Whether you’re editing someone’s autobiography, as I’m doing now, or you’re editing someone’s scholarship or college admissions essay, those words mean something to someone, be it the words themselves or what the client hopes those words will get them. This is why you should treat each writing/editing job, no matter what it is, as the most important job you are working on (even more important than your own writing because editing someone’s work is a sacred trust; they are paying you, after all). When people say I’m expensive, I tell them this is how I approach any job I undertake. When I charge someone, I consider my time, skills, access to resources, the education it took to be qualified to do the job, and my years of experience and expertise. When you hire someone to do a job, you are not just hiring them for their time; you are hiring them for what they know and can do and what you don’t know and can’t do (which is I don’t do my own contracting work). Know your worth and respect other people’s.
I recently received a referral from someone local who was looking for someone to edit her autobiography. The book would not be for publication but simply something she wanted to leave as a legacy, which doesn’t mean someone isn’t serious about their project. I mean, after all, if you’re leaving something to your family, wouldn’t you want it to be the best it could be?
I’m not an aspiring writer or editor; I am published and have won several awards for writing, and I edit for a living. I have two Associate degrees and am working on my Bachelor’s degree in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing.
Recently, a friend posted something that resonated with me.
So, know your client. First, if you detest phone calls, and your client is old school who prefers long chats on the phone (something I don’t have time for) rather than text or email, make that clear upfront. Unless you’re willing to communicate their way, please don’t take them on as a client.
I don’t know of a tactful way to ask someone if they’re computer literate, but if they’re typing their manuscript on WordPad and don’t know how to copy and paste, you don’t have the time to teach that unless you want to charge extra. (I have learned that I could make good money teaching people over sixty how to use a computer.) I spent about an hour-and-a-half over several phone calls (I was also rung up at eight-thirty in the morning and was called thrice in one day), trying to walk someone through the steps to sending me something via Google Docs, which was valuable time I needed to homeschool and work on my writing.
And, most importantly, the minute they mention you sound expensive, and they have to go to the ATM to get the money rather than having it ready (even after you quoted them a price; for me, it was a dollar per double-spaced page in Times New Roman and 12-point font), and they give you a printed, single-spaced printout, you want to shut that down and say in the nicest way possible that you probably aren’t the right person for them (rather than the other way around). Don’t negotiate. You are not selling a house, you are selling yourself. Know your worth.
I always give a sample, one-page edit to show what clients can expect. I would never ask someone to pay me otherwise. This is the third time I’ve done a one-page sample edit for someone, and they’ve fallen through. However, another client, who I met through Upwork, had never even seen my work, paid me what I asked for. I think this is why I’ve always bought a car from a lot rather than an individual, as individuals can be flaky, though our first car we purchased for five hundred dollars from an elderly couple, which lasted a couple of years. We saved a ton in car payments.
Remember that you don’t just have to sell yourself to a potential client, but they need to sell themselves to you.
I’m amazed at how many people are willing to pay four dollars for a cup of coffee but are unwilling to pay to have what is a labor of love (or should be) be the best it could be—something that will last for generations and hopefully be read and enjoyed by many rather than for ten minutes, enjoyed only by you.