A guest post by Louise Harnby, a UK-based publishing professional with many years’ experience in proofreading and editing. Louise’s blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour, is a great spot for all sorts of guidance, opinion, and resources about professional editing issues. I found Louise’s blog not long ago and we struck up a conversation — discovering, in the course of swapping posts, that we share some life/work values – particularly that, like many other editors, we’re juggling work and kids and trying to find the right mix of fascinating work and family time. Here, Louise talks about how you know when you’re ready to say no to new work for a while. It’s worth learning how to do. Over to Louise…
A UK colleague recently delighted her Facebook friends by announcing that after many years of hard graft she’d finally earned a liveable wage and felt comfortable describing herself as a professional editor. After she’d posted her news she became concerned that she might have sounded smug – not at all, we all said. On the contrary, her fellow freelancers were delighted that she’d achieved this goal and felt that “newbies” would be encouraged to continue on their journey.
It made me reflect on my own situation over the past few weeks. Getting to a point where you have a regular flow of work from a group of reliable clients is a true watershed in editorial freelancing. I’ve worked hard since 2005 to get my proofreading business up and running, and enjoyed the thrill of saying yes when a job offer hits my email inbox… so hard in fact that saying no has become a challenge.
Here in the UK the kids have just had a couple of weeks off school for Easter. My eight-year-old was ready for the break. So was I – I’d been flat out with work for the past three months. But I was offered a couple of proofreading projects from one client, and then another publisher offered me one more. My response? Yes, yes, yes.
With the small one at home, I had to work in the evenings. This is something I’m perfectly happy to do if needs be. As long as I’m strict about a reasonable cut-off time, and providing I get the lighting set up properly, it doesn’t present a challenge for me once in a while. And anyway, the work I’d been offered was interesting…
Well, sort of interesting. It depends on what you’re comparing it with. Saying yes meant two weeks of running around with young children, then hastily stuffing my dinner in my mouth before settling down to a few hours’ proofreading every night, when I could have spent my evenings relaxing with my husband, snuggled up on the sofa with the Labrador, watching our latest batch of DVDs. And hadn’t I been ready for a break?
Somewhere along the road of multi-tasking, choice-making, and work/life balancing, I have rendered myself dysfunctional in the “no” stakes. I remember why I always said yes back at the start of my freelance career – it wasn’t so much the money as the desire to be seen as a “call worth making” to my new clients. Let’s ask Louise – she’s reliable; she’s available; she always says yes. That’s how I built up my business and I didn’t want to slip off the radar.
This week my daughter is back at school. The precious routine of doing the school drop-off, walking the dog and knuckling down to the day’s proofreading before my chirpy girl walks through the door at 3.30 pm is back in place.
I chose freelance work back in 2005 because it offered me the opportunity to make choices about when and how I worked. No office job could match the deal. But lately I’ve been so busy saying yes that I’ve failed to achieve the “how and when” choices that underpinned my original goals. I need to shift the balance. I understand that some freelancers can’t afford to lose these valuable weeks of income; I recognize that due to the nature of their client base this isn’t an option for everyone. But it is an option for me – I set out on this very journey because of that fact. Indeed, my entire business plan was premised on it. My client base is now established enough that I can stay on the radar if I take a few weeks’ vacation throughout the year. The realm of “no” beckons, and I need to heed its calling.
Louise Harnby is a UK-based freelance proofreader with 22 years’ publishing experience. Her clients are primarily academic publishing houses specializing in the social sciences and humanities, though she also works in the trade sector on fiction and commercial non-fiction. She trained with the London-based Publishing Training Centre and is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Louise hosts The Proofreader’s Parlour, a blog that offers information, advice, opinion, comment, tips, resources and knowledge sharing on proofreading and editing.
Other ways to get in touch with Louise: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter (@LouiseHarnby), the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services, and her website: Louise Harnby | Proofreader.