Themes from the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday 2018
Friday January 27th saw the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday in Oxford, organised by Karen White and Helen Holwill. It was my first, so I thought it worth recording my impressions of the day. I’d be interested to hear what others took away!
The event was very well attended, with around a hundred participants, I believe. It was an environment highly conducive to networking and every break was abuzz with loud chatter. A few things struck me about this:
- Despite the fact that, as freelancers in a shared field, we’re all competing with each other for business on some level, the atmosphere was notably friendly and supportive. Perhaps this is because, as people used to working from home in relative isolation, most freelancers welcome the opportunity to feel part of a community, to share knowledge and learn from each other.
- It surprised me how many editors I spoke to…
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Back at my desk for the first time this year, I thought I’d jot down some personal and work-related plans for 2017. If nothing else, I’ll have something to look back at in a year’s time and chuckle at!
Keep going with the things I enjoyed last year
Personal 2016 was the year I discovered hula hooping, using a Fitbit, and MyFitnessPal. I put diary appointments in for gym classes and prioritised them. As a result, I ended the year two dress sizes smaller and a couple of stone lighter than I started it. It took a bit of time to form habits for these things, but the self-confidence and positivity I’ve felt as a result have filtered through into all areas of my life and I’ll be making sure to keep all of them up in 2017.
Work I also discovered WordPress properly last year. Not just for writing this blog, but for following others. I follow blogs about ELT, writing, editing, and freelancing (as well as some about fitness, motorhome life and personal friends). I tend to update my feed on a Saturday morning and catch up on everything over the weekend. I know it’s one more online element to keep up with, but it’s one of the most useful from a CPD perspective.
Branch out more
Personal We’ve just bought a motorhome after a long time thinking and talking about it. If we’re going to get value for money from it, we’ll be away as many weekends as possible. Getting out of our comfort zone and trying new things is all part of the plan, and I can’t wait.
Work I blogged about diversifying last year when it seemed as though there were a number of editors in my network who were a bit low on work and some were turning to other sources of income. I’ve already fixed a meeting with a friend to help her with her new business social media, and this is something I’m actively planning to do more of.
Waste less time on social media
Personal Who hasn’t got this in their list of resolutions for the year? I would like to be able to look back on 2017 as the year I read fewer Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram captions and more books. (Despite what I’ve said above – not sure this is going to work out!) I’m always amazed when friends tell me they’ve read more than the set bookclub title in a month, but actually I used to do that too. If I took the iPad off the kitchen table and put my Kindle there instead, I might do more ‘useful’ reading at lunchtimes. We’ll see …
Work I’m working with an author who uses a plugin to block specified websites during work hours. I should probably do this too, as well as turning off all phone alerts – setting it to silent isn’t enough. It’s distracting, and I’m sure the number of times I read anything useful in a day could be counted on a single hand. I resolve to use social media to my advantage, not on an all-day basis. (Update – I’ve had my phone on Airplane mode today. Worked a treat. Will be doing that more regularly.)
Keep in touch
Personal 2017 will be the year I focus on relationships I value, nurture new ones, and stop wasting energy on others. Down-time is precious, so it’s crucial to spend it wisely. This might not be the easiest one to stick to, but I’m going to have a go.
Work On the whole, I consider myself a pretty good networker and have blogged about that on more than one occasion. Last year I stepped it up a notch by going to the SfEP conference for the first time and meeting in person lots of people I’d previously only met online. It was a great experience and I’m determined to do more of that sort of thing this year. I will also do my best to attend the monthly meeting of my local networking group. There is so much to be said for talking face-to-face when we spend so much of our time alone with only our screens for company.
Let things go
Personal Stuff I haven’t used for ages, clothes I don’t wear, general clutter. All going in the bin/to the charity shop/on eBay. Good practice for more prolonged motorhome living in the future maybe!
Work Worry about project-related issues when I’ve left my desk, self-imposed deadlines that have passed, people who don’t return emails. All going in the same bin.
What are your plans for the year? Let’s come back here in 12 months’ time and see how far we got. Wishing you a very successful 2017, whatever you do.
15 December 2016: MaWSIG Christmas Party (UK) Deck the halls with boughs of holly … Welcome in the festive season with fellow ELT editors, authors and publishers at the MaWSIG Christmas Party on Thursday 15th December in Oxford. Pit your wits against the best brains in ELT in our Christmas quiz! Catch up with friends…
Much as I’d like to write a post about my October holiday which kept me away from the blog last month, I think something more work-related might be in order. But let me just recommend South Africa as a great place to visit if you like food, drink, being outdoors and wildlife. I’ll settle for using a photo that might just look like it fits the topic and move swiftly on.
Repacking my suitcase, I headed to Munich last weekend with my ELT Teacher 2 Writer colleagues for the IATEFL BESIG conference (for teachers in the business English teaching community), where I met up with my co-committee members from MaWSIG (the IATEFL special interest group for materials writers). I’ve always got my White Ink hat on as well, of course. I love this kind of event where teachers, writers, editors and publishers come together and have an opportunity to learn from each other. This year MaWSIG was co-hosting the conference with BESIG for the first time, so there was a strand of talks with materials writing at their heart running throughout the weekend. Talks ranged from experienced authors offering practical tips for writers, whether they’re writing materials for their own class or for wider publication, to first-time writers sharing their experiences of the writing-editing-publication process.
I listened to all the talks in the MaWSIG strand and noticed a common theme emerging. Negotiation.
In their talk, Mandy Welfare and Dale Coulter offered a selection of tips for new writers, and participants were asked to stick stickers on the pieces of advice they agreed with most. At the end of the session, the advice with the most stickers was the one advising writers [working for a publisher] to negotiate on fees if they seem low. One participant voiced surprise about the fact that any negotiation was possible. The immediate response from the rest of the room was ‘you at least have to ask’.
Andy Johnson, who has worked as a teacher, materials writer and materials editor at The London School of English, offered insights into his experiences in both authoring and editing roles. Negotiating featured in several of his tips for both sides. Remember that the brief is dynamic and open to negotiation. In a context where materials are being written for a specific course at one school, there is likely to be more flexibility than if you are writing for a publisher. And, if elements of the brief are causing difficulty, the writer can ask the editor if anything can change – some things may be ‘must haves’, others might be ‘nice to haves’. Andy also talked about the importance of dates and fees being open to negotiation. An interesting way his school has worked with writers is by thinking more creatively than just in terms of fees or hourly rates. Negotiations have been done over teaching hours, shared copyright arrangements and royalties.
The BESIG conference took place shortly after I’d had a conversation with another freelance editor about a fixed fee job that was turning out to need a lot more work than the fee was reasonable for, and we discussed how to negotiate a fairer deal that all parties felt happy with.
As Andy Johnson said in his session in Munich, ELT editors and authors tend not to be experienced negotiators. Yet it’s a skill that is becoming increasingly important for us all – in-house staff as well as freelancers; authors, editors and publishers – so we can all feel we are being paid fairly for work done and time invested, whilst bearing the other party’s interests in mind.
Helen (Holwill, my friend and collaborator at ELT Freelancers) and I recognized this as we started to plan the 2017 ELT Freelancers’ Awayday. We’ll be aiming to address the issue head-on in our panel discussion on negotiation before Penny Hands talks about the author-editor relationship – I’m pretty sure that session will also feature the N-word.
So, if we all need to brush up our negotiating skills, where should we start? Here are three tips to bear in mind next time you have to discuss terms and conditions …
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Do this in an assertive manner rather than an aggressive one. If you think you will need 50 hours to meet a brief, rather than the 30 covered by a fee, say so. But do prepare your case and be able to say why you will need the extra time. Is a lot of background research needed? Is some rewriting needed rather than (or in addition to) a straightforward copy edit?
- Listen to what the other party wants. Do they need a job doing quickly, at short notice or over a weekend? Show them how you can meet their needs.
- Be willing to walk away. If you enter a negotiation without this option, you will be limiting yourself to the final decision of the other party, whether that’s satisfactory to you or not. Of course we don’t like to do this for fear of damaging our reputation or not being offered further work, but sometimes it is for the best.
Have you had to negotiate over a project recently? How did it go? Do you have any tips to share in a Comment?