Transitions can be exciting but also terrifying! However, most of what terrifies us is not necessarily scary, just unknown.
Several months ago, I began the transition from being a full-time editorial project manager for a large corporation–a post I held for 18 long years–to becoming a self-employed editorial service provider. I had previously freelanced a little on the side, and over a year before, a past colleague recommended me to someone she knew who was looking for a proofreader for a small book on criminal law. I made enough corrections to that little book that I was recommended as a copy editor for another project, and my freelance workload and contacts slowly grew from there. I was lucky to have several contacts and a couple ongoing projects when I needed to transition to full-time freelance work. I was also lucky to have worked with many wonderful freelance copy editors, proofreaders, indexers, and authors over the years, so I could turn to them with questions about how to navigate self-employment. Here are some things I learned fairly quickly, written to remind myself:
- Do not make editorial estimates from scratch. Make banana bread from scratch–always–but you don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to editorial estimates. The editorial freelance rates posted at the Editorial Freelancers Association were/are/will always be invaluable: https://www.the-efa.org/rates/. There are other tools online, and turn to your freelancer friends for advice.
- Be ready to do some math. Most English majors happily leave math behind in high school or college, but there are numerous numbers to utilize when making estimates: pages an hour, words per hour, words per page, cents per word, rate per page. Luckily, I like math, but I still found myself in insecure waters. Different clients want different rates, whether it’s a bid for the entire job or a per page rate or an hourly rate. Once you determine your editing speed for the kind of work you’re doing, you can use standard rates to reach your desired hourly rate. For example, if you can edit 6 pages/hour, and you have 12,000 words to edit, at the standard of 250 words per page, you are editing 48 pages. Divided by 6, a reasonable time estimate for that job is 8 hours. If you want to make $40/hour, your bid should be $320. That’s also just over 2.5 cents/word. I will take various approaches to come up with a final estimate (looking at words, pages, kind of work, # of files, etc.). When I take only one approach, I am less happy with my bid.
- Ask for samples when estimating if the full job is not available. Each job is slightly different, and like people, some have greater needs than others. Content with many citations and long bibliographies takes longer. Content written by non-native English speakers takes longer. Tables are low on word count but can take more time to format and edit. These are obvious examples, but I had to learn to take these factors and others into account when presenting cost and time estimates for work. When I make a bid based on sample work only, I briefly note the logic for the bid and that it may need adjusting upon receiving the final project.
- Clarify style issues up front. On more than one job, I really wasted time by not clarifying style issues (that is, expectations) early on. Sometimes clients don’t offer a lot of guidance, so take the lead and let the client know of decisions you are making. And if a client wants a really wacky citation style, just go with it as long as it’s consistent. Be flexible.
- Be conservative when estimating your time. It’s very hard to edit 8 hours a day. At least for me. And if you’re a parent, it’s even harder. I began blocking out 5-6 hours a day for editing and estimating my time accordingly. And if you finish a job earlier than the established due date, give yourself a treat. Maybe some homemade banana bread. Also, I am realizing I need to build in time for surprises/disruptions, especially with longer jobs, even if the client wants the project sooner. It’s better to be honest than late…
- Trust yourself and your skill set but be ready to learn new skills and learn from your mistakes. This one is key for me because part of this foray into self-employment is an exercise in self-improvement: building on my current skills, being involved with a dynamic set of projects and goals, and gaining greater confidence in what I do. For instance, I took on editing a medical journal with no prior medical editing experience (although I did write for, edit, and project manage a general medical reference title several years ago). I was a humanities and social science editor, but I discovered that I enjoyed medical editing! In just a few months, and partly due to desperation, I’ve expanded my editorial portfolio in ways I would not have expected. Just from saying Yes, I’ll try that.
So far I love managing my own time, directly impacting clients, and having the opportunity to help authors fine-tune their research and writing. There is much more that I need to learn. I will continue to ask for feedback. I am going with the flow, making mistakes, adjusting my expectations (and estimates), learning, transitioning.
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