An American Editor

May 18, 2017

Worth Noting: Be a Better Freelancer 2017 Conference

Special AAE Registration Discount for the 2017 “Be a Better Freelancer®” Conference

Registration is open and AAE subscribers benefit from a special discount for “Better by the Dozen,” Communication Central’s 12th annual “Be a Better Freelancer®” conference, September 15–16, 2017, at the Hilton Garden Inn/College Town in Rochester, NY, with a separate special session on the morning of September 17. Hosted by AAE’s “On the Basics” columnist Ruth Thaler-Carter, this event brings together an outstanding array of presenters and a delightful group of colleagues at various stages of their freelance businesses. The deadline for the special AAE discount is July 1 and hotel rooms are going fast, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity soon!

Confirmed speakers include Karin Cather, Bevi Chagnon, April Michelle Davis, Melissa Hellman, Ally Machate, Dick Margulis, Chris Morton, and myself. The focus of the 2017 conference includes increasing earnings by increasing efficiency; adding in-demand, skilled services to your repertoire; and enhancing your visibility to potential clients, whether you’re an editor, proofreader, writer, indexer, or other editorial freelancer — and whether you are thinking about, new to, or established as a freelancer. Sessions will be skill-centered and concept-oriented. As always, the program will offer great opportunities to network with and get to know colleagues in person.

The Communication Central event has often been the only U.S. conference specifically for freelancers in publishing and editorial work and is consistently the best conference for editors.

Further details are available at Communication Central. To register, go to the Communication Central  Special AAE Offer and use the password C-C2017AAE for session and speaker information, and your special discount on registration. Here’s to seeing many of you there!

May 3, 2017

On the Basics: Being Businesslike

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The other day, I met a colleague for coffee who’s a freelance writer, proofreader, and voice-over professional who has been doing well at finding and being recommended for projects, but confessed to being terrible at the business side of dealing with clients.

Many of us struggle with the business of editing (and writing, proofreading, indexing, desktop publishing; whatever editorial work anyone here might do). That struggle is one reason for Rich Adin’s book by that very title (The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper), and for this blog and the columns by its various contributors.

Some of the things we talked about inspired this column.

Setting policies and limits

Getting paid can be the hardest part of freelancing, no matter what service or skill you provide. My colleague did the smart thing with a recent project: She asked for an advance on a five-book project for a local arts institution. The plan was that she would be paid a certain amount before starting, receive a payment as she finished each book, and then receive a final payment when the last book was done.

The good news: She got the first payment. The bad news: She didn’t get it right away. Because she knew the project was on a tight deadline for publication, she felt obliged to start work based on the promise that the advance would arrive soon. Even though the first payment did show up soon after she got started and the subsequent payments did come in reasonably on schedule, she realized in hindsight that she ran a real risk of not receiving the advance and there was a constant sense of foreboding over each payment.

Version control

Another project was a great example of scope creep: Every time she turned around, the client added more to the project. Because she did not have language protecting against the ever-expanding project, she was expected to absorb the new requests without additional payment — and felt obligated to do so. She spent a lot more time on the project than she had planned and wound up only being paid what amounted to minimum wage.

Contract concerns

Many of us have had the good luck to work with clients without needing contracts, or ones who adhere to contracts to our benefit. The most frustrating part of another project for this colleague was that the client ignored almost all of the elements in the contract. Yes, they signed it, but then proceeded to violate almost every clause. She eventually asked why they had agreed to the conditions of the contract when they weren’t complying with it.

The client’s response? “We wanted you for this, and no one else.” That is, they were willing to agree to anything as long as she agreed to do the work. She was flattered — and floored.

Because she’s a self-confessed perfectionist with an “if I start something, I finish it” work ethic, she did not want to walk away despite the frustrations. She knew that she was being played, even as she basked in the sense of being wanted and supposedly the only person who could do the project. She couldn’t figure out how to stand her ground, nor could she walk away.

Reality checks

Being committed to providing excellent service can backfire. Whether it’s from a sense of perfectionism and a commitment-based work ethic, or a fear of negative consequences (not getting paid, having the client badmouth you to colleagues), remaining committed to a project when the client is behaving badly is not good business. It’s bad for the project, bad for your mental (and physical) health, and bad for your business. As hard as it is to stand up for yourself, it’s something we all have to learn to do.

Being told “We want you and only you” or “We’ll agree to anything to get you on board” feels great. Sometimes that’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship with a client who does value you and treats you with respect, but sometimes it’s bait for a situation that turns into a nightmare. The flattery can blind us to a headache-inducing client or project.

One way to handle a situation like this is to do a reality check. Some of us may really be so unusually skilled that we’re the only one — or the best one — for a given project, but most of us aren’t all that unique. We want to feel that we are, but we aren’t; except for rare circumstances, we can be replaced. Another editor might do things differently, but differently does not necessarily mean worse.

Feeling irreplaceable can interfere with all kinds of aspects of freelancing, and sometimes even with working in-house. It can blind you to the reality that a client is treating you badly and making you crazy, and that it would be better for your business and yourself to either reset the boundaries or walk away.

Getting help

One strategy that my beleaguered colleague and I discussed implementing has two aspects: (a) keeping a contract template at hand that includes language regarding both a fee advance or deposit and protection against scope creep, so you don’t have to reinvent the contract with every new client, and (b) using your website to state such a policy.

Possible language could be:

“An advance/deposit representing 50% or the first X hours of the project is required with a new project. Depending on the length and scope of the project, interim payments may be required. The finished project will be provided once full payment is in hand.”

And:

“Any requests for work beyond the scope of this agreement/contract will be charged on an hourly basis in addition to the original fee, and will not be provided or performed without such additional payment.”

Not all clients will go along with such a policy, but it could be a lifesaver, especially with an individual author or a graduate student. While most such clients can be trusted to pay as agreed, some either never intend to pay for editorial services or do not budget sufficiently to pay the tab. When they see the final amount in your invoice, they panic, go into sticker shock — and disappear. This can especially be a concern with students, because when they hand in that paper and get that degree, they’re gone, and you might not be able to reach them to chase down your payment.

If you require an advance and establish interim payments for a lengthy project, you protect yourself against not getting paid (or at least against not getting paid in full), and you also help the client. Most people find it easier to pay a couple hundred dollars at a time over a few weeks to months than a couple thousand all at once when the project is done.

Establishing your policy

I hadn’t thought of this until that coffee date, but establishing your business policy for payments and scope creep and posting it at your website is worth considering. Doing so could head off problem clients who could become nightmares of uncontrolled project morphing and payment hassles, no matter how appealing the project might seem on the surface. However, merely posting it at your website is not enough to make the terms part of the work agreement.

It is important that specific policies — regardless of what they address — be included in written contracts and, because many of us do not work under formal contracts, in your e-mail exchanges with the client. At a minimum, your correspondence should include a statement such as:

“Additional terms governing our work relationship are available at ________ and are made an explicit part of our agreement by incorporation by reference.”

(Caution: Do not make supplementary terms available only on social media like Facebook. Not everyone participates. Be sure that wherever they are posted, they are universally accessible without a client having to “join” some third party.)

Finally, having colleagues to lean on and consult can be a lifesaver in establishing good business practices. Even just meeting over coffee to bewail the trials and tribulations of a problem client or project can provide useful insights from someone who has been there and done that.

For more insights

A number of other essays at An American Editor relate to this one and are worth reading for additional insights on the business of editing, including (for additional essays, be sure to search the An American Editor archives):

 

Rich Adin’s book (with Jack Lyon and myself), The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, provides additional practical insights on this important topic.

The key is to remember that being the world’s best editor is not enough for a profitable career; you must be a good businessperson as well!

How have you handled payment, scope creep, and other business concerns? How have you found supportive colleagues, either online or in real life?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

January 16, 2017

On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s a new year, so it’s time to stop for a moment and think about everything that we should or could do to start 2017 with fresh perspectives on what we do and how we do it as editorial professionals. Here are a few ideas.

  • Change your passwords.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to refresh and revise the passwords for all your accounts — email, social media, bank accounts, credit cards, website(s), memberships, etc. It doesn’t have to be a big change; even switching one letter or number will do — if you used 2016 or 16 in last year’s passwords, change the 6 to a 7. Hacking and security are such huge issues nowadays that changing passwords on occasion is the smart thing to do to protect your identity and accounts, and the new year provides the perfect opportunity to take steps to do so. Consider putting a reminder in your calendar to make another change every quarter. You might also take steps to enhance your computer’s overall security against malware and ransomware. Search AAE’s archives for suggestions.

  • Update your account contacts.

Check in with whoever you have designated to handle your accounts —especially social media and e-mail discussion lists — should you have a crisis of some sort, to make sure they’re still willing and able to handle this for you. No one wants to think about mortality, but having someone with access to those accounts who can notify communities (including clients) of illness, injury, or death is important. If you haven’t asked a relative, friend, or colleague to do this, now is the time to give someone trustworthy your account passwords so they can act on your behalf. (It’s also a good time to update your will and healthcare proxies.)

By the way, if you ask someone to handle your accounts in the event of a crisis, make sure to provide language for them to use — don’t assume they’ll know what to say. As an example, a friend’s Facebook account status recently said, “I passed away on date X. See you on the other side.” The immediate reaction of her friends and colleagues was shock and confusion, since this isn’t how someone’s death usually appears in that arena. Some thought it was a macabre joke, others thought her account had been hacked. Since the comment appeared on a holiday, it was difficult to confirm what had happened. It turned out that she had actually died and one of her relatives thought that was an appropriate way to announce it, but those two or three days of confusion were quite upsetting.

  • Change copyright dates.

Update the copyright date on your website, client newsletter(s), and related material to 2017. It may not be mandatory, but it’s good sense in protecting what you write or produce.

  • Budget for professional development.

Start now to set aside funds every month for conference attendance, memberships, training, new tools (whether books, updates for or new software and hardware, office equipment, business cards, etc.), so you have funds on hand when an opportunity arises and don’t have to scramble to cover it. (Keep the fall Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference in mind — and calendar September 15–16, 2017 — it’s a great way to meet colleagues and learn new professional “tricks.”)

  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.

Even if you have plenty of work in hand, but especially if you don’t, use the first few weeks of the new year to set up a formal plan for promoting your business and marketing your services if you’re a freelancer, or working toward a promotion, raise, or change in assignments if you work in-house. Be prepared to meet new opportunities as they arise, rather than panicking because you haven’t thought about what you want to or where you want to go.

If promotions and marketing will require money, set something aside every month, just as you do for regular expenses or professional development.

Successful freelancers know to market their businesses constantly, because even the most reliable long-term clients can disappear in a moment. We can’t assume that any project or client will last indefinitely. We can’t even assume that high-paying clients won’t suddenly reduce their rates or the volume of work they provide to us. Companies and publications downsize, fold, are acquired, or change policies on using outside services; long-time contact people leave for new opportunities or retire. The classic Girl Scout motto “be prepared” is well worth adopting, and being prepared means doing something on a regular basis to bring in new business, or at least be visible to potential new clients in case the status quo suddenly changes.

  • Update your résumé.

Make sure your résumé reflects both your recent achievements and any new trends in design or structure. Keep it fresh and current so you can respond to requests for it immediately, so you don’t have to worry that you might have left something out or don’t appear up to date in terms of layout and content.

Even if you don’t make any changes, but especially if you do, ask a colleague to proofread it for any egregious or subtle errors that you might have overlooked, or anything worth including that you might have forgotten to add.

You don’t have to be job-searching for an up-to-date résumé to be useful. You might want it have it handy for freelance projects outside a regular job, if you’re asked to make a speech, as the basis for requesting a raise or promotion, as the starting point for an “About” page at your website, or as the foundation of a blog post about career development and progression. And, of course, for that lovely moment when a headhunter contacts you about an amazing, perfect-for-you new job that you weren’t looking for but are thrilled to be considered for. And be sure to update your LinkedIn and other bios, directory listings, and profiles.

  • Review your expenses and income.

Take some time to create a formal, written overview of your financial situation. List all regular/recurring expenses and when they occur. Ask yourself where you can cut back to build up a savings cushion or add to funding the projects mentioned above (professional development and promotions/marketing).

If you’re a freelancer, list current clients and how much income each one generates. If you work in-house, break down your salary into monthly segments. Compare the income numbers against the expense numbers to see if there’s a gap. Once you put those factors down in writing, it might be a little scary — but it’s a vital first step in getting those finances under control, reinforcing a need to generate more income, and reducing any stress you’ve been experiencing about making ends meet.

  • Improve your health.

Among the potential challenges of the new political world in the USA will be health insurance coverage, so it might be smart to start the new year with a physical exam and a commitment to eating and behaving more healthily. The fewer medical services you have to use, the better off you’ll be — both physically and financially.

  • Think about service.

A new year is also a good time to look for opportunities to support a community, cause, or organization. It can be a challenge to fit volunteering in a busy schedule, but making time to do so can be rewarding on many levels (and might even lead to new projects or jobs!). If you can’t commit to personal involvement, at least try to put some money where your social conscience is.

  • Look ahead.

Depending on your age and career status, the first month or two of the new year might be a good time to think about, and do some formal planning for, the future. Younger colleagues might want to invest some time in formal plans for how you want to progress and set some specific, achievable goals for advancing your careers. Older colleagues might want to start planning for retirement — when you’ll be ready, what you’ll want to do with your time, how much money you’ll need, where you might want to live, etc.

  • Start something new.

A new year is also a great time to try something new, whether a hobby, sport, or project. This might be the year to try blogging, either as a contributor to someone else’s or on your own. You could try getting training in a new skill that you could offer in your freelance business or as the stepping stone to a new in-house job. If you’re single and want to meet new people, consider joining a dating site or a hobby group of some sort (participating in hobby groups, a church, or a social service project could lead to editorial work!). If you’re chronically disorganized, look into hiring someone to help you try to get things sorted out — whether files or your home — so you can feel more in control and less frustrated.

Doing something new can change your perspective, cheer you up, help you meet new people, make you feel better, get you unstuck. It’s worth a try!

  • Become active in online discussions.

We often forget how important it is to let people know we exist and that we really are highly skilled. Finding ways to get that word out means we can help others achieve their literary goals. One of the best ways to get referrals is to participate in online groups — actually participate, not just lurk. Make this the year to be more than what I call a “checkbook member” of a group or organization: one who joins but never contributes anything. Post to online discussions, offer to speak, write for an organizational newsletter or blog, etc. An American Editor has its own LinkedIn group — a great place to start making your voice heard!

  • Invest in tools for your business.

Investing in your business is a good way to make your career more rewarding. Who doesn’t feel better when cash flow improves? Investing in tools to make us more productive and efficient is but another method of improving that flow. Look into the resources of the Editorium and EditTools, for starters, as well as the offerings of various professional associations.

However you use these first few weeks of 2017, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives. Feel free to share your plans for making the most of the new year!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 5, 2016

On the Basics: Dealing with Distractions

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the attendees at a panel session I participated in recently asked about managing distractions when working from home. This comes up a lot in conversations among colleagues. It’s a good question in these days of what often feels like constant distraction — not just from friends and family whose demands for attention can pull us away from our editing (writing, proofreading, indexing, graphics, etc.) work — but, more invasively, e-mail and social media clamoring for both attention and response. It can feel as if we’re missing out by not responding to every incoming message or new Facebook post, but doing so breaks concentration on the project in hand.

How do we get work done with all this “stuff” going on around us, much of which seems either more urgent or more interesting than that open project on the desktop?

Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another, but here’s my basic approach. Keep in mind that I don’t have children or pets, although I can share few tips for balancing them with working at home.

Nowadays, I check e-mail first thing in the morning, to make sure there’s nothing urgent and to clear out or respond to anything of interest that came in overnight. Then I check Facebook, because I belong to several work-related groups that might have conversations I want to participate in. I give myself permission to be distracted from work by responding to messages and by dipping in and out of both personal and work-related forums as a way to start my day. It’s like meeting at the office water cooler to gossip about what we did over the weekend before the real workday begins.

I dip into LinkedIn and Twitter less often than I go to Facebook, but am trying to be more active in both environments. That’s something else that I do first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, mainly to keep up with what colleagues are doing and get my activities and opinions out there. Again, these are potential distractions, but ones that can be useful to my freelance business.

I usually keep e-mail and Facebook open throughout the day, in part because I have a couple of clients who send me editing and proofreading work on demand, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I have colleagues who close both while they’re tackling assignments, or turn off the sound so alerts to new messages or posts don’t distract them from the work. They go back to e-mail and online forums once they’ve finished, or have at least reached a good break point — such distractions can be used as rewards for getting a certain amount of work done. However, if I have to focus on a demanding writing, editing, or proofreading assignment, I do close both e-mail and my browser.

Some distractions actually are work. You might be focusing on a lengthy editing project when a smaller assignment pops up. Depending on the status of the deadline for that first project, you might be able to set it aside and take care of the new one then and there. It might even be a good change of pace from intensive editing of a complex manuscript. We all need the occasional break, both physical and mental.

Those distractions are reasonably easy to deal with. You can set a time for non-client e-mail interaction and social media participation, and limit the number of LinkedIn groups you belong to or the amount of time you spend in those groups. Managing distractions caused by family and friends can be a greater challenge.

Step 1 might be to establish office hours and stick to them (see, e.g., On the Basics: So You Want to be a Freelancer, The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make, On the Basics: The Issue of Availability, The Proofreader’s Corner: How Lucrative Are Your Editorial Clients Really? Keeping an Eye on Creeping Costs [Part II], and Summertime & Wondering Why). Post them on your home office door so anyone in the house knows when you’re working and prefer not to be disturbed, and at your website so prospective and current clients can see when you’re available. If the phone rings, let it go to voice mail, or at least use Caller ID so you can shield yourself from nuisance calls — spammers, robocalls, unfamiliar numbers, etc., that get through the Do Not Call list. Plan ahead for saying “No” when friends or family call to chit-chat or ask you to run errands because you’re home all day. It can take constant reinforcement for the message to sink in that “I’m working here. I can’t stop to take Johnny’s lunch to school for you or pick up Susie at school or walk your dog” or “I’d love to chat, but I’m on deadline. I’ll give you a ring this evening.”

I was lucky in that I was already freelancing successfully when I met the guy who became my husband. We didn’t have to change any routines, and I didn’t have to justify or explain what I did for a living. He’s always been impressed by and supportive of my work (although there were times when he’d have preferred that I ignore it, such as when I’d spend part of a vacation day on finishing up something that came in unexpectedly just as we were leaving).

When my husband was working, he didn’t have to know very much about my work style or schedule. My routine was to get up at around 7 a.m., check messages, work for a couple of hours, run errands and get a light lunch, do some more work, break for an early dinner when Wayne got home around 3 or 4 p.m. (he was on shift work), and do another hour or two of work in the evening if I didn’t have something social going on. To my everlasting delight, he loves to cook and would fix dinner when he got home, so I could keep working until close to 5 p.m., when clients might expect me to be available by phone or e-mail.

Once Wayne retired and was home all day, I had to educate him about what it takes for me to get my work done, and I had to train myself a little as well. He had to remember to actually walk toward my home office to see if I was on the phone with a client, rather than holler from the other end of the apartment if he wanted to ask or tell me something. I had to remember to let him know if I was on a deadline and couldn’t take the day off for us to go on an adventure together. I made a point of staying ahead of deadlines as much as possible so I could drop everything for a play day as often as feasible.

Those with different spouse/partner situations may have to do more work on communicating what they need. You may have to set up something fairly formal about, for instance, who fixes dinner when, gets the kids to and from school and extracurricular activities, etc. It can help to show a spouse or child what you’re working on — and maybe your latest check for your freelance work. That makes it a lot more real to people who don’t understand what you’re doing and why.

Colleagues with babies or small children often schedule their work time around the kids’ naps. You may want — or need — to find someone to provide an hour or two of respite care/babysitting so you can achieve uninterrupted focus on work. That might mean going to a coworking space, library, or cybercafé, or just having a minder with the little one(s) in another room.

My dad once told a relative that as long as there was no blood on the floor and no detached limbs, my brothers and I were free to tussle around at will. You may need to adopt a similar philosophy. With older children, you may have to set very clear rules about when you can be interrupted, and even put a Do Not Disturb sign on your office door. The trick is to make the rule and stick to it.

People with pets schedule walks and play time around their deadlines whenever possible. Some let the animals join them in their home offices; others have doors (solid works a lot better than glass!) to fend off the beasts. As with any other potential distraction, the freelancer has to remember who is in charge.

As with everything else these days, there are apps for managing distractions; electronic timers come to mind. I prefer to be my own app — to train myself to manage distractions without outside assistance. It’s better for self-discipline, and it means I’m not depending on something that could go wonky when most needed.

Dealing with distractions, like much of freelance life, means developing a sense of discipline and self-worth. You’re in charge of your freelance business, which means that you also have to be in charge of your life in general. If you let distractions throw you off track, your business will suffer. Your personal life is likely to suffer as well, because you’ll be resentful or upset by interruptions and the inability to control what goes on around you and interferes with getting your freelance work done. Family members may be resentful as well, if they don’t have any idea of when you’ll be able to pay attention to them.

How do you manage, head off, or give in to distractions from your freelance work?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

August 10, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Speaker or Presenter

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Whether you’re an editor, proofreader, writer, or other communications professional, and whether you’re working in-house or freelance, you may have information worth sharing with colleagues. You’ve developed experience, knowledge, and a strong skill set as a writer, editor, proofreader, etc., and perhaps as a businessperson as well. It might be time to consider adding to that skill set by becoming a public speaker or presenter of conference speeches, workshops, or classes.

Why Speak Up?

The two most compelling reasons to develop a speaking business: to make money and to help colleagues.

You can get paid for sharing that information and experience, especially if you develop classes to present locally or webinars to offer to the world at large. You could increase your client base, if you’re a freelancer, by becoming visible to more potential clients and to colleagues who might refer you to other clients.

Speaking and teaching also enhances your reputation and makes you appear more important and respected, again to prospective clients or employers.

Every time you make a presentation, you give colleagues — both current and prospective ones — a share of your wisdom. Not only is that generous of you, but it helps make our profession better by passing on knowledge and experience. That’s one reason I make presentations about freelancing — not only do I think there are opportunities for all, I also think that providing suggestions about how to be more businesslike and effective is good for the publishing/editorial/freelancing profession as a whole.

Preparing to present your knowledge as a speaker does not involve a lot of out-of-pocket cost; it primarily involves time and effort. You already have the information in your head; it’s just a matter of transferring it to a script or PowerPoint presentation.

Speaking for Free?

As with other skills we offer, be prepared for being asked to make presentations for free. Think about this ahead of time so you know how to respond to such invitations when they arise. While many professional associations, for instance, do pay their speakers, many do not. Some pay honoraria ranging from skimpy to generous, some cover travel and/or accommodations, but some don’t offer anything in return for benefiting from your insights.

Again, as with being asked to write, edit, proofread, index, design, etc., for free, you have to weigh the possible advantages of accepting a speaking engagement that doesn’t pay, or doesn’t pay very much. Reasons to say yes include:

  • Genuinely useful visibility. The audience might be packed with people who are likely to hire or refer you once they meet and hear you.
  • Other speaking opportunities. You might be able to arrange another presentation as part of the same trip for which you will be paid. I’ve done this several times, offering a topic different from the presentation for which I officially made the trip on the day before or after that one. I’ve even done that when I’ve been paid, or at least had my expenses covered — I love generating more income from the same trip.
  • Sales opportunities. If you have published a book or have other resources that you would like to sell, you can usually piggyback selling those items on the speaking engagement.
  • Organizational support. You may be willing to donate your time and insights because you believe in the host organization. If the host is a nonprofit organization, you can’t use the costs of travel and accommodations for such a speech as a tax-deductible charitable deduction, but your travel and expenses should be tax-deductible as a business expense (caveat: I’m neither an accountant nor a tax expert; you need to check with your tax expert on this).
  • Personal. If the destination is one you want to visit or where friends or family live whom you’d like to see, it may be worth making the trip. If you have a business reason for the trip, you should be able to deduct at least part of the travel and accommodation expenses (see caveat above).
  • Pleasure. For many of us, public speaking is just plain fun. I enjoy the change of pace from writing and editing to speaking, and I love meeting colleagues in person — both students and peers. Of course, as I’ve said before, I’m the poster child for extroverts, but even more introverted colleagues have found that doing presentations can become enjoyable.

How to Get Gigs

Once you decide to try speaking, you have to find opportunities to present your ideas. You can’t wait for speaking engagements to come to you; you may have to start by going to them. That means looking for events or host organizations where you can pitch your topics and expertise, and letting them know you’re available.

Start with associations you already belong to, where you are likely to be known and respected for your skills. Look at the programs currently and recently offered to see what kinds of classes or presentations they host, and submit your ideas, along with information about why you would be the ideal person to present those ideas. Tailor your proposals to an organization’s mission and whatever gaps you notice in its current offerings. Think about what you’d like to learn or hear.

Some organizations have formal proposal processes for prospective speakers to follow; others are more relaxed and open to informal messages or calls with your ideas and credentials.

Once you’ve gotten your first few speaking engagements and they go well, you’re likely to start receiving requests to speak. From that point, it’s all onward and upward.

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to speak in person. Teleconferences and webinars make it easy to make presentations to groups of any size without ever leaving your home or office. You also don’t necessarily need a host to sponsor your presentations. You can learn to use the software to host online presentations yourself, or book space and make presentations under your own flag rather than that of an organization. Software to check out includes Skype, GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect, and FreeConferenceCall, among others.

Once you have a speaking engagement in place, be sure to take a role in promoting the event. Don’t rely on the host organization to get the word out for you. The host organization may only announce the program through its own network; you may have a far wider net to spread. Post about it through your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts; any professional organizations you belong to; your local press and that of the event location; friends, colleagues, and family in the city where the event will be held, if it’s an in-person program, etc. Promotion can make a huge difference in attendance, especially for webinars.

Making the Presentation

Public speaking is supposed to be one of the most nerve-racking activities we can experience. It might be easier to start locally, perhaps with offering a class at a local writer’s center or adult-education program. Standing up (or sitting down) in front of a small group is less terrifying than facing an auditorium full of people.

No matter how skilled you are as a writer, editor, proofreader, or other publishing professional, you probably need some training in public speaking. Consider joining a local Toastmasters club to get a sense of how to structure a presentation and practice at actually making speeches.

Learn what to do — and not to do — from other presenters. Pay attention to presentations you attend — watch and listen for what makes the speaker effective (or ineffective), especially body language such as gestures and facial expressions. Look at the graphics or PowerPoint displays critically for whether they enhance or detract from the presentation.

Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll feel comfortable enough not to worry beforehand or need as much rehearsal time, but don’t wing it for the first few speaking engagements. Practice a few times to develop your timing and get a good sense of how much material you need for a given time slot (the rule of thumb seems to be 145 to 160 words per minute for a presentation vs. 110 to 150 words per minute for casual conversation).

You can speak “to” a mirror or your computer screen, or ask a family member or friend to be your guinea-pig audience. When I’ve done teleconference presentations where I can’t see the audience, I sit in front of my computer so I can see myself, which helps me feel as if I’m addressing people rather than a void. Some webinars make it possible for both speaker and audience to see each other, but sometimes all you see is yourself. I still find that helpful as a form of audience to direct my attention to.

One old saying about public speaking remains useful: “Tell ’em what you’re going to say, say it, tell ’em what you said.” In other words, have an introduction, then a narrative, then a conclusion. It isn’t necessary to open with a joke or include jokes in your presentation — you’re better off playing it straight than trying to make a joke that falls flat.

To help me focus and relax, I find a couple of people in the audience with whom to make eye contact to feel as if I’m addressing them one-on-one. (Be sure to move your eye contact around a bit rather than only interact with one person for the whole speech. Focusing on only one person could make you seem rigid and the person you lock onto quite uncomfortable.)

PowerPoint displays seem to be mandatory elements of presentations nowadays, but they might not be necessary. I like to have the audience focus on me and what I’m saying rather than a screen behind me (although I usually do provide handouts to make it easier for listeners to take notes). Then again, there is a role for PowerPoint slides: to repeat and reinforce your verbal points, as well as to illustrate complex ideas graphically. There are those who say that using PowerPoint to give listeners something to focus on other than the speaker is a good thing.

If you do use slides, do some research on what makes them attractive, readable, and useful rather than boring, overstuffed with lettering, hard to read, or otherwise more of a distraction than a benefit.

Have you tried speaking or teaching? How did you get your first few engagements? What is keeping you from trying to add to your business by being a speaker? What do you think about the value of PowerPoint slides as part of a presentation?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

July 13, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Freelancer

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The idea of being a freelance editor, writer, proofreader, or other editorial worker — for that matter, a freelance anything — is alluring. The prospect of escaping from routine or a difficult boss, setting your own hours, making more money, saying no to work you don’t want to do — it all seems so exciting and worthwhile.

And it is. But freelancing isn’t easy. Being a freelancer means being in business. You might not have an outside office, employees, or a warehouse full of inventory, but you will be in business. Editorial work may be creative, but that doesn’t mean you can approach freelancing nonchalantly, as if there were no business aspects to success.

First steps

For many, if not most, of us, the hardest part of freelancing seems to be finding a steady stream of work that pays well. Before you can meet that challenge, you have to know what to do, for whom, and at how much.

Figure out what you do well, and what you want to do. Put some time into identifying your market — publications, publishers large or small, big corporations, small businesses, independent authors, government agencies, domestic and international not-for-profit organizations, etc., all use freelance writers, editors, desktop publishers, proofreaders, website designers and managers, indexers, graphic artists, and more. Think about your competition, and how you might make yourself stand out from them. Use resources discussed in An American Editor and elsewhere to figure out how much you need to earn to cover your expenses. Then get ready to find the clients that respect your skills and pay accordingly.

Charging for your work

Setting rates for your freelance work can be daunting. Some clients will have rates in place and all you have to do is decide whether to accept those rates. Others may ask what you would charge, or expect you to bid on their work. Various publications and professional organizations provide guidelines on ranges for different types of editorial work, and colleagues are often willing to share what they charge. (Search An American Editor for columns about “effective hourly rate” and “what to charge” to understand and set the rates you need to cover your bills and expenses.)

Keep in mind that everyone is different; my skills, years of experience, types of client, types of work I accept, and chutzpah level are different from yours, so what I charge might be irrelevant to what you can charge (in either direction).

Part of freelancing successfully and getting paid what you think you’re worth has to do with how you set up your business. If you’re a specialist, you probably can charge higher fees; if you’re a generalist, you should get more assignments. The bottom line might look the same.

Thinking about this aspect of freelancing before you actively look for clients will make it easier to know which projects are worth accepting and which ones to turn down.

Finding work

Finding worthwhile clients and projects means marketing and promoting yourself and your skills. As creative people, and as the introverts that many writers, editors, and proofreaders supposedly are, that is a nerve-racking prospect, but it is absolutely essential to freelance success.

The first step is to let everyone you know — family, friends, and especially everyone you’ve ever worked with — about your freelance business and that you are looking for projects. Get business cards and carry them with you at all times; you never know when the lead to a project might crop up, even in social situations. Then go after clients beyond your current network of contacts.

The “bible” for freelance writers is Writer’s Market. I’m also a big believer in trolling local newsstands to find and read magazines that interest me so I can pitch story ideas; they all have websites, and most of those sites provide editorial calendars and writers’ guidelines. Editors and proofreaders often rely on Literary Market Place. We all can use membership (and visibility) in professional associations or discussion groups for access to job-listing services, directory listings, and referrals as colleagues get to know us.

About the boss

One of the fun things about freelancing is being the boss. One of the hard things about freelancing is being the boss.

As the owner of your freelance business, you are responsible for meeting deadlines; paying quarterly estimated taxes; billing and collecting; filing and record-keeping; marketing and promoting; managing time; and all the other little details that are not the editorial activities that you want to spend all your time doing.

You also now have to psych out not one “boss” or “supervisor,” but several. You will have more than one client to answer to and understand — if you’re lucky, dozens. Some will interpret a deadline to mean receiving your work first thing in the morning of the due date; others will consider 5 p.m. as meeting that deadline. Some will want to discuss every detail of a project by phone or e-mail, adding substantial amounts of time to the work. Different clients may expect you to follow different style guides; some may not even know what a style manual is. Some of your responsibility as a freelancer will be to educate clients — tactfully, of course — on expectations.

(For more details on all of these topics, search the An American Editor archives for “setting office hours,” “managing time,” “expectations,” etc.)

Protecting yourself

Rewarding as it can be, freelancing also has its risks. The one that seems to come up in discussions the most often is not getting paid. You can head that off, for the most part, by having something in the way of an agreement or contract. It doesn’t have to be overly formal or lawyerly, but make sure you confirm all details of an assignment or project by e-mail or in a Word document. Include language about how and when you’ll be paid. (Check the An American Editor archives for “Getting Paid: Things for a Freelancer to Think About.”)

If the client has a contract for you to sign, read it carefully to make sure you aren’t accepting liability for anything beyond your control, such as changes after you’ve submitted your work that could create inaccuracies. You can often negotiate to cross out clauses that don’t apply to you or that you find unacceptable. Some boilerplate contracts that make sense for large vendors but not individual freelancers ask for huge levels of insurance coverage, for instance, and usually can be removed if you point that out to the client.

Do some basic research on copyright so you understand, and don’t unnecessarily give away, your rights to your work. With writing, the work belongs to you once you’ve created it until you’re paid for whatever rights you’ve agreed to sell. For editing work, include language in agreements and invoices about retaining the copyright to your version of the document until you’ve been paid. (See the An American Editor essay “The Editor’s Interest: Copyright or Not.”)

For writing assignments, payment will usually be by the word and after the assignment is done. Try to get payment on acceptance rather than on publication — it could take several months between when you hand in that article and the magazine comes out, and all kinds of things could happen in between to delay or even cancel publication.

Editing and proofreading usually are paid by the hour; sometimes by the word or page, or as flat (project) fees. When working with nonpublisher companies and individuals, you often can get a deposit or advance before starting the work; with many clients, you can arrange for interim payments on lengthy projects. That kind of arrangement is especially useful with individual authors, who could be gobsmacked by the total fee but able to pay several smaller amounts over time. Consider making it your business policy, whenever possible, to withhold the finished work until paid in full.

Include language in agreements about late fees, and something to that effect in your invoice template; you generally can’t, or at least shouldn’t, charge late fees if you haven’t said that you will do so. And don’t jump the gun — you can say “payable on receipt” on your invoice, but the standard timeframe for payment in the business world is 30 days after invoice date. Unless your contract specifies otherwise, that’s when you’ll be paid. A few days past the 30-day limit might not mean someone isn’t going to pay. Give it a week, perhaps two, before treating a missing payment as late. (For additional discussion about invoicing on An American Editor, see “The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices.”)

The possibility of late payment or nonpayment brings up another important aspect of protecting yourself: Try to have a savings cushion that covers at least a few months of expenses before you venture into full-time freelancing, so you’re covered in case it takes a while to find projects, or you encounter slow or no-show payments. Knowing you can pay your bills affects your attitude. If you’re desperate for money, you’re more likely to accept low fees and draconian conditions. Try not to do that to yourself.

Self-protection is also a factor in marketing and promotions. When you’re immersed in a substantial, demanding, long-term project, it’s easy to forget to market yourself. Don’t get so buried in current work that you stop looking for the next project. Otherwise, you’ll have no work or income while you wait for that check to come in. The smart thing to do is to set aside a few hours every week to devote to marketing.

Working for free

If you don’t have experience or training in the skills you want to sell, it might make sense to do some free or low-paying work to build up a portfolio of work. If that’s the case, do so on your own terms — write or edit for a nonprofit organization you support for long enough to establish yourself, and then use that work and those contacts as your springboard to paying projects.

Beware of websites where you bid for projects; those clients are usually more interested in how little you’ll accept than the quality of your work. You don’t want to wear yourself out by doing $1,000 worth of work for $5 or $10, even $100. That time could be better spent on looking for clients who respect skill and quality, and pay accordingly.

Resources

There’s a lot more to freelancing, of course, than these tips. For more, check the An American Editor archives and consider getting my self-published booklet, “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer”; my booklet for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business”; and Rich Adin’s book with Jack Lyon and me, The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper; and attending the “Be a Better Freelancer”® conferences offered by Communication Central.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

June 13, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be an Editor (or Proofreader)

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Someone recently posted to an editors’ group on Facebook:

“I’ve read the official list on how to become an editor:
“1. Call yourself an editor.
“2. Start editing.”

We know that it takes a lot more than those two steps! In the poster’s defense, she followed that “list” by asking how colleagues got started in editing, and might have intended it as somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but social media is full of people who say they want to work as editors or proofreaders, either in-house or freelance, with no clue about what it takes to be such a professional.

Being an editor is a laudable goal; editors are essential to finished works — whether in print or online, books on paper or electronic devices, magazines or journals, newspapers or newsletters, articles or essays, blogs or websites, even ads — that readers can follow and understand easily. However, it does take more than a degree in or teaching English, noticing errors in your daily newspaper and the books you read, or just saying “I am an editor” to be a skilled professional who adds value to someone’s writing work and deserves to be paid well for that work.

Most of the subscribers to An American Editor are probably already experienced and working as editors, but equally probably often get those classic “How do I get paid to edit?” or “How do I get started in editing?” inquiries. Here are some tips and guidelines for yourself or for those who ask you what it takes to be a professional editor or proofreader, along with resources for training, finding work in the field, and more.

Important Skills

It takes a number of skills and characteristics to be an editor (most of which also apply to proofreaders), including:

  • An excellent knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage, so ingrained that you rarely have to double-check such aspects of a document — but also so realistic that you know when to stop and check. That is often a result of strong training back in grade school or high school, or self-training later on in life.
  • A sharp eye for consistency and accuracy, even if you aren’t doing fact-checking (that’s a separate step or process, although some editors include fact-checking in their services and most will flag items of fact that seem a bit off for the author or client to check and fix). Some of us seem to have been born with this skill, but it’s also something you can train yourself in.
  • Detail-oriented — what some people might call nitpicky, but professionals know is essential to catching errors and inconsistencies.
  • Organized — both for yourself, in terms of following a regular process or approach, and for the client or project, in terms of doing or suggesting what a document needs to ensure a logical flow of information.
  • Self-effacing, because the author’s voice rules; if your ego needs the visibility of bylines, be the writer.
  • Tactful in dealing with authors or clients, some of whom can be difficult to work with and some of whom may have delicate egos where their projects are concerned. It takes skill and tact to ask the right questions or point out problems in a way that doesn’t upset the author/client. Authors with hurt feelings won’t respond well to edits.
  • Tolerance for jargon — knowing when it has to remain in a document, which can be the case in some fields or professions; some jargon is a term of art.
  • A good memory — for new facts, cross-pollination of information, style guidelines, and the ways things are done in different parts of a manuscript. The sharper your memory, the less time you’ll have to spend on checking and looking up things in a manuscript.

Tools of the trade

To work effectively and professionally as an editor, you need:

  • Internet access, because editing today is a global business and because the Internet is how most of us will be found, receive and send back projects, communicate with clients and colleagues, do research, double-check style elements, etc.
  • Microsoft Word (Mac or PC), which is the leading word-processing program of the day, no matter how many of us hate it. Just remember not to rely exclusively on its spell- and grammar-check functions, because they are not foolproof. Spellcheck will not flag correctly words that are the wrong choice or an inadvertently repeated phrase, and the grammar-check is infamous for its inaccuracies.
  • Adobe Acrobat or other “PDF” maker/editor, since an increasing number of clients expect editors to work on documents in that format.
  • Style manuals as appropriate for the types of documents you might edit — not just having the manual at hand, but knowing it well, and knowing when to check either the book or the online version, whether to refresh and confirm your instincts or defend a change to a client. (Anyone who doesn’t know what a style manual is has a ways to go before being able to say “I’m a professional editor.”)
  • Dictionaries, even if you’re a skilled speller, because you never know when a new word might pop up, a client might question one of your corrections, or you might suddenly draw a blank on the correct spelling of a word.
  • Guides to grammar and usage, to provide refreshers or reminders and, again, defend changes to clients as needed.
  • Memberships in professional organizations and/or online forums like Copyediting-L and the Editors Association of Earth group on Facebook, for access to colleagues and resources you might need when projects present especially knotty problems or you just could use some encouragement and advice.
  • Productivity resources, for automating much of the editorial process (especially for academic or large projects), so your brain and eyes are more free to focus on substance and you can work more quickly, which is especially important if you plan to freelance: Jack Lyon’s Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 from The Editorium, which contains The Editorium’s most widely used macros in a single package; Daniel Heuman’s PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing; Paul Beverly’s macros; and Rich Adin’s EditTools from wordsnSync Ltd.

Optional but still useful: Fax capability, because some clients still like to send or receive projects that way or use faxing for contracts, and knowledge of proofreading marks and clear printing/handwriting, for those projects that clients ask to be edited on paper. Again, these requests may not arise often, but they do still come up, as I know from current experience. Proofreading marks also can be used as stamps when editing or proofing PDFs.

Who Goes First?

One of the cardinal rules of editing is to respect and retain the author’s voice. The author comes first. An editor has to learn to subsume his or her personality in the editing process and often has to live with invisibility or anonymity (although there are authors who thank their editors, either in formal acknowledgments or online in forums such as LinkedIn). If your ego needs the visibility of a byline or your own voice predominating a work, step away from editing and do the writing yourself.

Resources for Training

You may be relieved to know that many skilled, successful editors don’t have formal training as editors. In a recent Facebook group conversation, for example, more than 40 people in just a day or two said they had either no degree at all or none related to editing. This can be seen as a drawback for our field, as Rich has discussed here a number of times, but it’s an advantage for those who have learned on the job and developed strong skills on their own, without formal training or coursework.

That doesn’t mean someone can leap into editing as a professional without some training or experience, no matter how many untrained, inexperienced people hang out their shingles and fool clients into thinking it’s worth hiring them.

Useful resources for training in editing include the following.

General

Specialties

Further listings

That First Editing Job

Once you have the skills, tools, and resources in place, be sure to read Bernadette Cash’s “Getting That First Job: Advice from a Technical Recruiter,” which provides tips for finding an editing job in the tech field that can be applied to other kinds of editing.

Words of Wisdom

One of my Facebook editing colleagues reported recently that Ann Goldstein, copy editor at the New Yorker magazine and also a translator, recently told an audience at a writers’ conference in Auckland, New Zealand, that “if you want to be a good editor, the most important thing is to read. Read a lot!” I would concur. The more you read, the better you will edit. Reading in a wide range of fields and a variety of publications, from books to magazines to newspapers to blogs and newsletters, will expand your sense of what works in written material, as well as add to your general knowledge of trends and events that might crop up in the works you edit.

How have you developed your skills — what kinds of training and education have you used to become an editor, or evolve into a better one? What do you consider an essential skill or ability for an editor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

April 25, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Writer

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

My freelancing business has evolved over the years from all-writing to a mix of writing, editing, and proofreading, but writing is my first love and I think of myself as a writer first and foremost. Writing comes easily to me, at least most of the time. In some ways, writing is more fulfilling than editing or proofreading because it’s an act of creation. I enjoy making someone else’s writing more readable, but I love creating my own written work. Giving voice to my ideas, and to the ideas and achievements of other people, through my writing is a wonderful way to live and work.

Many subscribers to An American Editor see themselves as editors or proofreaders only, but others have ventured into writing as well. Since adding writing to your business services, or just writing something for your own sake, might be on your mind, I thought I’d write about writing this month.

It seems as if anyone and everyone nowadays wants to be a writer, or at least get published, although wanting to get published is nothing new. There have always been people with a yen to write who have scribbled away in their garrets or kitchens, and never been published or earned a penny for their efforts. Writing has always had a certain cachet; it’s always been an accomplishment that attracted wannabes (and I don’t mean any disrespect by that term). From what I see in social media, the writing-related publications I read, and the publishing or writing events I attend, the majority of today’s aspiring writers seem to want to write memoirs, with fiction coming in second.

Some aspiring writers may not want to be professional, full-time writers and go the traditional publishing route for books or the equally traditional route of working for a publication as a staff writer. You may have a single idea, passion, or mission, or had a single “extraordinary” experience that you want to write about. You can do that, and find an audience, more easily nowadays than any time in the past.

Others do want to write for newspapers or magazines, but have no training or experience in producing professional, publishable material. If that’s you, some basic journalism training is probably in order.

There’s also a subset of this community — the businessperson who’s been persuaded that writing a book about his or her business/profession/path to success is a great way to get more sales. This is often someone with good ideas but no writing experience or skills, at least in the kind of writing that makes a good book that would attract readers (and, thus, new customers for the business). This is someone who could be a great client for a substantive or developmental editor, or for someone interested in ghostwriting.

What’s different today, and it’s not always a good thing, is that almost anyone — heck, maybe anyone! — can and often does get published. It isn’t a good thing when the writing is sloppy, careless, disorganized, rife with errors, unoriginal, and otherwise of poor quality. It can be a good thing because voices that traditional publishers ignore now have ways to be heard and read. You only have to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs; the many self-published authors and businesses catering to them; and the people who seek advice about getting published to realize that the desire to write for publication is strong and flourishing, regardless of the quality being produced.

So what do you do if you want to be a writer? If you’re a successful, skilled editor, you already have a good sense of what makes a piece of writing “good,” so you’re one step ahead of many aspiring writers who have no idea of how to craft something that other people will enjoy reading. If you have something you want to say, you have a reason to write. Don’t let other people dictate what you say and how you say it (unless they’re your assigning editors, in which case, do what you’re told, but find ways to retain your voice in the process).

There’s plenty of good advice “out there” for aspiring writers. Among the respected writers providing such advice are William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Annie Dillard, Paula LaRocque, Bill Bryson, Ray Bradbury, Roy Peter Clark, Marie Arana, and Dean Koontz, making advice easy to obtain from your local bookstore. What most of the advice boils down to is this:

  • Just write — write every day.
  • Write what you know (although some say to write whatever you want — after all, who really knows anything about zombies, wizards, and fictional science?) And you can research professions, places, and other topics that interest you even if you’ve never experienced them.
  • Read all the time — a variety of authors and genres. The more you read, the more you absorb the essentials of what makes something readable and the more your own writing will benefit. You’ll develop an instinct for what makes good writing to emulate and bad writing to avoid.
  • Budget for an editor for any long forms of writing you plan to do. As everyone who subscribes to An American Editor knows (or should know), a good editor is essential for making a piece of writing its best.

For encouragement, feedback, and resources, it can’t hurt to join a writers’ group; bookstores and libraries often host such groups. If there’s a literary center in your area, look into classes there; if not, see if area universities and colleges, libraries, or even continuing education programs from your local high school offer writing classes (you don’t have to undertake a degree to benefit from college or university classes). There’s something especially valuable about personal, in-person interaction with a teacher and other students that will help you hone your craft. I can’t vouch for online resources because I’ve never used them, but I have seen colleagues recommend joining online writers’ groups and taking online writing courses if you can’t find anything local or just feel more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one.

It also helps to subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers magazines, all of which provide insights on the writing process and how to get published. If your goal is to write for pay for magazines, you will also want to have Writer’s Market on hand.

It’s important to keep in mind is that writing is work. It’s hard work, although I’ve never found it to be the painful process that many other writers experience. For me, the hardest part is just starting a project; once I get those first few words out, it “Feels So Good,” as Chuck Mangione’s song says, and the rest tends to flow like the proverbial river.

Most writing projects require research, interviewing, and organizing before you sit down and write the first few words. Part of the writing commitment is being prepared to repeatedly edit and revise your work until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Depending on the project, you then may have to deal with being edited by someone else, which is not always easy to handle, especially if it involves rewriting.

It often helps to create an outline or timeline for a piece of writing so your ideas are organized enough for readers to follow you along. That even helps you stay on track, especially with memoir and other types of nonfiction.

Writing is exciting, interesting, fulfilling work, but it is work. Writing well is even harder work than writing in and of itself. You might have to spend more time on revising what you write than on producing a first draft.

If readers of this blog want to become writers, I have only one suggestion: Do it. Just sit down and do it. You might not do it well, but if you are a writer, you will write. If you are a good writer, you will write well — and you will take advice and editing from colleagues who will make your work even better (many of whom you can find right here, among fellow subscribers).

Get those ideas and opinions out of your head and written down. Let the need to write flow from your brain to your hands to the keyboard. Only when you actually start to do the work of writing will you find out whether you really have something to say in a way that other people will understand and respond to, and maybe even purchase.

The saying that anyone has a book in them may well be true; the worlds of blogging and self-publishing certainly make it seem that way. I haven’t had the discipline or courage to test that theory yet. My book is still lurking in there somewhere, but my voice gets heard in other kinds of writing, and that’s enough for now.

Today, there are thousands of outlets for your writing. Beyond the traditional publishing houses and publications, there are more online outlets than can be counted, and there’s always the option of creating your own outlet. Some outlets have stringent submission requirements, some publish anything they receive, and your own blog or self-published book has no limits. There is no reason not to write, even if you aren’t sure that your writing is any good.

Show us what you can say!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

March 25, 2016

Worth Noting: A Super Deal for AAE Subscribers

The 2016 “Be a Better Freelancer”® Conference:
“Profiting in Publishing”

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s time for subscribers to An American Editor to enjoy a benefit of being an AAE subscriber — a special early registration price for the annual Communication Central conference.

The 11th annual “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, “Profiting in Publishing,” will be held October 28–29, 2016, in Rochester, NY, with an additional special workshop on October 30.

The conference offers a stellar lineup of speakers and topics of interest to a wide range of freelancing colleagues, including both new and established freelancers. Even though the overall focus is on freelancing, the conference is also of value to in-house editors, with sessions on skills and tools that enhance productivity, efficiency, professionalism, and overall ability.

Rooms in the conference hotel are shareable, and many colleagues will be looking for roommates. The hotel is part of a new complex with a Barnes & Noble; several restaurants and shops; and easy access to nearby parks, the Genesee River, and the University of Rochester. Partners, spouses, and offspring will find plenty to do while participants are conferencing.

The normal early registration price is $175 per day and $250 for both days. The special AAE rate is $125/day and $200 for both days, but this special price expires on June 30, 2016, so be sure to register now. If you have any questions, contact me at conference@communication-central.com.

The link to the speaker bios, session descriptions, and registration form for the special price for AAE subscribers is:

http://tinyurl.com/j33nomf

The link is password-protected; your password is AAE-CC16.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

February 22, 2016

On the Basics: The Issue of Availability

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the issues that all freelancers often have to deal with is availability to clients, both prospective and current. Not that we aren’t available as needed, for the most part, but that clients may have unrealistic expectations about our availability, and we may struggle with how to maintain both reasonable work hours and good client relations.

A recent Facebook group comment mentioned a client who was upset because an editor did not respond to 12 e-mail messages a day — during a holiday week. I’ve seen similar, although not quite as drastic, anecdotes from other colleagues, and I’ve had a couple of demanding clients, too — people who would call late in the evening or during the weekend even after being asked not to do so, or would get upset if their e-mail messages weren’t returned moments after being sent.

When you work in-house, you have to keep the hours that the business requires of you. Some of us have or have had unreasonably demanding bosses or work environments, and have seen the assumed flexibility of freelancing as an escape from such situations.

I’ve been there myself. As a community organizer for a local nonprofit, I had to go to evening meetings and weekend events fairly often, although we did get compensatory time off. As a reporter for a weekly newspaper, I expected to cover events in the evenings and on the weekends and holidays, but I didn’t bargain for being stuck at the office until 2 or 3 a.m. on press nights; I put up with it because that was part of the job, and we were all in the same boat. As the communications manager for a small trade association, I was expected to show up at 7:30 a.m. for monthly staff meetings over breakfast at a place near the office — and pay for my meals — when the usual starting time was 8:30 a.m., and we still had to stay at the office until 5 p.m. on those days.

Lawyers are routinely expected to put in long hours, and their support staff often are subjected to demands that go well beyond 5 p.m. or Monday to Friday; I do proofreading for a law firm where the information-processing center is staffed through midnight seven days a week. Medical staff often have to work ridiculous shifts, especially as interns and residents.

Many freelancers do work at all kinds of hours; setting my own hours has always been one of the major benefits of freelancing. The problem kicks in with clients who assume that freelancers are available to them at any and all hours, on any and all days, regardless of time zones, weekends, holidays, and personal preferences or issues. This tends to happen more with independent authors than with businesses, but it can occur with companies when in-house contacts are disorganized or under pressure to get things done.

There’s a difference between working “at any hour” and “working all hours,” and it’s vital that freelancers establish that difference. As long as we meet deadlines we’ve accepted, when we work and for how long at a time is up to us. When clients can expect us to be available, for work or for contact, is also up to us.

Both to establish yourself as a businessperson and a professional, and to save your sanity, it’s essential to set and at least appear to stick to standard work hours. That can mean:

  • Posting your “office hours” at your website and/or telling new clients when you can be reached early in the relationship;
  • Not answering phone calls and work-related e-mail messages before, say, 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. your time;
  • Telling an intrusive client that such calls or messages aren’t acceptable and won’t be answered outside those hours; and
  • Sticking to what you tell people.

One way to explain this to a client who keeps calling or e-mailing outside your established business hours is simply that “I run a business, and I keep business hours. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours of a call or message during the week. Over the weekend or a holiday, it might be 48 hours.” Another is to say something like, “I need to focus on your project to do my best work for you, and I can’t keep that focus if I’m continually getting phone calls or e-mail messages that interrupt me when I’m trying to work. The more you do this, the longer it will take me to get your project done, which means it might cost you more money — and it might affect the quality of my work.”

Be prepared, though: Expectations about our availability can be disruptive enough that we have to end some client relationships. I recently had an author who wanted my phone number and wanted to know what I consider odd and irrelevant personal details about me: my hobbies, whether I was married, even what I like to eat! She said these personal details were more important to her than my professional skills and experience. I envisioned constant interruptions to my work for her and other clients. (That she didn’t notice my phone number at my website was a warning sign of another type.) When I said I preferred to keep business interactions on a professional basis, she went ballistic. This was a client I didn’t mind losing.

Another aspect of availability is when there’s an impending health issue of some sort — a baby on the way, a scheduled surgery, a trip to look after an ailing relative — or an upcoming vacation or conference trip.

In the regular workplace, you handle most of these events by asking a supervisor or human resources department for the necessary time off and checking with office mates to make sure someone can cover your work. Alerting freelance clients to such “absences” is trickier, because there’s always the worry that letting a client know you won’t be available for a while could mean losing that client.

I’m a believer in letting clients know that something major is coming up, but that (a) I expect to be available as needed soon after and (b) I have backup in case the situation lasts longer than planned. By now, I’ve had enough experience with keeping my freelance business going to know that I can continue working or get back to work fairly quickly in almost any situation — the bad (major surgery, postsurgical complications, parent’s death, spouse’s major surgery and lengthy recovery, other parent’s long-term caregiving and eventual death, broken limb) — or the good (vacation weeks, conference trips). Freelancers with children will have other kinds of demands to balance with their work.

Because it’s simple common sense to expect that these kinds of issues are going to arise, both scheduled and unexpected, it’s equally good sense to plan for how to let clients know about availability and communication for those moments. As with so many other aspects of life, and business life in particular, being prepared will make it easier to cope with importunate clients who call and send messages at inappropriate times, and with good clients who need reassurance that we’ll be available as needed to get their projects done, come what may.

Sometimes we have to manage not just the work, but the personalities and expectations of clients, especially those who haven’t worked with editors and other editorial professionals before. Clients don’t have to know that we’re working at 3 a.m. or during the weekend, or that we’ve put in 10 straight hours on a given project. They do have to learn that they can’t expect us to be available at or for those hours and beyond. When we work is up to us; so is when we can be interrupted or contacted about that work.

The point is to establish availability boundaries and stick to them.

How have you handled clients with unreasonable demands for contact and availability?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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