Sailors take warning.

​I parted ways with a publisher before the working relationship got off the ground. This occurred due to several “red flags.” Here’s the story.

I applied for a freelance position as an editor with a start-up publishing company. I submitted my cover letter and resume and linked the message to my online portfolio and LinkedIn profile. All standard stuff. I received a response stating that the company executives liked my experience and wanted to know my rates. I told them. After all, my rates are transparent. I received a response that my rates were acceptable.

Here’s where things got hinky.

My contact with the company scheduled an early evening interview. OK, I can live with that. Considering this is a start-up company, I expect that the key players probably work full-time jobs still. No worries. I logged into the video call. That began a comedy of errors for about fifteen minutes until we managed to get everything coordinated and synched.

Three faces stared at me through the monitor, two men and one woman. One of the men identified himself as the CEO of the new company. All four practically bubbled with enthusiasm. I took that as a good sign. Then came the spiel of how I’d be their “chief editor” and how my name as editor would go on every book published by their company. My name would be aligned with their brand. They had several manuscript already written and waiting to be edited. I could be assured of steady, consistent work to the point where I’d need to hire an editor to take the overflow.

Sounds like a good start, but … “Is this a 1099 or employee position?” I asked, because what I heard sounded a lot like they wanted t hire an employee. The CEO stated that the position was freelance and that they really wanted to bring me on board.

Okay. Color me flattered.

A couple of days later, my contact with the company asked me for a quote to edit a specific manuscript. She mentioned a contract and nondisclosure form. I replied that I had a standard contract I would be pleased to send them and that it included a confidentiality clause. Would she like me to send that? Oh, yes, please do. I sent the contract which had my fee for service on that particular manuscript.

Another couple of days passed with a request for another teleconference. On Sunday afternoon. Then Sunday evening. I wasn’t happy about the timing, but I held my tongue. At the appointed time, I logged on. Crickets. I sent a message to my contact: “What’s going on? Did I miss something?” No, it turned out that the call was for Central Standard Time. I’m on Eastern Time. All right, that’s a common enough mistake. I waited and logged on at the appointed time. Crickets. “What’s going on?” The reply: “The call was rescheduled for later.” It was rescheduled twice that evening.

Argh. By then, I was annoyed. At 9:00 PM Eastern Time I finally spoke with the team again. First came the praise: “Karen, we really want you to edit for us.” Then came the comment that we were to select professional backgrounds on these video calls.

Um, what? You requested a meeting on a Sunday evening; this is my time. Besides, I’m a freelancer; you don’t get to impose such conditions on me.

Then came the next complaint that I obviously did not understand the executives’ collective position of forming a start-up company. Until the company began to make money, editing costs would come from their personal pockets. I suggested we come to a compromise: I’d offer a list of flat fees for word count ranges and they’d provide me with the fee ranges they had in mind. I never did receive their preferred rate list.

Why were we discussing this if my rates–disclosed at the beginning of communication–were acceptable? This heavy-handed attempt to haggle me down really bothered me.

On Monday, I sent them the promised list of flat rate fees. I did take into account their position as a start-up and the promise of steady, consistent work to tide me through lulls. The CEO called me directly. He still wanted me on the team, but apparently I still did not understand their financial constraints.

I asked, “What did you have in mind for editing this manuscript?”

He replied he could go as high as $500 for multiple rounds of editing. The manuscript exceeded 100,000 words.

I performed some rapid calculations. I know how long the manuscript is. I can accurately estimate how long it would take me to edit it. His top rate for editing that manuscript would yield around $7 per hour for just one round of editing, which I pointed out. He repeated the promise of a deluge of work, exposure, and brand alignment.

I have my own brand, thank you. The internet offers exposure to everyone at no cost. I have clients who provide me with consistent work. I deeply appreciate their continued business. I also expect to be paid a professional rate for a professional service. Working steadily for less than minimum wage won’t pay the bills.

I thanked him for considering me. I expressed my appreciation for their confidence in me. I truly wished the company success.

​And I bade him good-bye.