First impressions matter a lot, according to the psychological concept of anchoring, a cognitive bias that describes our tendency to rely too much on the first piece of information we’re given. Continue reading “The trade-book trap”
My life for the past month.
I’ve had this post in my drafts for years, and I’ve vacillated about the merits of posting it. Interest in topics like diversity in editing and publishing seems to be growing, though, so I figured I’d throw this one out there, if for no other reason than to get it out of my drafts folder. Maybe it will spur some interesting discussion.
“I’m changin’ my name to George,” fellow editor Grace Yaginuma emailed me in 2012, when we were both relatively new to freelancing after leaving our respective in-house jobs. She linked to a blog post about how much more easily a freelance copywriter landed work when she went by “James Chartrand.”
“You know,” I wrote back, “I’ve never considered my gender to be a problem in our line of work—there are just so many women doing what we do—but I do often wonder if the ‘Cheung’ and ‘Yaginuma’ lead to assumptions that we don’t speak English.”
When I started my business, I hadn’t yet built up an archive of blog posts that (I hope, anyway) give me professional credibility. I had a strong network within Canadian book publishing, but, outside of that industry—which is brilliant and fulfilling but notoriously low paying—all anyone had to go on when I looked for work was my name. What kind of first impression does it give?
It’d be wonderful if people took the time to look into their editors’ qualifications before deciding whom to hire, but we know that doesn’t always happen. I’ve undoubtedly missed out on the odd contract because a prospective client saw my Chinese name and moved on to other editors, but I tend to take a sour-grapes approach to these cases, convincing myself that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway. I think this attitude, delusional or not, has served me relatively well.
To be perfectly clear: I have never once felt overtly discriminated against as an editor because of my name or ethnicity, and I’m lucky to be one of a group of bright, industrious, and conscientious colleagues who don’t hesitate to recommend one another for work. That said, I wonder sometimes if I would have tried as hard to find ways to show that I know what I’m talking about if I hadn’t felt that my name gave me a bit of a disadvantage.
I’m likely better off for it, but the initial impostor syndrome, some of it definitely name induced, was something I had to work through. When I started freelancing, I was acutely aware that anything I wrote—whether an email or an invoice or a blog post or a tweet—was a work sample, and I attacked these writing tasks with probably unnecessary fastidiousness. Only in the past couple of years, knowing that the people who matter to me will take me and my work seriously, have I let myself relax somewhat and embrace nonstandard constructions more playfully in my own writing.
Has your name affected your work? I’d be keen to hear others’ stories.
Building on last year’s inaugural event, Cheryl Stephens and Kate Harrison Whiteside put together a full day of sessions at Communication Convergence 2015, most of them looking at the ways technology has affected writing, publishing, and other means of communication.
Fawn Mulcahy—How has technology changed how we communicate?
Fawn Mulcahy has more than twenty years of public relations experience and has taught PR at Langara College and Simon Fraser University. At Communication Convergence she talked about how technology has changed the way we communicate and why we need to do our best to keep up.
Her advice about language and communication isn’t based on linguistics—“I’m not a linguist!” she disclaimed—but is informed by her interactions with her students and her seventeen-year-old step-daughter. Millennials will make up 44% of the workforce by 2020, and their communication is all digital. We have to get comfortable working in that space and learn the language of shortcuts like acronyms, emoticons, and emojis so that we can all work effectively with one another.
Technology is how we tell our stories, and we’re relying more and more on imagery, which can instantaneously and effortlessly communicate emotion and attitude. In presentations, images are key to avoiding “death by PowerPoint”: “If you have slides of black-and-white text in bullet points, you’ll lose them.”
More people have mobile phones than desktop computers, and youth have abandoned email in favour of communicating through their phones and on social media, which encourages all of us to keep our communications brief, simple, and short. That said, “we still need to honour communication,” said Mulcahy. Exclamation marks, all caps, and smiley faces have no place in a professional email, and we still have to differentiate between language used in texting and standard written English. People accustomed to writing for the 110 to 150 million blogs out there sometimes don’t understand why they can’t keep the same voice for everything they write.
When asked how technology has affected her teaching, Mulcahy admitted that it has shortened attention spans. “It’s tempting on computers to multitask,” she said. “An average person checks their phones 150 times a day—it’s a tic you can’t control.”
As an instructor, “You feel like a dancing bear—you have to entertain them to keep them listening and engaged.” In every classroom, “60 percent will think you’re an idiot, 20 percent will love you, and 20 percent are on the fence. You’re trying to win over that 20 percent.”
“Teach to one person,” Mulcahy advised. “Find your friend in the room. You can’t please everybody.”
How has technology changed relationships between writer, editor, and publisher? (panel discussion)
Editor, writer, and instructor Frances Peck moderated a discussion between Roberta Rich, author of The Harem Midwife and The Midwife of Venice and Paula Ayer, managing editor at Annick Press’s Vancouver office, about how technology has changed the publishing landscape.
“The biggest shift is that everything is electronic,” said Ayer. “Editors no longer work on paper proofs. And everything is expected faster; I think we’re offloading more onto freelancers because there’s less and less time to do things in house. Editors become surrogates for the publishing house.”
Rich, in contrast, has stuck to hard copy. “As you can deduce from all of this,” she joked, “I really hate change.” Her first novel was edited in three rounds, but her most recent book was edited in two. “Part of it was that I learned from the mistakes I made in my first two books,” she said, explaining that her first draft was probably a little more polished. “But I’m very fortunate to have been published in Canada first, because in the U.S., publishing houses don’t have that kind of patience—to do a third pass.” U.S. publishers, said Rich, don’t want a fixer-upper. They want a finished product. “In order to get a publisher to read it at all…it has to be almost perfect. You pay for your own editor.”
Rich recommends Booming Ground, part of UBC’s non-credit creative writing program, which offers editing and manuscript evaluations for up to 120 pages. “Send in 60 pages a month, and they send you feedback. It’s very economical. For $500 you get a lot of work and very detailed criticism.”
Ayer warned about unscrupulous businesses exploiting people who want to get published. To counter some of the volatility, Ayer said, Annick relies on a core group of freelancers who know the brand and understand what kinds of books they publish. But she’s constantly feeling pressure to get projects done more quickly: “We need sales materials sooner, so we need a clear idea of the book and an illustrator very early on.”
Peck said that editor Barbara Pulling has also mentioned the contraction in time for each project and the pressure to turn then around more quickly. She used to have six months to go back and forth with the author to develop ideas, and now she doesn’t have that luxury. “As a reader,” said Peck, “I pick up books that feel that they’ve been rushed through and that have substantive issues.”
“Has there been a change in readership?” Peck asked the Ayer and Rich. “Are needs, expectations, and attention spans changing?”
Rich said, “I have a pretty clear idea of my readership—they’re primarily female. Fiction readers are generally female, between ages twenty and sixty. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing fewer young readers and writers at events like writers’ festivals and book clubs.”
“Our market,” said Ayer, “is mostly schools and libraries, so we’re affected more by budget cuts.” And Annick’s books have changed: “We use more sidebars, more illustrations. We’ve redone books in graphic novel style to make them more visual. It doesn’t mean they’re dumbed down. We’re giving readers short bursts of information. We want it to be interesting and engaging.”
“People used to read the first few pages at a bookstore,” said Rich. “Now we have to hook the reader in the first couple of paragraphs.”
“The title and cover have to get people’s attention right away,” said Ayer.
“Let’s turn our conversation back to relationships,” said Peck. “Has technology made relationships easier or harder? Do you get to have any face-to-face interaction?”
Rich said that she talks to her editor on the phone, but whenever she’s in Toronto, her editor takes her out for lunch. “I have an old-fashioned relationship with my editor,” she said.
Ayer said, “We work with people from everywhere—New Zealand, Poland, Japan. There’s usually no chance for face-to-face communication. If they’re in town, we try to make time for a face-to-face meeting. Freelancers are usually only dealt with via email, but some are close enough to be friends on Facebook.” It’s tempting to resist face-to-face meetings from a time-management point of view, she said, but they can create a stronger relationship.
“What trends do you see on the horizon?” asked Peck.
“Publishers will be less willing to take risks and will try to take only sure bets,” said Ayer. “Publishers have become slaves to numbers,” said Rich. “They’re very numbers driven.”
“Publishers used to have the patience to develop a writer, but when a small house develops writers, often they just go to bigger houses,” said Ayer.
Peck noted that some authors are now intentionally going to smaller publishers because they know they’ll get personal attention. Some decide to self-publish. “Will there be a resurgence of smaller presses, or will they change their roles?
“Self-publishing is good for people who have a built-in audience,” said Ayer. “There’s a bit of a mentality that publishers and record labels will mess with your creative vision. But often things get better with other people’s input.”
Blake Desaulniers—We are all publishers now in the era of internet distribution and multimedia platforms
Blake Desaulniers is a writer, photographer, videographer, and content marketing expert who worked in magazines in the 1980s and saw the transition from wax paste-up to fully digital production. Today, anyone can be a publisher—but if you choose to go that route, know what you’re getting into and have a clear idea of what you’re trying to do with your publication.
“What do we expect from our audience?” said Desaulniers. “We want them to buy our product, buy into our ideas. Set goals to understand the nature of engagement you expect from your audience. Often people don’t look that far. They’re good at packaging and distributing, but once it’s out there, they don’t think about it.”
You should also have a clear concept of your publication so that you can develop a set of keywords. “The internet is Google,” said Desaulniers. “If you want to get to your audience, you’ve got to be good with Google. Understand from the outset what your keywords are going to be. They should inform every aspect of your publishing venture. In a sense, it’s branding.”
Next, look at audience development, which may be the hardest part of all. Subscriptions are expensive and hard to manage. “Getting a subscriber audience is the most difficult aspect of the game, whether you’re an individual or a large-scale commercial publisher.”
So what can we do to develop an audience? “Build an audience using social media,” said Desaulniers. Use personas—representations, including goals and behaviours, of who you want or expect your audience to be—to build your communication efforts. Make sure you develop your personas based on real data, though, not just speculation.
Marketing automation (like the kind services like HubSpot can provide) requires a large budget—about $25,000 a year—to manage, but a good system can provide everything you need to automate distribution of your content, including newsletters, emails, and social media. Most importantly, it provides granular tracking of anything anyone does. “People used to say, ’50 percent of my advertising works—I just don’t know which 50 percent.’ This kind of tracking ends that uncertainty.”
“Audience engagement is more important than number of views,” said Desaulniers, and it’s important to have reliable metrics of engagement for your content. Knowing what your readers are actually using means “You’re customizing information, not wasting resources on things people aren’t interested in. Turn your users into your sales force.”
I’ll be writing up Cheryl Stephens’s session about the hidden intricacies of the modern reading audience in a separate post. To volunteer for or contribute to future Communication Convergence events, get in touch with Kate Whiteside.
Laurie Lewis first published What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelance Editors and Consultants in 2000, and when she revised it ten years later, she found that her strategies didn’t change. She shared her time-tested approach to pricing at Beyond the Red Pencil.
Choose the best method of pricing for the job
“I’m not going to tell you how many dollars to charge per hour or per page,” said Lewis. “There is no right price for a job.” Pricing methods include:
- an hourly rate,
- a page rate,
- a word rate,
- a project rate,
- a per diem,
- a retainer, and
- a unit rate.
Most editors use the first four methods. Some freelancers choose to use only one type of rate, but Lewis suggests learning the different methods of pricing and figuring out which will work best for your particular circumstance. “Hourly is great if you work slowly, awful if you work fast, and great if you don’t know the scope of the project.” But not all clients are comfortable with the uncertainty of a per-hour rate.
Per-page rates used to be based on a 250-word page, but the client may not realize this. If they give you a page count for a manuscript, don’t take their word for it. Work out exactly what a page means to the client before quoting a rate. You and the client will also have to agree on how to count elements like tables and figures.
Per-word rates are common for writers but not so much for editors. If you do use a per-word rate, come to an agreement with the client about whether you’re using the word count before or after the edit.
The biggest pitfall with a project rate is not knowing enough about the project before setting your rate. Get as much information as you can from the client so that you can give an informed estimate.
Keep track of the hours you work, ideally using task-based logs
Regardless of which type of pricing you choose, the most important strategy is to log your time. Even if you’re using a project rate, keep track of the time you spend on specific tasks. “Editing” isn’t specific enough. Are you reviewing the manuscript? Corresponding with the author? Making a style sheet? Spell checking? Running a Find and Replace? Fact checking? Collating changes? Get into the habit of tracking time by task. (An audience member suggested using Freshbooks.) Consider this strategy an investment for future projects, when you’ll be able to look at your logs to see what you’re really spending your time doing.
Get as much information as you can before naming your fee
- Ask your client for as many project details as they’re willing to give you. Ask for the manuscript or, failing that, a sample—and try to get one from the middle of the manuscript, not the beginning, which authors will probably have spent a long time polishing and thus won’t necessarily reflect the quality of the manuscript as a whole.
- Ask other freelancers about their rates. “This is not price fixing,” said Lewis. “There is not such thing as price fixing in freelancing. Please be generous with your advice. We’re helping each other. We can only learn from teach other.”
- Consult your own records: How much did you charge for a similar project? How long did it take you? Did you make what you wanted? Has the client forgotten about any aspect of the project—for example, preparing a reference list?
- Listen to your gut. “If you’re going to hate the project because of the content, price accordingly.”
Whatever you do, “never give a client a rate off the top of your head,” said Lewis. “When a client says, ‘What do you charge?’ say ‘I’ll get back to you.’”
Determine your negotiating strategy
The two dollar figures you should have in mind when going into a negotiation are:
- what you want to make
- the lowest amount you’ll accept
If your client can’t pay you what you want for the work they want done, see if you can agree to change the parameters of a job. For example, you might do fewer rounds of editing or a different level of editing. Your client may agree to collate the changes or to change the schedule.
Consider also what non-monetary concessions you’ll make. For example, you may be willing to lower your rate for an acknowledgment, complimentary copies, or a testimonial. Ask to participate in your client’s activities—for example, an NGO’s fundraiser or a publisher’s book launch—where you might make connections and drum up further business.
“Be prepared to walk away from a job if you cannot agree to a price,” said Lewis. “You will kick yourself for working on a job where you’re not paid enough.”
“Freelance editors can be reluctant negotiators. Think of negotiating as clarifying the details of a job.”
Put your agreement in writing
Once you’ve clarified those details, make sure you get it in writing. Specify:
- the nature of the project,
- what you will do,
- what the client will do,
- the timetable for the work,
- the fee and payment schedule,
- how and why the contract might be terminated, and what you will be paid in that case, and
- any other specific issues you’ve agreed upon.
These other issues might include what you’ll do in the event of scope changes or whether you can renegotiate if the material comes to you late. “Put wiggle room into the letter of agreement,” said Lewis.
“Formal contracts may frighten clients,” she said. “All you need is an email that puts your agreement in writing, with itemized tasks—but do ask clients to reply to the email saying they’ve agreed to the terms.” Written agreements show that you’re a professional.
Sometimes clients will have their own contracts. Read them, and never sign a contract that contains anything you haven’t discussed or anything you don’t agree with.
Learn from your experience
“The most valuable exercise is a ‘postmortem’ analysis of your projects.” See how much money you would have earned if you had used different pricing strategies. “Ask yourself, ‘How could I have made more money? What are my weaknesses in pricing?’”
At the end of the year, do an analysis of all of your clients, and figure out the average rate you made per hour. “If it’s higher than your usual hourly rate, that’s your new rate,” said Lewis. That new base rate reflects what your clients, on average, think you’re worth. Some may think you’re worth a lot more and will pay higher rates!
Melissa Duffes, editorial director of Marquand Books and previously head of publications and media for the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, moderated a panel discussion including three of her fellow project managers:
- Mary Jane Anderson, publications coordinator at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and policy centre at the University of Washington,
- Phil Athans, founding partner of Athans & Associates Creative Consulting, and
- John Marsh, who was managing editor for Outdoor Empire Publishing and now freelances as an editor and publication manager.
Anderson discovered she had an affinity for project management at an early age. “All the jobs I had sort of ended up involving project management.” She fell into her role after watching coworkers reinvent the wheel with each proposal they submitted and offering to make a template for greater efficiency.
“I became a project manager out of self-defence,” said Marsh. “If you’re an editor now, you’re already project managing: you take a big thing, break it into discrete chunks, figure out the order of the chunks, schedule, and distribute chunks to other people.”
“Project management is planning and being ready to change all your plans at the last minute,” Marsh added. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind, he said, because sometimes when you run into a problem, something else will come up to cancel it out. “Ignore it till it goes away,” he deadpanned.
Athans suggested looking at your set of skills as an editor: “How much of a project manager are you already?” You may find you can claim expertise as a project manager even if you’ve never had that title.
Anderson manages in-house staff and a couple of contractors in her work to produce content in a variety of document types, including websites, proposals, and reports. She calls it “controlled chaos” and understands that she has to be flexible when schedules shift. She tries to empathize with her contractors and authors. “My piece of advice is to try to put yourself in their shoes—be flexible, understand where they’re coming from, and always have a smile on your face.” A key component of good project management is “a ton of communication. I don’t expect people to come to me with updates. I have to go to them. I just have to bug nicely.”
Marsh agreed: “Communication is one of the essential abilities of a project manager. You need to understand the priorities of the client in terms of deadline, performance, cost, quality. You will have to make decisions and adjustments. Are they worth the cost?”
“A good project manager will put in wiggle room,” said Athans, but contractors should be proactive: “If you need you’ll need more time, the second you’ve determined that, communicate with the project manager.” Most of the time, if you ask for it, you’ll find you can get it. If you have a Friday-afternoon deadline, for example, you can be reasonably sure that getting your project in by Monday morning would be fine, but ask, don’t assume, and be professional about it. “It’s the difference between missing a deadline and blowing a deadline.”
“The first deadline you miss affects more than just you and your client,” added Duffes. “It affects everyone who has to work behind you.” And even if you know the deadlines will move, creating a schedule is still important, said Anderson. “It keeps things less chaotic” and helps clarify team members’ responsibilities.
Sometimes we all find ourselves so mired that we feel we don’t have time to plan ahead or hire someone to help, but that attitude is self-defeating, said Marsh. “Take the time now, even if you are very pressed, to save time later on.”
One of the major challenges Duffes has is to keep her team interested. Her company produces catalogues for art galleries and museums, and the projects are often an afterthought for the busy curators and gallery staff who have to supply much of the raw material and review and approve the various stages of book. “I remind them, ‘You’ll get a book in the end—it’ll be like a baby!’ I have to be like a scout leader and keep everyone marching forward in the nicest way possible.”
Project managers appreciate team members who actively check in with them. “Freelancers who get repeat work are the ones who communicate,” even if it’s to ask for more time. And if you get done early, that’s even better.
The panellists all seemed to use spreadsheets rather than specialized project management software to track their projects. Duffes prefers them, whereas Anderson and Athans said that the problem with a lot of project management software is getting people to agree on a system and actually use it. Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, and most people will agree to use them.
Fellow editor Eva van Emden attended the same session and blogged about her main takeaways from the discussion.
Laura Poole, owner of Archer Editorial Services, co-owner of Copyediting.com, and author of Juggling on a High Wire: The Art of Work-Life Balance When You’re Self-Employed, offered some tips at Beyond the Red Pencil on how to break the unsustainable cycle of feast and famine that many freelancers fall into. The adrenaline and cortisol from the stress of stacked deadlines and too much work isn’t healthy, nor is the panic of not knowing where and when you’ll get your next paycheque. Poole suggested not only strategies to cope with feast and famine but also some changes in your thinking and your business practices.
Sometimes feasts are seasonal, and you can plan for them if you start paying attention to patterns in your work. If you know you’ll be busy at particular times of the month or year, plan ahead. Keep your schedule open during those times and arrange for support (subcontractors, referrals, childcare, etc.) if you think you’ll need it.
When a feast is unexpected—whether it’s because deadlines slipped and piled up or your projects ended up being more work than you’d planned—triage your schedule: what can you delete, defer, or delegate?
When you just have to buckle down and get to work, make sure to support your body to stay strong and healthy.
After the feast, take time to learn from the experience. As yourself:
- How did I get so overworked? (Don’t ask why—you’re not trying to shame or blame.)
- What happened that was beyond my control?
- What did it cost me to finish this work?
- What choices did I make that affected the workload?
Seasonal patterns may also help you predict periods of famine, and you can take advantage of the quiet stretches to go on vacation or stock the freezer with meals. Downtime, said Poole, can be a good opportunity to
- rest and recharge,
- build your professional presence,
- network, and
- build your business for the long term.
Use the lull to tackle those tasks you’d pushed to the back burner, like updating your website and online profile. Could be doing something to give your business a passive source of income, like developing a course or writing a book? Use these quiet times to make your business more sustainable.
Poole suggests always thinking two weeks ahead: figure out which projects are ending, and start drumming up work before you need it. But resist the temptation during periods of famine to email all of your clients for work!
Start thinking bigger: what do you want to be doing? Start doing the groundwork now to get yourself there, go after better-paying work, and diversify your client base. Poole warns against relying on only one or two clients for your income: “If you have one client, you aren’t an independent contractor. You’re a dependent contractor,” she said. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Start saying no. “You don’t have to accept everything,” said Poole. “Freelancers say yes because yes means a paycheque. It’s really hard to say no.” But ask yourself, “If I say yes to this, what else am I saying yes to? What am I saying no to?” If you can’t say hell yes, do you really want the job?
“If you can learn to say no,” said Poole, “it will make your yeses more meaningful.” You don’t have to give an excuse for turning down work. “No is a complete sentence.”
That said, clients appreciate referrals to skilled colleagues—a good reason to build your network. And don’t be afraid to be bold: if you ask clients for what you want and need, whether it’s flexibility in the schedule or more money, you can turn some of those noes into yeses.”
Some key changes to your business can ease the cycle:
- Be proactive about communicating your schedule with your clients. “Your business is only open if your mouth is open.” said Poole. Contacting your clients keeps you top of mind.
- Review your schedule and look for trends in cyclical work that you can plan for.
- Find new clients—those who can offer you steadier work, more pay, or more projects that interest you. Weed out the clients who aren’t serving you.
- Get to know your colleagues in your network. Can you work together and help each other build your businesses? Be willing to refer, and you’ll get the same in return.
- Raise your rates—a good way to get rid of low-paying clients and to make more money in less time. “Your work is valuable!” said Poole. “You should be paid what you’re worth! And you shouldn’t apologize for your rate.”
- Develop streams of passive income, where you do the work once but continue to get paid. Speaking, teaching, and writing and are some ways to use your skills and expertise for a steadier source of income while building your professional network.