So You Want to Be a Freelance Editor

This is the title of an article in the Florida Writer (June 2017) by Mary Ann de Stefano, editor of The Florida Writer and the Monday Muse.  She is an independent editor with over thirty years experience in publishing and consulting.  She works one-on-one with writers who are developing books, organises workshops and designs authors’ websites.

She says: “From time to time, a writer who has decided it would be cool to be a full time editor will offer to take me out to lunch in order to ‘pick my brain’ or ask me a ‘quick question’ about the business.  I turn down such requests as kindly as I can.

“If there’s one thing you have to learn quickly to survive as a freelancer, it’s the value of your time and knowledge.  It worries me to see some of the starry-eyed attitudes that abound about  freelancing, so I want to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

“First and foremost, get real about the money.  I’ve had conversations with people who think they’ll work 40 hours a week, bill at a rate of $25/hour, and make a good income.  After all, 40 hours x $25/hour x 52 weeks in the year = $52,000/year.  Yippee!

“The reality is you’re not actually going to work 52 weeks of the year, and you’re not going to work 40 hours of every week, either.  You’re going to take vacations, holidays and personal time, sick time, and mental health days off.  In addition, not all your working hours will be billable to clients.   Some time must be devoted to marketing your business and taking care of administrative tasks like billing, record keeping, correspondence, etc.  The fact is, only about a third of your work time will be spent producing billable work.  Promoting your services and dealing with administrivia will eat up two-thirds of your time.

“As an independent, you’ll be responsible for expenses that were previously covered by your employer on your ‘regular’ job: medical and disability insurance, retirement savings, office supplies, computer, continuing education, membership fees, etc.  And you’ll incur new business-related expenses for a website and accounting services.  Some support tasks you’ll want to do yourself to save money, but that means more admin time for you, which is not billable.  Spend time or spend money?  Your decision.  While some of your new expenses will be tax-deductible, you still need to have enough cash flow to support them.

She asks other questions: “Think about how you can distinguish your business from others and plan what you will do to reach the prospects you want to serve.  How will you stand out in this crowded field?  What kind of editing do you want to do?  Fiction, nonfiction, academic/scientific, business?  Developmental, content, substantive, copy-editing?

“Do some serious reflection and decide whether you have what it takes to be a full-time, solo entrepreneur.   Go ahead and make the leap – but look before you do.”

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who was working in financial services in a well-paid job, but he was unhappy and consulting looked like just the thing – financially.  He had lots of contacts who would become clients.  But some of the same observations Ms de Stefano makes, above, applied to his case, as well.  He made the jump and while he may be happier in his work, it didn’t turn out as he expected, financially.

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