6 Tips for Working with Book Publisher or Packager Clients

I’ve worked with a number of book publisher and book packager clients over the years and I’ve found a few basic rules help ensure that I complete each project satisfactorily. You may find them helpful, too.

#1. Understand your role. If an author has asked whether the plot entertains you and you tell them they have a lot of misspelled words, you may be right but you’ve failed at the job. By the same token, if a publishing company has hired you to copyedit a manuscript, they are not asking you to weigh in on the cover design or suggest that a change of setting would be a good idea.

#2. Ask questions. Early in my career I felt certain that professional editors knew all the answers ahead of time and to ask the client questions would reveal that I was inexperienced. Now, it is true that some questions will reveal your inexperience (“What do you mean by ‘editorial query’?”) but experience has taught me that questions about tools and processes are often necessary: what is the house style, do I send the ms directly to the author once I’ve edited it, do you have a standard style sheet, what other supplemental documentation do you need, etc. If these questions aren’t answered during the on-boarding process, I will collect them and set up a phone conversation with the person who hired me (or send an email, if that is their preference) before I begin the edit.

#3. Set expectations. You’re a freelancer, not a staffer, so you have to make sure that your expectations and the client’s expectations are in line. If they expect umpteen status conferences, the time that will require has to be included in your project quote. If they want you to shepherd the project from author’s final draft to production, you need to know that so you can schedule the time (and charge accordingly).

#4. No is a full sentence. This is related to #3. If you agreed to do one round of copyediting on a manuscript, and you have delivered your copyedit, you do not also have to review the author’s revision, proof the galleys, or any other task someone decides to heap on your plate. That said, some ways of saying no are more fruitful than others:

  • “This was not what we agreed to but I can do it for an additional fee of $x.”
  • “You told me that I could use any style sheet I preferred (see your email below) so that’s what I did, but in future I would be happy to use the house style sheet.”

#5. Respect your client. Setting boundaries, which is what both #3 and #4 are about, can help ensure that both you and the client are happy. But to set boundaries most effectively, it helps if you start from a place of respect: you want to work with this client and you are willing to be flexible. You are merely saying that once the edit has begun, the rules can’t change. Respect also means that the company publishes work you can be proud of. When I ran a romance imprint, I had a lot of people who wanted to get editorial work from me despite that fact that they didn’t read romance or (and they would literally tell me this) respect the genre. I had zero interest in hiring anyone with this perspective and found it annoying that they would waste my time.

#6. Work with people who value your work versus trying to convince them of your value. Most publishers understand that value of the editorial process, but I do encounter publishers and packagers from time to time who are merely paying lip service to the process. They just want to grind the work out and typically they don’t want to pay very much for it. I don’t waste my time trying to talk them out of paying $20 an hour for development. I move on. (And so should you.)

Working with publishers versus indie clients

Editors often want to freelance for book publishers and packagers as a way to have reliable clients who provide ongoing work. But there are some differences in working directly for the client (as with an indie author) and working for a publisher.

When I’m doing a developmental edit for a book publisher, I usually have a much more extensive familiarity with the acquisitions editor than with the author, so while I’m careful to keep my queries and comments neutral and polite, as far as I’m concerned, authors come and go. It’s the acquisitions editor I have to keep happy. I make sure I understand what the AE wants, how this book fits in with a series (if it does), what it’s supposed to accomplish, who its audience is intended to be, and so on.

I rarely have any opportunity to have a conversation with the author about how the project came about or what they are trying to achieve with it, though I will usually be part of an introductory phone call where we hash out logistics. There’s little personal connection and I generally have almost no sense of what the author is like in “real” life. I don’t have to have that to do the editing job. It helps, but it’s not imperative.

However, over the years a fair amount of my editing work has come from individual clients—people who are working on book proposals, novel manuscripts, memoirs, you name it. They’re trying to make their work commercially salable, but they’re also (usually) trying to achieve a vision for the project. They have a dream of what the book is going to be, and they want me to help them achieve it. They don’t want an uncredited coauthor, they want a mentor. My job is equal parts offering information from my experience, providing feedback on their project, and holding their hand.

In every case, you have to edit the project you have according to the expectations of the audience and the client. You can’t make it the project you wish you had or the story you would have written. Editing is not about being right, or proving that you’re right, but about helping your client create a ms that matches their vision and appeals to its audience.

When you work for a publisher, you’re usually freer to make changes to a manuscript and to suggest revisions to ensure the ms adheres to the publisher’s expectations, whereas if you’re working directly with the author, your goal is to help the author create the most polished work they are capable of creating, which is another thing altogether.

For example, if you’re editing a romance for a publisher, you can insist that the development of the love relationship must take center stage (that’s what a romance is, after all!) and show the author various ways this might be accomplished. If the author doesn’t find a way to meet these requirements, the publisher can cancel the book. Everyone involved in the process understands this, so everyone (ideally) works together to accomplish the goals.

That’s not the case when the author is your direct client. You can suggest, as a consultant, that romance readers will expect the love relationship to take center stage, and you can offer ideas for how such a revision can be accomplished, but you’re in no position to insist on anything. That’s not your role.

In general (this is not always the case), an indie author will need more hand-holding and less criticism. If they wanted to deal with gate-keepers, they’d be pursuing traditional publication. So you can’t act like a gate-keeper. You have to be their cheerleader and their teammate.

One question I’m often asked is, “If you’re editing for a publisher, can you phrase queries to say something like, ‘The publisher has asked that you overhaul x and y’? Or would the publisher have already communicated that to the author?”

This question is more complex than it may first appear. It will sound strange but you can’t actually assume the AE has read the full ms very closely. So, you can’t assume that the AE knows more about the project than you do. (The reason this happens is authors can be contracted for several books and the AE just passed the second one in the series off to you; or they can be contracted based on a proposal, but not the full ms and the full ms is just passed along to you; or the AE can have a crunch of deadlines, etc., so that a particular ms may not get much attention.)

In general, though, you and the AE will decide before you start your edit what the main issues you’ll need to address are. Sometimes the AE will have a list of things for you to attend to but most often you’ll work this out together.

What that means is that what you (the DE) say in your revision letter is what the AE/publisher will enforce as the standard for manuscript acceptance. That doesn’t mean the author can’t decide to reject an edit or can’t solve a problem in a different way or anything like that. It does mean that if the author hasn’t delivered a satisfactory revision, and it can be shown that they did not follow the revision letter, then the contract can be vacated. This is made clear to the author during the contracting process (and is almost always a clause in the contract—a “satisfactory revision” being one that basically meets the guidance you give in the revision letter.)

This doesn’t mean that you have to dump everything into the revision letter. On the contrary, you need to focus on those most crucial items that, if addressed, would greatly improve the ms. It does mean that you have to be sure that you’re clearly addressing each of the main dev issues in the revision letter.

The author is going to know that publication is contingent on a successful revision so you don’t need to state that. At the same time, the author also knows they have some leeway in how they do the revision. Occasionally the AE will decide (or you and the AE will decide together) that some items are deal-breakers. Those are items that allow no wiggle room. The author must address them or the book is doomed. You do need to call these out in the revision letter.

Generally, but not always, these are items the AE and the author already have agreed about, so you just remind the AU of that: “As you and AE agreed, the ms needs to be rewritten in the third person . . . .”

Sometimes you may discover things that were not discussed with the author ahead of time but which are important enough to be deal-breakers. You should discuss those with the AE before you deliver the edit and work out, with the AE, the language you’ll use in the revision letter: “Author, during my edit, I reached the conclusion that the part where you kill off the main character and let his dog tell the rest of the story does not work as well as you had hoped. I talked to AE and we agreed that this does need to change before publication. . . .”

If the nonnegotiables have been discussed ahead of time then you just remind the author that they “need to” make a certain change (as opposed to “consider making”). If the author returns a revision without the necessary changes, you will want to make sure the AE’s got your back before you say anything, then get the right language from the AE. For example, you would ask, “AE, you mentioned that the dog’s perspective has to go. The author is pushing back. Is this something I need to insist on?”

If it’s not a deal-breaker but the AE would really like to see the change, you would say something like that: “AE would really like to see Brenda take actions that would distinguish her from a mushroom so I’ve indicated places throughout where she could be shown doing something other than hiding under a log . . . .” (Perhaps more diplomatically stated than that.)

We would rarely just say “the publisher requires/insists” although sometimes the AE may ask us to do so. (That’s actually more common in NF than in fiction.)

One caveat: in the interests of not insulting people if you don’t have to, never ask the AE if they actually read the ms or how closely they read it or express surprise that they didn’t notice a glaring problem that you’ve spotted. You don’t want to put the AE on the spot or make the AE feel criticized (that’s not your role; you’re not their supervisor). I’m merely suggesting that you shouldn’t assume the AE has carefully read the ms. If you spot a big problem but the AE hasn’t mentioned it, don’t assume, “Well, if the AE wanted me to fix it they would have said so.” Maybe, maybe not.

When I’m working directly for the author and I’ve established a friendly rapport with them, I’ll be a little more relaxed in my approach, but I’m always mindful that a manuscript is a precious child to the author and just as you wouldn’t make fun of the bug eyes on someone’s kid, you don’t use their manuscript as a source of levity, even if you’re sure the author will find your remarks as hilarious as you do.

With an indie author, I usually have a conversation before I begin the edit where I find out the author’s purpose. This helps guide my edit. What is the ms intended to do? If it’s an inspirational novel, it should have an uplifting message. If it’s a romance, it must have a happily-ever-after.

I always ask for any supporting material the author has, such as a query letter (sent to an agent if the author is seeking traditional publication), book blurb (the brief description found on the back cover of a book or in the online catalog for it), and/or chapter summary/synopsis. These supplemental materials can alert me to a disconnect between what the author thinks they have and what they actually do have.

Beta reading as training for DE

Many self-publishing authors look for beta readers to give them perspective on their novels before they go to a professional editor for further help. An author doesn’t need a developmental editor to say the whole storyline is implausible and they yawned from beginning to end. Any reader of fiction can probably relay that information.

Doing a few beta reads is a great way to get a sense of the kinds of problems you’ll encounter as a dev editor, and it will give you some insight into author-editor relationships. It’s a low-risk way to dip your toes in the water.

If you’re interested in doing fiction development for a career, try volunteering as a beta on a few projects. You’ll soon learn if it’s for you!

What’s the Difference?

A beta reader is generally just reporting their experience as a reader – “I thought too many events were implausible” – whereas in development, we try to give more guidance than that based on an informed opinion. That is, we understand how fiction works, how to solve problems that arise, and otherwise have professional expertise that sets us apart from readers who simply enjoy reading.

Often, beta readers are discouraged from trying to offer such guidance as without experience and training it’s easy to send an author down the wrong road or to simply not understand what an author is trying to accomplish. So, instead of trying to solve the problems in the manuscript, your goal is to find them and (for your purposes, not the author’s) try to figure out what’s causing them.

Doing beta reads can be a good way to sharpen your skills and even to start building a clientele. People who trust your beta reads will be more likely to be willing to pay you to do a dev edit.

To become a beta reader, hang out on Twitter and look for #amwriting hashtags. Many of these authors will be interested in finding beta readers. There are also beta reader groups like Writers Helping Writers on Facebook.

Building Your Editing Business

Finding clients as a newer editor is a challenge. Where do you start? I suggest you begin by asking yourself a few questions.

Decide Who You Are as an Editor

  1. What is your purpose? Mine is to help women find a way to tell their stories.
  2. What kinds of clients does your purpose suggest you should target? I target women who are transitioning from nonfiction to fiction or creative nonfiction.
  3. What do you want from your business? I want to work on interesting manuscripts written by professionals who can pay professional fees.
  4. What kinds of clients does your “what I want from my business” answer suggest you should target? For me, people who are already professionals and who see the value of editorial help.
  5. What is your area of specialization and why? Me: teaching women nonfiction writers to write romance because this is where my skills and experience lie and it is what people ask me to do.

Inventory What You Already Know

  1. What is your overall business goal?
  2. What are some overall marketing strategies you could use to get clients?
  3. What are some skills and experiences you have that might help potential clients solve a problem?
  4. What are five or ten things you can do in the next two months to give yourself some additional editing experience?
  5. Who are some people you could get to know who could help you build your business?
  6. What types of services are you offering/planning to offer potential clients?

Put It Together

  1. Who are your target clients and where are they likely to be found?
  2. What is one thing you can do this week to network with colleagues and/or potential clients?
  3. Identify an indirect way of finding clients (such as teaching a class) that appeals to you. What are some steps you need to take to get the ball rolling?





2021 Course Catalog Has Arrived!

Club Ed readers have overwhelmingly asked for more instructor-led classes, so 2021 will include a whole bunch of offerings. The catalog through May 2021 has been added here and you can also see it below.

Instructor-led classes for new and aspiring developmental editors

Instructor-led classes are held within a specified time period. They feature weekly assignments to practice your skills and individual instructor feedback on your work. All course materials are accessed from the online classroom.

Online discussions allow you and your fellow students to ask the instructor questions and to toss around ideas. These discussions are held asynchronously (read and post as you have availability); you do not need to be anywhere at any particular time in order to participate, although assignments will need to be submitted by the deadlines provided in the course materials.

If you have any questions about any of the classes, please email the Resort Director: ResortDirector@ClubEdFreelancers.com

Using the Pareto Principle as a freelancer

The Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule, is a ratio used to describe certain economic and business situations, such as 20 percent of the people have 80 percent of the wealth, or 80 percent of your revenue comes from 20 percent of your customers. If you just knew which 20 percent of your customers to focus on, you could forget the rest, do well, and have fewer demands on your resources.

What the 80/20 Rule Means for Marketing

If you’re trying to make a living as a freelance editor—or even just make some side income—then you know that you’re supposed to do a ton of things to market yourself. You’re supposed to have a website and a blog, but not just any old website and blog, a GREAT website and a blog with 5.3 million unique views each month (and each day would be better!). AND you also need to be on Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and five other social media sites of your choice. You need to be able to write sales copy and sales pitches and know exactly who to send them to and when. And that’s before you even start your first edit.

Trying to do it all can quickly lead to burn out, to the feeling that you’re doing nothing well, or to completely abandoning the attempt. You end up wondering why freelancing is not working out like you hoped it would.

Instead, focus your efforts on those areas that bring the greatest rewards. If you enjoy Pinterest and follow lots of boards and have lots of followers, and these followers turn into clients from time to time, that is a place where your effort is rewarded. So there is no need to overextend yourself by also trying to be on Twitter and Facebook, too.

If you have a website that clearly says what you do and how people can get in touch with you, then do you really need to spend five thousand bucks and a hundred hours making it a little splashier? If you’re not interested in blogging on daily or at least regular basis, then try putting that idea aside and focusing your attention on other matters.

Do a few things well, see what happens, adjust your strategy as needed, and don’t beat yourself up for not having a clone. Look for what brings results and do more of that and less of everything else.

Adding Coaching to Your Menu of Services

Coaching writers is distinct from developmental editing, but because of the nature of DE work, it’s common for it to shade into coaching (and, indeed, into mentoring). Many DEs fall into coaching because their clients ask for it while others want to move into the field more intentionally. Here are my thoughts about offering coaching services as an adjunct to your developmental editing work.

Coaching Versus DE

In general, a developmental edit is a finite act that is concentrated on evaluating a finished ms, making ms edits and queries, and recommending revisions for the author to make. While you might answer questions about the edit or look at the author’s revision, the main bulk of work is in the actual editing of the ms.

Coaching, then, is whatever else you might do to help a writer grow in craft that isn’t that finite act of editing. It may be offering critiques on chapters as the author writes them (rather than after the whole is complete). Maybe it’s providing writing prompts and feedback to help the author grow in skill. Maybe it’s hopping on the phone for a brainstorming session when the author is stuck with her current ms.

I do a mix of both in my work. My work with indie authors tends to veer more towards coaching while my work with publishers is strictly dev. While I can quote a project fee for a dev edit, coaching is more likely to be something I bill by the hour.

Start with Your Current Expertise

Whether you’re qualified to offer coaching depends on the types of service you’re planning to offer.

I have a lot of experience in traditional publishing, so authors will often ask me to critique a query/synopsis. Or they’ll ask if they can have a phone call with me to go over their pitch for a pitch session at a conference. These things I feel confident in doing. Someone who didn’t have much experience in traditional publishing would not understand what makes a good pitch so this would not be a good service for them to offer.

I used to work with writers for whom English is a second language but I haven’t done that in years. I don’t know what the good current resources in this area are or what the latest research shows regarding effective intervention. So I don’t offer that type of service anymore.

The best way to break into coaching is to figure out what you already know and do well and connect the dots to how you can use it to help writers.

Pick out one aspect of something you already do and have a lot of experience in and use that as a springboard to coaching. We sometimes think of coaching as one big pie where we have to know everything there is to know about writing and publishing to offer it but really coaching is a bunch of slices crammed together. You can probably coach one of those slices right now.

If you don’t have a lot of experience, the way to do anything like this is to start small and scaffold up. Your local writing group would probably be glad to have you lead a session on how to use the five senses in their writing. Once you have this experience, you can offer a class or workshop for the local arts center/parks and rec program/senior center. Now you’re a local expert on the five senses in writing and it took you a month.

Next, pitch a workshop for a national conference. Now you’re someone who teaches writers about using the five senses. Your coaching fee for offering this help one-on-one is $X per hour.

Finding Coaching Clients

In general, I find that indie authors don’t hire us for coaching out of the blue. No matter how great your website is, an indie author isn’t going to stumble over it and say, “Coaching is exactly what I need! How much will it cost?” Even if someone you know makes a referral, it’s rare for an author who doesn’t know you and hasn’t worked with you before to hire you for coaching.

Usually what happens is the author works with you in some capacity before and you both feel you work well together. This leads to the coaching relationship. Typically the best way to add coaching to your business is to build up your business enough so that some portion of the people you’re working with opt to pay you for coaching.

What are some ways you can build up your current clientele? What are some other things you can do to market/promote? For example, can you teach (virtual) writing or editing classes for the library, senior center, art center? Can you join writers’ groups and editors’ groups? Could you team-teach with someone who is more established? Subcontract?

Next, you have to think about how to stand out from others who offer editing/coaching services. What in your background, past experience, and/or personality is different/unique/useful to the writers you want to work with? When you’ve worked with writers in the past, what particular problems did you help them unknot? What kind of mentoring did you do and at what point in the writing process did you do it?

Your special skills don’t even have to be writing/publishing-related, exactly. I recently had a talk with an editor who markets to a law of attraction crowd because she’s very into that. So, explore why indie authors might want to work with you versus someone else.

Then consider what specific solutions you can offer to potential coaching clients. For a long time I would say, “Yes, I do coaching! I can coach writers and editors on craft and business concerns!” And no one would ever sign up. Then I started creating lists of things I could specifically do: For writers, I can review and give feedback on your query. I can educate you on how publishing works and help you come up with a plan for getting an agent. For editors, I can review a ms you’ve edited and give feedback on your work.

Once people saw the specifics, they could imagine themselves wanting that. Then, even if they had a request that wasn’t on the list, they would ask me (“Can you help me figure out what these rejections mean?” came up recently). These steps will help you drum up coaching clients.

Getting ready to do editorial work for publishers

I’m frequently asked for help by editors trying to get established as freelancers. Not surprisingly, many people want to know how to get editorial projects from publishers, as obviously this could be a good source of ongoing work.

So when I received the following question, at first I thought of it as a “how to get work from publishers” question:

“I was wondering if you could give me a little guidance about contacting publishers to put me on a list for editing jobs. My concern is that I don’t have enough experience (that’s pretty much my concern all the time these days) and I’m not sure the best way to spin my background to look appealing enough to a publisher. Any advice there would be greatly appreciated.”

But when I started to answer this question, I realized it wasn’t really about how to get work from publishers (“send an LOI!”). It was about not feeling ready to get work from publishers.

And that’s a different thing. The writer says, “I’m concerned I don’t have enough experience” and “I’m not sure the best way to spin my background.” Both of these things are about self-assessment in the context of the demands of the marketplace.

In other words, maybe the editor isn’t ready. But how would she know?

That’s where learning how to evaluate your own abilities makes all the difference. It allows you to connect the dots between what you can offer and the work you want to do. If there’s a big disconnect between the two (“I’ve never read a novel” but “I want to edit fiction”) then it doesn’t matter how you spin the items on your resume, you’re highly unlikely to land a contract with a publisher.

But if you can narrow the gap (“I’ve edited a ton of fiction for satisfied indie clients” and “I’d like to edit fiction for you”) then you’re more likely to get the kind of response you’re looking for.

So, what experience do you have? What classes have you taken, what manuscripts have you edited, how many clients have produced successful revisions based on your edits?

Now, compare that to what a publisher is looking for in an editor. You can use your imagination for this—you can guess that a publisher is looking for someone who has the skill to effectively edit (whether copyediting or developmental editing) manuscripts in the genres they publish (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, whatever), won’t blow the release date by being three months behind on the edit, and won’t annoy the author so much she takes her project and goes somewhere else with it.

And you can supplement that imaginary effort by checking out job ads to see what other skills and experiences are valued (for an academic publisher this might be an advanced degree; a specialist publisher may look for industry knowledge).

Then you compare the “what publishers are looking for” list with your “what I can offer ” list and see where the intersections are. If you can’t find any, then consider what steps you need to take next to make some.

My two-week mini-class, “Evaluating Your Effectiveness as an Editor,” starts Monday, January 21, 2019. It’s a new online class that meets asynchronously (you don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time).

You’ll learn how to assess your own work using self-assessment tools, ask colleagues to share effective practices, and solicit feedback from clients. You’ll also learn how to read an author’s revision for clues to your own effectiveness.

Click for more information.

Avoiding Scope Creep

When we’re editing novelists, much of our work is in evaluating the problems in the manuscript and suggesting possible revisions for the author to make. If Joe’s character motivation needs to be strengthened, we suggest ways that can be done but we don’t write the scenes where Joe’s motivation is established. That’s the author’s job.

Most of the time, this is what writers want. If you tried to write the scenes for the author, they would be offended and think you had overstepped your role; you’re the editor, not the coauthor.

What’s Scope Creep?

But now and then authors will want us to do all the work of revision. In that case, they are looking for a coauthor. If that’s what you’ve agreed to do, that’s one thing (and I hope you got paid a lot for it!) But if you didn’t that’s another.

When authors expect services beyond what is generally expected or previously established, we call that “scope creep.” The scope of the project has changed—gotten bigger—and it affects us. We have to do more work for the same amount of money. That’s not fair.

Enforcing Boundaries

Scope creep happens to freelancers all the time, so we do have to be careful to set our boundaries and make sure the client understands what to expect. But that isn’t just a one-time deal that you discuss at the beginning of the project. For some authors, you have to enforce the boundaries multiple times over the course of the project. For example, if you’ve agreed to develop an author’s draft once they’ve finished it, that doesn’t mean you’re available for consultation while they’re writing the draft (unless you’ve agreed to be) but some authors will assume you are.

It’s important to not just give in when this happens. Clearly but politely set your boundaries. You may want to keep a list of resources to share with authors to make this boundary-setting more helpful. And/or you can mention that they can hire you for this purpose. Here’s an example of what you could say: “Consulting during the actual writing process is not part of our developmental editing agreement. If you would like, I would be happy to amend our agreement to include coaching, for which I charge $X per hour. Some good resources for dealing with plot and character issues are EXAMPLE AND EXAMPLE. Let me know if you’d like to do the coaching and I’ll be in touch with further details.”

I find that being clear with clients helps keep resentment from building. Many times authors don’t realize that what they’re asking is different from what they agreed to. Almost always when I’ve brought this to their attention they have recognized right away that they pushed the boundaries and apologize; in some cases, when appropriate, we will work out additional compensation for me to do additional work. In other cases, they just adjust their expectations accordingly.

Common Triggers for Scope Creep

Another common time when scope creep occurs is after you’ve delivered the edit and the author asks if you will read their revision. If you haven’t agreed to this as part of the project fee, then you need to say no and/or explain what you charge for that. Here, another option to suggest is for the author to find a few beta readers for further feedback.

Scope creep also occurs when the author begins the revision and feels like they have no idea what to do. Especially with beginning authors, they can agree with a criticism but have no idea how to fix it. So, they need more specific guidance. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that your edit (both the revision letter and the manuscript queries/edits) provides enough guidance for the author. If you just say, “The story’s central conflict is not sufficient to sustain the reader’s interest over the course of the novel,” the author isn’t going to know what to do about that.

But if you also provide a solution or two—“Instead of being immediately cleared by the police, perhaps Marguerite can be a prime suspect, which could lead to personal and business problems for her”—the author will be more likely to understand what to do now. In some cases, you can include a link to information that shows examples of how to fix the problem at hand. In other cases, you can offer a suggested phrasing.

If you have provided this guidance in the edit and the author is just looking for some  feedback on brainstorming, you can include it as part of the editorial package (I typically include an hour of coaching in my dev editing quotes) or you can offer it as an add-on service, using a similar phrasing as above: “Coaching on the revision process is an extra service for which I charge $X per hour.”

By understanding places where scope creep happens in an edit, you can stop it ahead of time by addressing it in your quote for the edit. The clearer everyone’s expectations are, the easier it is to say when scope creep is happening and to either stop it or get paid for the extra work.

Freelancing on a Budget

Starting and running a freelance business costs money, an unfortunate irony at a time when a lot of people have lost their jobs and would like to freelance to bring in income but don’t have a lot of spare change lying around to invest in it.

So, this blog post is about (as the title states) freelancing on a budget. But I’m not going to name specific tools to try, as that’s information you can pick up without too much trouble on a thousand other blogs. I want to talk about how to think about expenses.

The most important consideration is that you need the right tools to do your job. This is where aspiring freelancers sometimes try to cut back but that makes them unable to deliver professional results on time. You can’t succeed that way!

Identify the Tools You Need

You need a reliable computer, reliable internet access, a professional-sounding email address (Yourname123@gmail.com suffices, but not assbackwards@yahoo.com), and appropriate skills.

You may be able to use Google Documents for some clients but for most (particularly when developmental editing at book length) you’re going to need to use Microsoft Word. And whether you use the cloud-based version or the software, this is going to cost money.

And if you’re hoping to be a copy editor but you don’t know what CMOS is, then you need training. While you don’t necessarily have to take a class or attend a certificate program, you’re probably going to need to buy some books.

So you do need to invest in yourself and your business. In fact, I recommend that you set aside a certain percentage of all income you earn to reinvest, whether this means upgrading your computer or taking classes to upgrade your skills (or, ideally, both).

But you should invest in the right things. You don’t need printed business cards this minute. In classes I teach about getting started in freelancing, people tell me about spending money printing business cards and similar collateral. It has been at least five years since I’ve given someone a business card, and I can’t remember the last time giving one out resulted in any business. I am thinking it may be “never.”

If you meet someone in person and you want to keep in touch with them, get their contact information and put it in your phone. If you will be going to a conference (someday when we have conferences again) then it may be useful to invest in business cards or other collateral but if you’re not going to choke at the cost of attending a conference, then the business cards shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

So, separate wants from needs:

  • You need to back up your files and it’s easier to do using a paid service like Carbonite, but you can use the free version of Dropbox if you prune away the old files on a regular basis.
  • If you can’t afford to build and host a website, then you can start with a great (free) LinkedIn page to refer people to.
  • Same with marketing your services. Someone just bemoaned to me that the free version of Mailchimp (a way to easily send email marketing newsletters) wasn’t robust enough for the marketing she wanted to do. Well, no, not if you’re marketing to ten thousand people at a time. But a small marketing list, hosted for free on Mailchimp, can generate excellent results for editorial freelancers.

Buy it “just in time”

Planning ahead of time is smart. If you’re going to offer live video coaching sessions, you should probably think about how many meetings you’re likely to need in a given month, how many people are likely to be on each call (one individual or a group?), and other factors that matter in choosing a video conferencing service. Then you can do some research about which options will best suit your needs.

But until you actually get a video coaching client, you don’t need to buy the service.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my accounting. When I need something more complex, I will buy the more complex thing. So far in twenty-five years I have not needed the more complex thing.

If you do need accounting software—perhaps you have a lot of invoices and want to automate this, or find it hard to keep track of who has paid what—then by all means invest in it. But just because you think you might or because someone else uses it doesn’t mean you have to. Buy it when you need it, not before.

Invest time and effort, not money (or, DIY freelancing)

To learn about free and inexpensive resources, to develop your skills, and to be in a position to give and get referrals, it helps to be hooked in with other freelancers. You can do this by following and interacting with other editors on Twitter, participating in online groups like Editors’ Association of Earth (on Facebook), and so on.

Cultivating clients may require sending letters of introduction to publishers you want to work with or answering questions in an online writers’ group to establish your expertise and perhaps connect with potential clients.

These things require time and efforts. There aren’t a lot of shortcuts. People try to find shortcuts, such as by listing a profile on Upwork and similar places, but for the most part those types of platforms undervalue professional services and pay a pittance. Such jobs don’t build your skills or help you build your business. Instead of winding up on a treadmill of low-paying work, invest the time in cultivating better-paying clients.

Doing it yourself can require a big commitment, I know. The first time I tried to figure out how an ecommerce plugin works (to sell classes on my website) it took me days to wade through all of the documentation and make it go. But the next time I needed to configure a plugin for ecommerce, it was much easier and took me an hour or two. Not only did I save money—for both website updates—I also learned a lot about what I needed an ecommerce plugin to be able to do and I understood a lot more clearly what ecommerce plugins can actually accomplish.

Investing time and effort instead of money also means being patient, which can be hard when you’re feeling stressed about money. This weekend was the first time someone requested to join the Club Ed forums and I didn’t know them from a class I’ve taught—and I opened the Club Ed forums in December. Freelance editing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Until you’re fully booked consistently, don’t farm out chores. Managing other people is time-consuming. Hiring other people is expensive. It’s okay not to take over the world with your business. Manageable is beautiful.