Category Archives: Freelance life

Information for freelancers.

How to be a freelance introvert

By Tom Albrighton

Freelance editing is an ideal occupation for introverts. But if you want to make a success of freelancing, you’ll need to overcome some challenges too.

Are you an introvert?

If you’re happy on your own for most of the time and prefer working alone, the answer’s probably yes.

The word ‘introvert’ is from the Latin intro, meaning ‘inside’, and vertere, meaning ‘to turn’. So an introvert is someone who tends to turn inwards, towards their own thoughts and feelings, rather than outwards, towards other people or external events. While extroverts get an energy boost from being in company, introverts draw theirs from solitude and quiet.

Being an introvert isn’t quite the same as being shy. Shyness is about being tense and awkward in company, sometimes unbearably so – and even extroverts can feel that way sometimes. In contrast, introverts can deal with company if they have to. They just prefer not to – at least, for much of the time.

Introverts at work

Being an introvert is fine, as long as you have choices. But that can change when you get to work.

Open-plan offices, team working, brainstorming and many other modern workplace trends are fine for extroverts, but tough on introverts. The effort to fit in and take part demands emotional labour from introverts, on top of their actual work.

It’s ironic, because your work is probably still done alone. Editing and proofreading, for example, are solo tasks. But because of the nature of the workplace, there can be a tension between where you work and how you work.

Although I generally call myself a copywriter, I’m really an editor by trade. I began my career as a lowly assistant editor, checking calendars for a trade publisher, and eventually graduated to editing non-fiction (mostly guidebooks).

Along the way, I worked with plenty of freelance editors and proofreaders. I often envied them, because while they obviously had an introverted character that was very similar to my own, they didn’t have to put up with working nine to five in a busy office. Instead, they got to work in the quiet and seclusion of their own homes, where they could bring their full concentration to bear on their work.

At that time, I couldn’t see how they’d done it. How had they gone from the hamster wheel of employment to an enjoyable, plentiful freelance life?

Upsides and downsides

A few years later, when I went freelance myself, I began to understand what it’s like to run your own freelance business. And I also saw, at first hand, how being an introvert can both help and hinder your progress.

On the plus side, working at home was everything I’d hoped for. No maddening noise, no trivial chit-chat, no interminable meetings, no tedious office politics. The chance to work in an environment that I controlled, at hours I chose. And, in theory at least, the freedom to work on whatever projects I wanted.

However, I also saw the flip side of the coin. While the upsides of freelancing are indeed great for introverts, the challenges can be tough.

For instance, I learned first-hand what it’s like to build up a roster of freelance clients from scratch, and how galling it can be to compare to yourself others who are further down that road.

I saw that it’s difficult to market yourself and set prices when you’re naturally retiring or diffident. Building a network when you prefer solitude is hard work. And when you have a strong tendency to sit and reflect on problems alone, you sometimes struggle to resolve issues that would really benefit from outside input.

Managing clients, gaining confidence

I also realised that although I no longer had a single boss, I now had lots of mini-bosses, whose demands I had to balance and prioritise. I experienced the distress of clients playing hardball on price when I was struggling for work. And inevitably, I collided with the small minority of clients who are unreasonable, timewasting or downright rude.

What’s more, it’s hard to listen to your instincts about rogue clients when you’re used to overriding your own unease in social situations. It’s even harder to turn work down when you prefer not to rock the boat. And it’s upsetting when clients move on, because your natural introvert instinct is to hold on to relationships rather than forge new ones.

While introverts aren’t necessarily lacking in confidence, I have personally found that building confidence is vital. There are several ways to do that – and they don’t have to involve making huge leaps outside your comfort zone. You can also consciously change your beliefs and explanatory style so you favour more positive and productive interpretations of events.

Overall, freelancing has been great for me, and I’d always encourage people to give it a go. You just need to go into it with your eyes open, and understand that while some aspects of it will come naturally, others will take some work. Put that work in, and you’re well on the way to becoming a successful freelance introvert.

Tom Albrighton is a freelance copywriter and author. His latest book, The Freelance Introvert, is available now in paperback and ebook. Find it at Amazon UK, Amazon US or your local Amazon store.

 

 


As we adjust to a slightly less locked-down life, introverts may find themselves needing to re-establish some restorative niches (which aren’t just for conferences).


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2020

Two of the strangest months in memory, recorded through our social media accounts

Times such as these are tricky for a social media team whose focus is on publishing and freelancing. As with pretty much everything right now, long term we don’t know what COVID-19 might mean for publishing, the book industry, or editors and proofreaders. We entered April 2020 wondering what we could communicate to our audiences on a day-to-day basis. Too much doom would be unhelpful. Too much levity would be unwelcome. What to do? Like so many others, we took each day at a time.

Silver linings

But heartening developments emerged, at least where publishing was concerned: increased book buying during lockdown, and the appearance of online book festivals and other events, with the Hay Festival, from 18 to 31 May, presenting an impressive array of personalities including our own honorary president, David Crystal. (David also starred in Mark Allen’s new podcast, That Word Chat, on 11 May.) Online events, by their nature, could include many more people than would have attended physically. ACES, the society for editing in the US (@copyeditors), took its conference online with #ACES2020Online on 1 May, and we were promised great things by SENSE, the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands (@SENSEtheSociety), whose online conference was to take place in early June.

Revising our lexicon

We covered the updating of dictionaries that the coming of COVID-19 required, so that editors and proofreaders were informed about how to refer to the virus. We posted articles about new terms such as quarantini and coronacoaster, and terms that were gaining popularity such as infodemic, as well as whether we were using older terms differently now. We reminded our followers of the differences between similar terms we were now using a lot, such as hoard and horde (‘There are hordes of people hoarding toilet paper’, one Facebook follower observed).

Keeping up with tech

Video conferencing packages are now part of our lives in a way they never were before. We covered Zoom in various ways, from why Zoom makes you tired to sports commentator Andrew Cotter’s Zoom meeting with his two Labradors: a treat. Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionaries introduced us to new video conferencing terms like zoombombing, zumping and teletherapy. Merriam-Webster noted the coining of two news-and-phone-related phrases: doomsurfing and doomscrolling.

Shelf isolation

More attention is being paid to bookshelves in these Zoom days (see ‘Bookcase Credibility’, @BCredibility, an account launched in April that comments on the bookshelves of various public figures). Of course, at CIEP we appreciate a good bookshelf (and a good book nook, a scene or figure that can be placed between shelved books). On 25 March we had proved ourselves ahead of the curve by asking our Twitter followers to #ShowUsYourShelves. To fill these shelves still further, during April and May there were a number of articles and postings about the books we could read in lockdown, to comfort us, return us to our childhoods, inspire, uplift or offer us escape, or simply to get us through. We enjoyed artist Phil Shaw’s ordering of books to tell a story with their titles, something that Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary), now temporarily closed, had often done for its 70K followers. And, remaining with libraries, the true story about the cleaner who rearranged the books in a library in size order – oh, horror! – inspired sympathy and hilarity in many.

Actors available

Suddenly, actors and other artists had time on their hands and were doing impromptu readings and recitals. Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Bennet in the famous BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the novel chapter by chapter, and we shared this on Twitter on 6 April. Andy Serkis read The Hobbit online for charity. @SirPatStew (Sir Patrick Stewart) read a Shakespeare sonnet every day until 22 May. Our post announcing this got 83 likes and 33 shares from our delighted Facebook followers.

Home comforts

Of course, we editors and proofreaders are, for the most part, well used to all aspects of working from home, from furry assistants to endless tea or coffee drinking. And, alas, with beverages occasionally comes spillage. One of our most popular posts on Twitter was about an artist who made coffee stains into illustrations of monsters. There were a lot of them. Boy, was he unlucky with his coffee.

Funnies, Friday or otherwise

If you’re a devotee of the CIEP Facebook page, you’ll know that there’s a Friday Funny at about 4pm every week to send everyone off into the weekend with a smile. These are often comic strips by book-appreciating illustrators such as John Atkinson or authors who understand the trials of working from home such as Adrienne Hedger. When we’re very lucky, the legendary Brian Bilston releases a poem. His ‘Comparative Guidance for Social Distancing’ got 160 likes and 105 shares on our Facebook page, and it wasn’t even posted on a Friday. Sometimes the stars align and there’s a cat-and-books story we can post at the end of the week. Such an event took place on 22 May, when we enjoyed Horatio, a cat who wears (or, really, bears) costumes to promote his local library. As one Facebook user commented, ‘That is a patient cat.’ Truth.

Lockdown LinkedIn

We only started posting our blog-based LinkedIn content regularly last June, and since we passed the 10,000 followers mark last August our followers have increased again by another 8,000. Since lockdown, engagement has reduced as many of our followers seem to be working parents who are grabbing opportunities to work while suddenly morphing into teacher mode. During April and May 2020, posts that proved popular included: Denise Cowle’s week in the life of an editor (more than 8% engagement rate and 45 likes), a post by Intermediate Member Hilary McGrath sharing tips for staying motivated when starting a course (more than 4% engagement rate and 38 likes) and, showing reading-related content is our bread and butter, Abi Saffrey’s post about evaluating her year in books (more than 5% engagement rate, 32 likes and 8 comments).

Rounding up the round-up

During April and May 2020 on the CIEP’s social media, the emphasis was on editors and proofreaders looking after themselves, diverting themselves, keeping informed and looking for light where it could be found. As ever, our social media was overwhelmingly about support. We got a new emoji on Facebook – ‘care’, the usual little yellow head hugging a heart. Gotta tell you, it’s coming in useful.

Don’t miss a thing in editing and proofreading. Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo credits: wall emojis by George Pagan III; cat by Andrii Ganzevych, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Know me, pay me

By Robin Black

Working in the shadows of nearly every project, editors could do with a bit more public understanding. ‘We don’t have much of a budget,’ invokes the client, though I wonder about companies that don’t have the budget to be good. Who sets a budget to be bad?

Show me a copy-editor and I’ll show you a living combination of robust general knowledge, an eye for detail that won’t quit, and a flair for the metaphysical. (You try rearranging the words so readers are visibly moved by the end.) Do you care that your editor detects that a particular adjective can make two appearances in a single chapter but not three or four? Either way, you should absorb the manuscript, whether it’s a white paper, a website or a manual, without tripping over such infelicities. In that sense, you should forget about us.

But not so much that we’re taken for granted when it comes time to employ our services. I’m uncomfortable about driving home the point, however: surely there’s scarcely a métier out there whose adherents don’t feel misunderstood and underappreciated from time to time? Lawyers, for example, lament that they could do more to help if only they were consulted before things go haywire. The stewards of the Southwark Household Reuse and Recycling Centre, where a maze of conveyor belts criss-cross in improbable fashion, aren’t asking you to rinse out your discarded materials for their health; it gums up the system, slowing down the work of nearly everyone on the premises. And in the face of a public that doesn’t listen, the distinct burdens of climate scientists weigh heavily: armed as they are with the science that impinges on you and you and you, they can scarcely daydream about escaping to New Zealand any more. (A desperately hungry populace tends not to care overly about property rights.)

It is with gentle misgivings about self-centredness, then, that I invite you to turn your attention expressly to editors, for whom the information imbalance translates into high demands for humble pay. I self-select out of some of the worst of it by rejecting low-paid jobs and seeking out the clients who feel as I do about a job really well done. And while quality is its own reward, equally, someone out there wants to pay for that quality, and my idealistic mind aims to keep finding them.

But then my sister called. Her website needed some tidying up, and she’s a pragmatist: ‘Let’s just do what we can in the time we’re given and get this crap out the door.’ So much for my idealistic mind, I thought. I demurred, and she rolled her eyes and politely dropped it.

Should I have just sidestepped my standards and been helpful? For the answer, I look to the guiding principle of 28th annual SfEP conference: ‘It depends.’ When newbies jump on the forum to ask for feedback on their websites, I may steel myself ahead of reading those threads because the general positivity of our members, which I laud and cherish, means the critiques veer towards the reliably panegyric instead of the helpfully critical.

I’m quite unsure whether that’s a bad thing, however, though I admit to a little frustration, and indirectly it has to do with money.

Ugh, money. I’m one of those people who is uncomfortable talking about it, likely to my own detriment, so let’s get this over with: the choice I make not to list my rates on my website – I never discuss fees until the client expresses an interest in hiring me – maps onto the editor and business person that I am. My approach is to psychologically leverage clients with my chat, my bearing and my materials, only to strike with a generous payment suggestion once the iron is hot. But such wiles could go awry in the absence of the rest of me – which is to say that my approach comes off naturally and therefore honestly from me, but grafting it onto you is iffy.

For me to insist that you should never publish your fees on your website is glib, and besides, look at all those lovely, experienced editors telling you something different. I throw up my hands in friendly defeat, satisfied that everyone is acting in good faith as they post disparate advice, and I stay quiet.

And yet. There is an assumption among our members, which I share, that we concentrate on doing a very good job while employers exploit us with low fees and outsized projects at capped rates. Leaving aside my contention that no one should be taking lower than the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates (Glib? But I stand by it), I put to you this question: why would a client pay you professional rates when you’ve got an amateur public face? When clients move forward with unedited or poorly edited materials, as is their wont, how long can you stay indignant when your own website is untouched by proper design and typography?

We prize words over images, but our Venn diagrams may or may not overlap with those of potential clients, so see it through their eyes, and subdue your inclination to tell them everything! that! you! do! well! As editors toil in the shadows and the public neglects to recognise the metaphysical power we wield boosting human connection through communication, nearly everyone appreciates a professionally rendered website. It makes budget holders relax.

Allow me to be mercenary for another moment: if you want to be paid properly as a professional editor, by clients with robust budgets, then hire a professional to craft your website. And for Heaven’s sake don’t talk them down in price if you want to be extended the same courtesy.

Look, the things I’m doing wrong with my own sole proprietorship are legion. In business, you can’t do it all; there’s always something more you should be doing. And that’s not advice; I’m trying to tell you it’s a trap. In his wisdom, Oliver Burkeman warns us that ‘getting it all done is an illusion. You’ll never get to the summit of that mountain because the climb goes on forever’. Consider the editors who do quite well, thank you, with no website at all or an online offering barely a step up from GeoCities chic.

Being a capable editor – doing the work well – is more important in my mind than having a professional website anyway. I view with mistrust careers that coast on marketing and talking instead of execution and elbow grease, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Execution and elbow grease is what I know how to do! Persuading people to buy things they don’t initially want or fundamentally need embarrasses me, which means that my own self-marketing is lacklustre.
As for my sister’s website, months later I relented, agreeing to help if and only if we could start small, rendering good text and better design choices with a one-page website that tacitly communicates to visitors that they’ve landed where quality matters.

We should tell her story, I insisted, bringing her role out of the shadows … um, relaying the underlying, human aspects of her profession for clients … or something like that. Wait: What is it you do again, Stephanie?

Pfft. There goes the public again, scarcely taking the time to understand.

 

A financier and editor-who-does-it-for-love, Robin Black believes that no profession or livelihood will escape without integrating the climate crisis into its day-to-day, and he finds writing about himself even more embarrassing in an era of existential threat. Bravery is called for, however, so he manages it here.

 


Photo credits: For hire Clem Onojeghuo; All we have is words – Alexandra, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Freelance editing and COVID-19

By Liz Jones

As editors, we’re used to seeing the big picture as well as the small details, moving effortlessly between the two states of looking in the course of a project, or within a single page, often from one minute to the next. Our editorial eye shifts and refocuses, shifts and refocuses, until the job is complete. We are sometimes mistaken for perfectionists, but in reality we are bound by schedules and budgets, depending on pragmatism to guide us in our interpretation of the brief. We can only do what we can do. As professionals with a strong urge to make everything right, still we must accept that not everything is within our control.

Editors have been discussing these limits to what they can and can’t control in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the CIEP forums. As business owners we are encouraged – we encourage each other – to believe that we have autonomy. This is why we are freelance: it gives us the theoretical freedom to shape our working lives. To those who argue that it’s hard to wait for a reliable workstream to build up, we answer ‘put yourself out there, do more marketing’. To those who cite the seeming avalanche of competition for high-quality work, we reply ‘train harder, make yourself stand out’. We revere proactivity – and usually, this is reasonable. One of the measures of a successful freelancer is an ability to keep going through difficult times: to bounce back, to persist, to prevail.

But perhaps there are some crises in the face of which no amount of imagination, energy or tenacity will enable a coherent or effective response. And perhaps the social, emotional and economic shock we’re currently enduring is one of them. When asked about the effects the pandemic was having on their businesses, editors duly reported on the relatively ‘small’ details: loss of work, financial uncertainty, effect on mental health, juggling childcare/schooling, support from industry contacts, the (UK) government’s support package for workers. These are all things we can observe and measure, if not necessarily control, and people were thoughtful and generous in the responses they shared.

Loss of work

Work lost so far varies between individuals and by sector – and as some pointed out, it depends on how much work particular editors had in the first place. Some members have reported a complete loss of all work. Most had noticed a slowdown in new enquiries, especially from businesses and individuals such as self-publishing authors or academics, and many reported that projects had been delayed or cancelled. Not everyone has lost work, however. Those working in medical editing have reported more work than usual relating to the current situation, along with those working in educational publishing, as the need for teaching resources surges. Some publishing clients have been open with their freelance editors about their schedules, especially where they remain unchanged for now. Others have gone very quiet, especially when pushed to pay outstanding invoices.

Financial uncertainty

Of course, freelance work entails living with financial uncertainty at the best of times. We’re always expendable, vulnerable to the changing fortunes of our clients. But editors discussed the expectation of needing to depend on savings and investments in the coming months, if they have them, or of having to rely on a partner’s salary for support – again, if they have one. Even for those continuing to take on work, there’s more concern than usual that invoices will not be paid. (This might be a good time to start invoicing for at least part of the work upfront, for all clients, where usually we might be happier to work to 30-day terms for publishers and similar organisations.) People reported some immediate hardship, and the threat of more the longer this situation goes on.

Mental health

Most editors who answered reported that their mental health was OK – for now. Some acknowledged that it could be fragile, though, and needed monitoring. People were finding it hard to be physically separated from friends and loved ones. In terms of managing mental health, a few alluded to the medicinal properties of wine, while conceding that this could be a false friend. They also mentioned continued physical exercise, exposure to the outside world where possible, music, yoga and meditation, and pets as being beneficial. Perhaps freelance editors have an advantage when it comes to dealing with relative isolation. We are already used to working alone for long periods, and finding ways to restore our sanity and feelings of connection. People thanked the CIEP for continuing to support meetings between groups of editors via Zoom – an option increasingly taken up by various local groups. It’s possible that the immediate flurry of trying to reorganise our lives around the sudden restrictions has distracted us to the point of deferring a collective mental health crisis, but it was good to read that people are coping so far and have strategies to fall back on.

Caring responsibilities and school closures

Many of the editors who responded had caring responsibilities, including for school-aged children currently at home (and in need of some sort of schooling). This was affecting people’s working hours and causing some stress as a result. Of course many of us are fortunate in that we have relatively flexible work – but the days still have the same number of hours … and trying to look after children, provide them with some form of ongoing education and get some meaningful work done is exhausting, especially for those with younger children. Again, the restrictions on what can be done with children outside the home make things extra difficult. It may prove impossible to do anything other than the bare minimum of work in these conditions, meaning that regular activities essential to the growth of a business, such as marketing, are sidelined. It’s early days, but these challenges are only likely to increase, with no fixed end in sight. A few editors commented on the effects of having a partner working from home (where this was not usual), which can disrupt routines and put extra pressure on space.

Help from the industry

It was generally agreed that industry contacts can best support freelancers in this situation by being as open as they can about the impact of the crisis on schedules and workflows; keeping lines of communication open. This should apply in less extreme circumstances, too, but it’s especially important now. And arranging to pay freelancers on time for their work, and early if possible, is crucial. Perhaps it should go without saying, but it bears reiterating, that project managers (in-house or freelance) should only commission editorial work they can be confident of having sufficient cashflow to pay for.

Government support

At the time of writing, the UK government had offered a support package to self-employed people which should enable them to receive a grant of 80% of their average income for the past three tax years – three months’ pay up to a maximum of £2500 per month, in one lump sum. This was broadly welcomed by those it would help (though the money is not likely to be available until at least June) but, as many pointed out, it does leave key groups of freelance editors without access to adequate support or compensation. People who operate limited companies are not covered, and it also neglects people who have only recently become self-employed. The offer of support has also been made in such a way as to entrench the widespread (and unhelpful) perception that self-employed people habitually pay less tax than employees.

That’s a brief overview of what editorial freelancing in the current climate looks like, for now – the detail of our working lives in lockdown. People remain as positive as they can, but I think we should acknowledge that it is scary, and certain things do look really grim. Global events continue to unfold at a speed we’ve never really witnessed; by next week this article could look quite quaint. And as for that bigger picture – the long-term outlook, the landscape we’ll all be navigating once the crisis has passed? That remains to be seen.

Liz Jones is one of the editors on the CIEP’s information team.


CIEP members can keep in touch on the forums.

Follow your government’s coronavirus guidance (the UK’s is here).

If you are self-employed and eligible for a grant from the UK government, HMRC will be in touch.

IPSE is providing regular updates on support for the self-employed and limited companies during the pandemic.


Photo credits: Stay home Mohammad Fahim; Child and dog on laptop – Charles Deluvio, both on Unsplash.

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Wise owls: managing money

It’s coming up to the end of the UK tax year (5 April) – the CIEP’s wise owls have turned their thoughts to keeping track of income and outgoings.

Liz Jones

Here are some things I’ve learned about managing money in 12 years of freelancing:

  • Tax is a potential killer. I’m happy and proud to pay tax, but it’s one of the things I’ve found most challenging to manage in terms of cash flow, especially in years when I’ve taken a few weeks’ ‘maternity leave’. It’s really important to set aside more than you think you’ll need: if your earnings fluctuate, so will your tax bills. I’ve found paying an accountant to be a worthwhile cost to help me get my tax calculations right and understand how I can make the most of allowances.
  • It’s essential to get into a position where you’re not depending on a particular payment being made on time in order to pay vital bills such as the rent or mortgage. Even with the best clients, timely payment is not 100% reliable.
  • I never justify charging clients a high rate by citing my circumstances. As it happens, mine is the main income for my family, but that’s irrelevant to them. They’re paying for my work, not to support my lifestyle.
  • I use FreeAgent to manage my invoicing, and my accountant takes the information directly from this to complete my tax return. It’s not free but it’s saved me a lot of time over the past few years.
  • I chase invoices as soon as they go overdue. After once losing nearly £2,000 on an unpaid invoice when a client went into administration, I also invoice regularly in smaller stage payments for large jobs, to mitigate the risk of a client going bust.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My nickname is The Spreadsheet Queen! I use spreadsheets for everything, although I’m barely proficient in Excel. No matter, as you don’t need to be. I created a spreadsheet to track my invoicing just by setting up a few columns with headings such as date, client, what the job was, PO number (if applicable), how much I billed, when I invoiced, when the money is due, etc. I have extra columns for notes and to tick off when my client has paid. I also have a spreadsheet for tracking client hours, with my per hour rate in a column. I bill some of my clients monthly, so I can tot up jobs on the tracking spreadsheet and transfer the billable sum to my invoicing one.

My outgoings are minimal – I’m mindful that expenses are tax-deductible (mostly). My biggest expenses are my CIEP fees (and conference, if I decide to go) and my trade union subs. Then there are costs for software, and, occasionally, stationery, plus fees for my accountant and PC fixer (an essential expense!). Again, I track all these on a spreadsheet – it’s useful to see how much I’m spending per year, including versus how much I’m making. I aim to limit expenses to 5% maximum of my turnover, but it’s usually below that.

I check my business bank account on my phone daily to see what’s gone in (or out). Yes, I have a separate business account – I find it easier to track income and expenses without having to trail through my supermarket shopping, Spotify subs and utility bills. It’s not possible to separate business and personal completely, but it’s about 99% foolproof. I set aside 20% of every invoice as it’s paid – it goes into a dedicated savings account for my tax bill after my accountant has filed my tax return. Setting that aside also stops me from thinking I have more disposable income than I actually have.

Hazel Bird

Managing money is about finding a system that suits your business model. For example, if you’re raising lots of low-value invoices, it might be worth paying for a system that raises, sends and tracks invoices for you, and integrates this data into an accounting package. I’ve seen CIEP members recommend the likes of Crunch, FreshBooks and QuickBooks for this purpose. I tend to raise fewer high-value invoices, so I use an Excel template (which I complete and convert to PDF) and do my tracking in Google Sheets. This lets me geek out with functions to create my own personalised reports. It also means I have no money-management-related expenses beyond the time I take.

It’s definitely not essential to have an accountant, especially if your finances are simple. But naturally this means keeping on top of current tax and accounting requirements, particularly if you’re registered for VAT or invoicing clients in jurisdictions outside the UK. Members often raise very helpful threads on these topics on the CIEP forums.

Finally, there’s a stereotype that freelancers never complete their tax returns until the week they’re due – and then discover we owe the government far more than we expected. I’ve always consciously avoided that approach, because it’s important to me to know my exact tax liability and ensure my cash flow will cover it. To make this as painless as possible, I tend to be one of those insufferable people whose accounts are always up to date. This is inevitably a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t be too tedious. Your system should slot into your work as seamlessly as possible. Money management should serve our businesses, not the other way around.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

A wise man – a mentor from my early days as a freelancer – once said to me: ‘Put aside your tax money before you spend it.’ He also advised separate bank accounts. So I have a bank account into which all of my business income goes, and as soon as I have a receipt I put a percentage of it into a savings account to cover tax and National Insurance. I set the percentage slightly over what my tax will be, so that I save something each year just by hiving off my tax money.

I don’t use anything other than Microsoft Excel to manage my business income. I have a spreadsheet with columns for date, project name, invoice number, ingoings and outgoings, with a reminders column for payments due for bills and the mortgage. I have separate sheets for the money put aside for tax, business expenses and income from clients. That way, when my tax return is due my business income and outgoings are all present in one handy file.

These two systems have always allowed me to know how much I have, and to be certain that I can’t dip into crucial money that will need to be paid to HMRC.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My key advice is to do things as you go rather than leaving them to pile up and need sorting out later. Sent an invoice? File it and record it on your income sheet. Renewed your CIEP subscription? File the invoice/receipt and record it on your expenses sheet. I give each invoice and expense a unique reference. Then each month, I download my business bank statement and reconcile it with the invoices issued, marking up each item on the statement with its reference number in my accounts. This reconciliation takes me less than half an hour each month. I do everything electronically, scanning paper receipts on the rare occasions I receive them. I also use a program called Cushion for scheduling, time-tracking and invoicing so my information is all in one place, but do what works for you.

I also put about 20% of my month’s income into a savings account earmarked for tax. This means I don’t dread the total when I submit my return. My accounts spreadsheet has a totals worksheet that collects the monthly figures and gives me an annual total. Come tax return time, I have only to refer to that sheet, knowing that all my invoices and receipts are in order, so my tax return takes me about half an hour. That’s when I am grateful to past me for taking a few minutes regularly to keep on top of things.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. First, know your money style. Are you disciplined? Does it trickle through your fingers? Track your invoices, and pounce on any that become overdue the first day they’re overdue. Don’t be shy. You’re in business, not pursuing a hobby. Be polite but firm, and repetitive – it works in most cases. Don’t be afraid you’re ‘nagging’ – you’ve done the work, so your client should pay up! Budget for your business and household expenses: work out what you want to spend on training, marketing, CIEP membership and conference attendance, materials, resources and overheads – and know when those become due.

Work out what you need to live on, likewise. Use that knowledge to help you set the hourly rate you want to earn. A simple spreadsheet of your invoices with a running total can be used to forecast your tax and National Insurance bill. According to your money style, either save enough from each paid invoice to pay the tax on that invoice or do your tax return as early as you can and set up a direct debit with HMRC to pay in monthly instalments (more like a PAYE scheme, and there’s no temptation to dip into your tax pot before you pay it to HMRC). With interest rates so low, the satisfaction of knowing you’re paying down that tax bill rather than saving the money and earning on it may balance out easily. Attend HMRC webinars on business expenses and filling in your tax return.


If you’re starting out on your freelance journey, the CIEP’s guide Going Solo covers the finance basics, including tax and record-keeping obligations.


Photo credit: owl – Dominik VO on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

 

 

 

 

A week in the life of a picture researcher

By Lorraine Beck

Monday

I spent most of my weekend working on what I call the ‘Art Book’ – the history of a well-known art school published by a small university press, featuring photos of works of art by its many successful staff and alumni. Clearing photos of works of art is tricky, as there are twice as many permissions to clear. First you need to obtain a good image of the artwork and clear that, and only then can you apply for permission from the artist or their estate to reproduce the work.

There has been great support for the book with former staff, alumni and their families/estates/galleries all interested and willing to supply images, in many cases for free, with only a relatively small number coming from image libraries.

Today I find myself engaged in a brief email conversation with an artist who has been nothing but helpful – but who was once perceived as a bit of a bad boy of British art – about his memories of his time at the school…

I found out on Friday morning that the deadline for high res photos is tomorrow – so I have been working hard all weekend to tie up as many loose ends as possible, resulting in a huge flurry of emails to answer. I don’t make a habit of weekend working, but this time, I’m happy to put in a few extra hours to finish the job, so as many high res photos as possible can be included in the first proofs, as in the long run, I know this will make my job easier.

Tuesday

Deadline day – a flurry of last-minute approvals, including several for photos I initially thought would be impossible to clear: I need a signed permission form/written agreement from all picture sources and artists before I can supply the high res images. Much of today was spent updating my master spreadsheet to keep track of agreements now in place or still outstanding, plus labelling and filing permission forms and images ready to send to the client. I wrote the image credits, clearly indicating which wording can’t be changed, adding a note to suggest they will need a thorough copyedit. As there are so many different image sources in the book, the credit style varies significantly, but I do my best to make this straightforward for the copyeditor by ensuring details are in a consistent order and with consistent punctuation.

I hit my deadline of 5pm after a brief phone conversation with the author to discuss the two or three images where final permissions have not yet been obtained. An email arrives from an educational publisher I work with regularly asking for a few new images for an ELT workbook.

Wednesday

Catching up with other projects today. I send in a few new images requested for the ELT title – the editorial team are still chasing an unreleased image featuring children that they found online but I’m pretty sure the publisher won’t agree to this, so flag it up as a reminder when I send the new image selections in.

I receive a flurry of email questions about captions and credits from the Art Book publisher. They decided to clear some local archival images themselves, to save costs, but at this late stage realise they need to check some copyright issues and need advice rewriting credits. I direct them to the excellent DACS summary of copyright.

I make a start on a new job – reclearing text permissions for an Italian publisher for three ELT textbooks for which they have bought rights. I recleared some images for them a few years ago and although I work mainly on picture research, I’m happy to clear text permissions if I can fit this in.

Thursday

Continue working on Italian text permissions job. In a world where we face the freelance dilemma of ‘If I say I can’t make the schedule will I lose the job?’ I’m glad I told them when they emailed last week that I wouldn’t be able to turn this around in the week they had originally requested – mostly because I wasn’t free to start work until yesterday, but also because past experience suggests permissions departments for large publishers frequently take longer to reply. Sure enough, today one warns me when I fill in their online form that they can take up to 6 weeks to reply to an initial query. Hopefully it won’t take that long! Two of the permissions are proving to be tricky. They are biographies of well-known children’s authors from websites that have since been updated, rather than extracts from books, which means lots of emails between permissions departments/agents/the authors themselves/the previous publishers to try to obtain permission.

Friday

Unusually I find myself in the car at 7.45am wearing smartish clothes and driving up the A34 to Oxford for my first ELT Freelancers’ Community Awayday. From my initial arrival into a room buzzing with over 150 people, I was made to feel most welcome. The varied programme included presentations from large publishers about how they work with editorial freelancers and an open discussion about rates and fees, as well as a series of springboard talks with the opportunity to discuss issues raised in breakout groups afterwards. Lunch and refreshment breaks provided plenty of opportunities for networking with colleagues and potential new clients, and although some sessions were aimed more at freelance ELT project managers, copyeditors and proofreaders, there was plenty to interest me and the other picture researchers who attended. By the end of the day I was struck by the huge amount of expertise in the room – something it can be easy to lose sight of when you work alone. The day ends with a glass of wine and me agreeing to write a blog post for the CIEP!

Lorraine Beck is an experienced freelancer picture/clip researcher currently working on a variety of schools and ELT titles, but is happy to turn her hand to any subject. She’s a member of the Picture Research Association and listed in the ELT Publishing Professionals Directory.

 


We’re always looking for new contributors and exciting topics for the blog. If you’d like to contribute or wish we’d blog about something in particular, do get in touch!


Photo credits: Hanging photos Brigitta Schneiter; images on shelf Annie Spratt, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Dealing with imposter syndrome

By Lisa de Caux

The Manchester CIEP local group meets every three months, and chooses a discussion topic in advance. ‘How to deal with self-doubt, lack of confidence and imposter syndrome’ was a very popular topic with those who attended the January 2020 meeting.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines imposter syndrome as ‘The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills’. Meanwhile, googling ‘imposter syndrome’ brings up more than three million search results. And a quick survey of the CIEP’s forums reveals that it’s a problem familiar to many editors.

I posted on LinkedIn ahead of the meeting to elicit thoughts on #ImposterSyndrome. I had a fantastic response, and people were so willing to share their experiences, just as they were later in person. We had a lively and engaged meeting – we all had stories to share, from the newbies among us to more experienced members.

This post covers what came out of that meeting, focusing on imposter syndrome and editorial professionals. I’ve included a list of helpful resources at the end.

What is imposter syndrome?

I’ve shared the dictionary definition, but let’s talk about it in a less formal way. It’s the feeling that ‘I’m not good/qualified enough’. It’s about self-doubt and lack of confidence. We set ourselves exacting standards as we work on clients’ projects, and this tends to carry through into the standards we set for ourselves and our businesses. You don’t want to feel as though you haven’t met your own expectations.

Most of the people at our meeting were freelancers, so we concentrated on this area. As a freelancer, especially working from home on your own, you can experience feelings of isolation. While one of the benefits of being a freelancer is a lack of structure, which allows self-direction and taking control of your business, the flip side of this is there is no one to automatically check in with you. When you’re an employee, you have appraisals and regular meetings with your manager to provide validation, and you have conversations with colleagues about questions and minor hiccups while making a cup of tea. As a freelancer, there is no built-in interaction with people – you must build it yourself. It’s one of the reasons the CIEP’s forums are so popular – they provide a chance to talk to others who understand where you are coming from.

The CIEP has a newbies forum, where I posted about imposter syndrome after our meeting. It struck a chord with a lot of members. While imposter syndrome may be more common for newbies, it can come back in waves for more experienced professionals. As we moved through our meeting, we talked about how imposter syndrome might be triggered by changing your business’s direction (for example, moving from non-fiction to fiction) or by taking the next step professionally (for example, upgrading to a higher level of CIEP membership). Instead of taking pride in your achievement, you may feel anxiety in case people think that standards must have dropped for you to have succeeded. When something new and unexpected happens, you may feel that you *should* have known. Then imposter syndrome builds up and you discount your experience.

Recognising it

Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced editor, imposter syndrome reflects the level of stretch you’re going through and how far out of your comfort zone you are. We all agreed that it’s particularly important to acknowledge this feeling if it starts to take over more of your thoughts. It can impact your mental health, and then you need to take action. We talked about the practical impact of imposter syndrome too – for example, the knock-on effect on the way you quote for work. Imposter syndrome can encourage you to be apologetic about raising rates, especially for existing clients. Whether you’re thinking about your mental health or the practical impact, a strategy to cope with imposter syndrome needs to be found.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

The group suggested lots of ideas. Some come from external support (for instance, talking to people) and some are internal support mechanisms (like creating a win jar). What suits one person won’t necessarily suit another. Call it what you will – this is an individual demon/monster/battle to face.

We recognised that, as a newbie, you have less experience and less chance of positive feedback to turn to. At this stage, talking to people is so important. Then, as you complete more projects, you will, hopefully, receive good feedback. An even better weapon against imposter syndrome is repeat work. It’s a real vote of confidence in your service. Although experience brings great benefits, we spent a lot of time talking about coping strategies that are useful to all.

Coping strategies

You can record positive feedback in a notebook, a ‘sunshine file’ or a ‘win jar’. You could have a gratitude journal. It’s so useful to have tools that you can constantly keep updated. A ‘win jar’ is a jar you keep on your desk, where you leave positive feedback (for instance, a complimentary email). If you feel like you need it, reach in and pull out a win to read. A sunshine file is a similar concept. Since our meeting, I’ve created a Word document where I save screen shots of positive feedback.

Another way to cope is to understand the value that you provide – not everyone can do what you do. How do you track improvements over time? What experience and training do you have? When you’ve found a typo or factual error, what impact would it have had on the document if you hadn’t found it? Keep track of these achievements!

At the meeting, we were keen to embrace talking to friends and colleagues – CIEP local groups and forums really come into their own here. Attending face-to-face courses or professional development days can provide reassurance about what you do know.

Finally, our conversation moved gently into the positive side of self-doubt. A little (in moderation) will keep you learning and trying harder. It will improve your business. It may lead to a particular type of training. I was surprised to discover that a long course (like the PTC proofreading course) is not completed by everyone who signs up for it. Completing training acts as a confidence boost!

There’s such a lot to think about – at the end of the discussion, we were all ready for our mid-meeting comfort break.

You are not alone

I’ve focused on the editorial profession, but imposter syndrome does not have industry boundaries and it does not respect your level of experience. I recently caught up with a friend who’s an oncology consultant. I explained about writing this blog and asked if she’d come across imposter syndrome. She smiled in recognition – yes, she often feels it and often talks about it with her medical colleagues.

Every conversation gives me the clear message: you are not alone.

A lot of us are going through it, including the people you assume are absolutely fine. You can find a coping strategy that suits you. My own battle with imposter syndrome will continue, I’m sure. If you’re battling too, I wish you the very best!

Helpful articles and blogs

Mental Health Today: Imposter syndrome
Northern Editorial: Time to kill the monster
KT Editing: Imposter syndrome and editing
The Avid Doer: Imposter syndrome: Intuition in disguise?
Harvard Business Review: Overcoming imposter syndrome
Louise Harnby: I’m a newbie proofreader – should I charge a lower fee?

 

 Lisa de Caux is a CIEP Intermediate Member and coordinator of the Manchester CIEP local group. She specialises in editing and proofreading for business. Lisa is a career changer, and spent many years as a chartered accountant before becoming a proofreader.

 


Face-to-face interaction with peers can help with imposter syndrome and provide a great boost to confidence and motivation. A recent blog post covered upcoming in-person CPD, and the CIEP’s local groups meet regularly. (And don’t forget that booking for the first CIEP conference opens later this month!)


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Coping with criticism

By Liz Jones

One of the most exciting things about freelancing, but also one of the hardest, is that feeling that the buck stops with you. You’re in control of the work you do, keeping the business going. You’re entirely responsible. On a good day, this can be exhilarating. It’s a buzz to win a new contract or client. There’s nothing quite like sending off a massive invoice for a job well done – a direct and tangible result of your efforts. And it’s a real kick to be praised for excellent work.

The flip side of this is that we also need to be prepared for feedback that isn’t so good. We’re all human, and sometimes we have off days, and we miss things, or misunderstand an aspect of a brief. Sometimes there’s a distance between what the client expects and what we think they want. Or maybe a document is just in such bad shape that it’s all we can do to make it better, and it’s still not going to be immaculate – at least, not in that timeframe, with that budget. Perfection is never a helpful aim.

How we deal with criticism of our work matters. Bad feedback can take a huge mental toll if we’re not careful. It’s not simply a question of avoiding it entirely, as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. But there are strategies that can help us cope with it more effectively, and perhaps even turn it into a positive experience (eventually).

I tweeted about this recently: https://twitter.com/ljedit/status/1217800318932656129

My Twitter thread was in response to a client having commented on some things I’d missed in a proofread, some of which were debatable, but several of which were not – in an ideal world I would have caught them. My response to the client, after sleeping on it (and yes, after initially getting indignant and defensive, and stomping around the kitchen), was a succinct acknowledgement of the things I’d missed, while also drawing attention to the fact that it had been a heavily corrected set of proofs; no proofreader can catch everything. I also thanked them for their feedback. Later I received a positive response from the client, and more work. I think as a result of our exchange both sides felt heard, and also reassured that our good working relationship was intact.

Professional resolution

I shared the experience on Twitter because receiving bad feedback can be such a lonely experience, but probably a fairly universal one in our profession. It received quite a few likes and shares, and some responses indicating that I wasn’t alone. So, based on my own experiences of responding to criticism in the past 12 years (let’s just say I’ve improved over time), plus conversations with colleagues, here are some tips for managing in this situation.

  • Dissociate yourself. It can be incredibly painful to have work criticised. It may even feel like a personal attack – but it (generally) isn’t. Remember that you are not your work. Even if it’s fallen short in some way, it doesn’t mean you have.
  • Don’t panic! Your first reaction might be to assume that you’ve messed things up completely and lost a valuable client. But feedback, even if it’s negative, is generally a good sign. It means the client is interested in an ongoing working relationship and building a dialogue with you. They don’t want to lose you, they just want to keep lines of communication open so you understand better what they need in future.
  • Give yourself time. Your instinct might be to write back immediately, to try to sort everything out right away. However, my advice would be to give yourself as much time to reply as you reasonably can. Sleep on it if possible. The more quickly you write back, the more defensive you’re likely to be, and the situation won’t be helped by heaping it under a load of excuses.
  • Assess the criticism. As I said, criticism is painful, and it’s even more painful to look it directly in the eye. But this is important: you need to understand what you did wrong. This means acknowledging to yourself as well as the client that you made silly mistakes, or were distracted for some reason, or were trying to do too many things at once.
  • You need to address the criticism, of course. It’s good to deal with all the points raised, even if only to say ‘yes, I should have caught that’. Own your mistakes; apologise briefly if necessary. Try to avoid lengthy justifications. Do stick up for yourself if you feel the client is being unfair, but don’t bang on about it, or retaliate with accusations about unreasonable expectations. This is not the point at which to try to renegotiate the contract.
  • If you honestly didn’t know how to do something before, don’t just stumble on in ignorance, hoping you’ll get away with it again in future. Take the opportunity to plug the gaps in your knowledge.

How far should you go to fix things?

This can be tricky. It might be your instinct, because you’re a nice person, to ask for the files back to go over them again. You might want to make the new corrections yourself. You might even think you should charge the client less than agreed. But don’t be too hasty; the client probably isn’t expecting any of this. Don’t over-compensate for something fairly minor. Reassure the client that you will look out for the points they’ve raised in future work, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake(s) again.

Red flags and abusive relationships

Although I wrote that criticism of work is not generally a personal attack, it’s worth remembering that on rare occasions, it is. I’ve been in situations, and I know many other editors have too, where criticism is not warranted, or is out of all proportion to the supposed misdemeanour. Most clients are entirely professional in their dealings, but a tiny minority are unscrupulous, even abusive. If you reach a point where everything you do for a client is criticised, and your professionalism is being called into question (even after you’ve conducted an honest appraisal of your work), or you’re made to put in more work than you’re being paid for to ‘atone’ for a string of supposed infractions, then it’s time to walk away.

As freelancers who often work alone, we can be vulnerable to a particular kind of toxic power struggle where we are made to feel useful, needed, part of a team – and as a result end up giving a client far more than they are paying us for. This can happen quite insidiously, so we should be vigilant in our setting and maintaining of boundaries in working relationships.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, freelance since 2008. She works for a number of non-fiction publishers, agencies and individuals, and specialises in highly illustrated books on architecture, art and culture, as well as tech and electronics.

 

 


Editor and Client: building a professional relationship is an SfEP guide that aims to help freelancers understand the needs of their clients, and to give clients a clear awareness of freelancers’ requirements to do a good professional job.


Picture credits: Girl with head in hands – Caleb Woods; And breathe – Max van den Oetelaar,  both on Unsplash

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.