by Joe Fruscione
As few months into it, my freelance journey is by turns fun, challenging, rewarding, and (as academic entrepreneurship can be) a bit scary. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have edited three World Bank Reports, a business motivation memoir, and a religious history book so far. I’d still consider myself a post-ac expert-in-training, although I’m gaining a lot of knowledge, experience, and professional acumen.
Here are three key things I’ve learned so far about getting out there—and moving forward:
1. Be patient. For those of us new to the game, freelancing has its ups and downs: I’ve had quiet weeks followed by a logjam of projects followed by more quiet weeks. It takes work to find work, especially at the beginning: reaching out to placement agencies, landing informational interviews, and checking LinkedIn and Craigslist for job ads. If you go into freelancing, bring your patience.
2. Always be looking. I’ve been collaborating with a former colleague to help her with some overload for a few Master’s thesis projects. A friend in a Humanities Ph.D. program is on the lookout for anyone in his cohort who would need someone like me. I’ve also emailed the graduate studies directors at my former schools to remind them of my availability. In all these cases, my background as a professor has helped me market myself as someone who won’t simply fix comma splices, correct formatting, close extra spaces, and so on. Some graduate students have needed the extra guidance I can offer, and I tell every potential client in the first email that I’m a former professor. If, like me, you’ve gone through graduate school, taught, and done a dissertation, thesis, or other major project, you might be well suited to helping other advanced students. A free 20–30 minute Skype consultation—thank you for the idea, Karen—with each client at the beginning of the process helps me assess whether I’ll just be copy editing the projects or doing some coaching at the same time.
3. Get paid for your work. After almost 15 years in academia, I’m now making sure I don’t do projects “for valuable C.V. experience” or for “when a full-time position opens up.” Always make sure you’ll get compensated for your work, and don’t be afraid to turn down a freelance gig if the pay or other conditions aren’t fair. (An example in a minute.) A liberating change I’ve seen is being paid for work I used to do for free, such as contributing to a forthcoming essay collection.
Here are some ways to negotiate a price for the work you can do—and be paid for—based on scenarios I’ve encountered this year:
This sounds like a great opportunity, especially because I know so much about X and Y. Can I ask how you can compensate me for this?
(In May, I received an email asking me to participate in a start-up project a professor was doing. I talked on the phone with one of the organizers, asked about modest compensation…and never heard back. Beware of falling into the trap that, for instance, is set for many adjunct professors: doing a lot of low-paying, labor-intensive work for “valuable experience.” Especially when someone comes to you about some service or knowledge you can offer, don’t give away your magic for free. Our time has value and should be treated accordingly.)
I generally charge between $X and $Y per hour, or $Z as a flat rate. If that works with your budget, send me a sample section and I’ll prepare an estimate.
(I learned this the hard way: if you’ll be editing, review a writing sample and talk with the client before establishing your fee. When asked to copy edit a manuscript, I underestimated the page length and level of detail-oriented work the text, formatting, and notes required. Request a writing sample, and read it closely.)
I know we initially agreed to $X for this work. I’m happy to continue with This and That additional stage you’re asking me to do, but I would need to be paid $Z more.
(For the same book project, the managing editor was so impressed that she asked me to review her changes to the manuscript, as well as look over the page and cover proofs. We negotiated a price fair to the project’s budget and my labor. Given my evolving post-ac identity and the managing editor’s interest, I felt confident in asking for additional pay for additional labor. This has been one of the biggest—and most refreshing—differences from academia.)
I’m exploring multiple freelance options right now, and I’m sorry that Reason 1 and Reason 2 prevent me from taking on this project.
(I inquired with a publisher about doing some freelance copy editing or proofreading work. The pay was low [< $20/hour], and checks were customarily cut 3-4 months after invoicing. I consulted with a few trusted professionals to verify that this pay system was not worth it. The low rate and slow turnaround time made this impractical for me, and—unlike some past moments in academia—I wasn’t afraid to say no.)
Part of a freelancer’s journey is to always be looking—for new projects, new connections, and new ways of advertising services. As I wrote here earlier this year, you owe it to yourself to talk, write, or tweet about your career change. Often. In a few cases—most recently this week—a friend of a friend was looking for editors and writing consultants. She sent my resume to the contact person, and I’m currently communicating about logistics, timelines, and rates. And, thanks to a nudge from fellow freelance academic Katie Pryal, I started my own WordPress site (“The Consulting Editor”) as a one-stop shop for my editing work, activism, and developing post-ac identity. Do whatever you can to keep networking, accept viable freelance projects, build resume experience, and make sure you get paid fairly.
All with a healthy dose of patience, of course.