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.
Every day at least one solicitation for a book promotion service pops up in my email messages. All promise wonderful levels of exposure to tens or hundreds of thousands of potential readers, mainly through Twitter and some through Facebook. Then there are the newsletter-based book promotion services to which potential readers subscribe for easy notification and access to books that are newly released, free, greatly discounted, or all of the above. Finally, we have digital book tours which combine Twitter and Facebook announcements with promos on their websites and on bloggers' sites for more targeted advertisement.
I've used many of them, such as:
Book promotion services range from less than $20 to well over $100. I've even hired a "book marketer" through Fiverr who promised extensive social media promotion which delivered nothing but disappointment.
What can an author expect from these services? Depending on the plan (basic to premium):
Overall, none has proven its worth. Only once has a book promotion exceeded, much less met, expectations of breaking even. In speaking with a colleague with whom I collaborated on a collection of stories, his experience echoed mine. We published primarily in different genres, so we weren't really competing against each other for the same readers.
I also hired a social media marketing consultant to assist with book promotion. She did an excellent job of expanding my social network through Facebook and especially through Twitter. She performed website and book sales analyses. In short, she did everything--and more--that she promised, but book sales still floundered. The ambition of social media marketing generating sufficient book sales to at least pay for the service turned to ashes. I hired a public relations firm on a 3-month contract to boost book sales. The result ... crickets. That poor decision wasted a lot of money. The agency's representative was so embarrassed by the lack of results that she offered an additional month of service at no charge. I don't know what that free service entailed, but the result was the same: nothing.
What's an author to do?
The advice is to focus on quality. The author must make sure that the content is professionally edited and meets professional standards. Check. The author must make sure the cover design appeals and is suitable for the genre. Check. Stiff competition--over 1 million new titles uploaded every year and mine is just one of those--pose astronomical odds against success. Not only must my book compete against the huge glut of books published that year, but it must also compete against the avalanche of books published before it and competing against it for market share.
It hurts to admit that well-written content, good editing, and appealing cover design aren't sufficient to propel a book to success. My best sales come from on-site events unrelated to book promotion: i.e., arts and craft shows. I haven't the foggiest idea why, but I'll take that success wherever I can get it.
I've attended a couple of webinars targeted toward indie authors trying to promote their books. They were basically sales pitches for more expensive workshops or services. If I sign up for an informational webinar, then I want information, not a sales pitch. If I deem from that webinar that the consultant's service will be beneficial, then I'll sign on as a client. But don't try to sell to me straight from the get-go. That's just annoying.
I'm not a marketing professional or expert. As a matter of fact, I thoroughly dislike marketing. That dislike and ineptitude in no way disregard the importance of marketing. Apparently everything I've done doesn't work. What does work?
I wish I knew. Maybe my stories just aren't that good. Maybe I just haven't found the right audience. Maybe ...
In the meantime, I'll continue to hurl my ambitions (and money) at some of the same old tactics in the very definition of insanity of doing the same thing and expecting different results. I keep hoping that something will stick, something will spark.
Until then, I'll continue to write and hope to achieve every author's dream: bestseller status.
The buzzword "value-added" basically means getting something for no additional cost. It's frequently used in reference to service-based businesses. Marketing gurus and business consultants urge entrepreneurs to consider how they can "add value" to acquire and retain clients/customers. What they mean is what are those entrepreneurs willing to give away or do for free?
Authors, for instance, are frequently expected to give their books away. Hundreds of hours of work and, often, hundreds or thousands of dollars spent, to produce a good book mean nothing: in order to attract reader who will then buy your other books, you must give them something for free.
More often than not, the "loss leader" gambit doesn't work and we've only ourselves and, ironically, Amazon to blame. With books available digitally, we get a false sense of cost. Why should I pay $9.99 for a paperback when I can get the same thing in digital format for $5.99, $2.99, or even $0.99? Why should I pay for production and shipping?
As an editor, I often find myself at odds with the tenets of contractual terms and the ingrained urge to "be nice." My contracts are simple: once the client has approved the project, it's complete. I have no further obligation to the project. However, a client occasionally returns to me with a, "Hey, I found an error and need you to fix it."
That's what gets me. Even though I tell my clients that they are expected to review returned documents carefully, I'm sure many don't. They just accept the changes and move on. Later, when the find that their editor (me), who is all too human and imperfect, has missed something, then I feel obligated to correct that error. For free.
Perhaps that makes me a patsy. A pushover.
I once made changes to a manuscript that resulted in an change of page count. I contacted the graphic designer who had designed the cover to request the cover be adjusted to fit the new page count. Let's just say that left a bad taste in my mouth when the designer fired off a truly nasty response.
I would have paid for the additional service. I would never have responded to a client (past or present) in such a manner. I have never recommended that particular designer to another and won't. Nor will I ever use her service again.
But, as a freelancer myself, I understand her perspective.
When explaining my service to new clients, I tell them what to expect. I give them a contract which they're required to sign and return to show they understand the terms of our agreement. I have indeed informed some clients who said they thought X service was included in the fee or agreement that X service was not. This language in my contracts has evolved as such oversights occur and will continue to evolve.
Like any good businessperson, I want to keep my clients satisfied with the service they receive from me. That doesn't mean I won't stand up for myself, but that I must constant balance business savvy with being nice. It's not always easy.