Saying No

I’ve just sent back a job, and I feel great. Normally I hate returning jobs, even if the job has been difficult, and I dither over it for at least an hour before finally hitting send. This is because once it’s gone back, I’ve lost my chance to catch anything I might have missed, to do a better job. If, like me, you have perfectionist tendencies, that moment of letting go is hard.

But today, it wasn’t hard at all. Partly this was because the manuscript was beautifully written, I know that a production manager will see it before my edit goes back to the publisher, and then there will be a proofreader to catch any lingering errors. But mostly it is because now I’ve sent it back, I have at least TWO WEEKS OFF to do some CPD and sort out the various bits of my life (seeing friends, cleaning, that kind of thing) that I’ve so badly neglected during my recent busy spell. I’m very excited about this.

I’ve ‘taken time off for CPD’ before. Although in truth it was more like ‘did some CPD while I panicked about the fact I’d had no paid work for weeks and there was none on the horizon’. This time it is a conscious choice. I have money put aside to pay the bills, and in order to protect this time, I even said no to a project.

Saying no wasn’t just about the time off, which I’m in desperate need of. There were other reasons – I didn’t think I was a particularly good fit for the project, and it looked as though it could get very intense and, after a fair few very intense projects recently, that’s not really right for me right now. So I apologised to the client and passed on the name of a colleague who might be able to help.

This felt like a bit of a milestone. I’ve had plenty of enquiries not come to anything, but that’s usually because the client has decided to go with someone else, or didn’t want to pay me enough, or our schedules didn’t work. And I’ve batted away many things at enquiry stage that I knew I didn’t have the right experience for. But this was the first time where I could have done the job, despite not being a perfect fit, and the author wanted me to do the job, but I said no.

Editors advise other editors all the time to not say yes to everything. Be brave, say no, hold out for the right project at the right rate, it’s not worth the time and the misery. And of course, we should all be brave enough to admit when the client might be better off with someone else.

But those things are easy to say. The truth is that when you’re new and still trying to establish your business, the temptation to say yes to everything is overwhelming. And that’s because you never know where that next enquiry is coming from, and you’re desperate for experience, and any job is better than no job, right?

There are enough people who will tell you that no, sometimes no job is not better than any job. But I’m not going to be one of them. Because I’m not in your shoes. I’m not the one paying your bills. I don’t have any right to say you shouldn’t take that job, because it is only very recently I have felt that I can say no to things. So that’s why it feels like such an achievement. I’m there now (at least at the moment. Watch me cry next time business dries up). If you’re not, don’t beat yourself up about it. It will come. Remember that most people giving that advice are giving it precisely because they’ve been where you are, putting in far too many hours for far too little money on a manuscript that needs far too much work. They want to help you avoid that, but sometimes, when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed, it feels unavoidable.

I know some people may disagree with this. There will probably be those who argue that this is encouraging editors to settle for less, and therefore allowing clients to exploit us. And there are people out there who have the confidence and the business skills to say no to the not-quite-right jobs from the start. But I wasn’t one of them. So I took on jobs for embarrassingly low rates. I embarked on projects with a learning curve so steep it took every ounce of energy I had to haul myself up it. And I learned from every single one. I learned more about myself and my abilities – what I was capable of, what I enjoyed, what I didn’t, what worked to get clients, even if they weren’t the best fit for me – and I applied those lessons to my business until I got to a place where I felt a bit more comfortable saying no. So there was value in those jobs, even if at the time they felt like little more than a way to keep the wolf from the door.

Goodness me, that went on a bit, didn’t it? Considering this is my first day off in a loooong time, maybe I should step away from the computer now. I’ve heard I have one of those ‘husband’ things, and some things called ‘children’ I could spend time with. If I can find them under the mountain of housework.

4 thoughts on “Saying No”

  1. Great post, Kia. I struggled with this for a long time, but now I feel more comfortable turning down a project if I don’t think it’s right for me. It’s so easy to feel like we have to grab every opportunity for work, in case something else doesn’t come along, but usually (at least in my experience) it does, and it’s usually a better fit. Like you say at the end, though, especially when you’re new to editing sometimes you do have to take projects that don’t pay an ideal rate, or that might be a bit of learning curve, to grow your experience. I worked for pitifully low amounts in the early days, but I used that as a stepping stone, and I’m so glad I did it. I wouldn’t have got a foot in the door with publishers otherwise.


  2. This is excellent, Kia. It’s so hard to say no when bills need paid, but it’s also important for physical and mental health to not take the jobs that will stress us unduly. Good for you for planning some time to yourself with your family and yes, the housework. “No” is a powerful word we don’t use nearly often enough. Enjoy your time!


  3. Good post. I have found that saying no has come with business development and also with the confidence that dry patches always fade away and turn into busier patches. What also helps me is having a range of colleagues on my Links page so I can say “no, but I can recommend these people” (if it’s not a project I have a bad feeling about and wouldn’t impose on another person, which is rare). I took on stuff for low rates and no rates in the early years, and I’ve taken on too much periodically, even recently, and finding the balance IS hard – talking about it IS good. Best of luck to you!


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