When freelancing, one size does not fit all. Each client may require something the other doesn’t. It’s in your best interest to know what your client expects. Give them what they want.
While this may seem obvious to you, it wasn’t obvious to me when I started editing. I’ve learned that clients are like children. They’re individuals with individual needs and differences. It’s your job as a freelancer to learn how clients differ and do the job they want you to do, nothing more. After all, that’s what they’re paying you to do.
In four years of freelancing, I’ve had clients who were very hands on. They anticipated their freelancer’s needs. They provided style sheets and detailed instructions for the projects I proofed. They anticipated my questions and answered those questions before I asked them. These clients are my ideal. They are a joy to work with. They don’t mind me asking questions when I need more information. In fact, they welcome the questions and communication. They are a joy to work with and we work well together.
I’ve also had clients who didn’t provide any instructions at all. They assumed that I knew what they wanted. They assumed I could read their minds. They became annoyed when I asked for instructions because it meant that they had to communicate with me more than they wanted. A lack of instructions meant that I had to guess at what the job required, at what was required of me. Proofreaders shouldn’t have to second-guess. If you have to second-guess, if you ask the questions without getting the answers, you might want to fire the client. Firing a client who is difficult to work with will be better in the long run than continuing a miserable working relationship. While firing the client might be the better choice, I understand the need to continue the working relationship. If money is tight and projects are nonexistent, you may have to continue working with difficult clients until you can afford to fire them.
Just as clients aren’t one size fits all, editing projects aren’t either. Make sure you understand what your client wants you to do before accepting a project. If this means asking detailed questions before accepting the project, then ask the questions. If it means e-mailing the project editor or managing editor for specific instructions, then write the e-mail. Asking for specifics or clarification before beginning a project, or during the project, is better than guessing. Guessing harbors resentment on your part. The project will end favorably if everything is spelled out before you sharpen your red pencil.
Editors seem to be literal people. I’m not sure if we’re more literal than regular folks are, I admit that I am, but we have to be. The job requires it. My livelihood depends on doing the job my client wants me to do. If I am not sure what the job entails, or if I think one way and the client wants it another, it is in my best interest to ask for clarification, for specifics. I am not paid for my creativity or for doing things the way I think they need to be done. Clients pay me to be literal. They pay me to pay attention to detail and catch errors. In the end, your attention to detail will serve you well. It’s your bread and butter. It will ensure that clients hire you for other projects.
Just as clients differ, proofreading projects also differ. Proofreading doesn’t mean the same thing for every client. If a project editor or managing editor wants me to cold read a manuscript, he or she may want me to look at layout and pay attention to typos and spelling errors. I’ll also read every word of the manuscript. Another client may want me to concentrate on the content and question facts or items that don’t appear to be correct, as well as proof for typos and spelling errors. Make sure you understand what the client wants. Make sure you specify what you intend to do before accepting the project. Put all the cards on the table. Treat each job as individually as you do the person asking you to take on the task. When proofreading, clients pay me to do many different tasks. Make sure you understand what you are being asked to do before agreeing to do it.
Many proofreaders are afraid of stepping over the proofreading boundaries to enter the copyediting arena. If you and your client are on good speaking terms, you’ll know when it’s okay to cross those lines. You’ll learn when a query is expected. Don’t be afraid to do more than the job asks you to do. However, before you do more than you are asked to do, make sure you know what you are being asked to do and complete that task first. If you‘ve been hired to proofread and find yourself copyediting, focus on proofreading. If you are a copyeditor and find yourself proofreading, let the proofreading go. Query things that seem to be incorrect. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. When you find yourself spending more time on a task that isn’t specified in the project, scratch that itch by making a copy of the chapter. After completing the task you’ve been hired to do, do what you feel compelled to do in your free time. If you want to edit the manuscript, edit it to death. If you feel the need to fact check, do that. Knowing that you will have the opportunity to do what you are driven to do after completing what you have been paid to do will help you focus on the task at hand.
After you have completed the project, some clients may want you to write a letter explaining what you found while editing or proofing the manuscript. Other clients may not want a letter because writing a letter will cost them more money. It will add to the time you spend on the project. I like writing letters because letters help me end projects. It’s my opportunity to show the client what I know, what I discovered about the manuscript. It upsets me when I don’t get the opportunity to write a letter, but I have learned to put those frustrations aside. I write a letter if a letter is welcome. If a letter is not appreciated, the letter isn’t written. It isn’t personal. I have learned to choose my battles.
Appreciate the differences that exist between clients. Some project editors and individual clients are more personable than others are, just as some family members have more personality than others do. Don’t take every comment or every disagreement as a slap in the face. Project editors are busy people. If you don’t hear from them after submitting a project, don’t take that as a bad sign. If you are interested and want feedback, ask them for the feedback. If they have time, they will tell you what they liked and didn’t like. Landing more projects from the same project editor will be your ultimate feedback.
When you do get feedback from the person in charge and it isn’t all positive, take a moment. Separate yourself from the project and from the person making the comments. The comments aren’t meant to hurt or harm. They are meant to teach. Learn from them. Learn from your mistakes.
Showing a project editor or the person in charge that you’re interested in what they have to say is in your best interest. It’s also in your best interest to realize that many things are subjective. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get to know what each individual managing editor or project editor considers important. Realize that it may take a project or two for you to figure this out. After you’ve figured it out, be sure to give the person in charge what they want every time. After all, it’s all about them and not about you. Their wants are your bread and butter. Keeping the customer satisfied by completing the job to their specifications is what you’re paid to do. Not doing so is shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody shoots themselves in the foot on purpose.