KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, June 02, 2014

Dear Newly Self-Employed Editors . . .

A few newly self-employed editors and soon-to-be self-employed editors kept me awake the other night.

No, they weren't partying noisily in my living room. They were in my head, asking for reassurance that self-employment won’t leave them broke and regretting that they left the safety of a weekly paycheck and workdays laid out for them by a supervisor. Those editors in my head told me that all the good things I’m always saying online about being self-employed helped convince them that they too can succeed at self-employment. To get them to leave my head, I had to write this post. I had to make sure that they’re developing a realistic view of freelancing.

Even after nearly 20 years of running my own editing business, I haven't burned out. In fact, some might say that I sound like a cheerleader for self-employment:

I started my own business in 1995. Coincidentally, I haven't hated work since December 1994.
~ * ~
My international authors rock! One of my longtime authors from Japan was having trouble finding the right words in English to explain to me the concept he was trying to express in his manuscript. I don't speak or read Japanese, so we couldn't use that route. So I guessed, he guessed, and we still weren't where he wanted to be. Teacher that he is—in addition to being a surgeon and an author—he drew me a picture and sent it to me. Ta-da! I saw exactly what he meant, I emailed him to confirm, and we're done with another manuscript!
~ * ~
Starting the day with two happy authors and a new author by way of referral. Who needs caffeine?

And self-employment usually is joyful for me. The happiness I express here and on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email lists isn't faked or inflated.

But I want newbies to know that I have hard days too—and that I love freelancing despite those days. At different points since I started my business in 1995, I have

  • Wondered whether insanity was what led me to believe that I could run a business while parenting children
  • Tried multiple times to put a baby down in a crib for a nap so that I could edit with both hands, only to hear indignant shrieks when the baby realized I wasn't still holding him
  • Edited while wearing pajamas, sipping chicken soup, and dabbing at my nose because an upper respiratory infection had me feeling miserable and a looming deadline left no time for me to crawl back into bed
  • Taken multiple breaks from editing to make sure that a distracted child was still on task at homework time
  • Asked my spouse, who is also self-employed, to stop talking about his own workday long enough for me to finish editing a problematic sentence that I have just reread five times and still don't comprehend
  • Had a day from hell when the manuscript I was working on was in horrid shape but the client's budget didn't allow for extensive editing, and the client had the interpersonal skills of a rhino . . . and my preschooler started and stopped 12 different craft projects and then had a screaming fit because most of them weren't turning out how he had planned
  • Panicked when I realized that as soon as I finished the project I was working on, I wouldn't have a new project to start on right away
  • Wondered how I was going to be able to make the month's mortgage payment anywhere near on time, because three clients hadn't paid me when they were supposed to
  • Lost a major client because the client and I were no longer a good fit
  • Fired a major client because the project manager treated me—and all other freelancers—shabbily
  • Made a mistake in the way I scheduled multiple projects that angered several clients, so I panicked about how I was going to get everything done and appease everyone
  • Worked a 15-hour day to meet a deadline and had no time to relax with family members
I have improved my self-care, time-management, budget-management, client-management, and marketing skills tremendously over the years—and my children are a lot older and more self-sufficient now—so bad days happen a lot less often than they once did. But there are still tough times, and I have to cope with them. How?

  • When I have to concentrate no matter what difficulties are going on at home or in the work sphere, I mentally compartmentalize. Get busy working, and your brain’s worry subroutines will run slower or even shut off for a while. But curl up in a ball on the couch and watch cartoons all day, or mope around and worry all day, and your problems will just keep piling up. Plus, you might miss a project deadline and thus lose a client.
  • I give myself little bits of time for fun and relaxation throughout the day, whether that is talking with a friend or family member, going outdoors and enjoying birdsong and flowers, looking at online photos of cute animals, reading a novel, or taking a short nap.
  • Every time I put together a project schedule, I add extra time to it because I know my initial schedule will be too optimistic, which will make life tough for me and tick off clients.
  • Every single weekday, and sometimes even on weekends, I spend time marketing. That means keeping my name in the minds of people who can supply me with work: clients, potential clients, and colleagues. For me, what works is spending some time on profession-related email lists and blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on LinkedIn, and staying in contact with existing clients by email. Because I do all of that consistently, it has been many years since I've had gaps in my work schedule, which means that income flow is much steadier now than when I first started freelancing. Even when I have more than enough work and am on deadline, I still do some marketing every weekday.
  • Some colleagues might believe that I only chirp happily about self-employment. They would be wrong. I vent privately to a few friends, to mentors, and to family members.
  • I focus on the good parts of self-employment. When I celebrate the happy-making stuff, I feel empowered and even get into the magical editing zone. And potential clients find my enthusiasm catching. But when I go over and over the occasional upsetting stuff, I feel robbed of my power and skills and start making more mistakes in my work. Potential clients are turned off by negativity, and colleagues aren't inclined to give referrals to a freelancer who constantly complains.
So yes, starting self-employment is scary, can induce vertigo, and can make you want to pull your hair out. But if you keep at it, learning new skills and getting reassurance from fellow freelancers, you just might find that it makes you quite happy.

Here's an update.


Lori said...

YES to all of this! It's hard when you're starting out to get a grip on all the "management" things and keep some kind of balance, but with time and most certainly effort, it will come. You have to work out the systems and tricks that work for you — it's definitely not one size fits all — but when it's working, wow is self-employment great.

thread_bunny said...

As usual, I think you are living inside my head and in my life! Yes to all of this (what Lori said!). Self-employment is great, but you do have to WORK at it to make it great!

I have days when I would give my left arm to not have to be responsible for all of the work and business... Some days it's great to be the boss, other days you just want to let someone else make all the decisions and worry about the projects and money.

AC Editing said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I have experienced most of what you mentioned. It's nice to know that there is a happy, stable future to self-employment, as long as you put the work in now. Because I've only been at it (officially) for a year and a half, my experience with freelancing is still bipolar — one month I'm ecstatic and confident because I have so much work coming in and clients are satisfied, and the next month I'm wondering whether I'm even half decent at editing because I have barely any work, or none at all. Then there's the toddler....

So thank you for this very real post, and for your optimism. By the way, your marketing efforts really do pay off; I see your name everywhere in the online editing world.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

You're welcome, AC Editing. I have found, over and over again, that the best way to deal with slow times is to do some marketing activities and then get up and do some physical work or physical activity. If you keep doing that on every single slow day, you'll survive emotionally till things even out again.

Unknown said...

Great post, Katharine. Self-employment requires discipline, but one has the autonomy and freedom to organise how and when to work, and which clients to cherish or let drop. I'm with you on the need for marketing - it's all to easy to neglect this activity when you're busy.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post! Since I haven't been able to land much editing work, I sometimes question my abilities as an editor. It doesn't help that I can't afford (yet!) to buy all of the resources that I would like. So, rather than give up on what I really want to do, I'm taking temp jobs to help pay the bills, and will continue to look for editing jobs. I know that eventually I'll be able to switch to editing exclusively. The encouragement I see from you and other longtime editors is wonderful!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hang in there, Shawna! I have confidence that you'll be editing exclusively one day. It does take time to build up a clientele.

Unknown said...

Hi, Katharine, I was immediately attracted to your site by your moniker. I have only recently begun to dip my toe into these waters, but people like yourself and Louise Hornby have offered, however unwittingly, so much sorely needed encouragement. So, thank you for that, and could you possibly offer any advice about how best to acquire the tools of the trade? I feel right now as though I'm doing more reading about it than anything else, but I thought it best to start from the ground up. I'll continue to check out your blog! Stephanie

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Stephanie, keep on reading. Take as many courses as you can, and take a look at and follow some of the editorial professionals on these two of my Twitter lists:



You might also want to check the blogs of those people on the lists whose tweets seem most informative to you.

To get some experience, volunteer to proofread the publications of charitable organizations whose causes you believe in. In return, ask the organizations to give you credit in their publications as their proofreader. That way, you can later point to a roster of clients for whom you've done work. (You don't have to mention that you did the work as an unpaid volunteer.)

Unknown said...

Katharine, I will do all of the things you recommended...starting with reading everything I can click on in your sidebar. I am floored by the volume of your work; you are truly an inspiration! Again, thank you for the advice. Continued success to you.

Unknown said...

Katharine, I've been freelancing for 8 years now (come next month), and there's no way I would ever voluntary go back to full regular employment. However, I still struggle with marketing and "keeping my name in front of people" -- or even putting it in front of people, so this and your other posts and links and all the other resources you provide in that regard are immensely helpful, thank you. However, what I really wanted to say was that it's good to read of your difficult times and that you do sometimes tear your hair out. I'm with you on not expressing negativity, especially publicly; but the solely "chirpy" nature of your posts in all forums does come to seem a little unreal after a while. It's good to know that you also feel and express the reality of the not-so-good times or aspects, even though I don't see those expressions. This makes you more real and it makes your other posts -- the "chirpy" ones -- more real and less collectively saccharine ;-). Thank you for them all. :-)

Stephanie said...

Hi Katharine,

I stumbled here this morning after you included a link in a recent EFA posting response (one more anecdote proving that your marketing strategy works!) and just wanted to say thanks! I've been employed full-time and freelancing part-time for some years...and can feel myself approaching the tipping point. I want to freelance full-time (this work is much more fulfilling!) but I've been hesitant to give up the stability of the old 9-5. Now that I have a baby at home, the pull to craft a work schedule that fits our particular family's life best is increasingly strong. Thanks for the honest pros and cons, and real-life examples of what this work has looked like for you.

Happy Friday!


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

You're very welcome, Stephanie. I'm so glad that you found my post helpful.

This post gets into the nitty-gritty of working with a baby or toddler around, so you might find it useful too:


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