How to work with publishers: 8 tips for freelancers

Sara Donaldson - Freelancers

Following on from our tips for publishers working with freelancers, freelancers need to be able to see things from the publisher’s point of view too. Yes, freelancers struggle sometimes, but there are ways to counteract lack of communication. Help publishers to help you where they can.

1) Remember to communicate effectively with your publisher and in a timely manner

Just as we may be working on more than one project at a time, so will your project editor. Don’t expect them to have the time or the inclination to ‘chat’ and don’t automatically expect them to know which project you are talking about. Be concise, professional and give them all the facts, ask your questions, then let them get back to work.

2) Be approachable

Just as you want to be kept in the loop your publisher may want to be kept informed too. Ask them at the beginning of the project how they would like to be kept updated – they may prefer you just to get on with the job, or they may like periodic updates on where you are with the job.

If something is wrong tell them! If you suddenly have a crisis that looks as though it may affect your work don’t leave them in the dark. How many times have you fallen ill, then put in an abnormal amount of hours afterwards to catch up, only to find that the work could have been submitted a week later? If your client doesn’t know that something is wrong they can’t help you. And, of course, if something really major happens it is only right that you give them the chance to outsource to a new freelancer.

Treat your publisher client the way you would like to be treated, this paves the way to a productive, professional relationship.

3) When quoting make sure you ask your publisher for all the relevant information

You know what you need to know, but it may be that the project editor doesn’t realise you need to know certain things. Remember, not every project editor has been trained in copy-editing or proofreading. You are a specialist in your field, help your fellow publishing professional out, especially if they are inexperienced. If it isn’t immediately evident, ask them what they think needs to be done with the text (and if it’s not at the stage the publisher thinks it is tell them, and tell them why).

4) Help your publisher understand the differences between copy-editing and proofreading

There will be instances when you receive a text for a proofread and immediately see that it needs a copy-edit or a lighter proof-edit – don’t sit in silence and stew over a heavier workload than was expected, let them know. And, if you are not able to take on the extra workload, tell them why! Explain that a proofread really is supposed to be the last pair of eyes on a document, and if all is well very little should be changed. You could always point your publisher towards the SfEP FAQ pages, but if that seems a little too cold, just explain the differences gently and professionally. Hell, if editors sometimes find it difficult to understand levels of editing, project editors might find it a nightmare.

5) If a publisher offers work with an impossibly tight deadline or budget, give them options

Explain to them how long it takes to edit proficiently and remind them about budget guidelines (and, on occasion, remind them of the minimum wage and professional wage guidelines!). The only way freelancers are going to educate publishers is by explaining why their deadlines, or budgets, are unacceptable. We are trained professionals, and while we should act in a professional manner this does not include accepting work that means long days, working at weekends or working for a pitiful income. If the work offered is on the tight side, rather than dismissing it, offer a solution. Perhaps offer a lower specification edit that will fit in with their offer.

6) Many freelancers choose the freelance life to get away from an office environment, but remote working does not mean being totally isolated

Treat your line manager the way you would if you worked in a physical office building. Get the work back on time, let them know if you are ill and it will disrupt your workflow, and keep in contact if they prefer it that way. Talk to your client about how they prefer to work. If you want to be treated as part of the team, act like one of the team for the duration of your contract.

7) Don’t be afraid to talk money once the negotiation is over

Keep track of new clients and at the outset ask about invoice procedures. If there is a monthly invoice cycle that will cause problems, for instance, if the project is due to end a few days after invoices are due in, ask if it is possible to submit the invoice before the work is completed.

If working with academic institutions, find out who will be footing the bill – sometimes it’s the author, sometimes it’s the author’s school department. Inter-departmental academic payment can take longer to come through than many traditional publishing jobs, be aware of their policies. Asking that one question could mean the difference between being paid in a month or in three months, or even longer!

We all have bills to pay, so it’s time to stop being embarrassed about money.

8) Finally, ask for feedback and testimonials

While we would all like automatic feedback, it rarely happens. The request could be ignored, but if you ask at least you’ve done what you can. Even adding a generic request onto your invoice or invoice email signature might give the project editor the push they need to come back with something. Freelancing can be a lonely business with no peer reviews, but there’s always the old adage – ‘don’t ask, don’t get’.

Sara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter.

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