Apologies for the lack of a blog post last Monday! I was planning to be very regular and methodical about these things, but then I got a job that needed a very fast turnaround and had to sideline everything else for several days.
However, there is an upside, because that job taught me several things about this freelancing lark I’m engaged in and therefore gave me something to write about this week!
There are three things in particular that I want to focus on, because these are what I got hit with when I was scrambling to a) get this job and b) get it finished. Those are: contracts, quotes and plans. There’s also something else I’m thinking about, but that will take a bit of nerve to pitch
If you’re going to be doing any amount of this work, it’s a good idea to have ’em. Up to this point, for larger jobs or jobs for new clients, I’ve been making do with email contracts like the ones Janet Mackenzie describes in the second edition of The Editor’s Companion (speaking of which, that book is my roadmap, my guide for getting through this, and the best thing I ever bought, hands down. I cannot recommend it highly enough). However, the more work I do, and the more I work with people I’ve never met, the more I’m thinking about drawing up a set of contract templates – eg one for general editing, one for fiction editing and one for thesis editing – that state very clearly what the roles of editor and author are, and what work can be expected in what timeframes. This would avoid the sort of situation where I almost lose a job because I use a term the client is unfamiliar with and worries that they’re not going to get what they’re paying for (ooops).
It would also add extra time to the negotiation process, but hey, that’s why I have a note on my Editing Services page telling students to get in touch with me at least 7 days before they need me to start work on their theses…
New Year’s Resolution 1, then, is to consult with colleagues about how to put some contract templates together.
Once again, with this job, I undercharged. I hate to have to admit it, but it’s true. I also happen to know that that’s one of the reasons I got the job, which is absolutely terrible, and I apologise to any and all colleagues I inadvertently undercut (the other reason was that I could guarantee turnaround in the time the student needed, which is less bad).
Part of this is because I’m still too close to the university life, and knowing about how little money postgraduate students tend to have and how much/little of thesis production costs most universities will cover makes me softhearted, so when a student comes to me with a query I crumple. Part of it, though, is simple failure of nerve. I type a figure into my template and look at it, and part of my mind whispers to me, Do you really think you’re worth that much?
Well, maybe I’m not, but my work is. So I’m starting to look around at strategies for how to make myself charge a decent rate, both for the cash-strapped student end of the market and for more well-heeled clients. Since I can edit about 1000 words per hour, the current rule I’m thinking about for student work is based on the federal minimum wage in Australia: $17.70 per 1000 words, with the capacity to round up or down within a $100 margin as I feel the need (yes, that means they’re getting the second pass for free, but it is a student rate, after all).
New Year’s Resolution 2: let’s see if I can hold to that from here on in.
When I was finishing my PhD, the way it worked was this: you paid for your manuscript to be printed and bound, and then you submitted your receipts to the Faculty and they reimbursed you for up to $840 of the cost. When I was working on this job, I made the foolish mistake of assuming that things haven’t changed.
They have. An awful lot of Universities, or at least Faculties, now pay editors’ charges on behalf of their students. And the vast majority of Universities also hold invoices for 30 days before paying thing, which means that if a lot of your work comes from thesis jobs, you need to be very proactive about finding clients and scheduling them in on a regular basis, so that you have a reasonably regular stream of income. I’m going to need a proper work calendar, a good outreach program and a systematic approach to spreading word-of-mouth if I want to make that happen. The good news is, plans are in progress (the good old ‘please refer me to two other people if you’re satisfied with my work’ is a good place to start). The bad news is, I don’t yet have any clients lined up for January to provide income for February. I guess figuring out how to make that happen is New Year’s Resolution 3.
And one more thing…
Something I’ve learnt from talking to colleagues recently (I’ve joined Facebook – the editors there are a talky bunch, it’s wonderful) is that both students and supervisors tend to be disorganised when it comes to getting theses edited. They think it’s a quick, easy and above all cheap job, and they don’t seem to realise that most editors are busy people with schedules booked up months in advance, and not all of us do academic editing. So – having just got out of the teaching world with cries of great relief – I’m thinking about getting in touch with one or two people at my old workplace and pitching an information session for postgraduates and supervisors alike, about what editors do, how much it takes, what constitutes a fair price for a thesis edit (and why), and how to go about getting in touch with an editor and making sure they have time free to take on your project. New Year’s Resolution 4? I think so.