Hens Lay Eggs

food for thought

The ups and downs of freelancing

There’s a lot of good to be said about freelancing, but in a “work at will” world where anyone can fire you for any reason, freelancing becomes just a little more risky. You see, there’s no protection against the usual EEOC culprits when you’re a contractor. That means depositing all your working hours in one client’s basket is a bad, bad decision. A general rule of exit planning for businesses is not to have any one client responsible for more than 20 percent of your income. If you break that rule, then losing that client means you take a big financial hit.

I try to observe that rule; however, 2023 was a tough year. Work was, overall, slow and paying projects few and far between. In years like 2023 and what appears to be the new norm for 2024, I double down on looking for steady, agency-related work. I was fortunate to secure a steady gig with a marketing company editing blogs, Facebook posts, and the like. Overall I find it interesting because of the diversity clients ranging from manufacturers of compostable, single-use eating utensils to blockchain software companies. What’s interesting is when marketing companies hire other marketing companies. Hmm …

That said, my biggest client will no longer be a client within a few weeks due to several reasons, the main one being the client has decided to discontinue to pay for editing. That’s a financial hit that really hurts. I’ve been diligent in submitting proposals and contacting potential clients for work, but the competition is stiff.

The COVID-19 pandemic started the downward spiral. Tech company layoffs and other industry slowdowns created a plethora of freelance writers and editors who jumped on the gig worker bandwagon in the misbelief that writing and editing are easy and either is a good way to make a quick buck. While editing software has been whittling down editing work for human editors, ChatGPT has decimated the availability of good writing gigs.

Freelance writers now often find themselves being recruited to train AI with their writing, thereby earning an income now while working themselves out of future work. It’s a dismal endgame these companies are playing. I don’t apply for those gigs. There are ethical boundaries I refuse to cross, and that’s one of them.

There do still remain companies that value human writers over AI-generation of content. They realize the value and creativity humans bring to the table that AI cannot replicate. The same goes for human editors. AI-powered editing has yet to effectively replace human editors.

With the deluge of new freelance writers and editors plus the double-whammy of AI, many writers and editors are seeing budgets for writing and editing driven downward, except for those coveted clients who remember the value of people and human skill. More often than not, I see writing projects with budgets of less than a penny per word and specifying unlimited revisions.

That’s just unreasonable. I won’t bid on projects like that.

The allure of AI is undeniable: there’s always someone who wants something for nothing or almost nothing. This brings to mind the old adage that everyone wants fast, good, and cheap, but realistically, you can only get two.

Fast + Good ≠ Cheap

Good + Cheap ≠ Fast

Cheap + Fast ≠ Good

AI promises all three, but can only realistically deliver two: Fast + Cheap. It is not good. It’s usually banal and may be incorrect. (AI has been known to life.) However, it may be adequate—and sometimes that’s all a client wants.

For those folks who prioritize quality, a human writer and human editor will always be necessary. That doesn’t mean any human will do. Quality requires experience and skill which one only acquires through instruction and a lot of practice.

Where do your priorities lie?

Double whammy

Nature loves to trip me up. Last week we had glorious weather for February: sunny skies, mild temperatures. And I had the flu.

Not only did I have the flu, but my husband got it, too. Eight days later, I’m still coughing, still exhausted, still careful about what I even consider eating.

This season’s flu virus is no joke, folks. It’s ugly.

So, while I continue to slowly recuperate, I’m also dealing with more bad news which will mean a substantial cut to my income.

How do I cheer myself up?

Periodically, I hop on Author Central to check for book reviews. This typically isn’t a good method for cheering myself up. I call it my regular dose of humility because it keeps me humble.

Like every author, I’m a needy little soul who craves validation and praise, glowing, gushing praise. Like every author, I don’t necessarily get what I want. I did, however, see several new reviews, most for the Triune Brides Alliance series. One of the books received both a 5-star and a 2-star review … for the same reason. One reader disliked that harsh touch of reality; the other reader found it poignant.

I will say that, overall, reviews of that book show readers either love it or hate it. There is no in-between, no neutrality, no “meh” responses.

Actually, I think most of my books strike readers that way.

While I’ve been languishing in an influenza-induced stupor, I have not been writing. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, though. I’ve deleted more books from my Kindle than I’ve completed while languishing on the sofa. One of those books was simply atrocious from the first paragraph. By the end of the first page, I was ready to set fire to my Kindle and pummel the author who thought that horrible, terrible, no good, awful manuscript was worthy of public consumption.

I seldom have such a strong reaction to a book, but that book was truly a spectacular failure of the craft and a sterling example as to why editing matters.

I encounter a lot of hostility toward editors from authors demanding editors justify the cost of their service through ROI in book sales. Those authors do not understand that the value of editing manifests after the book is sold. Competent editing doesn’t sell books; it retains readers.

Cover design, an intriguing cover blurb, social media marketing, advertising: these are oriented toward selling the book. This is marketing. Marketing, by the way, does not guarantee book sales; it increases the likelihood that books will be sold. No one can guarantee book sales.

Editing is not marketing, although good marketing copy is well-edited. Editing contributes to the reader’s experience while he or she is reading the book. Absent or poor editing is glaring and makes content unpleasant to navigate; good editing is invisible and removes the obstacles to reading. Good editing shows the reader that the author cares about the reader and values his or her work.

Here’s another analogy.

Remember the old BASF commercial: “We don’t make the things you buy; we make the things you buy better.” That’s what editing does. It makes your content better.

If you’re writing a book and you care about your readers, then hire a professional editor.

Let’s talk.

It ain’t a mystery

I enjoy cozy mysteries, especially if they have cats as main characters. The Crazy, VA (Lil & Boris) series by Shannon Hill is a great example. Over the past week, I started reading two new mystery series.

The first takes place in the Roaring Twenties. I enjoyed the mentions of that era’s celebrities: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, etc. I enjoyed the description of luxurious, first class train travel from New York to California. I even appreciated the nod to social inequality and lopsided gender expectations, because in August 1920, women had just received the right to vote, and there were yet many more inequalities in U.S. law and social traditions restricting what women were allowed and not allowed to do. Touches like that add verisimilitude.

What I did not like about the story was that the heroine didn’t actually do anything. She ping-ponged from one scenario to the next without design or intent, doing as she was told by her boss and other people, until she solved the mystery by sheer happenstance. For a sleuth, even an amateur sleuth, that’s unforgivable. To be credible as a sleuth, the character must act with intent to sold the mystery.

After finishing the book, I deleted it from my Kindle with no desire to read any more in that series.

The next book I opened was a 3-book set featuring a supposedly helpful feline character. The first page delighted me with a clever turn of phrase. By the end of the second page, I’d detected a distinct lack of editing. Before the end of the chapter, I had deleted the file from my Kindle, disgusted with many misspelled words, incorrect words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors riddling the content.

Both books failed to meet expectations.

The first was an expectation hinging on the mystery trope: a character who acts with intent, however clumsy in manner, to solve a mystery (usually a murder). Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but I developed a taste for mysteries from reading Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, Lindsey Davis, Robert Crais, A. E. Maxwell, and Karen Kijewski. The work by these authors ranges from hardboiled detective stories to genre-spanning mysteries blended with romance. The main characters in these books solve their mysteries through intent; they don’t just bumble around and somehow figure everything out. This is a structural issue that a developmental editor could have helped the author remedy. It’s not something any editing software would have been able to detect.

The second book failed on an even more basic level: copy errors. While running the unpublished manuscript could have fixed many of the spelling errors, it might not have necessarily corrected the malapropisms. Just because a word is wrong doesn’t mean it’s misspelled. In addition, editing software knows rules, but it doesn’t understand context or nuance. The author failed to employ a human editor to clean up the manuscript and it showed … blatantly.

Authors who self-publish rely on cheap, fast software rather than pay a professional editor fail to consider the sales they lose after disappointing their readers. Sure, they made the inititial sale, but a disappointed reader won’t be a repeat customer. There’s no way for the author to count the sales lost due to readers putting him or her on the “do not buy again” list.

I have no formula that can calculate the return on investment for competent editing. Great editing is invisible: your readers won’t notice it. However, they will notice poor editing or a lack of editing … and that notice quickly turns to distaste and disappointment.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it: if your book is good enough for people to spend their hard-earned money to purchase, then it’s good enough for you to invest in its quality. Hire a professional editor.

Author

Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.

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Karen (Holly)

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