An American Editor

February 28, 2018

On the Basics: Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Networking and Etiquette

It seems to occur almost every day — someone in a Facebook group or on an e-mail discussion list says they’re available for projects and asks colleagues in the group to send work to them. They might ask for referrals or recommendations or say they’re available for overflow or projects, that they’re starting out and need work, that they’re having a slow period or just lost a major client; some even ask group members to share contact information for clients. It doesn’t matter exactly how they phrase the request, but the basic message is “Please give me work.”

These messages invariably are from people who have never been seen or heard from before. They haven’t introduced themselves, haven’t asked any questions, haven’t contributed anything useful in response to other group members’ questions. Some are new to editing or freelancing, with little or even no training or experience; some have been working for a while, but have hit a dry spell.

Just this past week, a new member of a professional association showed up at its discussion list with the fast-becoming-classic “Hi, I’m new here, please give me your contacts or overflow work and recommend me to your clients and colleagues” message as his first post to the list. He did present his credentials, but still — he posted the same information about his background (essentially his résumé, which is not considered de rigueur on a list) — six times in an hour or so. This did him little, if any, good in terms of respect or interest from listmates.

As with most online communities, it is important to understand that people we “meet” in these collegial environments can be generous with advice and insights into our craft — both editing and freelancing — but that there is a certain etiquette for becoming part of these communities. It is becoming clear that we can’t say it too often: Not only is networking a two-way street, but newcomers should listen, read, and contribute before asking to be referred, recommended, hired, or subcontracted with.

Perhaps even more important, newcomers should remember that established colleagues, both freelancers and in-house workers, are invested in their contacts and clients, and in their reputations. We have put many years into building up our relationships and reputations by providing skilled, high-quality work and respecting the privacy of those we work with. Most of us are more than glad to offer advice and resources, but are not going to risk our reputations, and our relationships with clients or employers, by handing off contact information to strangers.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between saying “I have openings in my schedule,” “I’m looking for new clients,” “Expected payments are running late and I could use some new projects” versus “Give me your contacts” and “Send me your overflow work when you don’t know anything about me.”

Some editors (and freelancers in other aspects of publishing) may list our clients and projects at our websites. That is not an invitation for others to contact those clients to offer their services, although we have no control over whether someone might do so. We can only hope that anyone who does take advantage of that information doesn’t pretend to know us in the process, or suggest that we’ve referred or recommended them.

With this as a basis, how do we make the best of getting to know each other either in person at meetings and conferences or online in discussion lists and groups without ruffling feathers and crossing lines?

Newcomers to a group can (some would say should) sit back and observe — “lurk” — after joining to develop a sense of what is appropriate for discussion, the tone of the community, and more. Once that is clear, ask questions about the profession, the skills needed, worthwhile resources for enhancing one’s skills, how to break in (most of us love recalling and recounting our early years in the field or in business).

Look for opportunities to establish a professional image and be helpful. Answer colleagues’ questions (if you can). Suggest new resources that haven’t been mentioned or vetted. Relate experiences that demonstrate skills in doing editorial work or dealing with difficult clients. Announce good news about new training you’ve taken, clients and projects you’ve snared, even kudos from clients who are happy with your work. Dial down any boasting, but let colleagues know how your work and business are progressing.

It takes time to gain the trust, confidence, and respect of colleagues. Once you’ve done so, it might be appropriate to ask for referrals and recommendations. Before doing that, though, stop and think about how you would feel if someone you don’t know anything about were to ask you for the contacts and clients you have worked so hard to build up. Use that insight to influence how you word your requests, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

On the Other Side of the Fence

For colleagues who have established successful editing careers and businesses, today’s culture can be annoying, but it can’t hurt to provide some kind of response to pleas for help.

I try to live by the good ol’ Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and “What goes around, comes around” (or, as Billy Preston sang it, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing”). When I was ready to start freelancing, I figured out most of what I needed to know on my own, but I also had some very generous colleagues. I tried not to take advantage of their time and knowledge, but it was so reassuring to know that they were available if I needed them.

Nowadays, even established, experienced editors and freelancers need help with the occasional sticky language, client, or technological matter, or even with financial dry spells. No one is immune. It makes sense to give back when possible, because we never know when we may have to ask for help ourselves.

I keep a list of useful resources to offer when someone asks for help in finding work. I also have a boilerplate response for people who ask — whether privately or in a group of some sort — for my client contact information, and for referrals, recommendations, “overflow work,” and other elements of my editorial business.

Helping colleagues feels good — and is an investment in karma: It might seem selfish, but you never know when helping someone out, even with just a list of resources, will come back to help you out in the future. I aim to enhance that karma through avenues like the An American Editor blog (both my own posts and those of our wonderful contributors), participating in lists and groups of colleagues, hosting the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, referring colleagues whom I know for projects outside my wheelhouse for any reason, and even hiring or subcontracting to colleagues I know and trust.

The operative phrase, of course, is “colleagues I know and trust.” I might not have met some of them in person, but I’ve learned enough about them to feel comfortable with referrals or projects.

How do you respond to people who make what you feel are unreasonable or inappropriate requests for client contacts or business leads?


October 31, 2011

Silk Isn’t Enough: Amazon and the Library Book Borrower

Disregarding one’s privacy seems to be the in thing for companies to do today. It seems as if every time I turn around there is another story about another company or government agency ignoring privacy rights. And who can keep up with the constant shifting sands as regards privacy at websites like Facebook? A user needs to hire a full-time privacy protector to track the sand shifts.

And now there is Amazon, yet again. If you recall, I wrote about the privacy problems with Amazon’s new Silk browser (see Privacy in the World of Silk) and now I learn that Amazon, in cahoots with Overdrive, disregards user privacy when Kindle owners borrow books from their local library.

Sarah Houghton, a California librarian and blogger at the Librarian in Black blog, posted this video of her rant regarding Amazon, Overdrive, and privacy. I think everyone should take the time to view and listen to her rant; it is an eye opener, at least for any of us who fought for privacy rights when Congress was working on the “Patriot” Act (and who remember the McCarthy era and its aftermath , including J. Edgar Hoover’s wholesale disregard of citizen rights in the 1960s):

It has been said that the data collection that these companies undertake is really harmless. After all, what can be so bad about Amazon knowing every book you have borrowed from your local library? I find it interesting that these same people who aren’t bothered by corporations gathering our personal data will swarm the battlefront when it is the government that wants to collect the same data. Here is the question:

Why do we think corporations are more benign (or will use collected data about us more benignly) than our own government?

Another question to consider is this:

If our government came knocking on Amazon’s door and demanded that it turn over your library records, how long would it be before Amazon caved to the request?

Amazon and Facebook and other data-gathering companies are not our friend. They collect this data for multiple reasons, but all those reasons are for their benefit not yours. In Amazon’s case, the obvious, apparent, surface reason is so it can encourage you to buy similar books from it. But what prevents Amazon from turning such information over to a group that wants to identify, say, all those whose reading indicates they are opposed to gun ownership or all those whose reading indicates they favor abortion rights or all those whose reading indicates that they are fans of Glenn Beck? After all, Amazon and Facebook’s ultimate guiding principle is money — How would you know whether the antiabortion or progun or Anti-Glenn Beck for President group that is harassing you day and night got your name and information from Amazon?

I know it has been a long time since the HUAC hearings (that’s House Un-American Activities Committee for those of you who do not recall the McCarthy era of the early 1950s), but those days are not so far gone that they should be forgotten. The McCarthy era combined with J. Edgar Hoover’s misuse of the FBI in the 1950s and 1960s are largely responsible for today’s distrust of government. They were the foundations for the destruction of what had previously been a trust of government.

Today, many Americans are not only mistrustful of government but they seek to limit what other people know about them — except, it seems, for the younger generations who seem to find the public sharing of private information to be no problem. I admit I do not understand this lackadaisical approach to personal information on public display, yet it is this approach that companies like Amazon and Facebook are exploiting.

The problem with this lackadaisical approach is that we do not sit down and think through the possible/potential ramifications to our careers or about the effect such personal revelations might have in the future. Just because we think we are invincible doesn’t make it so!

Here’s one thought: Looking to get a job promotion, or perhaps a government job? If you don’t get it, could it be because you are reading the wrong books? Or might it have been that Facebook posting of your recent night on the town?

When government attorneys, citing the Patriot Act, demanded that a library turn over user borrowing information, the library and its librarians fought back. Do you think Amazon or Facebook would defend you and your right to privacy? This is worth pondering as we give up our privacy in exchange for being able to borrow library books using our Kindle.

Interestingly, none of the other ebook devices/companies that provide for library borrowing are reported to collect and use the data — only Amazon. Why? Also worth pondering is under what circumstances could today’s benign use of the gathered data turn nonbenign and when that occurs, what will we be able to do about it?

When we sign up for these services, we agree to a set of rules — terms of service. Yet, as Facebook esecially demonstrates on a near-weekly basis, those rules change with the wind. Today’s forbidden use by Amazon may well be tomorrow’s approved, standard use. And every time we use our Kindle or buy a book from Amazon, we say to Amazon, “I approve of what you are doing to me.”

October 5, 2011

Privacy in the World of Silk

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook, and a primary reason why I am not on Facebook, is the necessity to check privacy settings nearly hourly. Even then, I’m not convinced that Facebook is really adhering to any policy that affords users even a modicum of privacy.

That disease of controlling information keeps spreading. Now with Amazon’s new Silk browser, which is part and parcel of the new Kindle Fire, the stakes have perhaps gotten higher. This may well be the first salvo in the conversion of Kindles from local control by the user to remote control by Amazon. I expect the day will come when to use an Amazon device, the device’s wi-fi/3G will have to be on.

Silk, which is the Amazon-designed Internet browser that the Fire tablet uses, may have serious security and privacy issues. Silk pipes the user’s online access — and cloud access — through Amazon’s servers. There is no way to access the Internet without going through Amazon. This gives Amazon the capability to follow user Web clicks, buying patterns, and media habits.

With this capability, Amazon now has what every retailer lusts after: knowledge that cannot be gotten any other way. Silk and Amazon servers will enable Amazon to watch where you shop and what prices you are offered.

I know that many Amazon fans think they will welcome this capability because it may well mean lower Amazon prices or an instant special offer from Amazon to beat a competitor’s price just for you. But is that what we really want? Do we really want Big Brother watching our every online move?

Our response appears to be a generational one. The younger the user, the less concerned about privacy the user is. This has become evident by who is exposing what on places like Facebook. Many people of my generation are aghast at the willingness of younger people to expose everything online. Younger users appear not to be overly worried about who will see their escapades or the ramifications their actions.

The lack of privacy seems to expand daily. Is there a line that cannot be crossed with impunity? By forcing users to the cloud, Amazon is saying there is no privacy line that cannot be crossed. I keep seeing visions of Minority Report with Amazon and Facebook in the role of the precogs except that unlike the precogs, their role is not for the social good.

I admit that until Amazon starts gathering the data and begins using it, we do not know how far Amazon will go or whether Amazon will misuse the data collected. Amazon fans will jump on this to downplay privacy concerns.

But the real issue isn’t whether Amazon will misuse the data; rather, should Amazon be collecting the data in the first place? Why is it that we will protest warrantless searches and seizures by the people we hire to protect us from evil, but not a similar, if not same, disregard for our privacy by outfits like Amazon and Facebook? I find it troubling that we think we are able to create a distinction that is meaningful to us between the two. Corporations are as ruthless in the pursuit of power and money as are the politicians and police forces we hire to safeguard us.

Sadly, it is nearly impossible to teach someone the value of privacy until they have been the victim of a privacy abuse. Experience is the only acceptable teacher. But now that we are beginning to see corporations creating methods of stripping our privacy bare, perhaps we should think more about what limits there should be. The longer we permit ourselves to be stripped, the more difficult it will become to correct course.

And that is the problem with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire and its Silk browser: The process of privacy intrusion will be slow, deliberate, and evolutionary. By the time we recognize how invasive the process is, we may no longer be able to do anything about it. Isn’t that the case with Facebook? Will that be true, too, of Amazon? No matter how much we like the bargains and service Amazon provides, we do need to step back and consider the ramifications of Amazon’s moving millions of people to its cloud, enabling it to data harvest without impediment.

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