A freelance editing life offers nice perks: schedule flexibility, control over fees, and choice of projects. Often, though, entrepreneurial editors need to broach the sticky subjects of late payments, fee increases, and legal issues, such as libel.
Laura Poole, co-owner and lead editor of copyediting.com, offered ACES members her advice gleaned from an editing career spent successfully negotiating these client communication challenges in an academic editing realm, including journals, specializing in topics such as economics.
When a tricky conversation comes up, Poole advises:
Most freelancers rejoice when a client pays them in a timely fashion. Certainly nurture those clients. Other times (often!) you have to chase down that check. Besides getting a nonrefundable deposit and contract up front with individual authors, Poole suggests three levels of reminders for other forgetful clients:
1. Ask nicely: Please check on this invoice.
2. Say the invoice is past due, please expedite payment.
3. Send a firm reminder that you own copyright on edits until you are paid, and: “This invoice has been sent to collections” (a collections agency will get their attention).
If an editor suspects and then confirms that a work is plagiarism (using uncited quotes, claiming other’s work as one’s own), or libel (slanderous speech against a person or business), or if there is a permissions issue, such as a writer quoting song lyrics without licensing:
How do you raise your rates? Poole’s simple script: “My new rates are $XX.”
If existing clients balk, be prepared to back up your case. Share with the client:
Know when you can walk away, because some clients might not be able to afford you anymore. Does it make financial sense to quit a job just because you don’t like it? You have your ideal, but what will you settle for? Be honest with yourself and your client.
Poole recommends that any editor go for it. “Ask for 50 percent more and see what happens.” She points out that if you ask for top rates when the client is reliant on you and knows your worth, they’ll say, “We need you on this project” and pay it.
Sometimes we are trained as service providers (and many of us as women get a double dose of the imperative) to be people-pleasers. This is also known as emotional labor, which had an expert panel discussion the previous day at ACES.
As a freelancer, the impulse reaction to an offer of work may be to immediately say yes to a paycheck. But if you say yes to everything that crosses your desk, Poole warns, you might be trading that fee for your own sanity.
Whether you’ve maxed your bandwidth, a project turns sour, or you can’t stomach the content, you will occasionally have to turn a client down. Poole suggests some easy responses to decline work clearly and professionally.
Here’s hoping the final notes from Poole and the seasoned editorial audience resonate: beware red flags from potential clients (pushing boundaries, arguing about changes), trust your gut when signing on a project, and don’t sell yourself short!
Valerie Valentine is an editor of books, magazines, and digital content. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
Header image credit: ONA USFSP/Martha Rhine