by Joseph Fruscione
In the previous piece, I talked with a few fellow post- or alt-ac editors about the kinds of work we do with academic clients. Some (like Margy Thomas Horton) offer a variety of services, whereas others (like Annemarie Perez or Laura Fowler Graham) handle formatting and copy editing while still working in academia. Figure out your own strengths and preferences as an editor or consultant, and advertise your services an editor catering to scholars and graduate students accordingly.
Several new and would-be post-acs have asked me for practical advice how to find the work, how much to charge, how to foreground academic skills, and so on. Now that you have a sense of what editors can do with academics (or in STEM and other publishing venues), here’s some actionable advice to help you get clients, negotiate fair fees, deal with problems, and build your editing portfolio.
Annemarie Perez: I ask clients to send me the work, and then I provide a list of services and a breakdown of prices. I’ve generally invested an hour or so into each client before I officially start working for them, but I’ve found that’s the best way for me to work. Otherwise students don’t know what I can do for them, and I don’t know what they need.
Laura Fowler Graham: Don’t be afraid to network with academics and promote your business. Initially, I was shy about promoting my editing services, fearing that others would think I was rude. I’ve learned that self-promotion is key in the post-ac and alt-ac professional world. Whenever possible, work and talk with others in the editing business.
Margy Thomas Horton: Your business comes down to two things: what you know and what people think of you. Always be learning and cultivating your expertise, and always be sure clients know that you are fair, transparent, and looking out for their best interests.
Laura: Accept that you are not an academic anymore, and don’t let your new post-ac identity get in the way of working with scholars. Initially, I felt embarrassed about pursuing such work because I was afraid that other scholars wouldn’t take me seriously, but I realized that the embarrassment was self-made. Once I moved past my irrational fear that I wouldn’t be seen as a “real” academic, I was much more invested in my chosen career.
Annemarie: I think my academic training has generally helped me, partly by making me understand the stress faculty and students are under with regard to their writing. I also know how hard it is to hand a draft over, the anxiety about being judged and found wanting. It’s helped in a practical way—I know what research and research-based writing look like.
Margy: The most common challenge for my dissertation-writing clients is understanding and meeting their advisors’ expectations. The main challenge for my faculty clients is to produce publications consistently despite other competing priorities. No two clients are alike, which is why I’ve developed different methods for helping people to get their work done efficiently and well.
Annemarie: Potential post- and alt-acs should try working with a few people and find out about themselves as an editor. Practical things like how long it takes to do X or their skills at Y will help them decide how much they need to charge to make doing the work worthwhile. They should consider the intangibles, too: Is this work satisfying or frustrating? Is it something they enjoy, or is it something they’re basically doing to earn money?
Finally, get very familiar with Microsoft Word. There will be problems connected with software versions that cause formatting issues. I try never to come back to a client with “this is wrong, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” They’re paying me to figure out how to get it right.
I’ll add to these to my peers’ strong points:
- If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, create one. Read how other editors and consultants—especially a few post-acs and alt-acs—describe their skills, experience, and services. LinkedIn will help you add connections, as well as give you some jobs to apply to so you can hone your resume, professional image, and positive career-change story.
- A few potential post-acs I’ve talked with have been hesitant to publicize their career plans, because they worry that they’ll jeopardize any chances of getting a full-time academic position. If you’re concerned about going public, you could advertise yourself back channel through e-mails to colleagues discussing your plans (while requesting privacy).
- Before agreeing to terms and payment, have a meeting with the client, preferably by some means other than e-mail. If you can meet in person, great; if not, schedule a phone call or Skype chat. Such conversations go better in real time; they’ll clarify your services, your clients’ expectations, and a fair fee structure.
- Forgive me for repeating myself, but get a writing sample from the client before establishing your fee. Listening to the person discuss his or her project is one thing; actually reading it and seeing how much work it will entail is something else. Assess the client’s strengths and weaknesses, and offer your estimate accordingly. Don’t make the mistake I did of missing how labor-intensive a project will be by not reading the sample closely.
- Before making an arrangement, clarify your services and the client’s expectations about what you will and won’t do. It’s sad but true: some clients—like some students we’ve had—will knowingly submit subpar work and expect free editorial magic. Outlining your duties from the beginning helps prevent this, as does addressing such problems directly, perhaps with something like: I’m noticing a lot of avoidable errors, such as This or That. Can you clean up these issues on your own and then send me a cleaner version? Our agreement was that I only handle X. I could also do Y, but you’ll have to pay $___ extra. Being professional and diplomatic might be tricky, but ensuring that your time and efforts are fully valued is necessary.
- If, like me, you’re not especially strong with APA, ASA, or other styles, let your clients know that you’re best suited for other kinds of work. They should know exactly what you’ll do before formal (and paid) work on a project begins; this helps clients know what they’re paying for and you ensure you get paid fairly. I’ve offered to direct such clients to trusted colleagues who specialize in a certain format or style when I lack the knowledge.
- A few graduate students have asked me questions about their argument or research better suited for their professors, so I’ve suggested they arrange meetings to discuss such substantive issues. Be clear from the beginning that clients should ultimately follow the professor and assignment prompt.
- Add your academic clients to your list of references, and offer potential clients the chance to talk with them. Past clients can also be great sources of LinkedIn recommendations (scroll down here for mine). If there’s a certain aspect of your editing you want stressed—such as your exceptional turnaround times or formatting wizardry—ask the client to spotlight it.
- Always advocate for yourself when describing, advertising, negotiating, and doing your work. Make sure you’re paid fairly for the work you do, and speak up when necessary.
There’s a lot of support and collaboration potential in the post-ac and alt-ac communities. In making new professional connections, you might also find an editing or consulting partner—perhaps someone with colleagues needing the kinds of skills you have. Keep connecting with and learning from your network, and always be looking for the new clients and opportunities that arise on social media and elsewhere.