Friday, March 30, 2007

Lisa: Freelance Writer

Although freelance writing is a little outside the original scope of my blog, it's still something that many people interested in publishing aspire to do--myself included. Here is an interview with a freelance writer with connections to the local publishing scene.

1. What is your primary freelance specialty?
Nonfiction writing for magazines and newspapers; marketing/public relations assistance for small businesses and nonprofit organizations; public speaking on image-building and communications topics

2. How many years have you been a freelancer?
I've been a freelance writer/marketing consultant for three years. I do some copyediting, too.

3. How long did you work "in house" before going freelance?
Two years at a marketing agency, two years in a nonprofit organization's marketing department/on its magazine staff

4. Why did you decide to become a freelancer?
Odd twist of fate above all things. In short, I was unhappy in my position, was preparing to go to graduate school so thought I'd give freelancing a try, and then I never got to graduate school because I liked freelancing!

5. How many projects do you do in a year?
I probably write 60+ articles a year at this point.

6. How many hours per week do you work, on average?

7. How do you go about finding work?
Word of mouth is a wonderful tool for finding work! Also, I write for a niche industry, and I've found that if I want to approach a different magazine in the industry, the editor already knows who I am, so finding work is that much easier. I also do a handful of cold-querying, with varying results.

8. What is the best thing about freelancing?
As a freelancer, I am able to set my own schedule, accept the projects I want to work on, and work from the comforts of my home office. I don't do well with constraints, so the freedom freelancing offers is difficult for me to give up. Even when I go through phases where I think I want a "real job," I am quickly snapped back to reality when I consider I would have to set an alarm every day.

9. What is the biggest drawback of freelancing?
It would be nice if checks came more consistently. Also, I get overly ambitious and tend to schedule too much at once, which leads to late nights and much stress.

10. What are your favorite websites for freelancers?

11. What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?
It takes time to build your client base, but don't give up too easily. There are a ridiculous number of people trying to make it in this business, and if you don't have faith in what you're doing, you won't last!

12. How is the pay?
Pay for writers depends on the market. Once you are established, set your own rate, and refuse to work for less than that. It will make you want to cry some days, like when you turn down really low-paying work during a slow week, but you'll never make the money you want if you work for pennies. This is still a lesson I remind myself of from time to time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Government Salary Data for Writers and Editors

Here's another point of reference on publishing salaries. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles a massive tome on American jobs called the Occupational Outlook Handbook. At JIST, we took that data and came up with a user-friendly salary reference for the top 280 or so jobs in the U.S. economy. This reference is included in the forthcoming book, Next-Day Salary Negotiation (pick it up at

The DOL groups all writing and editing jobs together in the handbook. Here are some interesting salary stats for this group:

  • Average Earnings: $48,126
  • Beginning Earnings: $27,890
  • 25th Percentile: $36,158
  • 75th Percentile: $65,250

Average Earnings in Major Metropolitan Areas
Metropolitan Area Average Annual Earnings
Atlanta, GA $52,890
Chicago, IL $45,704
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX $50,359
Denver, CO $52,617
Los Angeles, CA $54,223
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN $48,287
New York, NY $59,081
Phoenix, AZ $39,561
San Francisco, CA $62,965
Seattle, WA $65,457

Average Earnings in Most Important Industries
Industry Average Annual Earnings

Professional, Scientific, $51,938
and Technical Services

Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, $48,750
Professional, and Similar Organizations

Publishing Industries (Except Internet) $45,045

Broadcasting (Except Internet) $43,436

Educational Services $43,399

Monday, March 19, 2007

Acquisitions Editor

My move into acquisitions was a bit nontraditional in that there was not anyone at JIST that could train me to do it. The only person with acquisitions experience had left, leaving behind only his notes. So I studied those, and I read our standard book contract over and over, trying to make sense of 10 pages of draconian legalese, peppered with typos. I had also worked with many acquisitions editors at Macmillan, so I knew the role. Basically I took it to mean this:
  • Review unsolicited book proposals and decide whether to reject them outright or present them to sales, marketing, and the president for possible approval.
  • Find qualified, talented authors for projects we've already decided we want to do.
  • Negotiate the terms of the publishing contract with the author and serve as a go-between with the president (the person who signed the contracts for JIST).
  • Work with the author to develop a satisfactory book outline.
  • Coach and coerce the author to meet his/her writing deadlines.
  • Serve as the author's primary point of contact with the publisher throughout the process (and most importantly to them, get them their advance money).
  • Work out all details regarding the book's specifications (price, page count, trim size, target audience, marketing focus, etc.).

Meanwhile, because this was a small company, I continued to do all of the other jobs I had already been doing (development editor, copy editor, production editor, copy writer, proofreader, etc.). It's no small feat making my right and left brains work together as well as they do, and I would hazard a guess that there aren't many people who would be good at (and would enjoy) doing all of these different things at the same time. That's just one of the quirks of working for a small publisher--you do it all because they can't afford to get as many people as it would take to do it all. But you are rewarded by having the kind of project ownership you'd never get anywhere else.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Publishers Weekly Salary Survey

Publishers Weekly is a magazine for booksellers and publishing professionals that is the place to look for news and trends in the book publishing industry. It also has lots of cool reviews of new books that are coming out. I highly recommend that you check it out.

PW publishes its annual salary survey in July. I have a copy of the 2006 edition and was hoping to use it to quote some entry-level salary statistics to you. But lo and behold, there is not much specific salary info to be had, other than the salaries of the top execs (did you know that the top dude at Barnes & Noble made $1.4 million in 2005?). I know they broke out average salaries by job title in past surveys. I don't know what (or who) coerced them to stop doing that.

But there are some interesting things to pass along, anyway. Employees at smaller publishers reported being more happy than those at mid-size and large companies. But people at bigger companies made more money overall.

In 2005, 44% of publishers were located in the mid-Atlantic states (including New York); 18% were in the Midwest; 16% were in the West; 12% were in the South, and 10% were in New England.

Average work week for managers was 51 hours; for sales/marketing it was 47 hours; for editorial it was 46; for rights it was 46 (and in a future post I'll explain what "rights" are--this is what my husband specializes in); and in operations it was 46 hours.

In terms of job security, 55% said theirs was the same as the preceding year; 25% said it had decreased; 20% actually felt their jobs were more secure (who are these people?).

But here's the piece that's most relevant to you: 85% of operations people said they'd recommend publishing as a career to a recent college graduate; 82% of editorial people said they would; 81% of management said they would; and 78% of salespeople said they would (probably because you can make more money in sales in a different industry).

I will keep digging for stats on entry-level salaries.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Development Editor (at a Small Publisher)

So I went from a large conglomerate to a small, family owned publisher that specialized in a very small niche: books about how to find a job.

I was once again editing text for content and structure (adding headings and sculpting text into reader-friendly elements). But there was a twist: Suddenly, I was asked to write the actual cover copy and direct the cover design. I was at a loss for the first few projects because I'd never had to look at graphic design with a critical and sales-oriented eye. "Looks great to me!" I'd say. But I trained myself to have educated opinions about covers. So now I say stuff like "That spine doesn't pop, the photo won't appeal to the target audience, and the font is horrid!" (Only in a nice way.)

I found myself getting more involved with workbook-type products as well as assessments. We also produce videos and software, so I learned a bit more about those products as well.

In the summer of 2000, my boss, his boss, and her boss all left suddenly (for different reasons). So then there was a leadership hole above me three layers deep. We went for over a year without a boss or an acquisitions editor. So we were quickly running out of things to edit. So my coworker and I decided to start being acquisitions editors, too. Later we were officially promoted to the roles.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Managing Editor

Sorry for the delay in getting this new post out there. Blogger has had some outages this week and I was unable to access it. Keep checking back, because I'm doing some exciting research with freelance editors, I have some other great guest experts lined up, and I'm planning a post about salaries, which is something I am always asked. Now, to continue the story of my own career:

When the opportunity arose (as the result of a merger) to work on travel guides, I jumped at it. I went to the managing editor and told him I really wanted to be on his team. Pretty quickly, he made it happen. So I went back to the title of Senior Production Editor. The new team did books for four different imprints, but the travel guides were the most attractive to me. So I was fortunate enough to be asked to specialize in them.

In addition to the challenge of learning a new style guide, new design specifications, and new processes, we quickly found another obstacle we hadn't anticipated. In order for us to have these jobs, people in New York had been laid off. So those who remained were not all that into the idea of helping us succeed (really, I'm being kind). In addition, most of them had only recently learned to use a computer (which continues to blow my mind to this day). So it was much more difficult than it needed to be.

As Senior Production Editor, I was in charge of making sure our production editors learned the very intricate style guide (68 jam-packed pages). I often managed 12 or more book projects simultaneously (and some people on the team had as many as 20). I was often a liaison between disgruntled proofreaders in Indianapolis and disgruntled editors in New York. And I attended production scheduling meetings held over the speakerphone with the people in New York.

I was eventually promoted to Managing Editor for the travel titles. In addition to doing everything mentioned previously, I often led the production scheduling meetings (in which people from all parts of the process reported on the status of every project we were working on—dozens upon dozens at a time, and a total of 600 books a year for our group). Our goal was to avoid any books being late to the printer.

After our overall managing editor left, we began reporting to a manager in New York. I was in charge of making sure the day-to-day operations ran smoothly when he wasn't in town. I also coordinated all freelance copy editors, and had a pool of 50 people I trained and matched with the books they were best suited to doing. I also managed all corrections to be made to books that were being reprinted. And I led quarterly staff trips to the New York office, where our new production editors got to meet the editors they worked with over the phone and e-mail.

After three years, Macmillan was sold to Pearson. Pearson kept the computer books but put the reference division up for sale. That was my cue to move on to my next role—as Development Editor at JIST Publishing.