School of Hard Knocks
I've been writing, editing, and formatting documents for well over 30 years, although none of that has been as an employee of a publishing company. I got my start in the marketing department of an architectural and engineering firm. I wrote and formatted A/E proposals. I edited the content written by the architects, engineers, and interior designers that was included in those proposals. It wasn't what I hoped to do or what I wanted to do, but it was the job I got.
Over the years, I worked on advertisements, brochures, newsletters, event programs, catalogs, and manuals for various employers. Being a Jack of all trades, my employers considered me the go-to person for that kind of work that I'd learned on the job, seat-of-the-pants training as it were. Again, it wasn't the kind of work that I once envisioned myself doing, but it was the work that helped put food on the table and clothes on our backs.
At the end of November 2015, I lost my job. One client I'd served for over a decade took their business elsewhere. Another client I served wanted someone else. My employer told me not to let the door hit me on the ass as I left. I dreaded having to find another job and putting myself at the mercy of another employer. In a few months, I began to dabble in freelancing. An initial project soon turned into a trickle of work. I continued to learn and to refine my skills, discovering what I do best and slowly, slowly narrowing my niche from "I'll do anything" to "I'll do a lot of things" to "I'll do these specific things, but not those things."
I liked it. I liked being my own boss.
I never forget what one businessman told me: If you're employed, you have one boss. If you're in business for yourself, everyone's your boss. Basically that means every client is my boss. I prefer to think of them as my partners.
As I developed the business, I learned more about the work of freelancing. I've made many mistakes along the way, some of which relate to the wisdom of evaluating clients. That's a tough one to learn, and I'm afraid I still haven't gotten it right.
One recent example: a client, who had been traditionally published previously and made the decision to self-publish, hired me to edit and format his book. The first round of editing went well, despite the manuscript being in execrable shape when I received it. I've seldom come across a manuscript in such terrible shape, but I buckled down and did my best. He was dismayed to see the "red ink" dripping from the pages.
When it came to begin a second round of editing which would be followed after a second round of revision by proofreading, the client objected. I pointed out what was in our contract; he renegotiated. Because I didn't want to lose what I thought was a good client, I allowed him to take advantage of me. Bad decision. My gut churned and my stress increased. I should have terminated the project at that point.
But I didn't.
The project deteriorated from there. I admit: a lot of that bad experience rests on my shoulders. The client and I are both to blame.
Lesson learned. Bad vibes will now result in project termination. Or I won't take on the project at all. I will no longer allow a client to haggle down my rates after a project has begun. I have tightened my contract to spell out both parties' obligations, so there's no ambiguity. I make sure the contract specifies limits and expectations.
I strive to provide excellent services at fair and competitive professional rates. I will write what you want written and do my best to write it how you want it written. I will edit to improve your content and refine your voice, but I do not guarantee perfection. I will format documents to your specifications, regardless of any outside standards imposed or upheld by anyone else.
This is bespoke service: you get what you request. I am thankful most of my clients are reasonable and professional and don't try to take advantage of me. I'll go above and beyond the contract for them.
Soundtracks of my life
You've probably seen a meme prompting for a response to answer a question along the lines of "What song defines your life?" My standard answer is "It Don't Come Easy" by Ringo Starr of Beatles fame.
Regardless of how silly it may be to refer to a popular tune to describe one's life, it's not so far-fetched to think that our lives are filled with the music we play according to specific times. An easy example is the annual holiday season running from Thanksgiving to Christmas--beginning before Halloween in many retail establishments--during which Christmas carols and similarly themed music is played constantly. Christmas music fills our holidiay season with cheer and good will, whether natural or forced.
Many people play their favorite soundtracks while working. My older son enjoyed listening to "eighties dance music" with his friends. My younger son enjoys country and hip hop. I use different genres of music when doing different activities. From the radio, housework gets classic rock 'n' roll, although I'll happily listen to country while driving or washing the dishes. When reading, I tune into YouTube's vast library. My tastes run to Big Band, classic rock, Big Band--gotta love Glenn Miller's "In the Mood!"--and baroque music.
When I'm writing my own stories, the genre of what I'm writing often determines what I listen to. Writing fantasy and fantasy romance, I find my tastes in music leaning toward Celtic music, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit soundtracks, and the like.
Especially while writing when I don't want to be distracted by commercials every couple of minutes, I'll put on certain channels or movie soundtracks. As I write this, I'm listening to the soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans, one of my favorite movies, although it's been years since I've watched it. The soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean also makes for good music by which to write.
It's interesting to read books that mention specific music. I've noticed this usually happens with younger authors who reference contemporary songs rather than classics which endure throughout the decades or even the centuries. I usually don't recognize those songs the authors reference, but that's okay. Sometimes the mention inspires me to look up the song. I usually find that it's not something I particularly enjoy, but it never hurts to try out a new tune.
Sometimes I'll select a song I particularly want to hear on YouTube and let it run throught the selection it deems appropriate. That's how I discovered the not-so-dulcet tones of Disturbed. Their rendition of Simon and Garfunkle's "Sound of Silence" is haunting. I think Disturbed does it better than Simon and Garfunkle did. That's also how I discovered Five Finger Death Punch. Their music has hidden depths, and I appreciate their patriotism.
I've noticed that seasons also affect my musical preferences. Summer is country and rock, hands down. With fall comes the intricate strains of classical music from Vivaldi and Haydn to Rossini and Chopin. Winter adds in Celtic music with periodic forays into sixties rock from the Zombies' "Time of the Season" to Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking." We can also throw in funky outliers the The Dead South and Theory of a Deadman.
I seldom seek out music more recent than 2000. I detest hip hop and rap. I occasionally catch newer groups like Imagine Dragons on the radio, but most of that doesn't seem to have the same resonance that older music does. I recognize that opinion puts me solidly in the "old fogeys" category along with those gray-haired grouches who shout at kids to get off their lawns. I'm like Waldorf and Statler when it comes to the music of the last twenty years.
We all prefer the music we grew up with, the music that defined our youth. I'm no exception to that rule of preference, even if my tastes are varied.
Several years ago, I learned my mother like country music, the music of her youth. It surprised me, because we didn't have a single country album in the house while I was growing up. We had Perry Como and his ilk. My father enjoyed the Beach Boys, Carole King, Carly Simon, Crosby Stills & Nash, and the Eagles. Being a daddy's girl, I loved their music, too. I still do.
Music forms a backdrop to our lives that no movie producer ever ignored. The music we hear becomes connected to particular times of our lives. We revisit the music that keys into those good feelings and the music that seems to express our sorrow or anger. Music conveys emotion and attitude, and the lyrics tell stories within our stories.
Cover reveal for DOUBLE CUT
New authors especially don't necessarily understand the time it takes to produce a good book. Any craptastic piece of content can be created and published almost instantaneously, but a good story properly formatted and enhanced by a good cover takes time. It may take a lot of time.
The journey of Double Cut is one such example. Writing the story actually took less time than I anticipated; I finished a month early. However, editing will take longer than I hoped due to the revisions I'll be making. There are some key points that I flubbed in the draft. Then there's the cover.
The first designer I hired for the cover was the only one who responded to my request for proposals (RFP) with something other than a glib "Hey, I can do this. Hire me." I liked her portfolio of work and sent her the draft cover blurb (still not finalized), the chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and the cover to Triple Burn. Double Cut is the sequel and will be the second book in what's likely to become a new series. Triple Burn has a gorgeous cover and I want Double Cut to align with that.
Designer #1 submitted four concepts. They weren't what I was looking for at all, so I apologized for not providing sufficient information and gave her further direction. That direction included hyperlinks to other books in the genre for inspiration. She responded with a request to cancel the project as it was beyond her ability. I thanked her for her honesty and canceled the project. No harm, no foul.
Learning from that experience, I hopped into another platform and uploaded my RFP, making sure to be explicit in my expectations. Another designer agreed to do the project. Again, I looked at her portfolio and liked her work. She submitted a draft that was ... awful. Don't get me wrong, the work was technically proficient. The image itself was hideous. So began a long process of explanation and revision until we hit what I would say is 95% there.
Basically, it came down to 95% of what I want is better than 100% of what I don't want. So, I accepted delivery of the project and paid.
Not only do I have a cover for Double Cut, I have the manuscript back from the editor. I'll begin working on revisions, although I can't help but bask in her praise: "Wow! I really liked this book. The pace was perfect; the book full of action. Absolutely no lulls or sagging momentum in the story arc. No plot holes that I detected. Very engaging! ... But the bottom line is I think this is one of your most tightly written stories and I very much enjoyed it. I didn’t want it to end."
I couldn't ask for better feedback.
Look for Double Cut to go on sale for pre-order in February.