This Writer’s Life

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.

A New Way to Blog

I created Sarah Lea Stories in October 2013, and 1200+ posts later, I’ve decided not to publish any more long-form posts on it. Since homeschooling (where I create A LOT of the curriculum to accommodate my daughter’s special needs), having a baby, and deciding to return to university this fall, I no longer have the time to write lengthy posts for free. That time is better spent on writing short stories for paying publications. I now consider my Instagram account (where posts can be much shorter) my new blog. I like that Instagram is free and beautifully formatted, and I can spend far less time creating content for it. Blogging all this time has helped with that—not just with “canned” posts but with writing practice.

I’m also tired of being in front of a screen. Now that I have an editing career that requires me to always be in front of a screen, I need more time away from the glow of the computer monitor.

However, I’ll still be posting my groups of “Post-It poems” on Mondays, my Fiction Friday pieces (which I will eventually format into a novel in verse), and my “Positively Marvelous” things on Saturday.

If you wish to follow me on Instagram (I don’t promise to follow back, but if you’re truly interested in my content), here is the link: https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/

5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

Instagram screenshot

My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

100-word pitch to Harlequin’s “So You Think You Can Write” contest

rose and veil

Brian Schlaes and Sarah Lawson want a child. Sarah believes had they met ten years earlier, even though both were different people, they would have grown together and become what they were supposed to become. They get an opportunity to start over—to gain nine years of extra memories at the expense of one. With the help of an angel who calls herself Aphrodite, they will be placed in the same place at the same time, nine years before when they met. They risk everything for the chance to fall in love a second time, but will others get in the way?

Query letter to “Missouri Life” magazine

Paul and Eleanor

My paternal grandparents, Paul and Eleanor Booker

Dear Editors,

“Poplar Bluff” is a memoir of the fondest kinds of memoriesthose from childhood. It is a juicy slice of small-town American life, which includes a history of P.B., peppered with anecdotes and salted with sweet remembrances.

For several years, I spent all my summers with my grandparents in P.B., with my aunt, uncle, and cousins next door. I didn’t have that kind of luxury or history in Pensacola, Florida—the luxury of having family close by and a shared history in the place where I lived.

“Poplar Bluff” is also a coming-of-age essay, where the memories are as golden as the tones in a vintage photograph, and the present is as stark as Technicolor. It is also a love story of loss and moving on from loss. 

Poplar Bluff, as I remember it, is representative of a simpler timebefore Facebook and cell phones and other devices monopolized our hours, when kids played outside and entertained themselves.

It is a story of the wonders of summer through the eyes of a child.

My parents were into genealogy during those seasons of my life, and so I have them to thank for some of the more factual content, but the parts I believe will resonate most is the story only I can tell.

I believe anyone who has ever called Missouri homeand those who have chosen it as their homewill find something worth remembering in “Poplar Bluff: A Memoir.”

About me: I am married and the mother of a five-month-old baby girl. In addition to being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I am the unofficial family storyteller. I regularly blog on issues of freelance writing, marriage, and motherhood. My current project is a collection of children’s nursery rhymes, unofficially titled, The Treasury of the Sara Madre. I am also a member of the local writer’s group, WriteOn! Pensacola.

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warmest regards,
Sarah Lea Richards