Forums Club Ed Editors’ Forum Getting paying work

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    • #55005
      Jennifer Lawler

      In the Hello, World thread, Jake mentioned the challenge with making the switch between getting experience by doing DE for free and getting those first precious paid jobs.

      In my experience, the key is in figuring out where your potential clients are and to try to meet them in those spaces. Who your potential clients are is not so much about identifying a genre as about identifying what you want your work to do for people.

      (The following is a slightly modified excerpt from my Club Ed book that provides some steps.)

      I feel like my purpose as an editor is to empower women to tell stories about their lives, whether this takes the form of memoir or fiction. My purpose also implies (through the use of the word empowering) they’re having trouble telling those stories.

      Some further reflection on this tells me that I don’t want to work with writers who are blocked, or who are struggling with serious mental or emotional problems that are getting in their way. I’m simply not equipped to deal with these issues.

      Rather, I want to work with writers who are doubting themselves or don’t yet have the skill set to successfully convey their vision. I have the ability and knowledge to help these people. One main way I do this is by helping writers figure out what the story is and to dig deep to get it out. In other words, I help them learn craft.

      Additionally, I’m not interested in working with people who treat writing as a hobby. I want to work with serious students of writing. Therefore my pool of potential clients is professional women committed to learning craft to tell their stories.

      Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t work with a stay-at-home mom or that I won’t work with men or that I won’t work with someone who is nonbinary. I will, and have. The purpose of this refining process is to narrow down the places where you can reach potential clients. If anyone in the world could be a client, where do you find anyone? I don’t know. But I do know where to find professional women committed to learning craft to tell their stories.

      I recognized that there were a number of women I knew who, like me, had had success as nonfiction writers, but wanted to spend more time working on their fiction. However, the skills of nonfiction and fiction are different, and professional writers can struggle with the transition. So I became a guide for helping women shift from writing nonfiction to writing fiction or creative nonfiction.

      This may seem like a very narrow group, but that’s a good thing! The more you can pinpoint exactly who your ideal client is, the easier it is to find them and let them know what your fees are for helping them solve their problems.

      I know exactly where to find the people I’ve defined as my ideal client type. I’m already Facebook friends with them. I’m in the same writers’ groups as they are. I go to the same conferences. Its just a matter of being present and letting them know what I do. (I rely largely on networking and referrals for indie business.)

      Now, let’s see about applying this process to someone who isn’t me.

      Suppose your purpose is to help emerging writers find their voices. You think about this for a while and you decide that you love working with teens, and so you would like to start coaching teen writers at the library. You know exactly where to find the library and also you have a good sense of where you might find teen writers—at the local high school. So, you could reach out to them and tell them about your services.

      But before you do that, the question you must ask yourself is, “Can this clientele pay a fair market value for my services?” Because if the answer is no, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. Or, possibly a nonprofit organization funded by arts grants but that is outside my realm of expertise so let’s just assume you’re as profit-motivated as I am.

      Teens writing novels don’t have any money to spend on your services. Their parents might but it is doubtful that they would dig very deep or very often. So while this could be a nice gig you do on the side because you love to see thirteen-year-olds realize they have potential, you’ll have to revisit your purpose insofar as profit motive is concerned.

      What kinds of emerging writers could afford your services? Who else might want to learn to tell stories? What about retirees interested in the legacy they are leaving? “Legacy” isn’t just about their estate. Maybe they want to share what they know or give their children a better sense of what their lives were like.

      Retirees are much more likely to have disposable income and be willing to spend it on something as important to them as a story they want to leave behind. Can you think of where you might find these potential clients? The senior center, the Osher Institute, next door?

      What could you do to meet them there? Teach a class, host a write-in, give a talk?

    • #55306
      Jake Nicholls

      Thank you, Jennifer, this is really insightful. I hadn’t really thought of looking at potential clients from that angle before and I’m definitely going to make some time to do some serious thinking along those lines.

      When thinking about a potential client base, how much do you take into consideration their end goals – e.g. those whose priorities are learning the craft of writing vs. those who are focused on the publishing side of things?

      In the section on my website where I explain what developmental editing is, I’ve put the emphasis on ‘the art of storytelling’ and learning to become a better writer as an extra perk of the process of revising a specific manuscript. Someone recently pointed out to me that a lot of authors might be less concerned with that ‘craft’ approach and more focused on the concrete aim of getting traditionally published or making their independently published book successful. In that case, they don’t necessarily want to hear that they aren’t already a better writer, if that makes sense.

      I’m considering whether to re-frame my services with this in mind. I’m working my way through your self-paced course on editing query letters, synopses etc., Jennifer, and once I’ve done that and had a bit of practice, those are definitely some lower-cost options that I could add to my services that would tie-in nicely with the ‘boost your chances of getting published’ angle. However, I must admit I am wary of marketing my services too far in the direction of ‘I can help you get accepted by a publisher’ and away from ‘I can help you tell a good story’ – not that these are mutually exclusive, of course, but I don’t want to mislead people or give them the wrong impression of what my services will help them achieve.

      If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d appreciate your input!

    • #55366
      Jennifer Lawler

      Jake, this is a great point. Your friend is right that some people just want to get their book “ready” for (self) publication, as in eliminating obvious errors, but if that’s not really your jam then I think it’s a good idea to downplay that on your site. If you want to work with writers on becoming better writers, versus just prepping a ms for publication, then I think it’s very valuable to signal that in the way you write your website copy, etc. (which it sounds like is what you’ve done).

      As you say, growing in skill and wanting to publish/get published aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s always great to have a range of services you can offer (such as query letter critique), but it’s also incredibly helpful if you are clear to yourself and others about the kind of work you want to do.

      If you want to be able to offer other services to help people grow in craft (at a variety of price points to deal with the fact that people have various budgets), you could think about offering coaching or ms evaluation, where you’re not doing a full dev. (Less time-consuming so less expensive.)

      If you’re not too much of an introvert (I know many editors are), a great way to start the shift to paying work is to hang out where local writers are–writers’ groups, local workshops or conferences, etc.–and get to know what their needs are. You won’t necessarily turn a contact into a client but often such contacts will spread the word.

      Also, ask the people you’ve done free work for if they would provide a testimonial and/or a referral–it’s so hard to ask but people are often very willing to help, they just need to know what you need.

      • #57175
        Jake Nicholls

        Thank you so much, Jennifer! You’ve given me a lot of food for thought, and I think you’re absolutely right about sticking with what I’m comfortable with re: the aim of my editing services. I really appreciate your guidance!

    • #63251
      Nancy Disenhaus

      Hi, Jake and Jennifer, I have missed this thread, as my normal email has been kaput for several days (woe is I), and I am now using gmail ( in case you want to reach me. (Jennifer, I am still trying to get hooked up with the DE book club and have started Where the Crawdads Sing–such gorgeous language that I am seduced and probably won’t think of anything I would recommend or change; Jake, will you be participating in that starting this Wednesday?) Anyway, I am just now catching up on these posts. Jake, I really like your thinking and would love to see your website; would you share the name? Mine is I managed to cadge three testimonials from the few folks I’ve worked for, and they were very gracious in responding to my request, though it took some persistence for one of them to cough up the goods (my old dissertation advisor, whom I edited several article for a few years ago as a grad student but who is on sabbatical and apparently doesn’t reply to emails all that much these days). Being shy turns out not to be an effective way to get what I want, so my current editing motto is Mitch McConnell’s annoyed comment on Elizabeth Warren’s determination to read aloud during a hearing Coretta Scott King’s letter from 1986, which McConnell somehow found inappropriate: anyway, new motto is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I am doing book coaching along with the eventual DE with the high school YA fantasy writer I think I mentioned, so I am now reading up on book coaching and planning to learn the ropes. I will definitely ask the student or her faculty advisor for a testimonial at the end of the project. Not sure how impressive mine are so far, but it’s a work in progress, as I am. This job and one other came to me from my local editing teacher/long-ago student here in Montpelier VT. I also went to a book talk last week by a VT author who teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and we had a wonderful convo, after which she asked if I’d be available to edit her next book! I am not betting the farm that this will actually happen, but it was exciting. And for one more idea, I went to the local chapter of the Burlington Writers Workshop, though I was transparent about the fact that I am an editor, not a writer (fraud complex!). It was wonderful hearing the writers discussing several pieces from their perspective, and I chimed in too, which apparently was welcome. I did not give out my card (which I have handed to two people, one of whom is my son), but I did encounter a very successful author there, Laurie Forest, who lives in this area and whom I’d met twice before, once at our VT chapter of the EFA and once on an earlier visit to this writers workshop. She urged me to come again. So there are a couple of ideas for encountering writers who might be looking around to find an editor. So far, very little cold hard cash has resulted, but I am ever hopeful.

      • #64233
        Jake Nicholls

        Hi Nancy, good to hear from you. I am indeed going to be joining in on the DE book club – looking forward to it!

        I really like your website, especially all the quotations about writing – I think that’s a great idea! It creates very positive, inspirational vibes around the editing process, which otherwise can seem a bit daunting to a lot of people. If you’d like to look at my website, it’s at It’s a bit bare and grey at the moment, but I’m working (very slowly) on some new graphics behind the scenes, so hopefully in the next month or so I can launch a more colourful site!

        It sounds like you’re doing a great job networking and getting to know people. I also struggle with shyness and have so far stuck mainly to online writing groups, but I agree that in-person groups are probably more effective – and generally more sociable, too. I will make it a goal to find a local group and go along, daunting though it is!

    • #63714
      Jennifer Lawler

      This is a great update, Nancy! As I mentioned in the networking thread, at the early stage, it’s all about planting seeds. Not ever seed turns into a plant but some do, and it’s hard to know which ones at the beginning, so persistence is very important!

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