For several years I worked at a salaried job where I had the luxury of helping people without making them pay me money. As a freelancer, I have to ask people to pay me for my work. This is a double-edged sword in that I’ve discovered that the people who are willing to scrabble for the money also seem to be the ones most willing to do the work required to make progress in their writing.
I had a similar experience myself when I enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program. Suddenly, when working for people I respected and paying quite a lot of money for that privilege (albeit loan money – I still have to pay it back) I found myself willing to work harder than I had on my own.Thus in two years, I read 80 books and turned out hundreds of pages of fiction and critical essays on aspects of writing craft.
There is also, obviously, the fact that I’m my own boss to a certain extent. I decide when I work. Sort of. I work from home. No one notices if I’m reading or working on my own writing during ‘work hours.’ The reality of this is a bit more complicated, though. If I have work to do and I’m not doing it, I feel guilty. This prevents me from spending as much time on my own writing as I would like. It also prevents me from doing various other things that I really want to do. I covet any free time I have jealously and do what I most want to do, which is usually sleep. Yes, I often work until after midnight. Occasionally until 2 am. So when I can’t work any more, I take the wild liberty of going to bed.
The financial side is a bit troubling. So, let’s look at a hypothetical instead of my exact reality. A bit of reality based fiction for you. The reality is more clients, more work, more people actually paying on time. More money needed. But this will give you a good sense of what it’s like.
Editor needs, let’s say, $1000 a month minimum to pay student loans, electricity, water bills, health insurance, credit card bills. This doesn’t even include feeding or clothing or housing herself. This is the amount she must make to keep the debt dogs from claiming her first born child.
She has four weeks into which she must schedule and complete sufficient work to earn this amount. If she’s lucky, she will earn a bit more and she’ll actually be able to eat and/or go to the dentist or get a hair cut.
She carefully plans a schedule.
Client: Ted Phillips. Ted has a novel of 80,00 words. She agrees to do a round of copy edits on Ted’s book for $800. They agree that he’ll pay her $200 a week for the work. She can’t afford to do the work before being paid for it because if he doesn’t come through with the payments on time, she is doomed to not pay her bills this month. It will take her approximately 40 hours to do the work. She can only spend ten hours each week on his project. Ted pays her on week one. On week two he is late. She understands. On week three he doesn’t pay. Total this month from this client: $400.
Client: Candy Corn. Candy has a collection of erotic short stories. She agrees to pay $100 to have each one edited. In their initial discussions, she says she will be sending something every two weeks. She sends the first story and $100 and the editor edits and returns it. The second week, Candy sends an email saying that she’s traveling and she’ll send more when she gets back. It’s over a month before the editor receives another story and payment from her. Total this month from this client: $100.
Client: Sam Hyatt. Sam wants to mentor with the editor. He pays her between $65 and $110 dollars about once a week. He pays regularly when he has another chapter ready to be looked at. The editor knows he will be consistent with sending her work and paying her, but she doesn’t know how much he’ll be paying. Total from this client this month: $240.
Client: Brodie Burrows. Brodie has a deadline by which he needs to get his novel edited. He wants to submit it at a particular event. In order to get it done in time, the editor must prioritize it. She discovers partway through it that the second half of the book needs much more work than she was prepared for when she began the edit. Brodie has already paid her $500. That was last month. She needs to finish the edit before he will pay her the remaining chunk. The editor needs $300 more at a minimum. Finishing this edit seems the best way to do that. Total from this client this month: $300? (If she can finish the edit.)
Ted and Candy begin pressuring her about when she can get more of their stuff done. They’re not very forthcoming with the money. Ted decides to make a lot of changes to one of the chapters she’s already edited and now he expects the editor to re-edit that chapter. He doesn’t offer her any additional money, though.
Meanwhile a new client offers her more work, but she feels she can’t take on any more until she’s cleared some of the existing work off her desk.
At the same time, she must be planning her schedule for the next month and finding clients who will have writing ready to edit (and who can afford to pay her) because time without work is likely to lead to financial disaster.
Now this fiction is not fully accurate, but all of these things have definitely happened with clients of mine. It makes it necessary to overbook work because almost inevitably someone won’t come through when they said they would. Mostly I wrote this as a way to explain to people why I can’t always do their work immediately or why I have to be firm about prices. I develop relationships with my clients, friendships even. At some point, it becomes difficult to ask them to give me money. I’m invested in making their project as good as it can possibly be or in helping them become the best writers they can be. I do understand that it’s difficult to afford. I try to be sensitive to this. But the truth, as noted by my partner on his editing rates page, is that the landlord won’t bargain our rent down. We have to make a certain hourly wage and work a certain number of hours because we do this for a living.
If you work with any freelancer, try to bear this in mind. In one sense, it’s no different from going to a shop where they make copies for you. You try to see what deals they have maybe, but then you pay their price. Money is exchanged for goods and services. If you want more copies, you pay more money. In another way, you will potentially get much more out of your freelancer than you would in a shop. A talented artist or editor doesn’t just do their job. They give you access to their creativity, their work ethic, their experience, their education. In the case of an editor who teaches, you’ll take permanent lessons away with you.
I have to remind myself of that, as much as anyone else.
Now let’s go get ice cream.