I shouldn’t have checked my inbox that evening.

‘How dare you,’ wrote the client. ‘Never in all my professional life have I been treated this way.’ The flurry of angry words continued for a good six paragraphs.

What had I done to deserve this? I’ll tell you.

I had done four hours of extra editing – for free – with a brief note explaining that this work wasn’t in the scope of our initial agreement, so next time additional checks would have to be treated as a separate project. However, perhaps I hadn’t been clear about that, so don’t worry about it this time around.

Not sure how that had set him off, but it had. He was also angry that I’d missed a few typos in the 95,000-word manuscript – a manuscript that required grammatical corrections to nearly every sentence.

In the end, I fired that client.

He didn’t like that, either.

These days, I’ve learned to follow my instincts before I agree to work with someone. Perhaps the above conflict was more about a clash of personalities and styles – something that should be taken into consideration, for both parties, when a writer and editor are looking to work with one another.

Perhaps, though, he was just a douchebag.

If you, too, would like to learn how to be a bad client, here are some tips:

1. Communicate badly.

This can manifest in so many ways. For example, not providing enough asked-for details up front about the project, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth. (Once someone emailed me with just ‘File attached for proofreading’. Yeah … No.) Also, editors love to correct mistakes, right? What better way to show them just what’s in store by writing your email littered with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.

2. Pay late.

Enough said, really. One client got annoyed with me because I chased up his late payment. I hadn’t heard a word from him since sending him the project three weeks previously. Eventually he emailed me and, thankfully, paid but said he expected a ‘grace period’ between receiving the work and paying the invoice so he could check over the edits. Of course I want my clients to be happy with my work, but I’ve done the work and I expect to be paid for it, as agreed. If you don’t trust me to do a good enough job, don’t hire me. Also, pretty sure he could have checked the (very short) project during the three-week payment period.

3. Guilt-trip me when my schedule is full.

It takes time to edit a manuscript, so even with a small handful of projects in the works it can mean I’m not available for several months. A lot of prospects seem to expect me to be able to work on their manuscripts pretty much straight away. Normally, I can’t. But can’t you just squeeze me in? I really want to work with you, right now, and I need to publish next month because I need royalty sales in order to feed my cat. No, I really can’t – because if I did, I’d either have to work hugely long days – in which case the quality of my editing would suffer – or I’d have to rush – in which case the quality of my editing would suffer. I’m not prepared to do that to my clients – including the person asking me to squeeze them in.

4. Guilt-trip me when you can’t afford my services.

I know editing costs money and I know you probably aren’t earning a full-time living from your books, but I’ve got bills to pay. It’s really difficult to edit books in candlelight and maintain concentration on a diet of dried noodles. Once, a prospect called me up to talk about a potential project and kept repeating ‘I don’t have much money, so …’ Try applying this tactic to other businesses. Go out for dinner and see if you can get a discount on the menu with this line. Go to the cinema and see if they’ll give you a special price. Ask a bookstore owner if you can have a book for a few pennies – after all, it’s just words and paper, right? And you have bills to pay. (If budget is an issue, we can discuss strategies, but please don’t expect me to lower my fees for you just because you can’t afford a service – I can’t afford to do that.¬)

5. Don’t deliver your manuscript on time.

Sometimes life happens. I totally get that. If a difficult unforeseen circumstance rears its ugly head, we can work together to reschedule. But if the manuscript is significantly late because of poor planning on your end, that creates very unwelcome trouble for me. Deliver a manuscript a few days late and I’ll have to work extra hard to deliver it on time without it causing a knock-on effect to my other projects. Even later, and we’re talking about disrupting my cash flow and carefully balanced rota of work. Even though my schedule can fill up fast, it’s still best not to book me in until the manuscript is ready (or really, really nearly ready) to go.

6. Treat me like you’re my boss.

One of my biggest pet peeves (though that might be too light a term) is when someone speaks to me as though I have to take on their project because they’re paying me. Of course, without clients I wouldn’t be able to earn a living, but – spoiler alert – you aren’t my only client. As much as you choose me as your editor, I choose you as my client. Plus, even if you were my boss, don’t treat me in a way that makes me want to quit. Because I will.

7. Hire me without understanding the publishing industry.

Is this a tall order? I don’t think so. When you hire an editor, you should have a decent idea why you’re hiring them and what you want to achieve by doing so. There are multiple routes to publication. What’s your plan, and where does hiring an editor fit with this? I’m not your magic bullet to publishing success – I’m but one resource in your strategy. Don’t ask for your manuscript to be edited before the story is at its best (or before you’ve even learned enough to write a decent novel in the first place). Don’t reject most of my suggestions, add in more (unedited) text, slap a badly designed cover on the front of your book and then tell everyone I was your editor. Yeesh.

Luckily, I normally have the pleasure of working with wonderful clients.

And I’m getting better at listening to my instincts when someone gets in touch about my services. When a writer and an editor don’t click, it’s not going to be the best of working relationships. It might be perfectly fine, but I prefer to work with people I connect with, who make me happy about being an editor, whose work and abilities I believe in.

What makes a wonderful client?

For me, it comes down to two things: respect and understanding.

When a writer and an editor have mutual respect for each other, the process is so much more pleasant – and effective. And the better a writer understands both their craft and the publishing industry, the more grounded, realistic, in control and confident they are in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

Find the right editor for you. Don’t annoy them. And let the good times roll.

Because working with an editor shouldn’t feel like a battle.

It should feel like an alliance.

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By | 2017-05-18T20:02:16+00:00 November 5th, 2015|The Business of Editing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie is the Director of Liminal Pages, where she offers editorial services to authors and training to fiction editors. She's a Professional Member of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders and trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Back in the day, she worked at the largest publishing company in the world before galavanting off to do an MA in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London (to add to her BA in English literature with creative writing from UEA). She would like to live on a steampunk airship.

2 Comments

  1. Shilpa February 14, 2017 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Hello Sophie,

    Thank you for this post! It clears so many doubts of mine!

    I’m working as an editor at a publication house and as a part-time freelancer – yes, there are expenses to be met. Because I started out just a couple of months ago, I still have to get a good hold on what kind of work to accept, and what sort of clients to approach/attract.

    Fortunately, I landed on some good projects. And while I’m contacting clients, there’s one who is quite keen on getting me on board wants me to do a free sample edit. I’m absolutely fine with that, in fact I was looking forward to it – extremely sure that my work will blow this client’s mind – except that the sample consisted of 5,000 words -_- I generally edit a free sample of ‘not more than 500 words’. Yet, I made an exception and edited 1,000 words or more (stupid STUPID me). Guess what, they get back to me 10 days late than the original, agreed-upon schedule saying because I did not send in the full sample, working with me wouldn’t be possible. I wanted to write back: **** YOU!! But, a professional does not do that. Silence, here, is the best resort, I guess.

    I somehow find this incident insulting. I devoted time and effort to give the best work possible, and the pathetic excuse they come up with – they want a sample edit of 5,000 words! Where in the world does that happen. They took me to be a fool, desperate to make money.
    But I also feel that my fees can sometimes be a deterrent – I charge more than what these people want to pay. They look for passable work at the lowest rates possible, most of them – this is another problem I have to deal with. (And I live in India, so anybody who knows and can converse in English thinks of oneself as a writer/editor/literary/critic,etc. Also, too many people willing to work for no money).

    After reading this post of yours, I have made up my mind to be more assertive and to make all the terms and conditions very clear right from the beginning – especially about payments, number of editing rounds, and how to charge for them. With this client, I dodged a bullet – so sloppy in their approach and I don’t even want to think what a nightmare they might have been with the revisions, which is a trend here. They pay you once, and you’re betrothed to their manuscripts – they want the editor to do several rounds – two, three, four – unless the manuscript is ‘satisfactory’. I mean, c’mon! What is it! I should keep pampering you and your mistakes unless you nag the life out of me! Your blog has inspired me to break up and structure my charges, and importantly be more direct in my dealings.

    Once again, thank you for your post Sophie 🙂

    • Sophie Playle February 21, 2017 at 10:52 am - Reply

      Glad you found it useful, Shilpa! And remember, we own our businesses so can chose our clients as much as they chose us. If you get a bad feeling from someone, you don’t have to work with them. Sounds like you’re going to make some good changes to your practice. Best of luck 🙂

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