An American Editor

September 4, 2019

Conference update – deadline for hotel rate, special offer for AAE subscribers

We have a new hotel contact for “Gateway to Success,” the 2019 “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, who has reminded me that the deadline to use our rate for hotel rooms is September 10. This year’s conference, co-hosted by Communication Central and — for the first time — the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE,) and sponsored in part by Intelligent Editing, home of the popular PerfectIt consistency-checking tool (thank you, Daniel Heuman!), will be held October 11–13, 2019, at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, across the street from gorgeous Forest Park and in the heart of a vibrant, walkable neighborhood of shops, restaurants and even a national chess museum, with a movie theater right in the hotel!

The conference program includes breakfast and lunch on the 11th and 12th, with dinner outings to be arranged as separate activities.

While the early bird deadline has passed, AAE subscribers may use the NAIWE/former conference attendee rates to save on registration. Full details of sessions and speakers can be found at http://www.communication-central.com or http://www.naiwe.com.

Hope to see lots of you there!

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.

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?

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