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.

January 4, 2016

On the Basics: A Tangible Expression of the Value of Editing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Editors don’t always get to see acknowledgment of what we bring to the publishing process, but sometimes — oh, sometimes!

In November, I had the exciting experience of receiving a Big Pencil Award from Writers and Books, the literary center here in my hometown of Rochester, NY. The initial announcement said the award was for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” and someone who has “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

That surprised me a bit — sure, I’ve been presenting classes at Writers and Books for many years now, but I never thought of myself as in the literary side of the writing, editing, or publishing business in general. I see myself more as a journalist or a freelance generalist. I write nonfiction, and most of what I edit or proofread is also in the nonfiction realm. I did publish one piece of fiction way back in high school, in a regional magazine that no longer exists; I did launch and edit a literary magazine with friends at around the same time, after being turned down for the official school magazine; and I did get a 5 (the top score) on the AP English exam in part thanks to writing a poem in answer to one of the essay questions. The only “literary” project I’m involved with nowadays is “wrangling” the website of Gargoyle, a DC-based literary magazine, and its companion business, Paycock Press. Even there, though, my contributions are more on the practical side than the creative or literary aspect of the publications.

Then I thought, “Well, I do teach classes at Writers and Books on the basics of editing and proofreading, and on grammar (in addition to ones on freelancing and websites for writers), and those are essential to good literature. Maybe I’m entitled to this recognition after all.”

Going to the award presentation event was exciting, but I had no idea what to expect. I assumed the presentation itself would involve the head of Writers and Books repeating that language of the award that I had seen up to that point and handing each recipient — there were six of us altogether — a framed certificate. (A literal Big Pencil would have been neat, but I knew ahead of time that that wouldn’t be the expression of the award.)

To my surprise and delight, the presentation included this, from the director of education at Writers and Books: “Good grammar, editing, proofreading: these are practices that we often take for granted, but are also a necessary part to crafting our stories. For years, Ruth Thaler-Carter has been the generous, guiding hand that has helped individuals develop these habits.…Ruth has given writers the tools they need to succeed, and does so in a way that is clear and accessible.…She has been an important part of the writing community, providing essential services to so many people.…”

Rest assured, I’m still blushing over this, but I use it here not to brag. It illustrates how some people see the value of editing, so I present it in appreciation of having that value recognized; not just for myself, but for everyone who labors in this particular vineyard. So often, what we do is not acknowledged, even when we catch and fix what would have been our clients’ horribly embarrassing typos, turn sludge into interesting reading, make the difference in whether a piece of writing gets published, and more.

These words say it for me — the skills and knowledge that editors bring to publications in any and every genre are essential to work that is readable and publishable. Of course, plenty of garbage gets published nowadays, thanks to many factors, including the ease of digital self-publishing; decisions by many publishers and publications to dispense with copy editors; changes in the academic rigor in the editing “arts”; and the ability of just about anyone to hang out a shingle as an “editor” these days. A lot of self-publishing authors, as we’ve discussed in various posts here, don’t use professional editing services, either because they don’t understand our value or because they have no idea of how that value translates to the quality of their work or to dollars. I’m hoping that the wording accompanying my award may help open the eyes of potential clients in a variety of fields — not just ones for me to work with, but ones for any of us.

There’s more to this than the feel-good glow for me, or any colleague who gets a gratifyingly warm thank-you from a client. For those of us who do editing, obtaining and promoting compliments or testimonials from our clients is especially important, because we often can’t show prospective new clients the work that we’ve done. Many clients don’t want anyone to see the “before” versions of their material, and some ask us to work on projects that involved protected, proprietary information that can’t be shown to a general public as either before or after. We need to constantly remind current and prospective clients of our value, not just by participating in conversations about the importance of editing (and proofreading) but by our sharing the complimentary things that clients say about our work.

Our websites and other promotional material should emphasize that value — not just list our skills and the software programs we can use, but explain what we bring to a project and why it’s worth hiring someone with professional skills and solid experience. Compliments from satisfied clients can help bolster such information, so we also have to make sure to ask our clients for feedback that we can post as testimonials at our websites and recommendations at LinkedIn. I know that it can be hard for the more introverted of my colleagues to ask for testimonials, but doing so is important if we want to establish our editorial credibility and show the world that editing does have value and is valued.

Recognition of the value of editing serves another important purpose: It helps us justify higher fees. The more valuable a service is perceived as being, the more willing someone will be to pay a higher price for that service. Think of it like an automobile: We perceive that a Cadillac is more valuable than a Chevy Spark, and thus are willing to pay more for that Cadillac than for the Spark, even though both can take us from Point A to Point B at 65 miles per hour.

Because recognition of the value we provide can be rare, I’d like to see examples of how colleagues here have been complimented on what they brought to a project. Please feel free to share your kudos and compliments, how that praise came to you — whether spontaneously or by request — and how you are using it to enhance current and future clients’ understanding of why editing is important.

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.

December 16, 2015

Mark Your Calendar for the 2016 “Be a Better Freelancer” Conference

It’s time to start planning to attend the conference of the year!

Our “On the Basics” columnist Ruth Thaler-Carter has told me that the 2016 Communication Central conference — the 11th annual Be a Better Freelancer™ conference — will be held October 28–29, 2016, at a new Hilton Garden Inn in Rochester, NY.

While the core focus of the 2016 Communication Central conference is on freelancing/entrepreneurship as opposed to editing per se, there are always skills-oriented sessions focusing on the tools that editors must know to succeed and thrive professionally, such as Word, Acrobat, social media platforms, and more. Concept-oriented sessions focus on publishing trends; marketing and promotions; networking; finding and keeping worthwhile clients; and increasing earnings by increasing efficiency and adding in-demand, skilled services to your repertoire, whether you’re an editor, proofreader, writer, indexer, or other editorial freelancer.

Speakers for the 2016 conference will include Ally Machate, Dick Margulis, Kat Friedrich, Carolyn Haley, Lori Paximadis, Bevi Chagnon, Adrienne Montgomery, Jack Lyon, Daniel Heuman, Pamela Hilliard Owens, Janice Campbell, and me.

As always, the program will benefit aspiring, new, and experienced freelancers, by providing ideas for enhancing and expanding your business. The conference will also provide invaluable opportunities for in-person networking.

Ruth has informed me that subscribers to An American Editor will again be eligible for a special discount on early registration, and that details will be coming in January. So be sure to mark your calendar now for the 11th annual Be a Better Freelancer™ conference, October 28–29, 2016. Registration should open by early January (details will be announced on AAE and at Communication Central).

Is there a topic you would like to see addressed at the conference? If you have a special request or a suggestion for a conference topic or speaker, let Ruth know by writing a comment. I’ve already put in my request for a discussion of editor ethics.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 7, 2015

On the Basics: Who are Those “Right People to Know” — and Do We Really Need to Know Them?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

In an online discussion sparked by my mentioning that I recently got an editing project from the son of a high-school–days friend who knew my work because he works for a law firm for which I do proofreading, someone responded with, in part, “… the world is not a level playing field. I have a friend who cannot get editing work because he doesn’t know the right people and doesn’t know how to properly market himself.”

Putting aside my initial reaction of “Who said the world was fair?” and “The friend should quit whining and do what he needs to do,” here are a few suggestions for anyone who feels the same way — that you only can get editing work if you “know someone.”

Few of us started out by “knowing someone” important in the field. Some of us started as lowly interns, in secretarial positions, or — at best — as gofers and slush-pile readers at publishing houses. Others started in jobs at associations or companies where a natural eye for editing got them out of clerical positions and into something related to in-house publishing. Still others might have been entry-level reporters thanks to journalism degrees.

There’s also the question of who these mysterious “right people” might be. In my book, anyone who has work to offer is a “right person.” So is any colleague who refers me for work, past employer or coworker who remembers and hires or refers me, family member or old friend who cheers me on. Yes, there are major players in the editing world, and we can get to know them by attending conferences, reading their books and blogs, taking their classes, following them on Twitter. But we get work from clients, and the way to get to know them — or for them to get to know us — is to find them and pitch them.

Regardless, most of us started out at ground zero. We didn’t know anyone important. We weren’t known for our skills. If we’ve become successful either in in-house jobs or as freelancers, it’s because we made the effort to develop strong skills, develop networks with colleagues, and make names for ourselves.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to become known and to get to know prospective clients (or colleagues who might recommend us, subcontract to us, even hire us or hand off excess work to us).

Someone who “doesn’t know the right people” can remedy that by joining a professional organization, such as the EAC, SfEP, EFA, ACES, etc., to become known and respected among colleagues, or just to have his or her name listed in an association membership directory. And even the rankest newcomer actually may know people who could be leads to work. If that’s you (or if you’re established but have hit a slow time), assess your past employers and coworkers, friends, family, classmates (at all levels), etc., and consider sending them something about what you’re doing and the kind of work you’re looking for.

The reality, though, is that you must market yourself if you want to have a successful editing, proofreading, or other publishing-oriented business. It might seem hard to do, but it’s essential. Work won’t just float in the door without the worker making that kind of effort.

The good news for anyone who feels uncomfortable with that reality is that you can find work without being in with the in crowd. Judging from what I see from colleagues, quite a few find editing work without doing a lot of networking — primarily through cold queries and by using association/organization resources such as job services or directory listings.

If you think you have to know “the right people” to succeed in your editing career, this is the moment to take control and do something about it. The new year is right around the corner. Start planning now to meet some of those people, either online or in person, and to become someone they want to meet — and hire.

You can use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook’s business groups, and a boatload of other online resources to find people worth connecting with because they might need an editor, and to position yourself as both skilled and worth knowing and hiring. That’s marketing yourself, and all it takes is time. It doesn’t require much in the way of interpersonal connections, so those among us who are introverts can manage it without the terrible pressure of interacting in person.

Identify the types of projects you want to do and the kinds of clients who might have such projects for you. Look for them in Literary Market Place, Writer’s Market, online, at websites, in colleagues’ conversations — and go after them. Polish up your résumé, craft a convincing cover letter, and go for it.

You also have to be findable, because sometimes work will come to us without our trying. Being listed in a membership directory is a good way to make it possible to be found for projects without making any further effort. Having a website is essential, even if it’s only minimal. Being at least a little visible in social media can make a difference — especially if you can give as well as take: offer advice, share resources, answer questions. And don’t be shy about mentioning your projects, skills, and successes.

There’s also self-marketing, which includes somewhat traditional approaches such as putting together and mailing out a promotional brochure or postcard; creating and distributing a newsletter about your skills, achievements, and projects; and doing the occasional press release — you start your freelance business, when you land an impressive client (but wait to announce that until after you’ve completed at least once project with that client!), win an award, make a presentation, etc. These kinds of activities will bring you the attention of prospective clients who are not in your network of colleagues or friends and family.

It may seem that some people have better luck than others when it comes to finding work. Whenever I would attribute a new job or project to luck, my beloved dad would say that I made my own luck. And he was right. Luck is a combination of effort and serendipity, among other things. Getting a new editing project because I stay in touch with old friends and do good work for current clients, as in the recent experience that touched off this column, is a form of luck, but I don’t stay in contact with friends to make use of them as potential clients or referrers. I stay in contact because I like them. It’s part of who I am. If those connections result in new work sometimes, that’s a bonus. You can call it luck, if you’d like.

If a one-time project turns into an ongoing relationship and series of projects, that’s a form of luck. It’s also the result of my letting that client know that I enjoyed doing the first project and would like to do more, or my suggesting new topics I could work on for that client, rather than my sitting by the computer waiting for the client to call with a new assignment.

You need a combination of both aggressive and passive marketing efforts to succeed in any profession, including editing. Even passive marketing is better than no marketing. You can’t sit back and wait for success, and you won’t succeed by worrying or whining about not knowing the “right people.”

Instead of complaining about not knowing the right people, make your own luck by looking for them and becoming findable by them.

Have you developed a network? How did you find “the right people” to know? How long did it take? Was there one key moment, effort, or connection that did the trick? Who are your “right people”?

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.

November 6, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Ruth Thaler-Carter

The good news about An American Editor essayists continues.

Congratulations to our On the Basics essayist, Ruth Thaler-Carter, who will receive a Big Pencil Award on November 14, 2015, from Writers & Books in her hometown of Rochester, NY, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” and having “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 2, 2015

On the Basics: Approaching Holiday Season Brings Recurring Question: To “Gift” or Not to Gift Clients?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As the end of the year creeps up (or rushes at) us, it’s time to think about whether and how to show appreciation to our clients for keeping us in work and in — I hope — good shape financially.

I’m a firm believer in doing something around the holiday season to let clients know that I appreciate their business. This isn’t bribery; it’s a thank-you gesture and, to me, a genuine one. I know that my clients could go elsewhere and hire someone else — a freelancer who is cheaper, better known to them, or more persuasive than I am — and I’m glad they don’t. I enjoy working with them and want them to know that I don’t take their business for granted. I do my best to convey that throughout the year, but a holiday thank-you gift is a formal way of doing so, and a classic gesture of appreciation.

There’s another advantage to giving clients thank-you gifts: Sending a gift, no matter how modest, is a great way to remind someone that you exist and are available for new projects. Every time this topic comes up in discussions among colleagues, at least one person says that sending a thank-you gift (or vacation alert!) results in at least one client getting in touch to say something like, “What great timing — your gift reminded me that we could use you for such-and-such a project” or “Thank you so much for the gift and, by the way, this made me realize that we have a project for you.”

I don’t send thank-you gifts to past clients who haven’t sent me any work in the current year — but a holiday card certainly doesn’t go amiss, and often generates a similar positive response.

I keep my client gifts simple and inexpensive; something practical that won’t spoil, but isn’t extravagant. That’s for a couple of reasons. For one, some clients aren’t allowed to accept gifts at all, or gifts above a given value. For another, extravagance doesn’t feel appropriate or comfortable — and isn’t affordable.

Some colleagues send food — Rich Adin often gets his logo made into chocolate bars! — but I stay away from edible gifts because they don’t last and I don’t know if clients have allergies, although I do sometimes include packets of coffee or tea with mugs. In earlier years, I’d scour craft fairs throughout the year for purple mugs and use those for client gifts; in recent years, I’ve aimed for something more professional while being equally “me.” I’ve worked with a local colleague who has a promotions business to find items that can be imprinted with my name, logo, and website URL, as well as my phone number and/or e-mail address if they’ll fit. The only disadvantage of that approach is that the minimum number for an order might be far more than you need, but you can always use the extras the following year, or — especially if you purchased wisely and not holiday-centrically — in other ways throughout the new year — to new or prospective clients, to valued colleagues, even to friends and family (after all, they can be good sources of referrals for new business).

I’ve sent ceramic coffee mugs (purple, of course), travel mugs for hot and cold beverages, calendars, candles with holders, and similar items as holiday thank-you gifts. I’ve also done certificates for “Valued Client” and “Client of the Year.” With every gift, I enclose a personalized note, a pen with my name and contact information on it, and my business card.

Timing for client gifts can be a challenge. Many of us are especially busy with both work and family obligations from November through December, and fitting client gifts into your time and budget isn’t always easy — it isn’t just choosing and ordering the gift(s), but signing the cards, and doing the packaging and shipping. I always start with great intentions of getting mine in the mail by mid-December (or even around Thanksgiving, for the fit with thankfulness), but don’t always manage to fulfill those intentions. Instead, I often send my client gifts in early January as new year’s greetings and wishes. No one seems to find that off-putting, and some clients have said it’s a welcome way to start the new year.

Clients aren’t the only ones who might be on your gift list. You might be thinking about gifts for friends and colleagues — or even yourself — as the holiday season approaches. If so, here are a few suggestions, some of which are, admittedly, self-serving.

  • Copies of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer,” a booklet I’ve written and produced to help colleagues get a better start on freelance success. While it’s primarily aimed at writers, much of the information is useful to anyone in the publishing or editorial field, from editors and proofreaders to indexers, photographers, website developers, graphic artists/designers, desktop publishers, and more.
  • A gift certificate for registration for the 11th annual Communication Central conference, coming up in the fall of 2016. The cost of registration should be the same as for 2015 ($225–$350 for both days, depending on whether you are a subscriber to this blog, member of a collegial professional organization, or previous attendee, and when you register), and hotel rates are usually around $125/night.
  • Fun and/or practical gifts for editorial professionals, such as:

• mugs with grammar and punctuation rules from the BBC (bbc.com), among others;

• the newest versions of various style manuals;

• my “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” booklet and other useful publications from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

• subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers magazines, or Copyediting newsletter;

• the new edition of Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace;

• subscriptions to online style manuals and updates;

• memberships in or registration for events hosted by professional associations, such as the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), EFA, Society for Technical Communication (STC), National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), etc.;

• work-related jewelry, such as earrings or necklaces made using Scrabble keys and miniature versions of style manuals;

• a pair of so-called editor’s pants;

• grammar books or refresher courses; and

• gift access to EditTools, PerfectIt, and Editor’s ToolKit PLUS 2014 for greater editing efficiency and productivity.

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.

October 7, 2015

On the Basics: Turning Freelancing Lemons into Lemonade

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s been said that adversity is good for us, and failure teaches us important lessons. I’m sure most of us would just as soon do without either one, but there are times when something bad can turn into something good.

I have a history of making lemonade out of lemons. When I was turned down for my high school’s literary magazine many years ago, I started my own. When I ended up in an “I quit/You’re fired” situation at a job I mostly enjoyed, it pushed me to do more freelancing and eventually freed me to relocate from St. Louis to D.C., where my career and collegial network really took off. When a toxic colleague bumped me from a speaking engagement, I wrote up the topic and have made money ever since from selling the result as a booklet. When I chaired a national conference for one of my professional associations and the board decided not to do another one for reasons that made no sense, I started my own conference for colleagues, which just had its 10th annual event and promises to keep bringing colleagues together as long as I have the energy to keep it going.

Freelancing in any niche or field is an ongoing challenge, and there are likely to be opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade for all of us. Those lemons can range from unfair treatment to unpleasant clients to our own failures — we’re human, and we’re probably all going to make a few mistakes, blow a deadline once or twice, encounter problem clients and painful projects, miss errors we should have caught in a project, or get stiffed on a payment. Here are some ideas for making your own version of lemonade from such lemons.

Losing a client or project

This is probably the most common “lemon” experience for any freelancer — writer, editor, proofreader, graphic artist, website designer, indexer; whoever. It can be devastating, both personally and financially. But look at it carefully: What can you learn? Where can it take you?

One flavor of lemonade in such a situation is having colleagues to fall back on. Describe what happened as objectively and rationally as you can, and ask for input about whether you really did screw up. Be prepared to be told that yes, it’s you, not them, and to learn from the experience. Even if you were in the wrong, you are likely to get sympathy and encouragement from your colleagues.

If you lost the client because of something you did do wrong, accept the responsibility and find ways to improve your skills or process so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Apologize to the client, try to offer something to make up for the problem (a discount, perhaps), and move on. Learn the appropriate style guide, improve your organizational systems, develop a checklist to refer to, refresh your basic skills — take a course, read a book; become better for the experience.

If you did nothing wrong but simply encountered an unpleasant client who turned out to be impossible to work with, or one who refused to raise your rate of pay, the lemonade is that you are free of a difficult client, or one who doesn’t pay very much. You now have the time and freedom to replace that one with a client who’s more pleasant and easier to work with, and who pays more. Make the most of that opportunity.

Sometimes we have to be pushed or even kicked into stretching ourselves to walk away from negative work experiences and find better ones, because even a low-paying or unpleasant client seems to be better — and more secure — than no client. You may find that you’ve been holding onto a client you didn’t really need because it was easier to do that than to make the effort to find a better client. Get your networking and cold-querying into gear, and see what you can find.

Losing a client also could push you into new directions. It might give you the impetus to try offering a different editorial service or skill — one that you’re better at or more comfortable with doing. Losing the income from that client also could motivate you to try being more independent of clients for a living. This might be the moment to try coming up with something you can sell on your own — a book or booklet, a webinar about something you’re good at, speeches, and workshops. You may have skills you never thought of profiting from; now is the time to explore the market for those skills. Create something and take control outside the traditional client–service provider relationship.

If the disruption is major, it might mean that it’s time to think about your career direction. Maybe editorial work is simply not for you. You might need to take a different fork in the road. The “lemon” might push you into looking at something other than editorial work to make money — crafts, for instance. Maybe that artsy, creative hobby could earn you a living.

Difficult clients

Sometimes a difficult — rude, uncommunicative, unpredictable — client can be fixed. Try to pin down what the problem is. Maybe you can do more to keep the client informed about the status of the project. Maybe the client’s personality or style is different enough from yours to seem worse than it really is. You might be able to educate the client about aspects of the project that are unclear, or ask a few questions that would clarify the process and reassure the client that you can handle it after all. Perhaps you could suggest a better, more straightforward process or a formal schedule of not only when the project is due but when you and the client will communicate about it.

Then again, some people are simply impossible to work with. Another flavor of lemonade in this situation is to walk away and remove yourself from that situation.

Low rates

We all want to be paid what we think we’re worth, but sometimes a project comes along that is below that amount at a time when we really need the work, or when the project is genuinely interesting. There are a couple of ways to make lemonade out of such a lemon.

With a writing assignment at a low per-word rate, for instance, you might be able to rethink it in terms of an hourly rate. That is, if you can do the research and actual writing fast enough and easily enough — that low per-word rate might actually look pretty good. A 1,000-word assignment at 15 cents/word is only $150, which isn’t much — but if you pull that piece together in three hours, you’re making a respectable $50/hour. If the story means something to you, gets you experience with a new topic, supports a cause you believe in, or otherwise seems important enough to write even at a low per-word rate, and you can justify it in terms of an hourly fee, there’s your lemonade.

For editing and proofreading work, you might not be able to get a higher fee from some clients, but you can work better, faster, and smarter so that fee works in your favor. Try to get paid by the page rather than by the hour, for instance, and use macros and other shortcuts to speed up the number of pages you can get through in an hour.

Take some time to look through the An American Editor essays. Many of them discuss rates and productivity, and could help you rethink either how you work or how you charge for your work.

Health issues

Getting sick or being injured — or caring for someone in such situations — can throw a huge monkey wrench into your freelance business. One area where this could have the greatest negative impact is in your ability to travel to do presentations or lead workshops. In this situation, technology is your lemonade. Figure out how to do presentations via Skype or webinar. Turn your presentation or workshop material into a book you can self- or copublish and sell. If your health is OK but you’re caring for someone who needs you to stay put, look for local sites where you can do programs and invite people from out of town, as well as nearby, to attend.

Isolation and loneliness

We’re constantly being told about how important it is to network and socialize, but many of us live alone and some of us live in rural areas where we might the be only editorial professional for miles. Again, technology can be your lemonade — but you also can be your own. If you don’t live near any other people to network with, look to the Internet for places to interact online, from e-mail discussion lists to Facebook and LinkedIn groups to forums of national professional organizations.

If you live in a town or city, there may be dozens of potential colleagues (and clients!) nearby whom you’ve never met. Set a few dollars aside so you can join a national organization that has a chapter in your area — or start a new chapter, or even a new organization, yourself. It’s easy nowadays to get the word out about such groups. Ask at your local writers’ center, bookstore, library, college, art gallery, or coffee shop about holding occasional get-togethers on the premises. Get the word out through social media and a standard press release to local media, and go from there. It doesn’t have to be anything especially structured or fancy; it just has to be an opportunity to get out of the house, meet colleagues, and expand your horizons. It might even turn into connections that lead to work.

Have you encountered any lemons in your freelance life that turned into lemonade? What did you do to sweeten the situation and turn it to your favor?

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.

September 14, 2015

On the Basics: Recognizing Self-Imposed Limits to Your Editing Business

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I’m often surprised or amused, depending on the incident, by people who seem determined to limit their success as freelancers. Here are some of the ways that people limit their efforts (many of which also apply to writers, proofreaders, indexers, graphic artists, website developers, etc.) — and some ideas for overcoming those limits.

Limit: Refusing to use current technology

Years ago, I met a colleague who refused to use word processing or faxing, and was upset because clients didn’t want to receive her typewritten manuscripts by mail. There are fewer such Luddites around these days, but there are editors who use outdated versions of Word or programs that aren’t considered current leaders in the field, don’t bother to spellcheck their documents, and otherwise seem to be allergic to current technology that makes both their and their clients’ jobs easier. Someone who refuses to adapt to a changing world or understand that clients prefer to use the editors who make their lives easier is not going to prosper.

Limit: Keeping your focus local

You can probably find good projects and clients on a local level — and some of us like the opportunities to interact in person with local clients — but today’s work world is global. Thanks to technology, we can work with clients all around the country and all over the globe. Through the electronic world, you can do your research and work at all hours, send and receive information at any time, and be accessible to clients no matter where they are.

You’ll be more successful if you extend your reach beyond your geographic location — you’ll have more clients, and you just might find ones that pay more than your local contacts. Take advantage of that fact of contemporary life.

Limit: Not investing in your business

Whether you work in-house or freelance, editing is your business. That’s especially true, of course, of freelancers. Refusing to invest in that business is a great way to limit your income and success.

What does it take to invest in an editing business? Making sure that you, or your employer, have current versions of software, hardware, style manuals, dictionaries, and other tools that keep you on the cutting edge of what it takes to get the work done. It also means participating in professional associations and attending events where you can learn more about trends and new resources or techniques, as well as meet colleagues who might hire you for projects.

Limit: Not continuing to learn

Language changes. Tools evolve. New approaches arise. The business of editing is an ongoing process. Those who think they know everything there is to know about editing are doomed to limit their success.

Taking courses, purchasing new editions of style manuals or dictionaries, attending events, interacting with colleagues online and in person, reading leading publications, even enjoying hobbies all help editors keep learning and thus be more productive, professional, and successful.

Limit: Not networking

Many editorial professionals are shy, retiring, or introverted by nature and find it uncomfortable to network with colleagues or potential clients. Even those of us who are more extroverted may find it difficult to network because of where we live or because we do not know how to find outlets for meeting colleagues.

Make the effort to network, because getting to know colleagues is a great way to break out of limits on your editing business. Not only are you likely to learn more about trends, tools, techniques, and other aspects of language, editing, and business; you also are likely to meet people who might refer, recommend, or contract with you for new projects. People recommend those whom they know. Being visible in a professional association in person or online, in a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or at conferences (as either presenter or participant) can be a major factor in expanding your editing business by establishing yourself as a skilled colleague or expert in some aspect of the editing world and process.

Keep in mind that networking is a two-way process; it isn’t all about you. Before you ask for help or referrals to new clients, offer advice or answer questions — try to establish yourself as someone with knowledge to share and skills worth using.

Limit: Not understanding & knowing your effective hourly rate

Many of us simply take projects and get to work on them, accepting whatever clients offer in terms of rates or fees without tracking the time it takes to finish a given job or type of job. As a result, if a potential project comes in without an agreed-upon rate, we’re stymied — we don’t know what to charge.

Not knowing your effective hourly rate — how fast (or slowly) you work and what you need to earn to cover your expenses — puts you at a disadvantage when asked to quote a rate or fee for a new project. From now on, track how long it takes to edit whatever comes across your desk or inbox. Look at the income from each project. Use those numbers to figure out what you really earn, and compare them to your costs of living. Then you have a basis for establishing appropriate rates and fees for your work. This might even give you the courage to ask for higher rates and fees. (For a discussion of Effective Hourly Rate, see the Business of Editing: What to Charge series.)

Limit: Not promoting or publicizing yourself & your business

Promoting your editing business might be the hardest part of being in business. If you work in-house, this aspect of your job is less of a concern, although you still might want to help your employer promote the publication, company, or organization. If you work for yourself, marketing and promotion is essential. Those who sit back and wait for work to magically appear limit themselves to a nominal income.

Marketing or promotion is a constant, ongoing process. The classic example of a non–marketing crisis is when you’re so immersed in a current project that you forget to do any marketing for new work. When you wrap this one up, you have at least the traditional 30 days to wait before getting paid and nothing on hand to work on while you wait. To keep a regular income flowing in, you have to market yourself and your services regularly.

If you can’t handle doing your own marketing and promotions, find someone to help you out. Consider bartering editing services in return for designing a website for you, creating and distributing a newsletter, or helping you use social media to expand your visibility.

Being active in professional organizations and online contributes to your marketing efforts. If you at least do that much, you’ve expanded the limits on your business.

What have you done to limit your editing success? Even better, what have you done to overcome limitations on that success?

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.

July 8, 2015

The Commandments: Thou Shall be Businesslike

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The value of presenting an editorial services entity as a business has been discussed here several times. A dreary, rainy day of doing more business tasks than actual editing, writing, or proofreading led me to think about what it means to be, and be seen as, a business.

As has, again, been said before, many freelance editors see ourselves as individuals providing services to clients and value our image as individual, independent, freelance workers. We see ourselves as professionals in terms of our training, experience, skill level, and ability to do what our clients need to make their publishing activities better. Many — maybe even most — of us, though, don’t want to be seen as companies or even formally as businesses. There’s a sense that our individualness is something to cherish and that it doesn’t quite fit with the idea of being “a business.”

But being an individual freelancer doesn’t have to mean appearing to be unbusinesslike. And being businesslike, or presenting ourselves as businesses, doesn’t have to mean being a company with employees or subcontractors. You can be an individual editor and still have a businesslike image.

Rich Adin, An American Editor, has laid out several of the factors he considers essential to being seen as a business: regular work and access hours, a formal phone greeting, etc. (For additional views, see the list of select related AAE essays at the end of this essay.) Here are some of the factors I see as helping an individual, whether freelance writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, whatever, present a businesslike front to the world.

  • Business name: Even if you function as a sole proprietor, it probably looks better to have a company name. I’ve been doing this so long as an individual that I can usually get away with being seen simply as Ruth Thaler-Carter, Freelance Writer/Editor, especially because I started out more as a writer than an editor or proofreader. If I were to start out today, though, I’d use something other than my own name as the identity of my business. I have had a couple of clients request that I provide a business name, so my business checking account has one so I can deposit checks regardless of how they’re made out.
    Your business name should say something about what you do. Poetic names like “Blue Horizons” are all very well, but they don’t tell prospective clients what services you offer, so they won’t help you gain new projects or be visible on the Internet. Blue Horizons Editorial Services, sure.
    Opinions vary on what to call ourselves. I have no problem with being called a freelancer, but some colleagues prefer to use consultant, contractor, entrepreneur, or even (business) owner.
    Opinions also vary about whether to incorporate. This is something worth discussing with an accountant or tax professional.
  • Website: A businesslike editor will have a website, and it will look polished and professional. No amateur snapshots of the editor with kids, cats or dogs, messy desks; no photos of someone other than yourself pretending to be you. No irrelevant information. Easily navigable. Information about your background, training, experience, skills, and why someone should hire you. Whenever possible, examples of your work or, if that isn’t doable, strong testimonials from clients.
  • Work samples: A businesslike freelancer will have a way to present work samples to potential clients without violating the confidentiality or egos of past and present clients. This is more of an issue with editing and proofreading services than with writing; after all, most writing work is meant to be published and seen, while much editing or proofreading work is meant to be invisible. The finished product is what matters, and most clients don’t want the world to see what a mess their original versions were before we made our improvements. Always ask before making editing/proofreading samples accessible; use only excerpts that don’t identify the client; look for other ways to present your skills, such as testimonials and references from clients who have been happy with your work.
  • E-mail address: A businesslike editor will have a domain-based e-mail address. Using Ruth@writerruth.com or owner@FreelanceWhatever.com looks more professional and more businesslike than Ruth@gmail.com or FreelanceWhatever@aol.com. Sending e-mail from your domain-based account also might get messages through when major servers like AOL, Hotmail, Juno, etc., experience blockages for some reason. Having such an e-mail address also means you can change service providers every other day without having to notify dozens, if not hundreds, of colleagues and clients of a new address.
  • E-mail signature: Every e-mail message you send should include a signature (sigline). Opinions vary about what it should include; mine has my full name, business name, e-mail address, website URL, Twitter handle, reference to a booklet I’ve written and self-published, and a separate line with the name of the business through which I host an annual conference for freelancers. My e-mail program includes it automatically in every message I send. The only time I have to think about it is when I want to use variants, also stashed in the appropriate area of my e-mail program, that relate to my roles with organizations or clients/projects. Some colleagues include phone numbers in their siglines; I don’t do that much phone contact with clients, so I don’t include my number, but it is on my website and in directory information (yes, I still have a landline), so it’s easy to find when needed.
  • Phone: A businesslike freelancer can have either a landline or a cellphone/smartphone, but whichever you use, will answer it in a businesslike manner. I usually say “Good morning/Good afternoon, this is Ruth,” but some colleagues swear by “I can write about anything®, this is Ruth. How may I help you?” Either way, go beyond a plain “Hi” or “Hello” to let callers know whom they’ve reached when they call you. A businesslike editor also makes sure that their adorable five-year-olds or clueless spouses don’t answer their business phones; that callers don’t have to strain to hear them against background noise of barking dogs, loud TVs, clinking dishes being washed, or intrusive music.
  • Queries, job-listing responses, proposals, and pitches: A businesslike freelancer takes a little extra time to make every query, response to job-list opportunities, proposal, and pitch as perfect as possible. That starts with doing at least nominal research on the publication or potential client before pitching/querying ideas for articles so all are relevant to that publication, and only responding to job listings for which the freelancer actually is qualified. It also includes proofreading all such items before sending them; if necessary, having a friend or colleague take a look at them first.
  • Tools: We’ve talked here several times about the importance of having the right, and many times the most-current, tools for the freelance or editing job. This includes soft- and hardware; backup systems; style manuals to back up editing decisions; even business cards that go with you everywhere. Backup in the sense of equipment or files is one thing, by the way; in terms of coping with a crisis is another. A businesslike editor has colleagues to turn to if illness or injury — your own or that of a child, spouse, sibling, parent, or good friend — interferes with meeting a deadline.
  • Finances: The businesslike editor sets rates appropriate to the editor’s experience and skill level; has a business checking account and credit card for business-related expenses and payments; and has a savings cushion so the editor doesn’t have to beg to be paid earlier than usual or accept projects at rates well below the norm. It’s also important to present requests to resolve late payments in terms of being paid because of having done the work, not needing the money to pay the mortgage.
  • Invoices: A businesslike editor will have invoices that look official and go out promptly on completing a project. They will have all the necessary information to make it easy to get paid — an invoice number; your name; your mailing address and e-mail address so clients can choose between sending checks or paying online; your payment terms; any late fee terms you choose to use; perhaps a statement that the edited version of the work belongs to you until you’ve been paid.
  • Memberships: The businesslike editor will belong to associations or organizations that offer useful benefits such as job opportunities, educational programs, interaction with colleagues, and more — all aspects of being a lifelong learner and professional.

What all this boils down to is that, regardless of whether you want to be a sole-proprietor freelance editor or the owner of an editing company, Thou Shall Be Businesslike in all you do. What else do you do to present a businesslike persona?

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.

Select Related An American Editor Essays:

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