SfEP wise owls: working with independent authors

Freelance editors work with a range of clients, including publishers and individuals looking to  publish their own work. This month, the SfEP parliament of wise owls provide advice on how to get the most from working with independent authors.

Liz Jones

Independent authors might not know as much about the ideal publishing process or typical editing workflows as some other clients. Be prepared to take more of a lead in helping them assess what they need, and explaining your services so they understand how you can help them and the value you offer. This can be interesting and rewarding work, but make sure you factor in the extra hand-holding time when you quote, and bear in mind that commonly understood labels for levels of editing won’t necessarily apply. You also have a responsibility: it’s fine to upsell your services, but make sure the author understands what you can actually provide as their editor – and what you can’t. Brilliant proofreading will never turn a badly written or boring book into a bestseller.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Carefully explain exactly what service you will provide and always, always get authors to sign a contract (or agree to a set of terms and conditions). Independent authors are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with ‘standard’ working practices in publishing, so it’s important to be clear about the terms of the service you’re providing. It’s rare for relations between client and editor to sour such that legal action becomes a possibility, but a quick perusal of some of the major editing-related forums shows that it does happen, so it makes sense to take basic precautions. The SfEP has a set of model terms and conditions and there are various sample contracts available through other sites.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

Working with independent authors can involve more hand-holding about the publishing process. Some will have done lots of research, joined supportive writers’ groups, become a member of ALLi, sussed out exactly which Amazon deal to go for and come to you knowing exactly what they need you to do. But more often than not (in my experience) they don’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing: they may have the makings of a pretty good book or document, but just not know how to get to the final output. It can be very rewarding helping an author through the various steps to publication.

Communication is crucial here. Authors may not ask for what their work actually needs (they usually ask for proofreading), so you need to be very clear from the start about what you can do, what you will do – and what you can’t or won’t. Some authors will keep coming back to you with lots of questions, not just about the text but about the publishing process itself. Do I need an ISBN for my ebook as well as the print one? Where can I find a cover designer? I’m listing my book on Amazon but it’s asking me about BISAC categories and DRM options – what do I put? It’s worth knowing the answers yourself or building up a bank of stock replies with useful links to where your authors can find out. Or, of course, pointing them to SfEP colleagues or the Directory for other services.

Set up good working practices that put you in control, with clear instructions on how the author can see your changes, accept them if required, make further edits or add text. Because there is no intermediary, the author must answer all queries and take all decisions. Inevitably there is a great temptation to keep on tinkering with the text. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself having to deal with changes made in different ways in different files. State clearly how much time is included in the fee for taking in amendments after you return the initial edit (from none to negotiating a further fee if it goes over X). And always cost in a second pass anyway.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Novice independent authors are unlikely to be speaking the same language as you – so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that you understand each other. It’s not enough to agree a brief; you’ll need to make sure that your client actually understands what it means in practice. What do they mean by ‘proofreading’? Probably copy-editing, sometimes developmental editing. Sometimes proofreading! How will they take your critique or queries? As if you tortured and murdered their literary baby, or as help towards making that self-same baby ready to meet the world? Explain your process in lay terms and check your client has understood. A mismatch between their expectation and your actuality can be painful and time-consuming.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

When working with independent authors, the initial negotiations are key to establishing a mutual understanding of what will be involved because you can’t assume they will know the different terms we editors use and what they entail. I prefer to show as well as explain, and I usually edit a short sample so they know what to expect from me. How the person conducts themselves in these first interactions is also a clue to what they will be like to work with, and it’s sometimes possible to spot a red flag and steer away if need be.

Which brings me on to one potential downside of working with independent authors: it’s harder to verify an individual. If a publisher or a company contacts you, it is relatively easy to check them out to see if they are a legitimate enterprise and to form a judgement about whether it is ‘safe’ to work with them. This is more tricky with an independent author. They might have an author page or a Facebook profile, but many don’t, and there is really no way of assuring yourself that they are who they say they are and that you will be paid. To guard against this to some extent, I ask for a proportion of the total estimated fee in advance. In fact, I’ve found that, in any case, it’s good to be flexible about payment arrangements. An indie author may not have the funds to pay the whole fee at once, and offering payment in instalments helps ease the pain for them. All that said, in my experience, independent authors pay quickly and happily.

Indie authors have been a source of constant surprise and pleasure, chocolates, flowers, and personalised drawings, and even a few gardening tips. I love ’em!

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

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

 

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