Monday, October 22, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

In my new capacity as the full-time owner of a publishing services company, I had the opportunity to work as a book packager, something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I looked forward to every aspect of the process--even though the publisher can be difficult. Finally, it was a chance for one of my biggest dreams to materialize.

When selecting authors, I turned to some I'd worked with on other projects. But, I wanted to expand beyond the rather short list I had. So, I turned to members of two online groups to which I belong. As this story progresses, you'll understand why I don't name them. I received many impressive resumes and selected the ones I felt were the best fit. They had the experience and credentials to complete the project. But, I also wanted to give a couple of not-so-experienced authors the opportunity to have a book published. Since so many of the authors were seasoned authors, I thought I'd have the extra time to work with the new authors, helping them get their books into publishable form.

This was not a high-paying, super prestigious assignment. I made certain that I was clear about that with each author. They all professed that they understood and were still willing to take on the assignment. They signed contracts that stipulated to the pay, schedule, and expectations.

So What Happened?
I'm sure some of you can see where this is headed. The new authors were a breeze to work with; their work was submitted on time and in pretty good shape. The already published authors? Well, except for one or two, the quality of their work was less than expected. Extensions were asked for, given, and then asked for again. I know what it's like to be a freelancer, so I try to be accommodating. But really, there has to be limits. One asked for a rather lengthy extension, which I granted. A week after the new deadline passed, I got an e-mail from the author telling me the subject was too hard; she couldn't handle it. Another one seemed to fall off the planet. There was confusion about her due date, which I accommodated, but then I never heard from her again. Others failed to meet other provisions of their contracts. Overall, the entire process was disappointing, though there was an author or two that gave me hope that professionalism still exists.

Suggestions for Freelancers
As a result of this experience, I have come up with some suggestions for freelancers. This applies not only to authors but to editors, proofreaders, everyone.

1. Deadlines are important. Your assignment is just one step in a process that has a schedule. Yes, things do come up, and project managers or editors will usually do what they can to accommodate you. But keep in mind that if you're late, you're holding up the entire process, which can jeopardize our credibility with the company who contracted for our editorial services.

2. Be professional. Treat your freelancing as a profession. Unfortunately, I've run into freelancers who look upon what they do as a hobby. People who hire your services expect you to be professional--in fact, they count on it. This means fulfilling contractual obligations and keeping excuses to a minimum.

3. Don't tell the people who hire your services that you have other projects that have a higher priority. This goes back to #2. When you contract for an assignment, it should be given a slot in your project queue. It should be treated as any other job--even if it isn't as prestigious or lucrative as others. We don't want to hear that our job, which you are being paid to do, is not as important as some other job. No, you probably won't say it that way, but that's what we hear. Trust me.

4. If you have any idea that you might not be able to complete the assignment on time, or if you have doubts about having the right skills to do the assignment well, be honest with the project manager. It's better to miss out on one assignment than to be put at the bottom of the desirable freelancer list.

The last of the manuscripts are coming in, thankfully. I am very grateful that the people I hired to copyedit and proof the manuscripts are doing their jobs well. Of course my schedule with the publisher is shot, and the actions of a few have put my credibility on the line.

Will I do this again? Who knows! If I do, I have learned many things about the process. I'm certain that should I need to hire authors in the future, there are few of those I've worked with on this project who would be offered a contract. I'm also certain that I will not recommend them when others come to me looking to hire authors.

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