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Working with self-publishing authors – Part 2: expectations and implementation

Self-Publishing

Photo credit: kodomut

In Part 1: An industry of opportunity, SfEP ordinary member Sophie Playle explored who self-publishes, why and how self-publishing has developed over the years, and what this means for editorial freelances. In this post, she’ll be looking at the more practical elements of working with self-publishing authors.

Note: This post has been written with editorial professionals in mind. As with any type of client, it goes without saying that it’s important your skills are fit for purpose. This post doesn’t go into the foundations of training and finding clients, but instead looks at what an editor might consider when working directly with self-publishing authors.

1. Assessing the project for the right service

The number one thing to remember about self-publishing authors is that most of them do not know much about the editing industry. Their main job is to write, after all. They’re often aware that they need editorial help to self-publish professionally, but are not sure exactly what this entails.

Many writers will think they just need a quick proofread to catch any typos when the reality is that most would benefit from a development edit and a copy-edit first. These terms are often unfamiliar to writers, and since there are so many editors offering slightly different variations of the same service (which is also often called something slightly different), a little confusion can only be expected.

Communication is key with self-publishing clients. (Well, all clients, really!)

Ask what the client wants to achieve, and what they expect from your service. Take a look at a sample of the work – this is crucially important. Remember: there are no gatekeepers here, so the quality of work will vary greatly.

If you believe the client’s expectations don’t quite match what the project needs, open a discussion on why you think this, and how you can help.

Alternatively, if you can’t help – for example, if the client really needs a development edit but you specialise in proofreading – decline the work and point them in the right direction, whether that’s to an editorial friend who offers a different service, or to the SfEP directory of editorial services, or some other resource.

2. Assessing the project for compatibility of style

This might be most relevant to fiction writers, but in my experience many self-publishing authors are looking for an editor who ‘gets them’. They want to feel that the project that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, possibly over the course of several years, is in safe hands and that the editor isn’t going to mess it up.

An independent author doesn’t have the assurance of a publishing house that you’re going to do the best job. They only have their own assessment of you and your editing skills – based on recommendations and what they’ve gleaned from your public professional presence. They want to know they’ve made the right choice.

In fact, the client’s freedom to choose a compatible editor with whom to work is a benefit traditionally published authors often don’t get.

It’s in the editorial professional’s best interest, too, to work with compatible clients. For development editors, this might mean working with an author in your genre of interest. For a copy-editor, this might mean working with an author whose style you understand. There’s nothing more horrifying to a writer than to receive an edited manuscript in which the editor has stripped out all nuances of their voice.

Working with compatible clients means you can do your best work, and your client will feel they are in good hands.

How do you assess for compatibility? You might want to offer a sample edit – paid or free, that’s up to you. You might want to get to know your client and find out more details about their project through email or phone conversation before you commit to working with them.

There are lots of ways to go about this. The result should be that both you and your client feel confident that you understand each other.

3. Setting boundaries and looking after your client’s emotional needs

Self-publishing authors often require a little more reassurance and communication from their editors. They usually don’t have an agent or a publisher to answer their questions – they rely on you for your professional knowledge of the industry.

You’re often their main professional contact, and this means they have one burning question they want to ask you: ‘Is my work any good?’

I’ve heard varying opinions from freelance editorial professionals on whether or not we should pass judgement on a self-publisher’s work. Do we refuse projects if we think they are of unpublishable quality? Or should we simply do the job we’re being paid to do?

On the one hand, we are not gatekeepers. And whatever we say in response to this question would be purely opinion. (If I’d been asked whether 50 Shades of Grey would have been a success, I’m confident I would have said no!) We’re being paid to conduct a service, and so that’s what we should do. The rest is out of our control.

On the other hand, if a self-publisher asks for our thoughts or hires us for our professional skills, don’t we have an obligation to pass on our professional opinion? Isn’t that what they’re paying for? (Or should they only expect this if they’re paying for a critique?)

It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. My one tip? Make sure you communicate with your author. Don’t offer unwanted criticism (or unwanted mollycoddling), and let your author know your stance on the issue before you begin working together.

Be clear on your professional boundaries from the outset. You’ll be working directly with the creator, and this person will be emotionally invested in the project and possibly not have much experience of navigating the publishing world as a professional business owner (a hat self-publishers must decide to wear if they want to be successful). Clear terms and conditions are key. Look after yourself, as well as your client.

In summary, self-publishing clients have slightly different needs to other kinds of clients, and these should be taken into consideration. The main things to think about are whether they are commissioning the best service for their project, whether your editing style is best matched to their writing needs, and the emotional and professional boundaries you will address in the working relationship.

When it comes down to it, these are all issues of consideration and communication. I hope these pointers will help you and your self-publishing clients get the most out of your work together.

Sophie Playle profile photographSophie Playle, of Liminal Pages, is a freelance editor who specialises in fiction and often works directly with writers. For brownie points, connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Please note: No real brownies or points will be awarded.)

Proofread by SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Why photo shoots need editors too

Level 3 Plastering photoshoot‘I’m not around next week,’ I say to a friend, ‘I’m on a photo shoot.’

‘Ooh, what for? Where?’ They are clearly imagining me reclining on a Caribbean beach as I watch models strut by in next year’s fashions.

‘Level 3 Plastering in Bolton. Don’t leave! It’s exciting!’

But … you’re an editor

Even in this video-focused age, many textbooks still need to include subject-specific images. Most stock photo banks don’t include images of ‘cullamix being applied from the left with a Tyrolean gun held at a 45 degree angle’. You just have to go out and get them.
I managed several shoots in-house, but as publishers’ time and budgets diminish, it’s now common for them to call in freelance editors to do the job. Ordering strangers to pose for the camera isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s certainly a break from lonely desk slavery – and another skill that shows your diverse portfolio to potential clients.

So what does managing a shoot involve?

Well, you’re not in the photos (thank goodness!) and you’re not taking the photos. You’re responsible for getting the right images in the time available. So, as with any editorial job, you’ll be co-ordinating behind the scenes. Depending on the publisher, your tasks may include:

  • finding a location and photographer
  • recruiting appropriate models
  • identifying the images that are needed
  • drawing up a schedule
  • making sure everyone knows what they need to do
  • keeping the shoot running on time
  • keeping everyone motivated
  • solving problems
  • choosing the best shots
  • deciding whether to cut or add particular photos, for example if the plasterer in the photos uses a different technique from that described in the manuscript.

It’s all in the planning

Fortunately, I’d ghostwritten much of the Level 3 Plastering book so I knew exactly what images were required. It’s common, however, to come to the book cold. It helps if you know the subject matter and if you can compile the shoot list (the description of the photos that need to be taken) yourself. In any case, you should study the shoot list as soon as you can so any issues can be solved before the shoot starts.

You should also start building relationships with the people you’ll be working with – for me this was checking that the college hosting the shoot had the right tools and materials, ensuring that the ‘models’ appearing in the photos knew what to expect, and renewing my acquaintance with the photographer. Sending them a copy of the proposed timetable is a good way of starting a discussion – even if they respond that it’s not physically possible to get through everything!

It’s key to be realistic about what can be achieved in the available timeframe. You need to build in contingency time for setting up and settling in on the first morning, and for any tasks that overrun. Whatever you do, shoots always take longer than you expect.

Location, location, location

It’s important to make sure that the staff at the location are aware of the commitment and disruption involved. You’ll need to check that all the necessary equipment is there, and encourage them to prepare shots in advance where possible (for example, by running plaster moulds so that they are ready to be fixed to the wall).

Gillian Burrell, a veteran of textbook shoots covering everything from beauty therapy to bricklaying, suggests visiting the shoot location beforehand to make sure the facilities are suitable and sufficiently inspiring: ‘Some older facilities (such as salons with cubicles and curtains that look more like a hospital ward than a salon) and equipment (such as old bricks and paint kettles covered in paint) will neither create aesthetically-pleasing nor inspirational photos.’

Pack your bags

As book shoots take place in the most appropriate (and often cheapest) location the publisher can find, you will have to travel there and stay overnight for up to a week. Ensure the daily rate you are offered covers the inconvenience of going away and includes expenses and mileage. You’ll also need a hotel with WiFi so that you can work in the evenings. Yes, the days are long.

Working with photographers

Good photographers are easy to get on with, put models at ease, are flexible and determined to get the perfect shot. If you’re both staying away from home, it helps if you can chat over a curry, too. My usual photographer, Richard Wilson, has anecdotes that make the life of an editor seem tame.

Working with models

It’s unlikely that the people who appear in the photos will be professional models. They are most likely to be volunteers, often students, who have never been photographed carrying out the tasks you need to show, even if they are experts at their job. They may be a bit self-conscious at first or unsure of what they need to do.

Gillian Burrell advises shoot managers to ensure that volunteers know that they are there for the whole of their sequence of photos. ‘At one particular hairdressing photo shoot held on a Saturday, all the students turned up early and were eager to go so we started taking the shots with them in. After about an hour or so they announced that they had to disappear off to their Saturday jobs – before we’d photographed the whole task!’

By contrast, my recent plastering shoot benefited from a team of experienced plasterers from North West Skills Academy giving up their time to appear in the photos. They appreciated both the value of contributing to the book and the positive publicity for their company.

Is it worth it?

I’ve met interesting people in new situations, helped to create some great images and, most importantly, contributed to books that help learners pass their qualifications and start their careers. What could be more satisfying to an editor than that?

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When not ordering people around on photo shoots, she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter and posts short, grumpy book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

Proofread by SfEP associate Hattie Ajderian.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.