A story of shoes
I desperately needed a new pair of house shoes.
I went to one store, where I bought a pair of supposedly leather shoes. The salesperson swore up and down they were leather.
When I got home, I noticed a transparent sticker on the bottom of one of the shoes, and it said they were entirely synthetic.
The next day, I went with my husband to get my money back. Where I live, the buyer has 48 hours to return an item for a full refund. However, we had to yell, threaten, and take a picture of an illegal sign in the store (“No cash returns”) until they agreed to give me my money back – and then they made up some cockamamie story about how they can’t open the register until after the weekend.
I then went to another store down the street, bought another pair of house shoes, and after also having to exchange them for a smaller size a few days later (while the proprietors were hurling abuse at me), I now, finally, have shoes that I can actually wear.
Why am I telling you this?
Because these proprietors were more interested in making a sale than in serving their customers.
A vendor must know exactly what he or she will and won’t do for a customer or client, but it can be done nicely and within the law. The consumer can express his or her requirements, and if the vendor can fulfill them, the consumer should expect to receive what they asked for.
Trust and integrity are the are the name of the game.
The professional writer and editor
The same is true with regard to professional writers, editors – and really any freelancer. Put a sign with the word “SERVICE” on your wall or computer; it will remind you of your raison d’être.
True, I’ve always said on this blog that writers have to write for themselves, and I still believe that. However, when you are being paid for your services, you need to serve. On the other hand, having work parameters allows you to write “for yourself,” while still fulfilling your clients’ needs.
Here are a few things you can do as a professional writer or editor in order to deliver outstanding product, while still protecting yourself.
Always have a contract
Please, people, don’t “feel bad” or “be embarrassed” about insisting on a contract. NO WORK should be done until you have set out in writing exactly what you will and will not be providing to your client. Be as detailed as possible.
You need dates and deadlines as well. This goes for both you and the client. For instance, if you are writing or editing an article, specify the date you will return the piece, the date the client must give it back to you with their corrections, and a date when you will hand in the finished product.
There should be monetary consequences for a client’s returning the piece late. I’m not even going to discuss your missing a deadline, because you can never let this happen.
Do not start to work until you get a deposit, somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the estimated total cost of the project. Enumerate when the next payment(s) is expected, and how much you are to be paid. Generally, you should be paid either after you finish a draft or on a certain date. No work begins before you receive your initial deposit, and no work continues until you receive your incremental payment. Final draft is sent to the client only after final payment is received.
I know this is difficult, especially for women, but I cannot emphasize its importance enough. If it makes you feel any better, it’s still hard for me to do this.
You, too, have responsibilities to your client.
First of all, be nice. Even though this whole contract thing feels a bit tough – nay, cruel – you can do everything with a smile and an attitude of accommodation. Be positive.
Consider the following pre-contract proposal:
Here’s what I propose: If you can sign the contract and give me your guidelines/provide the manuscript by [date], I can write/edit X and send it back to you by [date]. If I receive the manuscript back from you with all queries answered by [date], I can give you a final draft on [date].
If you’d like me to also do Y, I’d be happy to do it for an additional $___.
Included in my package are two versions of the final copy: one with tracking and a clean one without. All queries will be in comment bubbles.
I will also provide you with a style sheet at no additional cost.
You’ll hear from me every week/day/ten days with a progress report. And of course, please feel free to contact me any time with questions or concerns.
Once you get the gig and have delineated what you and the client are each responsible for, write up a contract with all this information and get it signed, or at least approved in writing via email.
Other ways to serve your client
Make sure you understand exactly what the client wants
If you have a writing assignment, how many words? If you’re editing someone else’s work, what kind of editing does the author desire: just a quick eyeballing, a copy edit, a language edit, or an in-depth, line-by-line editing job? For both writers and editors, who is the audience: age, gender, secular or religious, etc.? Ask the client for the demographics, as you won’t want to use the word “ubiquitous” in a book for young children, or allow a curse word if the article is for a church publication.
The work should be as perfect as you can make it, within the time frame you and the client have worked out. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s, and remember your grammar and spelling. If you’re writing, self-edit before you turn it in (see the following 5 articles for details: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). If you’re editing, make the author look good by giving them a comprehensible manuscript in their own voice.
Make a style sheet
Your clients will love you for this. Unless you have been given a set of guidelines by your client, write down every ambiguous word or “rule” you run into or make up. For example, how are you going to spell Ann? Or Anne? or Ayn? Will it be “God, Who told Noah to build the Ark,” or God, who told Noah to build the Ark”? Or is it “ark”? If you’ve been given a style sheet by your client, create a new document comprising any new words, phrases, or rules, and send it along with your piece.
If you are working on fiction, it is essential to write down every single detail: names, dates, places, and relationships. I have read several semi-professional books where the name of Martha’s sister is Joan in chapter 1 and Bonnie in chapter 6. Moreover, if the book takes place in Hawaii during the month of August, you cannot say, “The next day it snowed, so we couldn’t go to school.” Whether you are writing or editing, go that extra mile and hand in a style sheet.
Take pride in your work
No matter what you are working on, be it a novel, a board book for two-year-olds, a memoir, or a how-to book on growing your own mushrooms, treat each project as if it’s the most important thing ever written. You’ll feel good about yourself, your client will think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, and you’ll get many more jobs from happy clients or their friends and colleagues.
I’ll close here with a wonderful article I read recently. This amazing woman elevated the obituary column of the New York Times to an art form. There is much to learn from her.
Have I missed anything that relates to serving your client? If I have, please add it in the Comments. And no matter what you are currently working on, I wish you