31 August 2006
One was from a Pole wanting a thesis proofread over the weekend. I replied with some probing questions as I was unsure if I wanted to take it on. Needless to say, I've heard nothing back. That's the kind of client that annoys me more than any other bar late payers - the ones that contact you and ask if you can do xyz. You respond in detail and it vanishes into cyberspace. Forever. These things are a waste of my time but I can't ignore a request because it makes me look unprofessional if I do. An email saying thanks but no thanks takes only a minute to write and at least I know then if a job's not going to transpire. No one has any manners though, these days.
On top of that, I'm dealing with a family crisis, which is taking its toll on me - I managed just three hours' sleep last night and have been feeling wrecked all day. Probably just as well the MS isn't here - I'd have done a poor job on it.
Roll on bedtime...
29 August 2006
I must admit to relief, given that I was prepared to turn down a very large job on a principle. But I doubt any of the eds there will be trying to pull a stunt like that on me again.
I'm fed up with penny-pinching publishing companies run by accountants who expect skilled professionals to do a great job for peanuts. Editors and proofreaders make books readable and that costs money - if publishers want to sell quality products they can't expect to skimp on the nuts and bolts. Especially when they are paying the Wayne Rooneys half a million a pop to mumble a few words into a ghostwriter's tape recorder.
Rates are falling for journalists too.
If we want to earn what we are worth, we have to stand up for ourselves. I did, and it paid off.
(wanders off to open a bottle of Bolly)
It looks fab. I owe pints of Guinness as well as the bill.
What? You want to see it? I'm sure you can find it with a simple search on Google...
25 August 2006
What has angered me is the money issue. I specialise in substantive editing - that's more than just a standard cleaning up of spelling, grammar and punctuation because it usually involves a lot of rewriting. I also specialise in editing English written by non-native speakers. Again, that entails masses of rewriting - untangling bizarre metaphors, weird grammatical constructions and just generally making sense of what is often a mess. And I specialise in investment banking as a subject. I'm a rare breed in that respect - there are very few editors out there who have the knowledge to handle these kind of texts, as I'm frequently told by commissioning eds in search of someone who knows what they are doing.
My fees reflect these specialisms and are not excessive - they fall in line with the minimum recommended rates set by the NUJ and the SfEP for this kind of work. For the two previous books I worked on for this publisher, I agreed to work at a lower rate than I normally charge. When I was offered this latest job, I asked the commissioning ed to confirm I would be paid the same rate as before - today she said the company normally pays just £18 an hour for copy-editing and they had already paid me above that for the earlier jobs. Worse, she said that because of the current cost estimates for this particular project, it would not be feasible to pay me the same as before!
This is a company that charges at least £200 cover price for its books...
I emailed back, politely pointing out that they are paying for my three specialisms and I had already agreed to a lower rate than I normally charge. Expecting me to accept an even lower fee for an even bigger project than the last one is completely unacceptable. I could have pointed out that this company's upper freelance rate of £18 an hour is less even than the recommended minimum for bog-standard copy-editing but I refrained. But she is asking me to take a pay cut for a major job and I'm just not willing. I invited her to call me on Tuesday to discuss it.
I suspect I've just talked myself out of a job and that they'll end up hiring someone cheaper just to save a few quid, but they won't get anything like as good a job done, if they choose that option.
Grah! I'm totally pissed off. Sorry for saying it twice, but I'm totally pissed off. Ooops, that's three times... But I'm sure you can understand why.
Writing one's own copy is the worst job imaginable. Doing it for others is easy, but it's nigh on impossible to write objectively about yourself or your business. Last night, I seriously contemplated hiring another copywriter to do my home page. My beloved P was still home with a bad back today, so I got him to look over my draft as I'd really reached the stage where I just couldn't see what was wrong with it. I just knew it wasn't right. P was able to spot the problem almost immediately. I was so grateful I brewed him a cuppa then got on with writing the last paragraph. A few minutes adding some meta keywords to complete the list and all was ready.
Despite it being the last Friday of the month, I couldn't face doing the books. I'm now three weeks behind. Looks like the Bank Holiday will be occupied with paperwork...
24 August 2006
23 August 2006
While I was planning the trip, I arranged to meet another copywriter I've been talking to with a view to exchanging work overspill. That fell through at the last minute so I asked the head word boffin of Connect Media North West if he fancied meeting for coffee while I was in Manchester. We duly fixed a time and a place and managed spectacularly to fail to hook up, despite being less than 5 metres away from each other! Duh... that'll teach both of us not to swap moby numbers in advance. My beloved P was home sick today, so I was frantically ringing home to see if Mr CMNW had mailed me in my absence. He hadn't, so I finished my coffee and sudoku puzzle (free with the crappy daily someone had thoughtfully left on the train for me) after waiting a reasonable amount of time then I went for a walk round Manc Central before my lunch date with my nephew.
Aunty duties duly fulfilled, I caught the train back home to Wordsmith HQ. No thanks to the bastards who vandalised the train I should have caught, by bricking the windows, and forcing me to go the long way home via rural Cheshire...
Now frantically catching up on mountains of emails and the news. Have earned nowt today. The only beans that went anywhere near me were of the ground Java variety.
21 August 2006
Me and my partner are currently in the process of starting up our business offering a proof-reading service directly too students. We have our own web-site being developed and are finalising the last touches of our marketing campaign.
However we are still looking for experienced proof-readers who can provide a service and work on a free lance basis. Basically what will happen is we get an email off a student asking for a piece of their work to be proof-read. We then forward it on too the specialised proof-reader (possibly you) who reads the work and emails it back.
We would appreciate it if you could email me back too let me know if your interested in working for us on this freelance basis. We currently have 15 retired lecturers, professional proof-readers and phd students who have agreed too work for us and hope you will aswell?
If you agree i would also appreciate it if you could possibly proof-read a test piece of work we have developed to check if your upto standard. A cv and a bit about yourself would also be useful so we can develop a unique profile on our website for you.
We look foward too hearing from you!
What can one say? I sighed yet again. These idiots are taking the bread from the mouths of people with years of experience. People who have trained hard and slogged the slog. And these upstarts think they can just start up a business with no knowledge and have the cheek to ask skilled proofreaders to do the work for them while they take their cut. They can't even frigging spell their letter of solicitation.
A very grouchy Wordsmith...
18 August 2006
This has turned out to be a very good week for me, all things considered. Time to down tools and pour an aperitif...
Yesterday I received a questionnaire from the local Tories asking for my opinion on the Glass Slug. They are opposed to it, as are 98% of Chester residents. Including me. So I filled in the form, ticking the yes box in agreement that the proposed building is hideously ugly and that the council is ignoring people's feelings on the matter.
There was a space at the bottom for further comments, so I duly told them that my agreement with their views in no way constituted permission for them to canvass me at election time and that I'd never forgiven the Tories for what they did while last in government. Then I popped it in the reply-paid envelope and sent it back to them...
Sadly, I'm not big enough to be a company. I'm a sole trader working in half a room in the beloved P's property.
The application was good - well written and all that - but it would have been better if it hadn't been sent at all because the applicant had done her research properly.
Now I'm going to have compose an email to break the news gently...
17 August 2006
Our new cleaner has been here a month. She's pretty good, but no matter how often I tell her not to disturb me while I'm working she keeps popping her head round the door of my office to chat. It's driving me nuts. I was interrupted twice this morning for trivial reasons after I'd specifically said no interruptions for any reason except emergencies. I was deep into proofreading the polyamory book, which needed a lot of concentration. Especially as I was marking up corrections in PDF format, which I'm still getting used to - I've had Acrobat for a year or so, but don't use it very often for mark-ups so it's a learning curve.
I finally managed to convince the cleaner to wait until I took a break, but I can see I'm going to have to have a "little chat" with her tomorrow.
Anyway, the proofreading is done and has been returned already. I've caught up with The Archers again and now I need to start invoicing clients.
And some good news. My sister passed her Hebrew A Level this morning at B grade! It might not seem that important in the great scheme of things but those close to me and mine know what a massive achievement this is for her under extremely difficult circumstances. I am so proud of her.
16 August 2006
I've just been offered a job blogging for a tech company on web issues - it sounds great and I'm keen to do it, at least for a trial period if we can agree on terms and conditions.
I'm horribly behind again this week. I've been copywriting 20 pages for a new web design company - it was a great job to do because of the brief. It should have been signed off last week but the brief arrived well behind schedule and that meant I had to clear the decks of the other work I'd taken on before I could get stuck in. I handed over the first drafts this afternoon (later than intended as I couldn't work this morning for personal reasons) and my client is thrilled. There's a couple of tweaks to do, plus one more page to write up early next month and then it's complete.
My next assignment involves an urgent proofreading job for a small booklet on polyamory (the art of having several loving relationships on the go in an open manner, rather than cheating and having secret affairs). The author is an acquaintance and colleague, so I was delighted to be offered the work. I had a quick read earlier this evening and it looks fantastic. It deserves to sell widely and it will, it is hoped, open a debate on the issue of why monogamy does not always suit people. It'll be published very soon, so go and buy it.
After that, it's catch-up time yet again at Chateau Wordsmith - my list of outstanding jobs grows ever longer. I think I need a secretary as I'm starting to lose track, even with all my bits of paper and computer calendars to note all my commitments in. The trouble is, I'm too easily distracted and I've spent too much time this week playing card games on my PC when I should have been working. Maybe I should uninstall it...
My premium bonds did me proud again this month. Sadly not proud enough to retire, but it's enough to add to my footwear collection. So it's back to the tasklist to keep bringing the quids in...
13 August 2006
I have sorted through several mounds of assorted papers that were starting to obscure my desk. A fair-sized stack has been filed in the round cabinet. I've done a bit more of my web copy too - all the tags are written for each page. I have only the home page copy to do from scratch now - that's the one I'm putting off for as long as possible. I've even listened to the last three episodes of The Archers while restoring order to my normally unchaotic workspace. The only thing still outstanding is the books, but they can wait another few days.
I'm now enjoying the relative calm before the onslaught resumes tomorrow...
12 August 2006
I had a massive head crisis on Monday when my graphic designer rang to tell me that the draft designs for my new website were ready. In the interim I had tried contacting the publisher of the magazine of which I was supposed to be becoming the editor, to no avail. And the guy who runs Connect Media North West had suggested I start a commercial blog. And I'd also been considering putting a blog on my new site, which would bring the total to five as I already have three on the go. Luckily, the beloved P was at home so I went and talked the issues over with him - he made me realise that until I knew what was happening with the mag, there was no point deciding to start yet another blog. Or two. So I decided there will be no blog on the new website and the commercial one would go on hold. I arranged with my designer to see the designs on Wednesday.
I juggled a few copywriting jobs - I was behind schedule on two of them. The others I've been able to put back a few days. I'd also barely started writing the copy for my own site. I haven't done my books for a fortnight. And the paperwork is piling up on my desk for all kinds of things. I just felt like going out into the back garden and yelling "Aaaaaaargh!" in a very loud voice. Only the thought of having to explain myself to the cops prevented me from doing so.
A client who offered me work 6 weeks ago then never contacted me again rang out of the blue full of apologies. She wanted me to do an urgent job and I agreed. I expected it the next day but it never arrived and I got an email at the end of that day saying sorry, but I wasn't needed after all. But she wants to use me in future. Another company got in touch about writing a newsletter for them - a useful chat but she wants me to pitch. I will, but I'm sceptical as to whether it will lead to anything.
Anyway, Wednesday arrived and I went to look at the web designs. They are excellent. It gave me the kick I needed to get on with writing my copy and it's progressing well, although I'm dreading having to write the tags.
On Thursday, the mag publisher rang at last. Change of plan. The investment he was hoping to get for the magazine hasn't come through yet, so he's decided to edit the mag himself for just now. He suggested I become Contributing Editor in the meantime, as I can source lots of new writers and photographers plus generate feature ideas. We'll talk more about it next week, but it sounds like a good compromise until the money issue is resolved. At least I'm still in there - at first I thought the message was going to be "sorry but I've changed my mind and found someone else instead to do the editing".
That means I can now gives some serious consideration to the commercial blog idea. I have someone in mind who might be interested in being part of the team. A phone call and pub meet are required...
It's already the weekend and before Monday I simply must clear the papers off my desk and get some semblance of order back in my working life. I wish someone would invent a 50-hour day.
09 August 2006
A business colleague passed the link on as he thought, correctly, that I'd be amused. I was, and still am.
It just goes to show how absolutely vital correct punctuation is, and how horribly expensive it can be if - to use popular parlance - you fuck it up...
Without wishing to give my age away (and I'm not that old), I was amongst the last of a generation of British school pupils who were taught grammar and punctuation during English lessons. By the mid-1970s, it had gone out of fashion and for the next 30 years the weird belief that children being able to "express" themselves was more important was predominant. As a result, millions of young adults can't spell, don't know the difference between "might" and "may", and have no idea what a dangling participle is. My view is that you cannot express yourself properly if you don't know the rules of your native tongue.
Part of me thinks "why should I care?", because it means more work for me. And yet I do care. If I didn't, I wouldn't be in this profession. And I find it immensely sad that 16 million adults in the UK (that's half the workforce) have the literacy level of an 11-year-old child.
That's an 11-year-old who has been taught English properly, by the way.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if I want work), grammar and punctuation are being taught again in schools. But it will take another 15 years at least before we start to see the results. And in the meantime, businesses will continue to suffer the economic consequences.
Right, time to get off my high horse and open a bottle of wine...
07 August 2006
The BBC has taken quite a long time to pick up this story, but at last it has found space for it.
Yet another reason for the BBC to get its act together when it comes to reporting from the regions.
And I note that Cheshire is still invisible as far as Aunty is concerned - their coverage on the NWE comments that the paper's geographical remit is Cumbria, Lancs, Merseyside, Isle of Man and Greater Manchester. I sometimes wonder if I'm living in a parallel universe or black hole...
As a freelance, I’m often available at short notice for clients, whether they are longstanding favourites or new ones. Providing a fast turnaround is something I can offer most of the time because of the type of jobs I tend to take on.
However, there are always some who seem to think that being freelance doesn’t entitle you to a private life.
For example, a couple of months back, a potential client rang up on a Sunday. I was out at the shops when the phone went so my beloved P took the message. I had contacted this person by e-mail first thing the previous Thursday morning and asked her to ring me that afternoon. She didn't, nor did she call Friday. As it was a bank holiday weekend, I – like millions of salaried wage slaves – had no intention of working over the break. Especially as P works long hours and we like to make the most of our free time.
I wavered about calling back for an hour or so, then decided to after all. Guess what – she wasn't there! Doubtless she was out enjoying the long weekend. So I left a voicemail, suggesting she ring me on Tuesday, when the nation’s workforce would be back on the job.
I don’t understand why clients assume that freelances are available 24/7. Granted we can work strange hours – I know for a fact that many of my fellow freelances slog away at weekends to meet some outrageous deadline. I, however, prefer to keep to regular office hours, even though I work from home. I’m often at my desk early, usually around 6.00 or , but I tend to use that time to read the press online and catch up with personal emails. At 8.30, I start work and down tools around 5.30 or . I do occasionally start work earlier, if I know a particular job will be arriving at , say, and has to be returned by 10.00. I don’t mind doing this occasionally. For one-off clients, or a major job with a pressing deadline, I charge 50 per cent extra for working unsocial hours, such as evenings, and 100 per cent extra for working over a weekend or on a public holiday.
That particular Tuesday, the potential client never rang me back. And frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to call her yet again. I wasn’t that desperate for work. Anyway, that Tuesday was already looking horribly full. An early job to be done by 10.00 am, a telephone meeting at 10.00 am with a business contact, a call with the potential client who thinks it’s ok to ring me on a Saturday lunchtime, a book chapter to finish editing, a check-up at the dentist and a friend dropping by at 5.30 pm before we headed off to the pub for a regular monthly social night out.
My typical working week is equally crowded, with meetings, projects to be completed, clients to chat to, invoices to be mailed... That is why my weekends are precious.
You wouldn't call the council on a Saturday lunchtime to get them to do something, because you know no one will answer the phone. So please don’t assume that freelances don’t have a life outside work. Because we do.
05 August 2006
04 August 2006
It's definitely the silly season, or the heat...
The latest is a 16-year-old who has no shortage of ambition and drive and wants to make lots of money. Does he want to learn a skill and put the graft in? No. He publicly tossed a few ideas around on the forum - offering a personal newspaper delivery service was one. Teaching football to primary kids was another. Then he decided that because his school teacher had praised his creative writing, that he ought to become a professional writer. I asked him if he wanted to be a journalist or write novels and pointed him towards a few websites so he could read around and consider his options. I encouraged him to ask me any questions and he sent me a private message asking about routes into professional writing. He wanted to know what books he could learn from. I sent him a lengthy reply, with more web links, pointing out that he should consider an NCTJ course.
Next thing, he's started a new thread asking for advice on offering book-keeping services. Every single reply he got suggested he get an accounting qualification of some sort. He didn't reply to these very helpful people who generously offered him advice.
But I did get another message from him, this time asking about copywriting. He'd done some research on the net and found a course that was industry-recognised but told me he didn't want to do it. Could I recommend a book instead that he could learn from?
By now I was exasperated. His motivation is clearly to make money (and I don't doubt that one day he will succeed), but I wonder where his passion really lies. It seems he just wants to launch straight into a profession with no training or experience, in the belief that it will make his fortune. Ha! I wish. I told him of the thousands of experienced, talented journalists out there, struggling to survive because of low rates of pay, and doing PR and copywriting to make ends meet. And I asked him why he didn't want to go on a course. Needless to say, I got no response.
Cue big sigh... I kind of admire his chutzpah but unless his heart is really in his chosen route to fame and fortune, I doubt he'll make it. What happened to learning and hard work?
My best friend has decided to become a copy editor - she, by contrast, has taken the wise step of getting the right training (she has the raw talent and I'm encouraging her all the way) before she jacks in her current job. This bright teenager (bright in every other way) thinks he can take a short cut. If only it were that simple.
03 August 2006
I'm quite a fan of the NWE, as I've blogged before. It covers the whole region from the Scottish border to Derbyshire and provides a uniquely regional angle on the issues in our area. The bigger picture, so to speak. And of course, it's not London-centric - the mainstream media often forget that life exists north of Watford, or they choose to ignore it.
However, the two main problems are too many hacks and not enough sales staff, and poor distribution. As the Press Gazette noted, 15 journalists for a weekly paper is quite top heavy - by comparison, there are only 7 sales staff. It's not difficult to notice the lack of advertising on the NWE's pages. I'm no fan of advertising but papers need the income from ads in order to survive. The NWE desperately needs more ad sales to boost revenue and secure its future. In fairness, the paper launched at the start of the summer, which can be a slow time for ad sales. Not to mention potential readers disappearing on holiday...
The other chief difficulty is finding somewhere that sells it. The convenience store across the road from Wordsmith HQ stocks it, but many newsagents in Chester don't. Visitors to my house see it lying around and ask, "what's that? I've never seen it before" or "I've never heard of it". The NWE needs to make a concerted effort to improve distribution or it won't gain readers. And without readers, it won't get advertisers.
I sincerely hope that this bad patch will pass for the NWE and that it will go forward to take its rightful place as the essential read for those of us that live in the north-west.
02 August 2006
Recently, the very dedicated people behind No!Spec have been busy again, this time contacting writers, editors, photographers and the like to contribute towards a survey about designers. The aim of the survey is to get designers thinking beyond design itself and taking into account how they need to work with other creatives in order to produce a quality finished product. A lot of newly trained/qualified designers come out of college full of ideas and raring to go, but fail to consider how they interact with others who have input into a project.
I was asked to participate and the questions were intended to elicit responses about deadlines, briefings, budgeting, keeping people in the loop, building in time for tweaking final versions etc. I gave my tuppence worth on how I like to work with designers (regular readers will already know I work regularly with a very good designer in my locality) and the issues I think are important.
The No!Spec team are getting plenty of responses from their pool of interviewees and the results should form a useful toolkit when collated for the raw talent coming into the market. I await publication with interest.
Talking of working for free, I've just taken on an unpaid job. Not an "on spec" job though. I've been asked to write a monthly column for a free magazine distributed to homes and businesses in Chester. The column will be on good written business communication - the various aspects such as business blogging, why it pays to outsource company literature to editors and copywriters, the pitfalls when firms get it wrong etc. Naturally, my willingness to do this for free has an ulterior motive - to boost my profile in the local market! I'll get a free ad and a plug for my business, thousands of people will see my writing skills firsthand, in the comfort of their home or office, and I'll get a nice, warm feeling from knowing that not only have I helped some floundering businesses to start thinking about how they can improve, but also seeing my turnover increase as a result.
Sometimes, it does pay to work for nothing...