Treating your editing business like a business

It happened again this week: a writer got in touch with me, told me some information about their book, and asked for some guidance about next steps.

This is a very common ask, and I have a boilerplate email I use in response. If I got more of these types of emails I might have to start to ignore them but at the rate of a couple per week, I don’t mind taking a minute to respond with some suggestions for what the writer can do next (join a writing group to get feedback, decide whether they want to try to traditionally publish the book or self-publish it, and so on).

If you’ve been a freelance editor for any length of time, you know what happened next. The writer asked me to look over his manuscript and give feedback – but of course didn’t want to pay me to do this. This writer also managed to make it sound like it would be a real treat for me to perform this manuscript evaluation for free.

But it’s not. I’m in business. I work to make money. I may also help writers fulfill goals and dreams but I’m coin-operated, and I make no apology about that. If you want the benefit of my expertise, you can damn well pay for it.

It is very common for freelance editors to be people pleasers: we want people to like us, we want our clients to be happy with our work, we want to help other people realize their goals. But this can make it difficult to know what to say to people who presume our time is theirs.

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty blunt about this and what I said to this writer was simply, “I am happy to evaluate your manuscript; my fee for this type of work ranges from $X To $Y. For more information about what a manuscript evaluation contains, please visit [link to my website]. Let me know if you’d like to book this evaluation.”

That’s it. No apology, no rationale for why I expect to get paid for my work, no people pleasing needed.

Earlier in my career I thought it was possible that people who assume I would work for free could be convinced to pay me, but I am no longer that naive. I don’t feel any need to try to convert them to paying customers; if they were going to be paying customers, they would have asked how much I charge in the first place.

Please take this as permission to set your boundaries. You’re running a business, not a charitable endeavor. Instead of feeling bad about being a mercenary capitalist, be annoyed that someone had the gall to think they’re entitled to your time without paying for it.

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