’t be as big of a jolt when you get the all-clear.
    • If your company doesn’t have a template to log your projects and time, create one — even if you aren’t asked to provide it.
  • If you have children of about grades 5 to 9 (U.S. system) who might have to stay home because local schools close down, a Facebook colleague suggested using www.mensaforkids.org (there’s even a PDF of lesson plans for “Teaching Literary Elements Through Song Lyrics”) and the site Every-Day Edits to keep them busy.
  • Splurge on some new books, toys and games for kids, partners, parents, pets, etc., and consider subscriptions to online movies, e-books and other sources of information and entertainment that you might not have needed until now. If you have to stay home for any unusual amount of time, the usual entertainments could get old pretty quickly.

For the office

  • Set up regular phone or Internet meetings to track project status and employee health or needs — not necessarily daily, but certainly weekly.
  • Create a template for individual employee project activity.
  • Expand sick day guidelines/benefits.
  • Provide laptops for anyone who needs them.
  • Set up special passwords and login access so people working from home don’t expose company materials to access by family members and visitors.
  • Triple-check health-related warnings and recommendations before sharing them with employees.
  • Stock up on sanitizers, gloves and face masks for employees.
  • Adopt a heightened routine for cleaning surfaces throughout the office, including door knobs, stairwell railings, elevator buttons, desks, keyboard, phones, etc.
  • Remind employees that any and all communications, quotes and comments about how the company is handling this issue must come from authorized spokespeople, and ask (or tell) employees not to post about it to Facebook and other social media.

In general

Whether you work in-house or freelance from home, you might feel the urge to stock up on household supplies and find that your usual grocery or big-box store is running low. Remember that drugstores and department chains (Target, Dollar Stores, etc.) carry things like toilet paper, dry goods, pet food and supplies, beverages, over-the-counter medications and other healthcare products, etc. Many also have refrigerated sections with perishable or frozen foods. There should be a variety of options for keeping your home stocked with whatever you might need in the next few weeks.

Best of luck to all!

How are you coping with and preparing for this situation? What other suggestions do you have for colleagues, whether in-house or freelance?

December 31, 2018

On the Basics — Managing “Creepy” Challenging Clients and Projects

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Into each editor’s life a little rain, in the form of difficult or challenging clients or projects, must fall. Here are a few examples, with some tips for how to respond to them that could make the new year a little easier for all of us!

Classic headaches

A recent social media post included these comments:

“… when someone books a 4k word edit then sends you 100k.”

“Client sent over and paid for 136-page edit, but kept writing and writing and sent over a total of 600 pages! Expected me to edit for price she already paid because I ‘owed’ her …”

Ah, yes — the infamous scope creep. These situations arise on a regular basis among colleagues, and not just editors. I’ve had writing assignments where the editor asks for additional interviews after we’ve agreed on a story length, sometimes even after I’ve finished the piece and turned it in. I’ve had proofreading work that turned into editing — sometimes even close to substantive work, although I prefer not to work that hard and only rarely accept such projects.

The impossible request

“Impossible” requests are another instance of projects that can become headaches if we accept them. Clients who are clueless about what it takes to get their projects done can ask us to meet deadlines that are downright ridiculous, but — again — sometimes it seems as if it’s more important to have work in hand than to maintain sanity about our work lives.

In a related social media conversation, a colleague posted about a client asking to have a 230-page thesis edited in not even two days. And that was before the poster had seen the document to verify whether her definition of “a page” was anywhere close to the client’s version. My guess is that checking the word count would reveal that the client’s 230 pages equaled 400 to 500 of the editor’s.

My response was: “In circumstances like this, I don’t give explanations. Just ‘I’m not available.’ I learned that lesson years ago from having people say things like, ‘Surely you can fit this into your vacation time’ or ‘When do you get back?’ Some will still say ‘When would you be available?’ and I use something like, ‘I don’t do this kind of work and never would commit to such a schedule/deadline.’”

Even if you work in-house rather than freelance, unreasonable deadlines can be an issue, but it’s harder to set boundaries with colleagues and bosses/supervisors than with prospective (or even ongoing) clients.

Offensive content

How to turn down a project that contains content we find offensive is another challenge for freelancers, especially those who really need income right that moment. “Offensive” can mean anything from political to sexual (erotica or porn) to violent to racist to any other type of content that goes against your personal comfort zone.

Rude and unpleasant people

Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with this often, but some clients turn out to be rude and difficult to deal with. Managing such personalities is a challenge at any time, but especially when the behavior doesn’t show up until you’re well into the project and have invested some, much less substantial, time and effort in it.

The big “why”

Some of that rude, unpleasant behavior shows up early in a client/freelancer relationship when a prospect brusquely questions your rates, no matter how you charge (by the word, hour, project, etc.). Challenging our rate structure indicates a probable PITA (pain in the … posterior) client; someone who starts the relationship by essentially insulting the editor’s stated value is likely to be difficult throughout the project.

Protective techniques

How can we defend ourselves against such situations? It’s always hard to say no to new work, especially for those who are desperate for every penny (trust me, I’ve been there). It’s even harder once there’s a serious prospect in place, and yet again when you’ve invested time and effort into at least the beginnings of a project that starts to morph into far more than you expected.

Protecting ourselves against such challenges often can make the difference between an editorial business that makes a profit and feels fulfilling versus one that makes its owner crazy as well as broke. We all may need to develop tough outer skins when it comes to situations like these, and learn when to “just say no.”

  • The first thing that colleagues in the scope creep conversation offered was “CONTRACT!” It can feel awkward to expect new clients to sign a contract, but whether you call it that or a letter of agreement, it’s something that can make a huge difference in how a project turns out. And not just from the financial perspective. Agreeing to do more than you originally expected a project to involve creates all kinds of problems. You’re likely to resent the client for creating extra (even excess) work for no additional payment, which can affect the quality of what you produce. The additional length means spending more time than you may have budgeted, which can interfere with meeting other deadlines or accepting new (and better) projects that come in while you’re wading through all those extra words.

I include language in responses to prospective clients along the lines of “I’ll provide an estimate of the deadline and fee once I see the manuscript and confirm the word count.” The estimate message and contract language include “Deadline and fee based on word count of X. Any changes or additions will result in a revised deadline and fee. If the work appears to require more time than expected, I will alert you before going beyond the agreed-upon time or amount.”

I should have mentioned in that online conversation that I also tell prospective clients that I define a page as 250 words (I went back to add that detail!). That can save a lot of hassle in explaining why the client’s 25 pages are actually my 50 pages or more, and why my fee and deadline are higher than the client might have expected.

  • When someone is rude or otherwise unpleasant in a phone or e-mail conversation, I respond with, “This isn’t an appropriate way to communicate with me. If you can’t be civil, we won’t be able to work together.” Sometimes that kind of response has to be repeated; if that’s the case, I go with the classic “Three strikes and you’re out” approach. I’d rather lose the job and the client than deal with someone who doesn’t respect my time and skills.
  • My response to questions about my rates is that they are based on X years of training and experience, and that the prospective client is welcome to look into working with other writers, editors or proofreaders if cost is their main concern. (I’m often tempted to say something like, “By the way, when you come back to me because the cheaper person you hire doesn’t work out, my rate will double,” but haven’t done so … yet.)
  • When I receive a manuscript that I find offensive or upsetting, I find a polite way to turn it down rather than subject myself to unpleasantness in my work life. I’ve used language like “I don’t handle this kind of material.“ Short, sweet, to the point. If I know someone who is comfortable with working on erotica, I might contact that colleague to ask if I can give their name to the potential client. For other areas, I simply send that “I don’t …“ message and hope never to hear from that author again.

As I was writing this column, I got a notice from the Freelancers Union about a blog post entitled “Five self-care fundamentals for freelancers.” The teaser text was: “By showing yourself how to treat yourself, you are by default providing a blueprint for how others should treat you.” That made me realize that setting out our guidelines for the kinds of work we accept as editors (or any other editorial freelancers), especially in terms of deadlines and fees, is a form of self-care. It isn’t healthy to let clients run our lives and impose crazy-making deadlines, rude behavior, insufficient payment levels, unpleasant material or other problems on us.

For any and all of these situations, the best technique might be to anticipate them and  prepare responses before such clients or projects show up. Having a script in place makes it much easier to respond to or head off problem clients, whether the “creep” is a matter of project scope, icky content or nasty behavior. The Girl Scouts have a point when they say “Be prepared.“

Let us know how you’ve handled situations like these.

Here’s to a healthy, productive new year, free of scope creep and other “creepy” aspects of our professional lives!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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