Working at a Distance: Roundtable
November 20, 1997
What do freelancers and their clients need to tell each other when arranging work? What should you do when the book you are hired to edit is twice as long as expected? Should you use e-mail, fax, or telephone? Or is it more efficient to leave a lengthy message at an odd hour on voicemail?
Our panel explored the civilities, nuances, and necessities of working together at a distance. At a lively panel discussion punctuated with audience participation, veteran editors and project managers described how they communicate about everything from handling of sensitive authors to style sheets, job contracts, and transmittal memos. The theme was pinning down details and expectations on both sides to create an optimum working relationship.
Kathleen McClung, senior publications coordinator at UCSF Nursing Press, and freelance project managers Jill Fox and Sally Smith joined the moderator and veteran freelance editor Virginia Rich in providing valuable tips for freelancers and the people who hire them.
“Ask the person who is assigning the project whether anyone in the company has read all the way through what you are editing,” said Rich. “It is Make No Assumptions time.”
“Ask about the style guide,” said Fox. “Chicago 13 or 14? The Web is using Associated Press style, and there is Wired style too. (San Francisco book packager) Weldon Owen now uses serial commas—a biggie in that world.”
Technology counts too, said Smith. Ask project managers whether they want you to edit on disk or on hard copy. “Do you want to see what I did? Will we transfer files by e-mail, or on disks via Federal Express? Are we PC-compatible or using Macs? Who pays for Fed Ex? It is smart to have these things in writing.”
“Use every mode of communication. Though we do everything by e-mail on some projects, a telephone call is a lot more personal and we should use telephone contact regularly,” said Smith.
A freelancer must know who at a company has the final say on various matters, and the contract should reflect it if you will deal with only one rewrite.
“Copyediting means you can't keep changing the manuscript,” said Fox.
A copyediting invoice should reflect when work starts and ends. For a second round of editing, the second invoice should reflect the next set of dates.
Freelancing for software companies presents special issues, and deciding when a job is finished is not the least of them, said Rich. What is part of the initial copyedit, and when do revised pages become a new project?
“To maintain good relationships, be honest about how long it takes to pay a freelancer,” said Rich. “Find out whether the accounting department is aging payables.”
McClung advises freelancers not to be shy about articulating successes. “Use letters of praise and testimonials as marketing tools for new jobs.” The best project managers remember to thank freelancers and to pass along honors even when they come months after a project ends.