30 June 2006

Stealing work

A few months ago, I joined an online network for women in business. A young mum on there was busy setting up a website for mums working from home. She works from home herself (unsurprisingly) and asked members for tips about getting the balance right. I responded with a lengthy post offering top 10 tips for homeworking. She mailed me to ask if she could use my post on her website. I agreed, even though it would be unpaid, because I wanted to help her out with some content, and I turned it into a full-blown article.

Earlier this afternoon, I was hunting around for said article on the net. I eventually found the website in question, only to discover the home page is currently inactive. However, a google search showed she had posted my article on another networking website (of which I am not a member). I was quite stunned, as I had offered her free content for her site, but had certainly not given her permission to post it elsewhere. At least I still have a byline on it.

I've e-mailed the website in question to complain and to try and find out how come they had published it. No one has bothered to ask me if it was ok to republish. If they had, I probably would have said yes. But I'm just very pissed off that people seem to think it's ok to just nick other people's hard work and post it anywhere they choose. I await a response with interest...

This is not the first time someone has just reproduced my work without permission. Last month, while tinkering with my MySpace profile, I found a MySpace member in California had "borrowed" an article on glam rock I wrote in late 2004 and posted it on her profile. A message to her ensured it was quickly removed under threat of legal action.

This has left a bad taste in my mouth, just when I was looking forward to an exciting weekend of partying and mayhem.


One of the downsides of being a freelance is that you have to do everything. And I mean everything. As well as doing the stuff I get paid to do - the editing, the writing, the proofreading - I have to type my own letters, do my own research, chase clients who are late paying me, do the accounts, answer the phone and reply to e-mails (plus deleting all the spam I get sent, which is really annoying and a waste of my time), do the filing and find new clients. I don't have anyone to do these tasks for me. Only on the days when the cleaner is here, do I have the luxury of being offered a cup of tea or coffee by someone else, without having to make it myself.

Possibly the worst of all the chores is the bookkeeping. I have an accountant, of course, who does my yearly accounts and files my tax return for me. But the day-to-day burden of keeping track of the money falls on my shoulders. I use Sage Instant Accounts to do this. It's a pain to learn it, but plain sailing once you've grasped the basics.

Today is Friday and it's also the end of the month.

Every Friday, without fail, I send out invoices for jobs I have completed for clients. Depending on how many separate jobs I have done in a week, this can take up to half an hour. After I've posted the bills, I open Sage IA and enter all the amounts due. I also use this time to enter expenditure. The whole process takes about an hour.

On the last day of the month (or the last working day), I do my monthly invoices, as I have several regular clients for whom I do basic copy-editing - these are all sole traders or small businesses who understand the importance of sending out letters that are in impeccable English, or producing published materials that are readable and error-free. It's not worth anyone's while to charge per job, as many of these are small projects that can take between 5 and 30 minutes. It's pointless billing someone several times a month for a fiver here and a tenner there, and the client having to write and post several small cheques in return. For these clients, I run a monthly Excel spreadsheet, in which I note every job, how long it took and the cost. And then, like today, I tot it all up and send one invoice, detailing all the work done. This saves a lot of hassle.

Much as I hate dealing with numbers (you'd never guess I used to be a financial editor for a major Dutch investment bank!), I actually quite enjoy doing the books. It's a time to switch off from the finer points of punctuation and wading through the thesaurus. It's an opportunity to see how much I'm earning (or spending), who still owes me money, and reconcile the bank account.

I've just finished this month's books, which means I can watch Andy Murray at Wimbledon this afternoon on Centre Court, free of guilt. The bills went in the post box two hours ago, my accounts are in good order and I have a cup of tea steaming next to me. Bliss...

29 June 2006

Go Murray!

I've been glued to the TV all evening. Poor beloved P had to eat dinner alone as I watched Andy Murray take on Julien Benneteau of France in round 2 at Wimbledon. Nail-biting stuff. Play was suspended at 8.50pm when Benneteau snatched the 3rd set from a Murray win and the light was fading.

Damn. That means I need to find time to watch the end of the match tomorrow afternoon, when I have a big editing job lined up. Nothing exciting - just cleaning up a university prospectus but it needs to be returned by Monday morning and I can't work over the weekend as things are planned (including watching more Wimbledon).

Phoning under false pretences

I'd just settled down to watch the start of Agassi's second-round match at Wimbledon when the phone rang. There was a Ms X at the other end of the line, saying that she'd been looking at my website and wondered if she could refer me to some of her clients. Ms X runs a virtual office service. I had no problem with that, but then came the real reason for her call.

Next, she offered to have my website search-engine optimised. As my website is about to rebuilt from scratch, with precisely that in mind, I wasn't interested. The graphic designer I work with is going to be doing the work and I have full confidence in his abilities. Besides, my website is really only a business card - most of my work comes in through word of mouth, so I'm not too bothered about being high up in Google's rankings. She was persistent, though.

Then she wanted to know if I'd be a reseller for her company newsletter! I thought, the flaming cheek! Why would I want to do that? Very politely, and through gritted teeth, I pointed out that I am extremely busy working as an editor and writer, and that I had neither the time nor the inclination to flog someone else's newsletter. My client list is private, anyway. I'm not interested in spamming them. I'm much more concerned with maintaining lasting client relationships.

Ms X finally got the message and asked once again if it would be ok to refer clients who need my services. Except it turned out she wants me to work under her banner! By now I was boiling with fury and I told her bluntly that I don't work for agencies, that I never have, I never will, and that I have a policy not to. Too many agencies are sloppy at passing on feedback and are late payers to boot. I know a number of freelance creatives who have tried agency work, only to get nothing but grief from the association. Besides, why work for an agency when you can work directly for a client? It cuts out the middleman, who is basically taking a very large cut for facilitating a transaction. I'm not short of work, anyway. I certainly don't need an agency to generate any for me.

I finally got rid of Ms X. I do not need people like her trying to tell me how to run my business, sell me things I don't need or want, and take a cut of my earnings.

I missed two games of the Agassi match while I was fending off Ms X.

Media in the north-west

I just came across an interesting website called ConnectMedia North West. Lots of local media links, including to our new regional paper, the North West Enquirer. I've become quite fond of the NWE, even though I don't buy it as often as I ought. It's rare to find a newspaper that offers a truly regional overview and sees the bigger picture. Our local paper, the dear old Chron, is pretty good for a city paper - it covers plenty of local news and has some interesting features - but it doesn't position itself within the region, so it has a kind of stand-alone aura about it. If you were a Martian landing on Earth and you found yourself in Chester, picking up the Chronicle would give you a very narrow view of what's going on around you.

No spec

Like many creative people, I refuse to work on spec, and I wholeheartedly endorse the No Spec campaign.

Working on spec involves working for free for someone on the basis that I "might" get offered paid work if the speculative work meets with their approval. They are saying: "I'll give you a project or assignment. Let's see what you can do with it. If I like it, I'll use it and pay you. If I don't, I won't. But if I do use it and pay you, there could be more work in the pipeline for you."

I don't work for free. I, like many, need to earn a living - I have bills to pay, a shoe habit to feed, pub rounds to buy when it's my turn... I believe the quality of my work speaks for itself. I have many satisfied clients to prove it.

Granted, novice journalists, copywriters and editors may well need to work on spec to get a foot in the door or a step on the ladder. When you are starting out, it may be the only way for many creatives to get that first, important break. But even beginners usually have some unpublished work they can show to a potential employer or client that demonstrates the talent they have.

Working on spec could be compared to walking into TopShop, "borrowing" a pair of combat trousers and telling the sales assistant; "If they fit well and my friends tell me I look good in them, and if I wear them to a club or pub and I get compliments, I'll come back and pay you for them. And I may buy a trendy t-shirt from you to match the combats. But if the combats turn out to be less than flattering, I'll return them, worn (so you can't resell them), and I'll never buy anything from TopShop again."

Now, how daft does that sound? You can't take stuff from a shop on the basis that if it fulfils your needs or dreams you'll cough up later, but only after a trial run. Tesco would go bust in a week if their shoppers took food on spec!

Potential clients who contact me often want to know what I've already done. I send them my CV, if requested, and point them to my website, where I have links to some of the work I have done for satisfied customers, such as web copy. Then they can decide for themselves if I can provide for their needs. At which point we can discuss various approaches to the job required, cost estimates, time frames and so on. If we agree to work together, I ask the client to sign a contract and I usually operate on a draft basis - that is, I will draft the copy, we'll discuss any changes they want to make and I'll finalise the copy. A job may go through several drafts before all parties are happy. But I get paid for all of my time and creative energy. What I won't do is draft anything for free to see if they like it. My time is worth more than a promise.

On spec is no go.

27 June 2006


The commissioning editor just e-mailed to say thanks for the MS of the book I promised not to mention again - she's really pleased with it. She congratulated me on a very professional and well-handled job.

Talking of e-mails, you can send them to me now...

The last word on hedge funds

I swear! This is the last time I'm going to mention this book.

I was pretty grouchy and tired when I blogged last night, and I needed a good moan. Actually, the book is pretty good. I've no idea when it will be published (autumn, at a guess) but for anyone interested in hedge funds or thinking of investing in them or even - dare I say - has already tied up large wads of cash in them, I'd say it will be an essential read. It's a fairly comprehensive investigation into the management of offshores, most of which seem to lack regulation and have a distinct lack of accountability to their investors. The author clearly knows their stuff and has created a template for how hedge funds ought to be conducting their business.

And now, of course, the prose is perfect, polished to perfection by yours truly.

I do a lot of financial editing. I used to work as a financial editor for a major European investment bank before I turned freelance.

I've now edited two books for this particular publisher, which specialises in financial books. I'm expecting another one shortly.

But not today, thank goodness.

Today will be spent putting the last touch to a trade-publication ad for a client, chasing a payment from another client and sending invoices.

And, if it ever stops raining, watching a bit of Wimbledon...

26 June 2006

Hedgemania but no Henman

I put in 10 hours today, finishing off the hedge funds book. I was thoroughly sick of it by the time I mailed the last file back to the commissioning editor.

Some of the problems I had to deal with:
- French punctuation everywhere;
- some completely garbled and unintelligible paragraphs;
- uneditable graphics files;
- a contents list that bore little similarity to the chapter titles, plus a list of illustrations that was somewhat different to where they had been inserted into the copy;
- a list of references that could best be described as sloppy.

I could go on, but you'd only get as bored as I was...

On the plus side, rain stopped play at Wimbledon so I didn't miss Henman's opening match.

On the downside, when I sat down after dinner with a glass of wine to catch up with the news, I logged in to the Guardian only to find this...

Bah! No getting away from bloody hedge funds...

At least I have a day off tomorrow.

24 June 2006

Work-free weekend?

I wish....

I downloaded my e-mails this morning to discover that a regular client of mine in the Netherlands had mailed me on 13 June to offer me some more editorial work (I'd completed a job for him that very day) but his e-mail took 11 days to reach me! I was gutted as this client is a prompt payer and pays the rate I asked for. So I missed out on at least one job, possibly two, when I had spare capacity to work for him on the 14th and 15th. And worse, he probably thought I'd ignored him, so I had to write an apologetic reply explaining that I hadn't been ignoring him at all but simply hadn't received his request on time.

Having despatched my apology, I logged into The Guardian website to catch up on the news. I had to laugh when I looked through the Work supplement. There, in glorious black and white was an article on hedge funds... you couldn't make it up, really!

There is no escape...

Still, I'm not planning to actually do any work. I want to be outside in the fresh air today, after being hunched over a keyboard all week. But I haven't actually decided what I want to. Possibly a leisurely walk through the local park to feed the tame squirrels with monkey nuts. A spot of gardening (my herbs need tending). Some creative cookery looms this evening - probably venison steaks with a red wine and mushroom sauce. And of course, we shall be sitting in front of the tv promptly at 7pm to watch Dr Who.

I'm trying not to think about Monday afternoon - I shall be struggling to complete the hedge funds book and am likely to miss Tim Henman's first-round match at Wimbledon. Bah!

23 June 2006

Still no end in sight

I am SICK of hedge funds! I've worked eight hours solid today and I still have masses to do. The commissioning editor finally e-mailed me today with the missing style guide for the references section. I have successfully contracted this out to a trainee editor (which will save me several hours). I explained to the commissioning editor that the work was going to take even longer than expected - she'll be lucky to receive it by Tuesday lunchtime, at this rate. I have still have 30-odd pages of MS to edit, plus all the outstanding graphs, tables and illustrations. And, of course, I'll need to check over the edited references when they come back to me, and go through all my flagged-up queries and prepare an author query sheet.

I think I'll be cracking open a bottle of Moet when I finally sign off this project.

I had masses of interruptions today - my e-mail inbox was overflowing, for starters. Like many people, when that little symbol flashes in my system tray, I have to go look at what's coming in. If I don't, the symbol distracts me and disturbs my concentration. And besides, I don't want to miss anything really important, like the arrival of a missing style guide.

E-mail arrived from my graphic designer - the first "final" draft of the ad is ready for our client. I had a look at the PDF, approved it and rang him back so he could send it to the client. We had a quick chat about this and that, then rang off so we could both get on with work.

A chavvy guy rang me to ask about my services. It turned out he was writing his autobiography and wanted me to edit it. I gently explained that he needed to find an agent in order to secure a publisher - it would be unethical of me to take up to £2,000 off him to edit his book when he has no publishing deal. And besides, the publisher normally bears the cost of editing and proofreading. I told him how to find an agent and hung up.

Someone else offered me a free book on feature writing, which I accepted. The proviso is I have to write a review of it for some publication or other. Unpaid, no doubt. No problem, I'm happy to do that. I just hope the book is good.

Now I'm sitting here nattering with my beloved P, sipping a chilled sherry and trying to unwind for the weekend.

I'm going to try very hard not to think about work over the weekend, as the onslaught will resume at 8am on Monday morning...

If only it were true...

According to this morning's news, today is supposed to be the happiest day of the year.

I suppose it would be if you didn't need to work (or had booked the day off), that your friends and family were equally time-rich and keen to go picnicking with you.

I expect that most people, like me, are just going to laugh when they read the news.

Let's see - it's grey outside with a top temperature forecast of 19C, with possible showers. I'm so up to my neck in work, I'll probably not have time for lunch (but I will try and grab a coffee break with the cleaner when she's here). I have back pain today ( a recurrent problem), and I only had 6 hours' sleep last night, so I'm feeling a tad grouchy. I'm unlikely to see any friends before tomorrow. And there's no EastEnders on tonight because of the sodding football.

Happiest day of the year? Don't make me laugh...

22 June 2006


Thank feck it's nearly Friday! I am worn out. I've had my head in hedge funds all day and it's not a pleasant place to be. I have learned far more than is polite or advisable about share equalisation methods, for one thing. Somehow, I managed to edit 50 pages in 8 hours - trust me, that was fast, given the quality of the text. I took lots of mini breaks to read e-mails as they came in and to surf my favourite business networking forum. I'm now about 2/3rds of the way through the text, so with any luck I'll be finished by the end of Monday. I had no reply yesterday to my e-mail to the commissioning editor - I rang her this morning, only to get her voicemail. Gah! I left her a lengthy message and urged her to call me back. Guess what? I've heard nowt... such is the editor's lot. I'll have to chase her again tomorrow, when I could be getting on with actually editing.

At 6pm, I downed tools (keyboard, mouse, dictionaries) when the beloved P came home. He poured aperitifs for us and we caught up on each other's news (mine being very dull). At 7pm, I slunk off to unwind with a dose of EastEnders. Then I grilled steaks and poured wine.

My other soap passion, of course, is The Archers. One of these days, I'll bore you all with my special interpretation of the World of Umbrage...

Now? It's nearly time to crash with a good book... (currently re-reading HP and the Goblet of Fire).

Hedging my bets

The book on hedge funds arrived late last Friday. I planned to start editing it on Monday but when Monday arrived, I found 101 other things to do that seemed infinitely more interesting. I think I got as far as editing about half the contents pages.

A flick through the 155 pages showed it needs a huge amount of work. In addition, there are 60-odd excel graphics to edit, another 10 or so graphics in Word and 22 pages of references. Far bigger than I had been led to expect.

I am way behind. I had hoped to finish it by the end of today, but I'll be lucky to finish it by the end of tomorrow. And I've decided to sub-contract the editing of the reference pages. Unfortunately, my style guide for the publisher contains no guidance on references and my e-mail requesting it has gone unanswered so far.

Sigh... that means a chaser phone call.

Hedge funds are not exactly riveting, either. And the whole book is badly written and badly structured. I'm finding this job very tedious and only getting through it by thinking about the big, fat cheque at the end.

Meanwhile, I seem to be flavour of the month with people who need my help. A removal specialist in London plucked my name off a freelance database and rang to ask for a quote to revamp his website, write a flyer and create an e-mail advertising shot. I know he's calling around (as indeed he should), but if he offers me this job I plan to sub-contract it to a colleague who is just starting out in copywriting and needs experience.

Someone else I know vaguely through a business networking forum asked for a quote to redo his website. I gave him a rough quote but have heard nothing back yet. This means he's unlikely to use me, but I don't see how I am going to squeeze it in anyway. Another person also contacted me through the same forum asking for a website revamp quote; he's still thinking about it.

I've learned that people often seem quite shocked when they discover how much it will cost for quality copywriting. They will happily spend a couple of grand paying someone to design a decent website then baulk at paying out a few hundred for serviceable, attractive copy to put on it.

I also pitched for a job turning conference speech transcripts into book form - the client likes my quote but I gather needs authorisation from higher up. To sweeten the deal, I offered to negotiate a discount for editing all 15 speeches, having given a fixed quote per speech. I'd like to do this job - having seen a sample speech, it will be an interesting challenge. Again, it's financial work, one of my specialisms.

And last night, a colleague I know in my local business community e-mailed me and my graphic designer as he has referred us both to one of his own clients. This person needs a website and copy and our mutual colleague thought of us first.

Quite a few potential jobs lined up, but I need them to translate into solid bookings. Some of them, anyway. I won't have the time to do all of them, unless some of them are prepared to wait a few weeks.

Right, time to crack on with hedge funds...

15 June 2006

Fried brains

Sadly, not a reference to one of Hannibal Lecter's more disgusting recipes.

I've had one of those days.

I was up and about bright and early this morning, and by 9.45am I had sifted through a fair bit of e-mail, surfed the net, done a couple of sudoku puzzles, drunk a pot of tea and sorted some paperwork on my desk. So I headed out the door for a meeting with my lovely graphic designer and our mutual client. He looked rather startled when I knocked on the door and walked into his office. Unsurprisingly, as our meeting is for 10.00am tomorrow... I had one of those "duh!" moments and scrambled around in my handbag for my diary. Sure enough, he was right. It's tomorrow. I stopped for a very quick chat then made a hasty and embarrassed exit, as he was expecting someone at 10.00. Just not me.

I can only put the absentmindedness down to my episode on Monday.

Reader, I have epilepsy. According to the law, it's a disability. But I don't see it as one. I was diagnosed in my mid-30s, some 9 years ago and it's never been a major problem for me. I was very well controlled on medication until just over 2 years ago, when a blow to my head retriggered my seizures. Now I get one or two a year. It's no big deal. The biggest disability is the loss of my driving licence. To be fair, I don't really need it, living where I do, but it would be nice to get it back one day. The trouble is, you have to be seizure-free for 12 months and I never quite make it before a seizure decides to strike again and I start counting the days again.

I had seen my neurologist last week and everything was fine. No seizures since last November and we were hoping I'd make it to my next consultation in December without any more episodes and be able to reapply to the DVLA. Fat chance. On Monday, after I'd written my application letter to bag the prize of editing Skin Two magazine, I had a small seizure.

I say small - it's all relative. This one only lasted a few seconds but knocked me out for the rest of the day. I got no work done and couldn't even take a shower until my beloved P came home. I was even knackered watching the tennis on the tv. And I gouged a lovely tramline in my face while writhing on the floor. I shouldn't complain. I've rarely had even a semi-serious injury. The worst was a cracked rib and a dose of concussion one time. Although I did nearly burn the house down that time as I'd just lit the gas cooker...

But I digress. I've been feeling out of whack all week as a result of those few seconds disruption to my brain's normal electrical activity. It's no surprise I mixed up the meeting. I'm not normally so disorganised.

Back home, I had to rethink my plans for the day. I decided to price up the complicated editorial job on offer. I quickly realised I needed to ask some questions so I fired off an e-mail to the person who is commissioning the work. While I was waiting for her to respond, I bit the bullet.

Yes, it was time to close my accounts for tax year 2005/2006. I've been putting it off for ages, but I had promised my accountant I would do it this month. And as the rest of June is likely to be taken up with editing financial books and watching Wimbledon, it really had to be today.

Five hours later, I was finished. I logged out of Sage with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I may have just fried my brains a little more. I'm a wordsmith, not a number-cruncher...

14 June 2006

I have an interview!

So there I was, sitting in front of my computer wondering when the publisher of Skin Two would ever get back to me, when all of a sudden an e-mail from him dropped into my inbox...

I nearly fell off my chair.

The e-mail suggested meeting up in London soon to discuss the vacancy. I started writing a reply - hmm, should I address him as "Dear" (as he had me)? Or should I strike a less formal note and say "Hi"? After all, this is not exactly a regular job interview. I settled on "Dear" and drafted some three or four sentences to open my response. Then I thought, "sod it, this is no time to faff around" and I picked up the phone.

We spent a pleasant half-hour discussing Skin Two - the publisher has a vision to change the magazine. As he put it, it's time to get away from pages and pages of pretty chicks in rubber and move back to the earlier days of sharp journalism that characterised the magazine. I used to buy Skin Two a lot, way back when. Then I stopped because I got bored of paying a lot of money just to see fancy pics of rubber-clad women. I'm not interested in women or rubber, particularly. In short, the magazine has lost its readership and its way. We were in agreement on that.

Aside from the change in direction, the publisher needs an editor who a) has a publishing and journalism background and b) knows something about the subject matter. I pass on both counts. There is one other possible candidate at present.

We arranged a meeting for 11 July. I'd love to go sooner but I've just taken on two books for editing and will simply not have time to go to London for the day before then. There is, apparently, no rush anyway.

So, my diary is cleared and I just have to buckle down to work for the next few weeks until it's time to get on the train...

13 June 2006

Risky business

It's clearly my lucky day for being offered commissions.

I'm halfway through preparing a quote to turn a bunch of speeches on financial matters into a book. I normally charge per hour but the commissioning editor wants a quote per article. There are around 15 manuscripts in total, which have all been transcribed, and I am tempted to offer a discount if she hires me to do them as a job lot. It's worth her while as she will get uniformity of house style if she employs only one person to do the job and from my end, I get more work and earn a reasonable fee.

A publisher that specialises in financial books of various kinds commissioned me at the start of the year to edit a book on investment banking and investing in China. It was an enjoyable project, if at times frustrating because of the level of the author's English. The author, as you might guess, was Chinese and although clearly fluent enough in spoken English to lecture on such matters in the US, was not so hot when it came to putting pen to paper. Actually, that job fell into my lap sideways - a man I know only online who is a member of my professional body (SfEP) originally took the job on, knowing a bit about finance. He quickly realised he was way out of his depth as he didn't have specialist knowledge of investment banking, which I do (I used to be a financial editor for an investment bank), so he passed the job on to me as a thank you for having given him some freelance work myself a couple of months earlier. I was also the only editor he knew who had the knowledge to do a proper job. I also managed to negotiate a better hourly fee than my poor colleague, because of my skill in this area. The publishing company was delighted and has now offered me two new books to edit! One is by a French author, the other by a German.

The French book arrives next week, which is going to be a tight squeeze as I have a few other jobs booked in. But I'm very keen to have the work from this particular company as they pay me very well, better than I would get from many publishers.

I'm still awaiting the last two chapters of the global development book. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever see the last of it! I'm also awaiting the chapters for the book on hypnotherapy case histories. And there is more copywriting work in the offing for my scientific client - a meeting looms on Thursday.

Somewhere, in the midst of all that, I await to hear from the magazine publisher about the editorship I want so much...

Whatever happens, I won't be short of work.

12 June 2006

Wow! That was fast!

I've already had an e-mail from the MD of the mag to which I just applied! It didn't say much beyond "thanks, I'll read your application and and get back to you asap" but I didn't expect to hear anything as rapidly as that.

And another client has just this minute called with another editorial assignment for me.

And the icing on the cake was watching Tim Henman trash Andre Agassi at Queen's this afternoon. (Yes, even freelances skive off once in a while. Just wait until Wimbledon starts - I don't expect to earn much that fortnight...)

Editorship applied for...

Purely by chance, while surfing the net at the weekend, I came across a dream job. Now being a freelance, working for an employer is not really part of the game plan. But this was too good an opportunity to miss - it's only part-time for a quarterly magazine so I could continue to freelance the rest of the time while devoting a few days per month to being editor of what is possibly the most prestigious publication in its field.

I have long had an interest in fetish matters and I have the journalistic experience to back me up. So, after discussing it with the beloved P at the weekend, this morning I wrote my application and e-mailed it, along with my CV, to the MD.

I await a response with interest.

I'm certain to be offered an interview - there cannot be many fully experienced journalists and editors who are also fetishists. I don't expect the competition to be extensive. The job was not, as far as I can tell, very widely advertised at all. I wonder how many people they will invite in for a chat? I know my CV is excellent and I have the contacts "in the field" to be able to commission good photographers and writers.

I'm on tenterhooks now, even though it may be a few weeks before I hear anything at all... I'll keep you all posted. In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for me.

10 June 2006

Pro bono goes unprofessional

In May, I blogged about some pro bono work I was doing. I'm not going to mention the name of the organisation but for me the events that unfolded were a salutary lesson in when to walk away.

Almost two years ago, this organisation (that I shall henceforth refer to as X) was in dire straits. It was bound by an unworkable constitution, its membership had fallen to an all-time low of just 12 members and only one committee member remained. This committee member co-opted three others and a decision was made to overhaul X completely with a new legal structure. As X's cause is something I care passionately about, I was quite flattered 18 months back to be asked to be a regional representative. I took on the role gladly - it was purely voluntary and I wasn't even a member as membership had been suspended by then while matters were sorted out.

I spent a lot of time and energy on X, including helping to draft a new constitution (which was never used) and doing various bits of copywriting, editorial work and giving advice on PR stuff.

Last month, I decided to step down as regional representative, for personal reasons. The committee asked me to stay on behind the scenes and continue to help with press and PR. In the committee's own words, they hadn't a clue and were reliant on my expertise. I agreed to do this.

Ahead of the relaunch of X with its new legal status, I drafted a press release and also a relaunch announcement which was to be disseminated across the internet to the community with which X works. A couple of drafts were prepared of the latter and I handed over the final version just before my holiday.

The announcement went public while I was abroad and I was deeply unhappy on my return to discover that an extra paragraph had been inserted into the copy. Had I been around, I would have vetoed a crucial half-sentence that, in my view, was misleading and potentially very damaging. But, of course, I was in Paris and unable to do anything.

It was too late - the damage was done. On one particular discussion forum, furious debate was raging, much of it based on this erroneous phrase that I had not condoned. The committee were handling the criticisms very badly. Getting hold of X's committee members was not easy. But eventually on Wednesday I made contact and made my unhappiness clear. I followed up the telephone conversation with an e-mail, to put my concerns in black and white. I wrote a lengthy piece of PR advice on how best to repair the damage to X's reputation.

One of the committee members rang me a couple of hours later to discuss my concerns and advice. We talked at length about strategy to make amends and I hung up, feeling more secure that the committee would handle things better. That feeling didn't last long. Within 12 hours, X had responded to an inflammatory piece of criticism with some very childish remarks - the equivalent of throwing toys out of the pram.

I was appalled. All of my advice had been completely ignored.

As this was the second time they had decided to forge ahead without checking in with me, I did the only thing I could do, and dissociated myself from X. I e-mailed them to explain why. My integrity as a professional wordsmith was on the line, as well as my reputation within the community X claims to represent.

Yesterday I felt sad and angry. Today, I feel more sanguine about the whole experience. I have learned a lesson that doing pro bono work is only worthwhile if you know that the time and energy you put into it is going to be acknowledged and used. In this case, it wasn't.

09 June 2006

Heat generates brainwave

Phew! It's hot here today, but I don't mind - I've been pottering in my shady office with a fan running full blast.

Thankfully, because we were away last week, I've not had a huge amount of work booked in. The last two chapters of the book I loathe (the one on global development) have still not arrived - just as well, as my mind is still in Paris and I couldn't face several hundred pages of academic waffle. Monday I spent some time proofreading phase 1 of a website for which I wrote the copy. I've done several small-to-medium proofreading jobs scattered through the week for one of my favourite regular clients. Another regular client has been nominated for a business award then had a panic attack because she had to write an account of her start-up for the award committee - she's dyslexic so I proofread her stuff for her. That was a nice job as it involved a bit of rewriting as well - she has a great business so I was chuffed that she was nominated. And I've been doing a few pieces of substantive editing for a hypnotherapist - he's very sweet and I've heard from another hypnotherapist that I know that he's very good at what he does, but he can't write at all. He's writing a book of case histories, which I'm basically rewriting for him - this is a very interesting project.

My lovely graphic designer just rang to book me for another joint client meeting next week - more copywriting looms, this time for product info sheets and matching web pages, plus possibly some industry advertisements. My GD also mentioned that he wants to update his website and get me to do the copywriting. That's great because I've just asked him to rebuild my own website within the next month. I guess we'll be working for each other at a discount. While I had him on the phone, I ran my brainwave past him - seeing as we work together so much, I thought we could do a joint e-mail newsletter. It's all terribly vague at the moment but it could be a good joint marketing effort. It needs careful thought, so the GD suggested a pub meeting to go through my idea thoroughly. He's interested anyway.

I'm also busy pitching for a regular editorial gig with a company that is publishing talks and speeches made in the financial sector. As an ex-minutetaker and ex-financial editor, this is right up my street... fingers crossed.

It's not all been good this week - our cleaner's just handed in her notice. We have one month to find a new domestic goddess who will be willing to clean a very untidy and fag-strewn office, do the ironing and generally keep the rest of the house spick and span. I should point out that the messy, ash-ridden half of the workspace belongs to the beloved P - even though I smoke, I'm pretty tidy and organised. Still, I need a new cleaner who I can trust not to disrupt me when I'm working. Our current Mrs Mopp is very good at knowing when to knock and we have an arrangement for a 30-minute shut-down in my office so that she can get in to clean it. Training a new char is not something I look forward to.

Worse - the World Cup has started. I loathe football (and so does the beloved P, I'm good at picking blokes that don't like footy) and now I shall have to endure a month of disrupted schedules for EastEnders and trying to find something half-decent to watch on any channel on the rare occasions I fancy being a couch potato. Still, at least I won't be distracted from working.

Until Wimbledon starts...

05 June 2006

The online spat

As promised...

An online business forum I belong to was the scene of a spat I deliberately started about 10 days ago. Now, I don't usually go round picking fights on the net but in this case, it was a matter of defending the honour of my trade.

Someone started a thread which said (and I quote):
We are a group of creative writers with ample experience in the domains of Finance, Health, Culture, Telecommunications (Mobile), Broadband, VoIP and many more. If you are looking for professionally crafted key word rich Articles, Press Releases, Blogs, Forum postings & Web Content, trust us to provide you with the finest solutions that are delivered on time and are genuinely original.
Our rates are also very low: $3-$4 for a 300 word article."

It was quite clear from this post that the author was incapable of stringing a sentence together correctly so I pointed this out. I was also rather angry about the outrageously low rates being quoted - us professional wordsmiths charge upwards of £30 an hour for our skills. It takes probably an hour to write 300 words of good quality copy. Would I want to earn $3-4 dollars an hour for my hard work when the minimum wage in the UK is about £5.20? No way. I really hate seeing the market undercut by what are obviously cowboys.

Someone else posted saying they suspected the "writers" were based in India. A lot of editorial work gets farmed out there these days. The original poster (OP) responded that they were based in the UK and had a go at me for criticising his English. He (or possibly she) was fool enough to post 300 words sample copy of an "article" they had written on colonic irrigation.

Never one to ignore a challenge, I read it through and decided to edit it and post it back into the thread. In just a 5-minute skim-and-edit, I spotted at least 24 errors. None of these were spelling mistakes so I guess they had the nous to use the spell-checker. The errors I found were grammatical and punctuation errors. And very, very bad ones.

Needless to say, the OP never returned to defend their atrocious command of the language, but I was taken to task by someone else for sticking the knife in. This person said the OP was only offering to provide content and not to edit or proofread.


So I pointed out through gritted teeth that any business that thought spending $3 or $4 was a worthwhile investment was going to damage their company by being associated with such poorly crafted text. Thankfully, others thought the same and backed me up on this, even though they run businesses in fields that are unrelated to wordsmithery.

When I got home from Paris, I was disappointed to see the thread had died a death in my absence. Naturally, I couldn't resist resuming the debate.

I still feel enraged about it - undercutting the market to the point where prices are slashed so low that making a profit is totally impossible, not even creating a quality product as claimed, ripping off businesses by selling them what is basically shit copy. Grah!

{runs out to kick walls, rip heads off shoulders and destroy small villages}

Phew! That's better, I needed a good rant.

Oh yes... the message is basically that if you want to look professional, hire one.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

20 days...

Since I last posted! Gulp! I really hadn't meant to leave it so long but the bright side is that I was incredibly busy with work. And then I took a much-needed holiday with my beloved P.

In the week ending Friday 26 May, I planned my workload carefully so that I could keep the Friday clear for such trivialities as tidying my desk and sending out invoices. I had a huge list of "things to do" which I methodically worked my way through as the morning ticked by. Alas (but not really), my plans went awry (or arse up as it's known in the trade). I belong to a discussion list for journalists and have been posting stuff on it occasionally. In one post, I mentioned that a large chunk of my earnings comes from editorial work. A very nice Dutch guy on the list took it on himself to contact me that morning and offer me regular work. I was delighted, especially as I'm well used to editing English written by Dutch speakers. I was expecting some negotiation about fees and rates but was even more delighted that he agreed to pay me what I was asking for with no quibbles. He sent me an article immediately which I spent my Friday afternoon working on, and earned a useful sum. I also had an interesting spat on another forum, of which more later...

Finally, the list was cleared, I poured a glass of wine and contemplated packing my bags.

Next morning, we flew here. The weather was good so we did all the usual stuff - the Louvre, the Musee Carnavelet, the islands, the Basilica in St Denis (where I lived in the early 90s - St Denis, that is, not the basilica), the Conciergerie and the attached church of La Sainte Chapelle, which has the most exquisite stained glass windows ever, and the cemetery at Pere Lachaise. We ate the best ice cream in France at Berthillon and dined every night at a different restaurant. We ate amazingly well actually and drank lots of wine and absinthe, too. It felt like coming home - it was my first proper trip back to Paris since I left in spring 1995. Much has changed but much is still wonderfully the same. I also caught up with some old friends and, of course, we shopped for England, bringing home gourmet goodies to die for, including a rare bottle of violet syrup (with which to make kir royale with a difference!).

Now, it's time to knuckle down and start work again. A spot of proofreading first, for some web copy that's about to go live.