21 May 2009

A fair fee for the job

Sometime last week, a publishing company not a million miles from Wordsmith Towers got in touch to offer me some on-site copy-editing work. I'm not averse to working on-site - it can make a welcome change from being home-based, with the opportunity to meet new people and make new contacts.

And so it was that yesterday I got suited and booted and headed into the darkest depths of south Manchester to go and shake hands and talk terms. The job was straightforward enough in terms of what was required and all the work was on-screen (I gave up working on paper proofs 20 years ago). So far, so good.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to money. I was completely gobsmacked to be told the budget was £10 to £15 per hour - for this, they want a skilled and experienced copy-editor who can correct, rewrite, re-order material, fact-check, flag up queries, deal with authors and all the rest. (Plus I was facing an hour's commute each way, by two buses.)

I pointed out, as politely as possible but through somewhat gritted teeth, that the suggested minimum rate my professional body, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, recommends for such work is £26 per hour. My own minimum rate is even higher, and that doesn't include rewriting and re-ordering. His face was a picture when I told him how much I charge.

Somehow, I don't think I'll be accepting the work if it's offered to me, although I doubt it will be. I'm simply too expensive, dahlinks. Besides, it looks as though I've enough work right until at least July (and yes, the holiday has been postponed, but I will take one soon).
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15 May 2009


I've spent the last 2 days hanging out at Manchester's Futuresonic festival - a glorious mix of technology, music, art and other stuff. I went on a press pass, with the aim of digging out some interesting tech stories to sell to a national paper. There was a huge choice of sessions to choose from, sorted into various themes: digital futures, identity and trust, mobile, semantic web, and environment 2.0. A lot of the sessions I had a personal interest in had to be skipped in favour of those I thought might be more newsworthy.

I have to admit to being very disappointed in the keynote speeches on day 1. First up was Stowe Boyd talking about the future of the web. Most of the ideas he was framing have already been covered by the tech media over the last few years and given his audience was largely a bunch of geeks, he seemed rather to be preaching to the converted. I waited impatiently for him to say something new and profound but it didn't happen. The other keynote speech, for the identity and trust strand, was by Rachel O'Connell of Bebo. I was expecting her to tell us about all the new and exciting ways Bebo is handling ID issues, given Bebo is largely used by the under-18s, but no. What we got was a lot of corporate blah about how wonderful Bebo is. The ensuing breakout sessions were also rather bland.

Day 2 got off to a bad start. I woke with crippling back pain at 3am which kept me awake for the rest of the night and by the time I turned up at Futuresonic, drugged up to the proverbial on painkillers, I'd missed the first block of sessions and then I had a bust-up with a friend, which spoiled the day even more. I was starting to wonder if I was going to find anything to write about at all, but then the semantic web strand started and I finally started to smell some possibilities for a feature or two. Unfortunately, my back pain was now so bad I could no longer sit down and the painkillers were having no effect, except to make me teary. It was time to quit and I reluctantly went home to lie down and take some stronger medication.

Following the Twitter feeds for Futuresonic, it was obvious that I was now missing the most interesting sessions and, by default, the opportunity to pitch some stories. Sod's law. A hack's big fear is always that they'll miss the story and this was exactly how my day ultimately panned out. I'm now lying on the floor working on my laptop as I can't sit at my desk, and I've also had to cancel all my plans for the weekend - I have a huge amount of work lined up for next week and my lumbar region needs a rest.
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12 May 2009


I'm having a frustrating day. I pitched a national first thing Monday morning with something very topical - just an op-ed piece worth a mere £85, but it would have helped plug my book. Three emails and 2 chase-up phone calls later, I got a polite but very firm no.

This morning, I flung an op-ed post together on my other blog about MPs' expenses and it's been picked up and run with all over Twitter, media websites and the blogosphere. It's nice that people are taking what I write seriously, to the point they are spreading it across cyberspace for me, but apart from the publicity I have earned exactly £0.

Frustrated doesn't begin to cover it. I know things are tough in journalism right now but it's infuriating that I can't get paid even a paltry sum for a piece on disability, while a throwaway piece I did purely for myself to let off steam is probably going to see my blog ratings go stratospheric.

At least I've got 2 new jobs lined up for the rest of the month, copy-editing for a couple of clients - 1 regular, 1 new. That'll take the pain away a bit as my finances are looking rather iffy just now. I'm not in a unique position - other colleagues are also struggling and it's been a trending topic today on certain hack forums. I still have to pay the bills though...
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09 May 2009

JEEcamp and duckonomics

I went to Birmingham yesterday for the 2nd JEEcamp. Last year, it was very much an experiment to see what might happen if you stuck 50 journos in a room and let them unconference for a day. I came away feeling inspired and full of plans, but then my personal life upended itself and the online journalism venture I'd been mapping in my head for 2 years was no longer going to happen.

So, where are we 12 months on? Last year, I went alone, for 1 thing. This year I found myself on the early train with half a dozen other hacks - fuelled on pints of coffee, we took over an entire train carriage and annoyed all the commuters with our chitchat about modern hackery.

On arrival at JEEcamp, there was the usual opportunity to shake hands with people you co-follow on Twitter but only just met for the 1st time. Kyle McRae gave a really interesting account of his attempt to set up a picture agency trading in citizen journalists' photos and what happened when it all went horribly wrong.

There were breakout sessions and a couple of really good panel discussions about the future of journalism, particularly about paid-for content models (Rupert Murdoch had just annnounced his own thoughts on this), the problems with council-funded newspapers and the kinds of enterprises journalists might want to engage in.

A year ago, we were just seeing the start of the recessionary effects on our industry - job cuts, closed papers, freelance budgets affected etc - now the landscape looks very different and one thing is clear. Whatever that landscape will look like in another 12 months' time (and none of us can predict that), hacks are going to have be enterprising and create their own opportuinities (or do what I do and run a portfolio career). A colleague of mine who's been in the trade even longer than I have has a theory about the current state of play for the traditional business model for newspapers: "it's all as fucked as a fucked duck from Planet Fuck". Er, quite. Which is why events like JEEcamp are so important.

Andy Dickinson, who teaches journalism at UCLAN, was bang on the nail when he said we can't exist in isolation. For all we network on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, there's no substitute for getting together face to face . So here's to next year's JEEcamp!

The train journey home went quicker, fuelled as it was with wine and sushi (and we'd already sunk several pints in the pub between JEEcamp and New Street station). On arrival at Piccadilly, it was a toss-up between going home or heading to the pub. I chose the latter, schlepping laptop bags across town while trying not to fall off my heels, to catch up with a friend. Several gallons of wine later, I fell into a cab, then my bed and decided nothing made sense anymore...

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07 May 2009

Sold out

No, not me. God forbid. If that ever happens, please line me up against the Mur des Fédérés in Père Lachaise and pull the trigger on an AK 47.

Apparently, my first edition has sold out in under a week. So my publisher says. To me, it's meaningless. I don't even know how big the first print run was (although I think 2k). Yes, it's going into a second edition - I'm the biggest-selling author my publisher has ever had, not that that's saying much. It's a tiny outfit with 3 staff (largely indifferent) and they've not exactly been proactive with promotion.

I still haven't even seen the book and I'm gutted I'll now never have 1st edition copies to sign and give to those few people who really matter to me.

I was so excited this morning and now I feel hollow. I rang one friend, my rock, but what I really wanted to do was go out and get pissed with mates but it was obviously not going to happen for a number of reasons. Ended up getting drunk solo, never a good idea. Now have to get up at stupid o'clock to catch a train to Birmingham for a networking/training day when I think I'd rather stay in bed.

Stacking shelves at Aldi suddenly looks very tempting...

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05 May 2009


I've been struggling on and off today to fill in an industry questionnaire. It's not a difficult one, just one that will boost my profile within the hackosphere and, ideally, push my book a bit. It's just that some of the questions are proving a touch tricky to answer diplomatically. Let's face it, if I answered them honestly I'd trash my reputation at a stroke and probably consign the rest of my career to stacking shelves in Aldi.

How can PRs be useful to you?
- By never contacting me except to send me free bottles of 70 proof vodka? Hmm, maybe not.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
- Easy. On Grade A Bolivian coke, of course. Except, obviously, I wouldn't because Class As are out of the question when you have epilepsy, and the truth - that I'd probably really struggle to blow that much cash in one go - is rather boring.

What books are on your bedside table?
- Right now, apart from Flat Earth News by Nick Davies (a truly brilliant look at the state of contemporary journalism), I'm halfway through a crime novel and I'm also flicking through a "how to" manual on cock and ball torture.* This really is the truth - I'm reviewing it for one of my regular clients, along with a pile of other smut for which I shall be paid - but I fear being honest here will be the kiss of death for the juicy commissions I seek at some very serious financial industry publications.

You can see my dilemma. If I tell the truth, readers will either think I'm a junkie, barking, a filthy pervert or just dull. Or possibly all four. If that's possible. Yet I still need to make it witty and interesting so my peers can see what a brilliant writer I am.

I think I need to sleep on this and give it another go in the morning...

* Warning: NSFW

01 May 2009

BADD08-09 - a snapshot of changes

I know I said recently that I wasn't going to keep blogging about my disability issues on what is, after all, a work blog, but it's Blogging Against Disablism Day and so, in what I promise will be my last blog on this for a while, unless strictly necessary, I want to look back at how things have changed for me since BADD08.

Healthwise, things have changed little. My seizure frequency remains more or less unchanged. I'm still on the same meds, at the same dose, and have a very good trade-off between stability and quality of life. No complaints there, then.

What did change for me was that very shortly after BADD08, my personal life underwent a big change - I became single again. That might not sound like a big deal to most people (setting aside the emotional upheaval a split always brings in its wake) but it has massive implications when you've been used to having someone around to be a carer, pick up the pieces after a crap day, ferry you to medical appointments because you can't drive yourself there, and so on.

I was partnered up when diagnosed more than a decade ago and then, when that relationship ended, moved almost seamlessly into my next relationship (purely by happy accident). For 12 years, there was someone by my side to tuck me up in bed after a seizure, fight my corner with the medical establishment when needed, and basically help me manage my life so I could continue to live as independently as possible.

Moving out to live on my own has reminded me how vulnerable I am, actually. I'm fortunate that the tiny handful of tonic-clonics I've had over the last year have not left me in urgent need of hospital treatment. But if I had, who would have called the paramedics? The last couple of simple partials I had left me very emotional afterwards - weepy and edgy, more so than when I was coupled up.

I've always been fiercely independent and am relishing being single again in many ways, but it's also made me aware that my need for independence mostly overrides my ability to ask for help. I had a tonic-clonic just days ago that took me 3 whole days to recover from. While friends both near and far were quick to text, tweet, ring and email to check on me once they heard, not once did I feel able to ask any of my friends or family who live near to me for assistance, even though for those 3 days I barely ate, could barely drag myself out of bed, was too frightened to attempt a shower as I felt very unsteady on my feet and cried a lot.

From a work point of view, that was also 3 days I didn't earn any money and, when you're single and self-employed, no one's going to pay the bills for you.

Ironically, that seizure was triggered by stress caused by my frustration with my publisher, for whom I've written a book on - epilepsy!

So, for me, the last 12 months have been very much about learning not so much how to live alone but how to cope alone, and making the necessary adjustments to my daily life to keep myself as safe as possible while staying independent. I guess I still need to learn how to ask for help when I need it. Ask me again in 12 months how far I got with achieving that particular hurdle...