This week's blog entry in LinkedIn touched upon the failure of buyers to comprehend the limitations of the platforms they use to hire freelancers and then veered off into familiar territory: that of low expectations.
My husband, as usual, is correct: You can ask for good, cheap, and fast, but you'll only get two of them in any combination. Too often, I come across solicitations that demand all three. Fiverr is notorious for skinflint buyers:
I freely admit that my temper starts to sizzle when I come across RFPs like this, because it indicates the following:
This person left the budget open, probably because he hasn't a clue as to what this type of project entails. Because he doesn't have a clue, the delivery time completely misses the mark. I'd need at least six weeks to write, edit, and format the book.
And here's another:
Yep, it's another absolutely clueless buyer.
My solution to dealing with such buyers goes one of three ways:
I'm probably missing out on quite a few projects that way, but I refuse to so drastically undercut the value of what I do. I'm fighting the good fight on behalf of all writers and editors. It's a war I'm sure to lose, but perhaps I can teach a few people out there that the service they want performed on their behalf really does require skill, effort, and time.
Business seems to understand that--except for those that use freelance platforms like Textbroker. That platform offers a range of writing projects from 50 words to 2,000 words. The average 500-word blog article on Textbroker yields payment around $5 to $7. Considering that it takes me about 90 minutes to write that kind of article, the hourly rate to produce content just isn't worth it.
Freelancing is a cutthroat business. Vendors hungry for work undercut their competitors, practically giving away their service for free. It's a poor precedent they set. The only silver lining I can see is that those vendors usually produce poor quality work, leaving buyers dissatisfied. Unfortunately, a buyer who was disappointed by one vendor will then be reluctant to spend a fair fee to hire another. He knows that hiring a second vendor to fix what the first botched increases his expenses, but he doesn't stop to realize that his costs overall would be lower if he'd hired the better vendor first at the higher rate.
Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. You get what you pay for.
And if you're a freelancer, too, consider your rates carefully. By undercutting your competition to be the lowest priced vendor out there, you're devaluing the entire profession. Don't lower your expectations. You're trying to make a living and you can't do that if you're working for a fraction of a penny.
Learning as I go
Never assume. It's a lesson I learn over and over again.
I recently delivered a gig--editing a screenplay--and learned later that the author did not see the changes and corrections I'd made on his manuscript. He actually printed out the pages of his original and my edited version to compare them, word for word. How tedious! Since I used the "track changes" feature on MS Word, I figured the returned file would automatically show all the corrections and changes.
Not so. Lesson learned: make sure the client can see the edits regardless of his or her skill.
I now alert clients to activate the "track changes" feature on MS Word when opening up their edited files and also include a PDF copy that shows that changes made. I suppose it's best not to assume that people have more than beginner level skill with this ubiquitous program.
I also cobbled together my first vendor contract recently. Thus far, I've had good luck trusting in the integrity of clients. Only one thus far has defaulted on payment; however, a current client who's a consultant herself requested a contract. I found that intimidating, but managed to get through it by not trying to mimic "legaleze." I kept the language plain and straightforward and it seemed to work well.
Lesson learned: contracts can be simple.
I was contacted by a potential client responding to my proposal to ghostwrite a book for her. She wanted to discuss the project. That's actually a good idea; however, the freelance platform prohibits direct interaction between vendor and client and I felt obligated to inform her as such.
Another potential client posted an RFP for a project totally unsuited for the freelance platform. Don't get me wrong: I'm not knocking Fiverr. That's how I get most of my freelance gigs. But it's not a one-size-fits-all solution to projects. The platform imposes limits on vendors and on projects. The project in this instance would require more than the 30-day maximum the platform allows and, if assigned to me, will likely result in a fee higher than Fiverr allows me.
By the way, no, I don't give volume discounts. Words don't get cheaper if you want more of them. I also charge for time spent on research, because my time is valuable, too.
Lesson learned: A client that doesn't value the work performed won't pay a fair wage for it.
Suggestions for clients, real and potential:
Unrealistic expectations are doomed to disappointment. If you haven't the funds to pay a fair fee for the project, then either adjust your expectations or postpone the project until you can afford it. Or find a volunteer.
The story: Bringing it all together
Over the weekend I read a collection of paranormal romance novellas. For those who aren't up to date on fiction terminology, a novella is longer than a short story (>10,000 words) and shorter than a novel (<50,000 words). A novella offers a nice bit of entertainment that can be read over a lunch break or while languishing in a physician's waiting room.
Other than having been written by the same author, these novellas had some traits in common: decent character development, realistic emotion, just enough conflict to keep things interesting without being over-the-top ridiculous, and clean editing. I found no overuse of passive tense, wandering apostrophes, arbitrary capitalization, improper tense switches, or "telling" (as opposed to "showing") that commonly afflict most self-published romance, especially in the paranormal and erotic sub-genres which bear a well-deserved and notorious reputation for poor writing.
I tell you, the competence of the author was a truly refreshing change of pace.
This morning I began reading another paranormal romance. Aside from the funky formatting--and sometimes e-books will pull tricks like that--the contrast couldn't be more obvious. I'll give the author points for general grammar issues; thus far I've found nothing of note. However, stilted, banal dialogue, too-stupid-too-live heroine, unlikable hero, and lots of "telling" instead of "showing" had me skimming pages before I'd finished the first chapter.
I've griped about such problems before.
Today, I want to talk about bringing all those disparate elements together. If you've written a book, do not immediately upload it for the world to see. This bears repeating: If you've written a book, do not immediately upload it for the world to see. I guarantee you it's not ready for public viewing.
Let the manuscript sit for at least a few days. Then use great care and a keen eye and read it from beginning to end. Put on your editor's hat and be ruthless, because you can be sure the public won't spare your feelings. It's a cruel, cruel world out there. When you've identified and corrected errors--malapropisms, discrepancies, redundancies, plot holes, grammar errors, typos, etc.--then let the manuscript sit a while longer. Go over it again. (Yes, I know you're hearing the cliched shampoo instructions in your head: lather, rinse, repeat.) After this second round of self-editing, it's time to bring in a fresh set of eyes.
The fresh set of eyes can be a writing group, handpicked volunteers also known as beta readers, or a hired professional. Writing groups vary in efficacy and new authors tend to try to make everyone happy. Unfortunately, that leads to the story devolving. The author loses her voice and the story loses its interest.
Beta readers often make a crucial part of the publication team. I like to separate my beta readers into critical and general. The critical readers will use laser focus to point out everything that's wrong with the manuscript: a forgotten word here and an unnecessary comma there, blue eyes on page 13 and brown eyes on page 221. General readers give feedback on the overall sense of the story: "You killed off this character on page 300, but he appears again--with dialogue--on page 368." Or: "Your hero was too arrogant, a real jackass, too violent. Tone him down."
Beta readers, though, aren't a sure thing. Some of them volunteer so they get the pleasure of reading a free book, but offer little in the way of feedback. Others really do want to help, but don't wish to offend you and so withhold their sharpest criticism, despite the author's request to be candid and brutally honest.
Hiring a professional editor (or even two) is the author's best best to whip the manuscript into shape. Editors come in three basic flavors: developmental, content, and line. The developmental editor is the big picture guy. The developmental editor primarily works on nonfiction and his function is to ensure the book moves forward. He focuses on plot and characterization. The content editor focuses his attention on plot, characterization, voice, and setting. The line editor (a.k.a. "copy editor") critiques every line of the manuscript, correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting, characterization, voice, setting, etc.
A hired editor is paid to be ruthless, not to be your friend.
Consider carefully the editor's feedback. You've paid for this person's expertise, now don't just toss it out because you don't like what she said about your purple prose. It may be that the editor is a bad fit: that does happen. Or it may be that you paid for a cut-rate editor and got the incompetence you paid for. (See my blog on checking out the competition.) Caveat emptor. Regardless, the author is not obligated to accept every correction or suggestion made by the editor. As ruler of your own little universe--the book--you control its development.
Consider carefully the editor's every comment. His job is not to make you look back; any author can do that all on her own by publishing work that's simply not fit for public viewing. His job is to improve upon what you wrote so that you look good when you publish it. It's to his credit to make your manuscript look as good as possible. The editor helps you bring it all together, to make that story a cohesive whole that follows logically and still engages the reader.