Managing the busy times

I’ve been pretty busy lately. Woo hoo! That’s something to celebrate – when you’re freelance, work coming in is most definitely a Good Thing because it means you can do exciting things like Buy Food and Pay Bills. (I don’t know why I felt the need for Pooh Caps there; just roll with it.)

But actually, when I say “pretty” busy, I mean Jesus-Christ-when-am-I-actually-going to-next-have-time-to-draw-breath busy. (Turns out the answer to that is now, hence why I’m finally getting back to my poor neglected blog.) Various circumstances conspired to give me the most ridiculously packed April and May I’ve ever had, and I have been exhausted. But in this last week or two, the number of projects on my desk has come down to a manageable level, and I’ve been able to take some time off to enjoy the sunshine with my family, and I think I feel… what’s that word again? Oh, right – happy.

We talk a lot about self-care in this day and age, but the truth is it’s much easier to talk about than actually achieve. I think we all know, on an intellectual level, that we tend to work better when we’re less stressed, and that we don’t owe all of our waking hours to work and boring life-admin, and that stopping and taking a breather every now and then is actually pretty vital. But sometimes when you’re stuck on the treadmill of work, work and more work, even the thought of stepping off it takes more mental energy than you can actually spare. And for me, even when I do take time off, I tend to spend a chunk of it feeling guilty, which just ruins it. Sometimes it’s just easier all round to live with the stress and power through.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. But now I’m out the other side, and some non-work things have resolved themselves and taken some mental weight off, and the weather has finally brightened up, and I really want to hold on to this lovely feeling of having a sensible amount of work and not all that many things to worry about (relatively speaking – I am a freelancing mother of two living in covid times, after all). If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experiences over the last five years of freelancing, it’s that you have to learn from your experiences. Busy and complicated periods will come again, I’m sure, and while I’m not averse to that, I think I’d quite like it if they could be marginally less horrible than this recent bout was. So these are the lessons I’m going to take from it.

Boundaries are good.

Part of the reason my schedule went bananas recently is because I was doing my best to be accommodating of clients who have struggled to deliver their manuscripts on time. I don’t particularly regret that in principle – these times have been rough on everyone, so kindness is important – but I think there are things I could have done, and things I could have refused to do, that would have protected my time and energy a little better. Being flexible is a good thing, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of things that matter to me and my family. I understand better than ever now that there needs to be a limit to my flexibility, so I’m going to try to be much better in future about putting those boundaries in place.

Looming decisions sap your energy.

And the bigger those decisions are, the more energy they sap. When work hits, it’s easy to think you don’t have time to think about other things that are going on in your life, but the truth is you don’t ever totally let go of them, or at least I don’t. They sit there somewhere in the corner of my brain, demanding attention that I tell myself I can’t give them. Once the decision is made, it removes that stress over not yet having made the decision, which in turn can make you more productive, so it’s worth setting a small amount of time aside to address those things. Consider your options, make a decision, and then it’s done. We bought a car last week, and I can honestly say I’ve spent more time deliberating over leggings. But taking a few hours to talk over the various options and just bloody pick one means that I’m no longer worrying about what we should get and what we can afford or whether we should just stick with our old one until it blows up. My brain is freer, and that’s a wonderful thing.

You can’t always think long-term.

I’m the kind of person who likes to fully think through the ramifications of the things I do. This isn’t necessarily a bad trait, but it does mean that sometimes making decisions is hard (see above). And it does mean that I often make decisions based on what I think will be better in the long-term than the short, which isn’t always ideal. I’ll squeeze in a client when I know I am already at capacity, for example, because I don’t want to lose them, or I’ll say yes to an opportunity that might be great for marketing, even though I don’t really have time and I might not be particularly hurting for clients right now. I was so busy recently that I really had no choice but to say no to those opportunities, or to only choose the opportunity that took up the least amount of time, even if it wasn’t the strongest choice strategically. I had to subcontract some work out, and refer a couple of regular and potential clients elsewhere. And the sky didn’t fall in. Maybe some of those decisions weren’t the best for the future, but I’ll just have to worry about that in the future, when I’ll hopefully have the time and space to properly think about solutions. Sometimes you’ve just got to put the quick fix in place to give yourself room to breathe.

Respect your own work time, or no one else will.

Say it with me, freelancers – just because we can be flexible in theory, doesn’t mean we have to be so ALL THE TIME. If, like me, you are a parent who lives with someone in fixed employment, you’ll know what it’s like. It gets taken for granted, by the whole family, that you’ll be the one to drop everything to take care of anything that crops up. Appointments, errands, homeschooling a child when their bubble bursts and they’re sent back into self-isolation – all you. But we have work to do too, and often our stakes are higher – my husband isn’t going to get instantly sacked if he has to leave work a bit early one day, because there are disciplinary and performance management procedures his boss has to stick to. But if I miss a deadline, one of my regular clients could drop me forever, and, worst-case scenario, refuse to pay me and maybe even sue me for breach of contract. I’ve always enjoyed that my work gives me the flexibility to be there for my kids when I need to be, but there have been times over the last couple of months where I have had to put my foot down and say “No, my work has to come first this time.” We’ve had to work together to figure out solutions that are fair, instead of just assuming I will make the time, and I think that’s been much healthier for all of us.

Freelance life inevitably involves ebbs and flows, so learning how to manage those is a crucial part of running a business. It’s important to take care of ourselves, and that in itself is a good business decision – we can’t give our best to our work and our clients if we’re running on empty. Now, let’s see if I remember all this wisdom the next time all my deadlines look like they’re about to converge…

Conscious Language

Do you ever get that thing, maybe when you’re drifting off to sleep and your mind starts to feel quite loose and free, where suddenly the meaning of a word or phrase will hit you and suddenly become crystal-clear? (Of course, sometimes you wake up the next morning and think WTF?) I had one of those moments the other night about the phrase “conscious language”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about conscious language this week, for messy and complicated reasons I know some in the online editing community understand. But I think I had been a little guilty of treating the phrase as a buzzword, just another catch-all phrase to describe words and phrases that don’t offend marginalized people. That lightbulb moment made me stop and think about what that little word “conscious” really meant.

A few hours prior to that, someone had, quite graciously, called me out online for using a metaphor they considered problematic. I apologized, changed the word in question, and said that “I didn’t think.” And there’s the rub, isn’t it? I did not think.

We don’t, really, always think that hard about the words that fall out of us when we speak or communicate casually. We use the idioms and figures of speech that we’ve grown up with, safe in the knowledge that the people around us are likely to know what we mean.

But what happens if we do stop and think about those words and phrases? Well, when we do that, we can often find that many of them are rooted in assumptions and associations about people, about places, about human bodies. And some of those associations reflect and reinforce real prejudices that harm real people in the world today.

Perhaps this, then, is what conscious language really is – stopping and thinking, examining and unpacking all of those assumptions behind our words, and considering the harm they might do.

Sounds fucking exhausting, right? You’re not wrong. It is exhausting. It’s hard and it’s confusing and it’s really, really, bloody uncomfortable, especially for people who have never had to think about this kind of thing before. But we need to do it, and we the people who claim to be language professionals need to do it perhaps more than most, because of that real-world harm I mentioned. Language is powerful, and editors have a role in shaping that language and therefore that power.

So maybe you decide that you’re going to start being more conscious with the language you use. That’s brilliant. But I’ll tell you something right now – you’re going to fuck up. We all do, all the time, because we’re human. I’ve probably fucked up somewhere in this post. It would be lovely if, when we fucked up, there would be people there to kindly and gently point out to us that we’ve fucked up. Often there are. But often, the only people who notice that we’ve fucked up are the people who are being hurt by our words and the ideas that they reinforce. And those people might be really bloody tired of pointing out when other people fuck up. They really wish people would just stop fucking up. So those people might be angry and frustrated, for very good reasons, and that doesn’t always breed kindness.

We could bristle at that. It’s easy to do. After all, you’re a good person. You would never want to hurt anyone. Can’t they see that? Why are they attacking you like this? It’s a horrible feeling, when you feel as though someone is having a go at you over something you believed was innocent. But I think it’s really important that we try to separate that feeling from the point being made. Did the person questioning you actually say that you, personally, were a bad person? Or were they pointing something out about the words that you used? If we would like people to be more charitable in their interpretations of our words, perhaps we need to make sure we are extending the same courtesy to them.

Perhaps you do consider what the other person is telling you, but you disagree. It happens. People disagree on all kinds of things all the time. Perhaps you don’t believe that the words you used were problematic in any way. I think it’s important to consider why you think that. If this word could hurt people, would it be you that it hurt? Privilege is like a suit of armour, keeping you safe from the sword that language can become. What business has the person in armour to tell the naked person that the sword isn’t sharp?

Or perhaps you do agree with what you’re being told, and you add that particular word to your “Offensive – do not use” list. That’s a good start, but to me that’s not what “conscious” language is about. Even if we were in the Matrix and could download the knowledge of which words were ok to use and which weren’t straight into our brains, it would become out of date almost immediately as the conversation moves on. And then we’d have to keep plugging ourselves back in and that would increase our exposure to Agents and I think this analogy might have got away from me a bit.

Far better, then, to remind ourselves to think more carefully and deeply about the words we’re using. This is easier in some contexts that others. When I speak, there is not much time between the thought emerging in my head and the words coming out of my mouth. When I am writing something like this, I’m doing it over several days, and the words are mine and mine alone. When I’m editing fiction, I’m being paid to respect the author’s creativity and expression, while also serving the reader, which includes protecting them from harm. There are choices to be made. They’re not always simple, and we won’t always make the least harmful ones. But I believe that if we all try, in whatever tiny ways we can, we can make the world a kinder, more respectful, safer place for people who have not always been able to take that for granted.

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

2020–2021. What a shitshow, eh?

One year ago today, I posted that I was taking a break from blogging. I didn’t envisage then that (aside from a couple of posts to promote sweary things) it would last a whole year. Did any of us, back then, have any inkling of what we were facing?

Annoyingly, at the beginning of last year I really felt as though I was on a roll. I’ve just looked back at my blogging plan – yes, I had one of those– and I had posts laid out for the following couple of months, and a plan to keep creating more. I had a marketing strategy for the entire year. There was going to be a rebrand and everything.

Alas, it was all not to be. Three months into the year, our lives were turned upside down, and many of us had no choice but to go into survival mode. I’ve spent much of the last twelve months either frantically trying to juggle editing work with homeschooling my children, or juggle homeschooling my children with panicking because my editing work had dried up. Income targets, marketing strategies, training plans – all have been jettisoned in favour of just getting through each bloody day.

My children have finally gone back to school (fingers crossed they stay there), and my brain is now doing its best to get back into proper work mode. But I’m exhausted. It doesn’t take much to make me lose my momentum at the best of times, and these have categorically not been the best of times. I no longer know how to assess where I need to be and what I need to be doing, and this is a vital part of running a business.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of this blog post is. I’m not sure if I even have one, or any wise words of advice for anyone who’s been going through the same thing. Maybe this is all self-indulgent twaddle. But as I write this, it occurs to me that even if it is, at least it’s something. It is a step back towards the things that matter to me and my business, and maybe, for now, that’s enough.

We are at the start of the road (hopefully; please, please let this be true) back to something like normal. It’s probably a long road, littered with deep, muddy holes that our tired feet might get stuck in now and then. We can’t be expected to sprint joyfully down it, all the way to the end. (Some of us have had far too many lockdown takeaways for that kind of thing.)

One thing that’s really helped me through this last year has been seeing all the kindness and grace people have extended to others as they battle with the circumstances they find themselves in. As we look forward to better days, let’s make sure we show some of that kindness towards ourselves.

A Very Sweary Dictionary – Out Now!

Hello there!

Do you like swear words? Or do you hate swear words, because you have to edit them and you’re never quite sure what to do with them?

If either of those things are true, then you might want to buy the little book I’ve written. It’s called A VERY SWEARY DICTIONARY, and it’s a dictionary that’s very sweary. Or more accurately, it’s a style guide of swearing.

You see, some of my clients like to swear. A lot. And because my job as their editor is to ensure correctness and consistency in all their words, even the rude ones, I fairly quickly established my own set of rules for how to style things like “rat-arsed” and “batshit”. Then, because I spend far too much time on social media, I developed a reputation in online editorial circles for being a good person to go to when it comes to all things sweary. One fellow editor even dubbed me the Empress of Sweary, which I would quite like on my tombstone.

And so, I’ve written a book. It’s a very small book – it fits handily in your pocket, should you need to carry a pocketful of profanity with you everywhere you go. It outlines my style choices for the most commonly found compound swears and other terms for which such decisions might need to be made, and also looks at the general principles behind those choices, so that when your client decides to call someone, say, a “tiny-bollocked arsebiscuit”, you can feel confident you know what to do with that.

I hope you enjoy it.

Available in paperback from:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA

(among other global Amazon sites)

Barnes and Noble (US)

Waterstones (UK)

Or you may be able to order it through your local independent bookseller.

And in ebook on the Zon.

How The Fuck Do I Style This? – The Game

Anyone who attended my SfEP conference session in 2018 will remember that we finished off by playing a little game that combined my two favourite things: swearing and word-nerdery. Now, in these troubled times, I am making it available to the wider world, to find out whether it’s at all entertaining when you haven’t spent the whole day learning and networking and looking forward to the next drinks reception.

I think of it as a little like Cards Against Humanity for people who like hyphens. It descends into wrongness nearly as often as Cards Against Humanity does, so please don’t play it if you’ve never forgiven your mate for that time they played that Jimmy Savile card at the perfect/worst moment.

I obviously wrote this for an occasion when people were allowed to be in the same room as other people, and that’s not where we are at the moment (the moment, in case you’re reading this from the future, being the Covid-19 pandemic), so unless you’re fortunate enough to live with people who would enjoy this kind of thing, you might have to get a little creative in order to play it over Zoom or on social media or however you’re connecting with people right now.

Click on the link below for the rules and game pieces. You will need old-school tech such as a printer and some scissors.

How The Fuck Do I Style This – The Game

I hope it brings you a moment or two of joy, or at least mild amusement. Let me know how you get on with it in the comments, or on Twitter @kiathomasedits

 

Working with a coach 2: Time blocking

When I first started working with my coach, what I really needed was someone to kick my arse. Accountability has been something I’ve really struggled with since I left my old job. I’d always worked for an organisation and always had a boss. And even though I always had bosses who very much trusted me to manage my own time, just knowing there was someone who would notice and care was enough to make sure all my shit got done, even the boring bits. Of course now I have my clients, and I daresay they’d notice if my work wasn’t done. Because I know they’re waiting, their stuff does indeed get done, without fail. But all the rest of the things involved in owning a business… well, they can easily fall further and further down the priority list, which obviously isn’t ideal. If you don’t do all that admin and marketing and other non-client-facing stuff, your business will eventually suffer, or at least stagnate. I also had a suspicion that I even though I was getting the editing done, I could probably get even more done, and therefore earn more, if I could just stop wasting so much time, mainly on social media.

Gina introduced me to a concept that has genuinely revolutionised my life. It’s called time blocking, and it’s pretty simple. You organise your day into chunks of time, and assign a task to each chunk. You also schedule in breaks where you will do something else, away from your desk. Crucially, you do this in advance, at the start of the week or each evening for the next day, so you never have to waste time dithering about what it is you’re supposed to be doing. As I am a consummate ditherer, this sounded perfect.

For accountability, I would send my time blocking to my coach, and she’d check in to make sure I was staying on track.

Here’s what a typical day of time blocking might look like for me:

  • 09:00–09:45    Edit 2000 words of current manuscript
  • 09:45-10:00     Strip beds and put wash on
  • 10:00-10:45     Edit 2k
  • 10:45-11:00     Put the girls’ clean clothes away
  • 11:00–11:45    Edit 2k
  • 11:45–12:30    Empty dishwasher and have lunch
  • 12:30–13:15    Draft new blog post
  • 13:15–13:30    Put the sheets on to dry
  • 13:30–14:15    Edit 2k
  • 14:15-14:30     Sort hair out (because I probably haven’t done anything with it yet)
  • 14:30–15:15    Social media
  • 15:15               School run

As you can see, I schedule EVERYTHING. I get little bits of housework done around my work. I have dedicated social media time. I make sure to include marketing and admin tasks as well as my editing work. I remind myself to brush my hair. This way of working brought me a startling revelation: if you put aside time to do things, things get done. Who knew?

Time blocking has many advantages:

  • It forces me to plan my day effectively to make sure I can fit everything in.
  • It takes away the time and mental effort wasted on deciding what to do next – if you’ve done it the night before, the decision is already made.
  • It’s forced me to think about how I work and how to get the better of myself – if I know I’m likely to put a task off in favour of editing, I schedule it in my first block of the day so I can’t use the excuse of running out of time or energy.
  • It’s helped me (somewhat) to use my social media time in a targeted, focused way (I’ll be honest – there’s still a fair amount of slippage in this area.)
  • I can work with my natural dips in concentration to get the most out of my editing time – after about 45 minutes of editing, my brain always starts to wander, so I might as well take advantage of that.

Like any system, it’s not perfect. Time blocking does have its disadvantages too:

  • Disruption can throw you into a tailspin, whether that’s a minor one like a knock at the door or a huge one like having to pick up a vomiting child from school. It’s easy to get stressed out if you fall behind, and the temptation to say “Oh, fuck it all” and drift Twitter-wards when your blocking has gone to shit can be strong.
  • It can take time to figure out the right chunks for you. And then when you think you’ve figured it out, you get a piece of work that’s completely different and you need to reassess it all again.

It’s important to find a balance and a rhythm that works for you. And it’s important to recognise that it’s not always going to work – some days you just need to be more flexible. Another important thing Gina made me realise is that some days will just go badly, and that’s OK. It’s not necessarily my fault, or the fault of the time blocking system; it’s just life, and you can try again tomorrow.

Time blocking changed my days almost immediately. Even now I’m no longer working with Gina so no one sees my blocking but me, having it written down in front of me helps keep me accountable to myself. This change happened right at the start of my coaching journey, so it became clear that maybe accountability and efficiency was really only a tiny part of what I needed help with. Perhaps there were bigger fish to fry. But that’s a story for another day.

Working with a coach: part 1

As I’ve mentioned before, in the second half of last year I worked with a business coach. I always intended to write a blog post about what I learned from that experience, but it turns out I learned a WHOLE LOAD, far too much for one post. So it’s going to be a little series of posts instead, if that’s OK. Or even if it’s not. It’s my blog.

Anyway, my coach. I found her via a local women’s business network I belong to on Facebook. Initially I was looking for someone to help me to, basically, stop wasting time. I found I was always getting my client work done, but all the other stuff in my business, and in my life, kept getting pushed aside. I needed a taskmaster, so that’s initially what I asked the group for. The lovely Gina Trick replied to my post, and even though she was in the process of changing her business focus to helping child-free women entrepreneurs achieve more freedom, she must have taken pity on my child-encumbered self and agreed to work with me (side note: a reminder that having a niche doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to all other opportunities altogether).

It was really hard to take that initial step and start working with Gina. It’s a difficult thing for people like me (a typical Virgo) to admit they need someone else’s help to do things better, and another difficult thing for people like me (a typical skinflint) to spend large amounts of money on it.

I agonised over the money for ages. I had been planning to spend it on a new computer, a much more tangible benefit. I knew a new, faster computer would save me valuable time each day (by all means, Word, take five minutes to load one file). But what if a coach could help me save even more time than that? In the end, I figured that learning new ways of working and focusing was likely to be a good investment, so I took the plunge.

I was right, thank God. With Gina’s help, I found ways of taking control of my working day and becoming more productive. And I learned a lot more than that too – I learned the value of thinking strategically about what activities I invest my time and energy in. I learned to look at how far I’ve come and be proud of that, instead of despairing at how far I’ve got to go. I learned how to have more confidence in myself and what I have to offer. I learned to plan for the things I want instead of just vaguely hoping they will happen. (I’ll talk more about all these things in future posts.) So while I can’t put a specific number to the return I’ve made on my investment, I feel pretty confident in saying it’s been a good one.

I still need a new computer though.

 

Freelance parenting

I get/have to spend all of this week with my children. At the moment, I’m at the first option, because they’re being pretty cool. By the end of the week, when we’re all bored of each other’s company, it will lean more toward the latter, I’m sure. I’ve managed to organise my workload so I can take pretty much the whole week off (I’m shipping them off to my parents’ house tomorrow so I can get some admin things done), and hopefully we’re going to have lots of fun. (And I mean actual fun, not the usual me-sitting-on-the-couch-on-Twitter-while-they-play-Minecraft fun.)

One of the most challenging things about being a parent (I’m being careful not to say “mum” here, because I don’t want to be sexist and exclusive, but let’s face it, most of this still falls to mums) is working around school, or the lack of it. I thought childcare was a problem when they were smaller, but now I look back with ridiculous fondness on the days I could just chuck them in nursery at 8.30 and leave them there until 6. Now, not only are there the shorter school hours to contend with, there are school assemblies, meetings, “Mam, I forgot my guitar! Can you bring it in?” phone calls, and of course, the are-they-aren’t-they-ill-enough-to-stay-off-school days.

When you work outside the home, some of these decisions are, to a certain extent, taken out of your hands. My children would often claim illness on a day when I had important meetings, so I would tell them they had to try school and that I would pick them up if I had to. I invariably felt a huge amount of guilt over this (although the fact that I rarely had to then actually go and get them helped) but it had to be done. Sometimes school meetings and assemblies had to be missed, and if one of them left something at home, tough. When you work at home, you can, in theory, take care of all these situations, and because you can, you feel like you should, and so you do. And then you often end up frazzled from trying to DO ALL THE THINGS.

When I started writing the first draft of this post, I was at the end of a week that seemed to be determined to prove how tough life as a work-at-home mum could be. There was a meeting about SATs for my Y6 child, which I felt I should go to, even though I don’t really care about the SATs or how well she does in them at all (in an anti-pointless-testing way, not in an unengaged-parent way, I hasten to add). My neighbours ordered about a billion parcels that I took in for them, so I kept having to get up to answer the door. (I swear the postman doesn’t even bother trying their houses anymore and just comes straight to me.) On the Thursday, my younger daughter threw up at school, so I had to go and collect her, then scrabble around for someone to collect the elder one so I didn’t have to drag the sick one back out again. Then, because of the 48-hour exclusion policy, I took the no-longer-sick-in-any-way younger one to my parents’ the next day in the hope of getting some work done. So of course school rang me at lunchtime to come and get the other one. And in amongst all of this, my work still needed to be done. There are no colleagues to pick up the slack when you’re freelance, just you and your creeping-ever-closer deadline.

But I’m hoping this week will show the other side of the freelance parenting coin (that’s being a parent who’s freelance, not offering freelance parenting services. That’s a business idea for another time). I don’t have to pay for any childcare while my children are off school. I have been able to negotiate my own deadlines and take this week off, and if anything comes up that I really have to deal with, I can do bits and pieces while they watch some thing about a ladybird superhero on Netflix or after they’re in bed.

I’m lucky I’ve been able to do that for these holidays. It doesn’t always work out that way. And when it doesn’t, as I’ve mentioned before, I get guilt. I’ve got pretty good at protecting my family time from work – out of necessity if nothing else. But I’m less good at protecting my work time from … I was about to say my family, but that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Ah, fuck it. I need to be better at protecting my work time from my family. Working outside the home puts a barrier around your work time. Sometimes things barge their way through it, but in general it stays intact. When you work at home, that barrier is mental, and it only exists if you put it there and refuse to apologise for it. So this week, I will not apologise for my day off from parenting. I might not have any paid work to do, but the admin of a business is never-ending, so tomorrow I will see my admin day as something necessary and valuable. I might even enjoy it. There’ll be spreadsheets, after all.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

Unusually serious post (with a rather unwieldy title) today; sorry about that. Joking and swearing will resume before long, I’m sure.

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: “Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?”

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received an another email straight away: “Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.” Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question “Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?” in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards “Always get payment first”, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards “Never pay first”, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.