An American Editor

January 17, 2018

What Not to Do as a Newcomer to Freelance Editing

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many people inadvertently make gaffes when they’re just starting out as freelance editors (or writers, proofreaders, indexers, graphic artists, layout and design providers, etc.). As you start out, or as you look for opportunities in new areas of skills, topics, or services, you don’t want to be the person remembered for a clumsy entry into a community of colleagues.

Keep in mind that most colleagues are more than generous about sharing advice and even fixing problematic sentences — essentially doing your work for you. Be careful not to take advantage of that generosity.

With that in mind, here are a few things not to do when you’re starting out. Or even if you’ve been in the profession for a while!

  • Jump into a discussion group or list to ask how to get started. It might seem like a logical thing to do, but there are so many resources to check out that it shouldn’t be necessary to ask such a general question. Most established freelancers are more than willing to share information, but get tired of the same old “how do I get started” questions that could easily be answered by doing a little research yourself — looking through group archives, doing online searches, consulting bookstores, etc. Once you’ve done some of that basic research, ask something specific.
  • Make your first comment in a discussion list or group a request (or what looks like a demand) that people send you their “overflow” work or refer you for projects. Wait until you have contributed something — preferably several things — useful to the group before you expect people to consider you as someone to refer, recommend, or subcontract to. At least let members of the community know what your background, training, and experience are. Established colleagues are not going to recommend, refer, or subcontract to someone we don’t know and whose skills and experience aren’t evident.
  • Have typos and clunky language in your first — or any — posts to groups of colleagues. Yes, many online environments are considered virtual water coolers or almost family gatherings, and some communities are more forgiving of errors in posts among colleagues than others. And yes, we all make mistakes. But our online presence is often the only way colleagues meet us. If we want people to think well of us as professionals, we have to make our posts as clean, error-free, and coherent as possible. You don’t want to be remembered for error-filled posts when an opportunity arises to be referred, recommended, or hired by a colleague.
  • Ignore the rules of a group. Editorial professionals, especially editors and proofreaders, are supposed to be detail-oriented (perhaps to an extreme extent). If you join a discussion list that calls for tags or labels on messages, use ’em. If the group discourages personal or off-topic posts, pay attention.
  • Complain — to a client or to colleagues — about late payment before it’s been 30 days after you billed for a project, unless the client has clearly agreed to pay sooner than that. Payment by 30 days after invoice date is a standard in the business world. Some clients use 30 business days, and others are using 45 or 60 days. Some will cut and mail that check on day 30, so it won’t reach you for another couple of days. We have a right to be paid on time, but “on time” could mean day 31 or 32. Even if your agreement or contract is to be paid 10 or 15 days after the invoice date, give it a couple of days before checking on the payment if it doesn’t arrive by the agreed-upon date, and make the inquiry polite, not frantic or arrogant.
  • Tell clients you need to be paid because you can’t pay your rent or buy groceries until you receive their payments. Clients don’t care — at least, most of them don’t. They care about getting top-quality work back as scheduled. They also don’t need to get the sense that you can’t manage your finances, even if their lateness is causing the problem. If you have to chase late payments, state the matter in terms of being paid because you did the work as agreed, not because you need the money for essentials.
  • Accept a project deadline and/or fee without seeing the complete document or nature of the assignment first, or accept an editing or proofreading client’s description of the document’s number of pages and level of editing or proofreading needed. A client’s definition of a “page” and what the manuscript needs can be very deceptive. Until the you see the manuscript, you don’t know if the client’s page is single-spaced, in 8- or 9-point type, with next to no margins. Whether you use 250 words or 1,800 characters as your standard definition of a page, use it to determine the actual length of the manuscript.

Clients also tend to think their projects are better than they really are, and “only need a light edit/only need proofreading.” When you actually look at the document, it may need a heavy, intensive edit — one that is substantive or developmental — that will take two, three or 10 times longer than a light edit or proofread.

If you base your estimated fee or deadline on what the client says, you’re likely to cheat yourself — and work yourself to a frazzle for far less money than you should receive.

  • Accept a project when you don’t really know how to use the software program(s) it requires, unless you let the client know ahead of time that that’s the case. Clients don’t want to be your learning curve. Figuring out how to use a new program or application will slow down your editing speed, which could result in missing a deadline or earning less than you should.
  • Respond to a job listing when you aren’t qualified for the project. That only makes you look unprofessional, wastes the prospective client’s time (and yours), and makes the group sponsoring the listing service look bad. Focus on the opportunities that you really are qualified for and your results are likely to improve.
  • Answer questions that weren’t asked. If you can’t respond to what someone actually asked about in a forum, group or discussion list, don’t. If you have a related but different angle, start a new discussion rather than dilute the original one with information that isn’t helpful to the original poster.
  • Fail to look things up that are easily found online or in group/list archives. Most questions about starting out as an editor, a freelancer, or both have already been answered, either in the group you belong to or elsewhere, but so have many questions about usage, grammar, and other aspects of editing. Learn how to check the archives of the discussion lists, forums, and groups you belong to so you don’t ask questions that have been answered dozens of times.
  • Cry poor. This may seem harsh, but try not to use poverty to beg for work or as the reason you aren’t using current technology. Most of us have been there — short of cash, desperate for income, stuck with late-paying clients — and will be sympathetic, but would rather see someone make an effort to overcome these situations than play on that sympathy. Again, we deserve to be hired and paid for our professional services, not because we’re broke.
  • Bulk up your posts to a discussion list or forum with tons of repeated previous message content. As a colleague who manages a list said recently, when asking listmembers to trim their posts, “We’re editors here, so let’s edit.”

What “newbie” goofs did you make when starting out as an editor or freelancer? What would you advise colleagues not to do?

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 (2018: September 21–22 in Rochester, NY), and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

January 10, 2018

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Blogger

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

There are thousands of blogs already “out there,” but that hasn’t stopped blogging from continuing to expand. Given the increasing scope and popularity of this communication channel, it might be time for you to take the plunge and join the blogosphere. Here are a few things to consider before or when doing so.

First Steps

Before committing to blogging, take some time to plan what you’ll do and say. First and foremost, have a point, purpose, and original angle. Before you start blogging, survey the landscape — see who else is posting about the topic or profession you have in mind. A lot of colleagues are already blogging about all aspects of the publishing profession, so make sure you have something unique and original to contribute to the blogosphere before you jump in with a blog of your own. It might make more sense to become a contributor to an existing blog that relates to your interests than to start your own, similarly to the columnists here at An American Editor. (That could help with the next point as well.)

Set a schedule. Decide how often you’ll post new material to your blog. Try not to be overly ambitious: It might seem like a good idea to make new entries every day, and it can seem easy in the first blush of launching a new blog, but posting daily is a lot of work, and can be hard to maintain. Few things can erode your credibility more than having to cut back on the frequency of your posts because you can’t keep your blog going at that level. You’re better off starting by posting once or twice a week and expanding to more often if you find you have enough to say for increased frequency (the same goes for those who launch marketing or promotional newsletters). Being a contributor to an existing blog can help with reducing the pressure to produce more than you really have time for.

Keep it tight. People today are swamped by so much information coming at them from so many angles that it’s hard to stand out, much less establish a regular following. People are more likely to read shorter blog posts than longer ones. If you have a topic that deserves more detail and depth, consider breaking it into a series of two or three parts.

Plan for the future. Before formally launching your blog, pull together a few posts in advance that aren’t time-sensitive. That will make it easier to establish momentum and keep it going. If something news- or opinion-worthy crops up before you use your prepared posts, so much the better — craft something to respond to the timely topic and save one of the existing ones for the next opening in your publishing cycle.

To enhance your planning process and reduce the pressure to produce, keep an eye on a year’s calendar to find events and celebrations that could tie into your blog posts. One that comes immediately to mind is National Punctuation Day in September, but other holidays could relate to your particular topic. So could events such as conferences of organizations in your area of the field. And a new year is almost always fodder for at least one blog post about personal or professional resolutions, goals, and new directions.

Building Your Audience

Once you’re out there in the blogosphere, you’ll need a following. There’s little pointing having something worth saying if no one is reading what you post.

Start by notifying everyone appropriate in your contacts of your new offering. That may not mean everyone you know — who might be interested in your blog will depend on the topic.

Post information about your blog to your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media accounts. In doing so, let colleagues (and clients, if appropriate) know that you’ll be open to their responses. Every time you publish a new post to the blog, announce it in those social media venues.

If you belong to any professional organizations, send a news item to be published in their newsletters and other communications outlets to members. You might even get coverage if you don’t belong to a given organization but your blog covers information that is relevant to its members.

Put a link to the blog at your website, and add its URL to your e-mail sigline (signature). If you’re low on business cards, add the URL to it with your next order.

Look for opportunities to mention the blog in responding to social media and blog posts of colleagues and organizations you belong to.

Making it Better

If you already have a blog, you might want to make it better, especially if you aren’t getting very much readership or response to it. Improving a blog usually involves targeting a readership more effectively, writing more clearly and coherently, looking for new ideas and angles, getting professional editing or proofreading help, etc.

One way to make your blog more interesting to more readers would be read not only the blogs of colleagues but new and different newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc., and perhaps watching new television programs, that expand your view of the world. This would help you stay up to date on news and trends in the world at large and the profession, giving you more to write about with greater depth and scope.

Making your blog better also could mean asking colleagues to contribute posts, which would expand your blog’s reach to new readers, provide new and different insights, and take some of the pressure off you to constantly produce new material.

Whether you blog about our profession or something more personal, here’s to a successful effort.

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.

December 13, 2017

An AAE Announcement: Change Is Coming

Filed under: Breaking News,Uncategorized — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: ,

As some of you know, I have semi-retired. I say “semi” because I am still accepting the occasional job from select clients, but my days of full-time editing are morphing into a couple of projects a year and lots of time with the grandchildren (with another coming in January).

I originally thought I would turn my attention to An American Editor, but I have found that I am increasingly being distracted by other things, not least of which are tackling my ever-growing To-be-Read pile of books (I did a rough count last week and the pile has grown to more than 200 books) and working on EditTools and a new book on the business of editing.

Because I think An American Editor is a valuable blog, I have decided that rather than end it, I would pass on editorial responsibilities to someone I think will do an outstanding job of continuing the traditions I have established for AAE over the nearly eight years (the first essay was on January 4, 2010) of its existence and more than 1,000 published essays. The new editor-in-chief of AAE is our own

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

who has authored the On the Basics essays for AAE.

Ruth will be assuming her duties as of January 1, 2018. I will still be around and an occasional contributor to AAE, kind of like the not-seen publisher. Ruth will be in charge, so any questions — including about becoming a contributor to AAE — should be directed to her at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

I hope you all will join me in wishing Ruth congratulations and wishing her a long and successful association with AAE.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 6, 2017

On the Basics: The Holiday Season Is Upon Us — How Do We Manage Client Greetings?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Freelancers face this issue every year: How do I greet and thank my clients/customers during the December holidays? Is it appropriate to send gifts to my clients/customers?

I’m a big believer in end-of-the-year gestures for my clients. Sending a holiday or end-of-the-year greeting, with or without a gift, is a good business and marketing move. Expressing appreciation for a client’s business shows you don’t take them for granted. With clients you only hear from once in awhile, that holiday greeting is also a great reminder of your services and contributions to the success of their business or projects. The arrival of my holiday greeting always triggers at least one response along the lines of, “What great timing – your package made me realize that we need your writing/editing/proofreading services for this new project. Are you available for…?”

Colleagues have noted that they get similar responses when they announce that they’re going on vacation (whether for the December holidays or at other times of the year). There’s something about saying you won’t be available that makes clients want you for a project at that time.

I also try to remember to send holiday or new year’s cards to clients I haven’t worked with in the past year. That’s almost a guarantee of new business in the new year!

Because I don’t know what everyone celebrates, I use a thank-you message rather than “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah,” or even “Happy Holidays.” I respect everyone’s choice of holiday to celebrate, and I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same things that I do.

I collect items throughout the year to use as part of a small gift box for each client. Since I’m known for being somewhat obsessed with all things purple, these tend to be purple candies and knick-knacks. Each box includes a mug and pen with my business contact information, business card, and greeting card. I usually include packets of local coffee or hot cocoa, and exotic teas. Some years, I’ve sent candles (purple, of course – lilac-scented, in honor of our Rochester lilacs!) or seed packets with appropriate language in the card. The overall value is well within the limits that government employees are allowed to accept, and the nature of the gift stands out from the common gift basket, generic chocolate, bottle of wine, etc.

Customizing your holiday gift is the ideal. Even if some of the elements in mine are not labeled or marked with my business info in some way, key pieces are branded with my logo, e-mail address and/or website URL, and phone number: a mug or wine glass; a pen with the same information; my business card, of course; the greeting card itself. I haven’t used a professional printing service for the greeting card yet, but am seriously thinking about it for this year. I’ve accumulated a major stash of thank-you cards for this purpose and I’ve been creating my own greeting to print, sign and insert, something more polished might be a better idea.

Timing may be everything, but we can be flexible. If the month of December gets really crazy, I sometimes send out my holiday greeting and gift in early January as more of a “thank you for your business last year, here’s to a great new year together” message than one that references the holidays. (The advantage of waiting until January is that my greeting doesn’t get lost in the flood of everyone else’s holiday messages, not to mention all those catalogs and other advertising junk.)

Assembling the boxes (free from the post office) and filling them is time-consuming, and time can get away from us, so some colleagues may prefer to reach clients with just a card for the holidays. That’s fine — there’s no requirement to send a gift, and not everyone will feel comfortable doing so. One way I plan to reduce the time and hassle factor on my own behalf is to pay a friend’s teenager to help me with putting the boxes together and filling them up. I envision a day or two of the living room being carpeted with boxes lined up to receive their fillings, and a mini assembly line for the two of us to use in putting everything in each box.

As for practical considerations, inexpensive gifts and the cost of sending them are tax-deductible business expenses as marketing or promotions (at least under current guidelines), making them not only a gracious gesture but a practical investment in your business.

I enjoy the opportunity to tell my clients that I recognize that my business would not exist without them, and to let them know that they mean more to me than just a payment with each completed project. My clients seem to enjoy receiving this annual gesture, and the goodwill it creates is as valuable as when it triggers a new assignment.

Here’s to a happy holiday season and profitable new year to all my An American Editor colleagues!

How do you handle client greetings at the end of the 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.

December 4, 2017

On the Basics: Wrapping up the Old Year and Preparing for the New One

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The end of the year is nigh, which means it’s time to think about wrapping up the old year and clearing the decks for the new one, including gifts for clients or colleagues, among other aspects of freelancing as an editorial professional.

To Gift or Not to Gift

A perennial question for editorial freelancers as the end of the year approaches is whether to give gifts to clients. The answer is easy if you work with government clients: Most government workers, including “privatized” agency workers like postal workers, are forbidden from accepting gifts of high value — in many cases, of any value — as well as any gifts from contractors or freelancers.

For private-sector clients and individuals, the decision is trickier. Some companies have policies about gifts from contractors. The good thing about that is it takes care of any decision-making for us. The bad thing is we might not know what the policy is, and asking is a little awkward. I lean toward sending something and hoping that doing so doesn’t violate any client policies or guidelines, rather than asking and spoiling the surprise if gift-giving is acceptable.

The gifts themselves can be challenging. You want to express appreciation for business from the client, but not look as if you’re trying to bribe the client into providing new work in the new year. There’s also the issue of who celebrates what. Rather than say anything that someone might find insensitive or intrusive, I couch my holiday gifts as thank-you gestures rather than recognition of any particular holiday.

When this topic comes up, as it does every year, some colleagues say they send gifts like chocolates — our own Rich Adin orders chocolate bars with his company logo impressed in them. Others order from companies that create gift baskets with fruit, chocolates or other candies, cookies, and similar goodies. I enjoy putting together my own gift boxes. I know there’s a risk in giving candy — people might be allergic or (horrors!) just not like them, but colleagues who know me will understand when I say that I get a kick out of finding candies that are either purple or wrapped in purple paper.

I’ve also sent seed packets, small stuffed bears, and other trinkets with appropriate messages on personalized cards. One thing I haven’t done, but probably should do, is order professionally printed cards. I have a stash of (purple, of course) thank-you cards that I personalize and I think my clients enjoy receiving, but something more formal might make a better impression.

Because chocolate, fruit, and other edibles tend to disappear fairly quickly, I include at least one nonperishable item in my client gifts — for example, a pen or a mug —something that will last and provide an ongoing reminder of my existence and services. For a few years, I would find ceramic purple mugs at local arts fairs, but now I use ones that have my logo, website URL, and e-mail address or phone number on them.

The Recordkeeping Routine

Gift-giving is fun. Recordkeeping is a dreaded chore. If the end of the year is near, it’s time for checking, organizing, and updating your business records to prepare for filing taxes in the new year. Whether you do your own taxes or consult an accountant, having the information organized now will make the process go much faster and feel like less of a hassle.

Take a few minutes to review various sources for information about any changes in taxes for the year — mileage rates, new deductions, and the like.

I’m pretty good about recording information in a spreadsheet or at least a list for each category of expense, but sometimes I have to set aside an hour or two a week in November or December to move receipts and other records from a pile on my desk to folders for each category of business record. Like many colleagues, I don’t enjoy filing, even though I realize it’s essential good business practice to stay on top of it.

Rich Adin suggests investing in a program like QuickBooks Pro. Although expensive (and tech support is far from the greatest), QuickBooks Pro does several things for you. First, it provides an easy way to track both business and personal income and outgo. Rich has multiple “accounts,” including one for his freelance business and one for his personal accounts. He creates invoices, tracks payments, and tracks and pays business expenses through the business account. He ”pays” himself by “writing” a business check to himself that is “deposited” into his personal account (all of this is done electronically). He pays business expenses, such as purchases of software, by writing a business check (or by making an electronic payment) to a vendor. He uses checks that have the business name imprinted and that he can run through his printer using QuickBooks Pro.

Having a separate bank account for business and using QuickBooks Pro helps confirm in client eyes that you are a business. Using QuickBooks Pro makes it easy to pay quarterly taxes and to create reports for your accountant to prepare your taxes. Because you can create and assign accounts, you can have as detailed a view of your business as you want. Most importantly, in Rich’s view, is that there are no pieces of paper to lose — QuickBooks Pro is his check register, so every time he spends money, it gets recorded. And unlike other methods, multiple backups (Rich backs up daily with Backup4All and continuously with Carbonite), both local and remote, mean that accurate financial records are always available.

Polishing Promotions

The end of the year is also a good time to review your website (or plan to launch one) to see if it needs refreshing. Rewriting content, adding new images or sections, and deleting old information all contribute to a more-effective site — and higher rankings. Do what you can now to enhance your site’s quality and impact for the new year.

Some people are saying we no longer need business cards, but I disagree. Take the end of the year to either consider revamping yours for a new look in the new year, or create one to use in the new year. You might not need it to promote your editorial business electronically, but it will come in handy in the real world. You never know when you might meet someone who could become a client or colleague, and who will remember you better with that little piece of cardboard in hand. If nothing else you can use it to qualify for giveaways at the Communication Central conference!

This is also a good time to do some research, perhaps with Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace, on potential new clients for the new year. Identify potential new clients/outlets to contact now and plunge into the promotional effort in January.

Basics to Tackle

Now that you have the old year’s wrap-up under control, here are some reminders of things to consider in preparing for the new one. Do these either now or in early January, and your new year is likely to be an improvement over your old one. (For details, see my January 2017 essay, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year.)

  • Change your passwords.
  • Update your account contacts.
  • Update copyright dates on your website, blog, and newsletter, and remind your clients to do the same for their websites or publications.
  • Budget/start saving for professional development activities, such as conferences and courses.
  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.
  • Update your résumé.
  • Review your expenses and income to see where you can reduce the former and increase the latter (Rich does this every six months by creating detailed reports in QuickBooks Pro). (A reminder: If you spend a dollar on a business expense, you can deduct that dollar on your taxes, but the value of the deduction is only equal to your tax rate. In other words, if your tax rate is 28%, your actual tax value as a result of spending the $1 is 28¢ — not $1. Consequently, lowering expenses is always a good idea. On the other hand, if you have to spend the money anyway, you might as well get some tax relief, even if it won’t be 100%.)
  • Improve your health — and be sure to review and compare health insurance plans.
  • Think about service — the new year might be a good time to give back to a worthy cause. Remember that charitable contributions of money and items are tax–deductible, although volunteer work is not.
  • Look ahead.
  • Start something new — learn a new skill or develop a new hobby.
  • Become active in online discussions or new groups.
  • Budget to invest in tools for your business, such as new equipment or software.
  • Budget/start saving for retirement. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income that you will put toward retirement from every client payment.
  • Start mapping out your marketing campaign for the new year.
  • Budget/start saving for marketing. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income for marketing from every client payment.

However you use these last few weeks of this year, 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 wrapping up the old and preparing for the new year. How are you approaching the end of the 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.

November 6, 2017

On the Basics: Overcoming a Freelancer’s Isolation

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the concerns that many people have when they contemplate going freelance and working from home is feeling isolated from colleagues (and even the nonwork world). Depending on where you live and your personality, isolation could be an issue. If you’re in a rural area or suburbia, you could feel cut off. If you’re an extrovert who needs to interact with people in real life, freelancing alone from home could feel almost like punishment. (If you’re an introvert, you might actually feel better freelancing at home because you would have control over when and how much you interact with other people.)

The good news is that today’s electronically connected world makes it easier than ever to combat isolation by providing constant connections with colleagues, friends, and family. In fact, that always-on environment could be overwhelming; many people remove themselves from online communities at least occasionally because it can be too much interaction and activity.

The easiest way to overcome isolation is to join a few online communities or discussion lists — and not just ones focused on the type of editorial work that you do. Participating in such activities expands your horizons in many ways. You meet new people, stay connected with valued friends and colleagues, learn new information, solve problems, provide solutions, and more. You do have to discipline yourself not to get so immersed in that social media world that you neglect your freelance work or real-life relationships, but online engagement is a great way to conquer isolation. How can we feel isolated when we’re in contact with the whole world?

If isolation does worry you, here are a few ways to head it off by engaging with the real world that beckons outside your home office.

  • Don’t subscribe to home delivery or online versions of your newspaper, so you have to get out of the house every day to keep up with the news. This works best in neighborhoods where there’s a newsstand in walking distance, and serves as both an antidote to isolation and an exercise routine. Depending on your current deadlines, you can choose a cybercafé or coffee shop for picking up and reading the paper rather than taking it right back home. That gives you the opportunity to connect with neighbors, or at least the café staff and customers, which also helps reduce feelings of being cut off from the world.
  • Get a pet. Dogs are particularly good because you have to get out of the house every day for “walkies,” giving you opportunities to meet and make friends with neighbors and other dog people. If you have a cat, dog, or other animal companion, veterinary appointments will get you back into the real world, and could provide opportunities to expand your personal and professional networks — people you talk to while waiting for your animal’s appointment could become friends and even new clients (always carry business cards with you!), or the clinic itself could become a client. If you notice errors in the clinic’s website or office flyers and brochures, find a tactful way to present your writing, editing, proofreading, or other relevant skills. If they don’t want to pay, you might be able to barter or swap services.
  • At the beginning of every new year, budget to attend at least one work-related conference and, if possible, one hobby-related conference. Conferences are a wonderful way to enhance your skills and build your network, as well as combat isolation. You get exposure to new places and new people, along with new skills and information. If you put targeted funds aside starting in January, it will be easy to commit to these events and the related expenses as soon as you see an announcement of a conference that might interest you.

If the thought of going to a big conference full of strangers frightens you, keep in mind that there are smaller events you can attend. Most organizations also have special sessions for first-timers or hospitality committees dedicated to making new attendees feel welcome.

  • Develop a hobby that involves going somewhere. Instead of staying home to knit, crochet, quilt, collect stamps, etc., join a group for whatever hobby interests you and work on your art or obsession in company with other people who share that interest. You can take lessons in new hobbies or crafts, and join various clubs based on your nonwork interests. There’s an organization, association, or business for any hobby or craft you can imagine, and they all hold meetings in real life. Sometimes meetings are based on creating charity projects, which means you not only get out of the house, you do something nice for other people.

Keep in mind that those same associations, clubs, organizations, and businesses all have — or should have — activities that probably could use your professional skills. As an example, one of my all-time favorite projects was editing and producing the newsletter of the American Kiteflyers Association — which paid its editor!

  • Get out and walk or run. This may seem obvious, but it’s an invaluable habit to develop, and one that’s good for your health as well as for overcoming a sense of isolation. Even if you don’t plan to interact with other people, you’re out and about with the potential of meeting or joining others.
  • Volunteer with a not-for-profit organization or cause you believe in. Volunteering gets you out of the house for a good cause, so you can make new friends, meet potential new clients among organizational staff and other volunteers, learn new skills or enhance existing ones, and contribute something to society in the process. Most nonprofits also host events, which adds to your ability to network while conquering isolation.
  • Be the one to organize something. Instead of waiting for family, friends, and colleagues to contact you about outings, make an effort to be the one who hosts a get-together, whether an informal brunch at a new restaurant, a museum or leaf-peeping outing, a movie or bowling night … whatever you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to because no one has invited you.
  • Join — or start — the local chapter of a professional association. Most organizations have local or regional units, and many others would if only someone would step up to be the host or coordinator. If one already exists, get to a few meetings. If one doesn’t, be the guiding force. The national level is usually more than glad to provide tips and resources for local chapters. You don’t have to hold monthly meetings, but even bimonthly or quarterly ones have value, and will get you out of the house and enhance your networking efforts.

Do keep in mind that coping with or defeating isolation is an important aspect of freelancing, but that we must be disciplined about finding and maintaining a proper balance between work and play. If your efforts to combat isolation start taking time away from meeting your deadlines, it’s time to restructure your schedule.

How do you combat feeling isolated when working from home? Which works better for you, in-person activities or online engagement?

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 23, 2017

On the Basics: Make Your Editing Identity Clear and Constant

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

In a Facebook discussion of how to vet people who ask to join a specialized editing group, a colleague recently noted that “many people don’t have obvious ‘I am an editor’ parts of their profiles.” That made me think about how we identify or brand ourselves in this ever-increasingly electronic world so prospective clients or employers can find us easily.

The first step in this important process is to make sure that everything you do makes it clear that you are, indeed, an editor.

Some version of “edit” should be part of your website domain name (the part of the site name between “www” and “.com,” “.biz,” “.info,” or whatever other suffix you use). JoeTheEditor, EditorJoe, EditingByJoe, etc., all make what you do clear at first glance. A more-general business name might be appealing, but if it doesn’t identify you as an editor, freelance or in-house, it will not work for you, whether you need to attract business or be hired for a staff job.

Website/domain or business names like these also make you easier to find when prospective clients or employers do Internet searches for people with your skill set. Nowadays, online is how most of us will be found by new clients or vetted by new employers, so we have to be easily findable. We can’t count only on in-person contacts or interviews.

Once you have a useful name, every page of your site should also have some reference to the fact that you are an editor and offer editing services, starting with the page names themselves and progressing to the content in general. You don’t have to go overboard with this aspect of identifying yourself as an editor — it doesn’t have to be mentioned in every sentence — but that fact should be clear and obvious. No one should have to make an effort to immediately see from your website that you are an editor.

Once you have a domain name and website that makes your identity clear as an editor, make sure you capitalize on it by using it for your e-mail address. Joe@JoeTheEditor.com is more memorable than Joe@gmail.com, Joe@yahoo.com, etc., and helps maintain and strengthen your brand as an editor.

The same goes for whatever other ways in which you promote your editing services or skills: business card, brochure, directory listings, social media accounts and profiles, ads, bios, signatures (siglines) in e-mail discussion lists. Take some time this very week to look at everything you use to present yourself to prospective clients and employers, as well as to colleagues. Try to look at all of your promotional material — and yes, a LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook account is a promotional tool — with an objective eye to make sure your identity as an editor shines through.

Do your website and online accounts clearly identify you as an editor (or other editorial professional)? If not, why is that? If so, can you enhance them in some way?

Here are some things you can do to enhance your identity:

  • Review site and account language to make sure your identity as an editor is clear and immediate. If you think you might not be able to do that objectively enough to catch any gaps, ask a colleague to look things over for you. Consider swapping services — proofreading each other’s sites, for instance.
  • Include client testimonials at your website, and make them easily visible. Make sure you use LinkedIn’s recommendations function. The opinions of people you have worked with can be even more powerful than work samples. You don’t have to include actual names of clients or their employers.
  • Announce your training and experience, also clearly visible and easy to find. List not only editing jobs, but any courses you’ve taken, whether through a college degree or certificate program, or offerings from a professional association. Let prospective employers and clients know that you have invested in your career and skills. Even volunteer projects are worth including — no one has to know that you weren’t paid for editing work that you did pro bono.
  • Say which style manual(s) you are skilled in using. Depending on the type of editing you do, that could make the difference in getting a new job or project. Individual authors might not know the difference between Chicago, AP, APA, MLA, GPO, etc., but publishing colleagues do — and look for editors who can use their preferred styles.
  • Create samples for your website to show how you work and the kinds of elements you would notice and fix. If you wish to use actual client samples, be sure to get permission from the client first and do whatever it takes to anonymize the material; clients usually don’t want the world to see the “before” versions of their projects.
  • Write about how you work — your approach to a project, your process, your philosophy.
  • Describe your ideal client or project. That could encourage prospective clients or employers to choose you over someone else.

How have you identified and promoted yourself as an editor in various venues, from your website to your social media activities?

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.

September 25, 2017

On the Basics: “Falling Back” into a Fall Mindset

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Summer is over (sob) and real life has resumed. Well, for some of us. Freelance editorial professionals probably don’t see much difference between summer and fall/winter/spring; most of us are working almost all the time and don’t have big chunks of time off for summer vacations. Even those with children, who might take more time off in the summer than those of us without, probably still worked during those vacation days or trips.

No matter how you spent your summer, though, there may still have been a sense of time out of mind — even if it was only a memory of school days, when summer was an opportunity to escape our regular responsibilities and routines. Many of our clients take vacations, so a lot of freelance work could slow down, depending on your market or niche.

I like to think of the fall as a sort of new year. We shake off the heat and torpor of summertime and kick ourselves back into normal working mode with the help of weather that’s usually cooler and breezier, with the beginnings of fall colors adding brightness and verve to the landscape. The school year begins, which means a “new year” for young people. The Jewish high holidays officially launch a new year. I find all of this energizing and motivating.

A client recently noted that “Fall is…a great time to update, remodel, redecorate, and landscape your home.” If that’s the case for home and garden work, it’s also the case for our freelance business efforts.

As Better Homes and Gardens editor-in-chief Stephen Orr said in the October 2017 of the magazine, fall is “an exciting time with everyone back in action and plugged in after summer’s off-the-grid vacation months.…There’s something about the shorter days and cooler nights that has inspired the human imagination through the centuries…”

I even like to reverse the “fall back/spring forward” mantra for remembering how Daylight Savings’ Time works; instead, I often think of “fall forward.” No less a figure than F. Scott Fitzgerald agrees with me: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

For me, the fall also means a flurry of annual effort as the Communication Central conference approaches. It’s always exciting to anticipate seeing colleagues and friends again at the conference, as well as meeting people who are new to the event. The conference also represents another type of new year — one of new information and knowledge that will inform the rest of the year, along with a new cycle of planning to begin once this year’s event wraps up.

The 2017 conference — the 12th annual, “Be a Better Freelancer® – Better by the Dozen” — confirmed that perspective. The combination of new and known speakers with new and known attendees generated an impressive flow of information, tips, insights, approaches, resources, and more over two days of high-impact interaction. Participants came away energized and ready to implement new ideas into their freelance business practices. I even learned a few new techy things myself, such as how to run a webinar. It was exciting!

Some of us have to reset our minds for reality pretty quickly at this time of year. Colleagues who work in the government or nonprofit sector often find the early fall to be suddenly busy. Those clients tend to have budget years that end on September 30, which creates pressure to get a lot of work done within that budget timeframe. It also means that we as freelancers have to gear up to prepare bids for projects in the new year that will begin for these sectors on October 1, creating somewhat of a pressure cooker as we juggle between meeting that September 30 deadline to complete projects under the current fiscal year and visualize what to offer for the new one.

The cooler weather also seems to have an energizing effect on clients who took summer vacations and came back to full inboxes to be cleared as soon as possible.

However you see the fall (there’s always the factor that it presages the arrival of winter and all the hassle that can involve), it’s a good time to capitalize on its vibrant colors and connotations of new opportunities by ramping up our promotional efforts. It’s a great time to contact clients you haven’t heard from or worked with for a while, especially those in government sectors, who might — as noted above — have urgent need of editorial services in a hurry. Let them know that you’re available!

This also might be a good time to brighten up your promotional materials — business cards, websites, brochures, blogs, etc. — with the warm colors of fall. You don’t have to do a wholesale overhaul or redesign, but you might want to add a little “pumpkin spice” to your materials. Thinking in such terms is a good way to refresh your marketing process without necessarily making a huge investment of time or money on major changes.

This can also be a year-round process. If you can enliven your website by adding a fall-themed piece of artwork or color to borders or type, you can keep this technique in mind for when the seasons change again. Don’t go overboard or get too cutesy with clip art, but look at ways you can make your materials pop in tune with the seasons. This could be especially useful for websites, because every change and tune-up increases your visibility in rankings or searches.

How are you “falling into fall”? What new challenges and opportunities does this season represent for your freelance activities?

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.

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.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: