I shouldn’t have checked my inbox that evening. ‘How dare you,’ wrote the client. ‘Never in all my professional life have I been treated this way.’
The flurry of angry words continued for a good six paragraphs.
What had I done to deserve this? I’ll tell you.
I had done four hours of extra editing – for free – with a brief note explaining that this work wasn’t in the scope of our initial agreement, so next time additional checks would have to be treated as a separate project. However, perhaps I hadn’t been clear about that, so don’t worry about it this time around.
Not sure how that had set him off, but it had. He was also angry that I’d missed a few typos in the 95,000-word manuscript – a manuscript that required grammatical corrections to nearly every sentence.
In the end, I fired that client.
He didn’t like that, either.
These days, I’ve learned to follow my instincts before I agree to work with someone. Perhaps the above conflict was more about a clash of personalities and styles – something that should be taken into consideration, for both parties, when a writer and editor are looking to work with one another.
Perhaps, though, he was just a douchebag.
If you, too, would like to learn how to be a bad client, here are some tips:
1. Communicate badly
This can manifest in so many ways. For example, not providing enough asked-for details up front about the project, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth. (Once someone emailed me – their very first email to me, mind – with just ‘File attached for proofreading’. Yeah … No.) Also, editors love to correct mistakes, right? What better way to show them just what’s in store by writing your email littered with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.
2. Pay late
Enough said, really. One client got annoyed with me because I chased up his late payment. I hadn’t heard a word from him since sending him the project three weeks previously. Eventually he emailed me and, thankfully, paid but said he expected a ‘grace period’ between receiving the work and paying the invoice so he could check over the edits. Of course I want my clients to be happy with my work, but I’ve done the work and I expect to be paid for it, as agreed. If you don’t trust me to do a good enough job, don’t hire me. Also, pretty sure he could have checked the (very short) project during the three-week payment period.
3. Guilt-trip me when my schedule is full
It takes time to edit a manuscript, so even with a small handful of projects in the works it can mean I’m not available for several months. A lot of prospects seem to expect me to be able to work on their manuscripts pretty much straight away. Normally, I can’t. But can’t you just squeeze me in? I really want to work with you, right now, and I need to publish next month because I need royalty sales in order to feed my cat. No, I really can’t – because if I did, I’d either have to work hugely long days – in which case the quality of my editing would suffer – or I’d have to rush – in which case the quality of my editing would suffer. I’m not prepared to do that to my clients – including the person asking me to squeeze them in.
4. Guilt-trip me when you can’t afford my services
I know editing costs money and I know you probably aren’t earning a full-time living from your books, but I’ve got bills to pay. It’s really difficult to edit books in candlelight and maintain concentration on a diet of dried noodles. Once, a prospect called me up to talk about a potential project and kept repeating ‘I don’t have much money, so …’ Try applying this tactic to other businesses. Go out for dinner and see if you can get a discount on the menu with this line. Go to the cinema and see if they’ll give you a special price. Ask a bookstore owner if you can have a book for a few pennies – after all, it’s just words and paper, right? And you have bills to pay. (If budget is an issue, we can discuss strategies, but please don’t expect me to lower my fees for you just because you can’t afford a service – I can’t afford to do that.)
5. Don’t deliver your manuscript on time
Sometimes life happens. I totally get that. If a difficult unforeseen circumstance rears its ugly head, we can work together to reschedule. But if the manuscript is significantly late because of poor planning on your end, that creates very unwelcome trouble for me. Deliver a manuscript a few days late and I’ll have to work extra hard to deliver it on time without it causing a knock-on effect to my other projects. Even later, and we’re talking about disrupting my cash flow and carefully balanced rota of work. Even though my schedule can fill up fast, it’s still best not to book me in until the manuscript is ready (or really, really nearly ready) to go.
6. Treat me like you’re my boss
One of my biggest pet peeves (though that might be too light a term) is when someone speaks to me as though I have to take on their project because they’re paying me. Of course, without clients I wouldn’t be able to earn a living, but – spoiler alert – you aren’t my only client. As much as you choose me as your editor, I choose you as my client. Plus, even if you were my boss, don’t treat me in a way that makes me want to quit. Because I will.
7. Hire me without understanding the publishing industry
Is this a tall order? I don’t think so. When you hire an editor, you should have a decent idea why you’re hiring them and what you want to achieve by doing so. There are multiple routes to publication. What’s your plan, and where does hiring an editor fit with this? I’m not your magic bullet to publishing success – I’m but one resource in your strategy. Don’t ask for your manuscript to be edited before the story is at its best (or before you’ve even learned enough to write a decent novel in the first place). Don’t reject most of my suggestions, add in more (unedited) text, slap a badly designed cover on the front of your book and then tell everyone I was your editor. Yeesh.
Luckily, I normally have the pleasure of working with wonderful clients.
And I’m getting better at listening to my instincts when someone gets in touch about my services. When a writer and an editor don’t click, it’s not going to be the best of working relationships. It might be perfectly fine, but I prefer to work with people I connect with, who make me happy about being an editor, whose work and abilities I believe in.
What makes a wonderful client?
For me, it comes down to two things: respect and understanding.
When a writer and an editor have mutual respect for each other, the process is so much more pleasant – and effective. And the better a writer understands both their craft and the publishing industry, the more grounded, realistic, in control and confident they are in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Find the right editor for you. Don’t annoy them. And let the good times roll.
Because working with an editor shouldn’t feel like a battle. It should feel like an alliance.