Negotiation. What (and who) is it good for?

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.

15049957_10155285148344041_795375708_nAs 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 …

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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?


The new girl and the SfEP conference, Part 2 — SfEP blog

Here’s a post I’ve written for the SfEP blog on being a first-timer at the conference …


By Karen White (You can read Part 1 here.) I survived! Actually, I did more than survive – I thrived! On the day I got back to my desk after my first SfEP conference I spent a lot of time tweeting and Facebook messaging people I had met in person over the weekend, sending follow-up…

via The new girl and the SfEP conference, Part 2 — SfEP blog


In a quiet period a couple of months ago, I started to wonder if I should be looking for other sources of income as the ELT editing and project management work I usually fill my days with seemed in rather short supply. And from quite a number of emails and messages I had through my White Ink Facebook page, it seemed I wasn’t the only one wondering where the work had gone.

There could be a few reasons why work seemed scarce. A lot of the big ELT publishers have recently been through restructuring cycles, which have resulted in redundancies, which leads to a bigger pool of freelancers. Those restructures have possibly also resulted in some publishing being put on hold or abandoned, so there could be less work out there anyway. And with purse strings being tightened, freelancers at the higher end of the rates scale could be being overlooked in favour of those willing to settle for a lower hourly income or fixed fee. (More discussion of that in my recent post about ELT freelance rates.)

Just to check I wasn’t imagining it, I had a quick look back at how things looked for me a couple of years ago.


No. Things were certainly quieter and the number of clients I was invoicing each month could definitely be counted on one hand. (Creating a chart like this is an interesting exercise for anyone to do. I read about it on the Dr Freelance blog, in his post Is It Time To Diversify Your Freelance Business.)

So, what to do? Options included sending emails to all my contacts letting them know I had some availability, or enjoying a bit of down time and making the most of it by doing some jobs around the house, or cooking some batch meals and filling the freezer. (Anyone who knows me well will know how appealing that will have seemed.) Then I got a phone call from a neighbour asking me if I’d be interested in helping him with his MBA dissertation, so I decided to take that on. It certainly didn’t pay the kind of rate I’m used to charging for project management, training or development editing, but I did enjoy it. I brushed up my touch-typing skills, discovered some new tricks with Word, and learnt something about a field I wouldn’t otherwise have ever looked into.

Fortunately, work started to pick up for me during that period, and I’m now as busy as ever. But I’m aware I could find myself in that situation again at any time so I have been thinking about diversifying and wondering which route I might take my transferable skills down if I needed to. To get some inspiration, I asked the White Ink community to tell me about their experiences of branching out as I clearly wasn’t the only ELT freelancer in this position. With thanks to everyone who contributed, here are some things they told me they were doing …

“Last year almost 99% of my income came from ELT publishers. (I worked both as an editor and author.) This year the ratio has changed: ELT projects – 80%; other projects – 20%. I’ve started working as a freelance English-Polish translator. Every week I have to translate the same minimum number of words (normally it can be done in 1 day), but if I have more availability I can complete more assignments and earn more. I could do this almost full-time if all my other projects got cancelled suddenly. In fact, earlier this year, an ELT project was postponed by two weeks – I did more work for this client and I didn’t lose any money despite the change.
I’m also working as an external reviewer for a large Polish publisher (fiction and non-fiction). The reviews pay very little, but these assignments help me organise my time better. When I have a book to review, I need to find time to read a few chapters every day (= away from my laptop). That gives me some ME time with my e-book reader every day!
I still like ELT editing and I think that in the future most of my income will still come from ELT projects, but I’ll try to earn at least 25% in different areas. I don’t want to put all my eggs in the same basket, and I find the other projects interesting.”
Bartosz Michałowski 

“A lot of my students have gone on to university and have dissertations to write, some of which need to be in English. Many came back to me to do the final edit and proofread, they would get good marks and so would refer me to other students. I’ve also started doing some fiction editing, I’ve ghost-written some articles, and have edited online blogs. The most interesting thing I’ve done is editing adult fiction – I’ve learnt a lot of new vocabulary!  I also write fiction and a few pieces have been published – I’m just waiting for a publisher to realise that I’m worth becoming a very rich author. I’m still waiting.”
Catherine Zs

“I only started in ELT freelance editing at the start of this year, and as I had no idea at first whether I’d secure enough ELT editing work, I had immediately signed up for a summer teaching contract in order to guarantee at least some income for myself. I also saw teaching as a way to refresh my ELT classroom knowledge, as I hadn’t been in the classroom for going on ten years. As well as the teaching, I branched out into STM (scientific, technical and medical) editing. I’m not fundamentally an STM expert, but scientific publishing in particular is booming.
I enjoy editing, but having ‘other’ things to go to that also contribute to professional development and encourage my body to get up and moving around (and which bring in money!) seem worthwhile to me. It’s very hard to predict what will happen, but as many know, ELT publishing is going through a transition. I feel the long-time, big-name editors will still have a good supply of work, but newcomers like myself might be squeezed out when work gets thin on the ground.”
Zoe Smith

“A lull in ELT editorial work and having moved to a new part of the country (Isle of Skye) coincided with being made redundant from a full-time job, so I had gone back to freelancing, which was going quite slowly. I had some experience in picture research and picture editing and I’m a keen photographer, so I’ve learned how to work with Photoshop and Lightroom and have been doing some freelance image reviewing. Also, a bit niche and specific to where we live, but I/we run a self-catering cottage. To increase our income, we started using AirBnB and we’ve been busy all year with guests. While cleaning and getting the cottage ready isn’t hugely fun, meeting people from all over the world is (a bit like EFL teaching). Then, as I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking, to combine something I like doing with getting to know people around where I live, I do some work in a local bakery. The link with transferable skills here is a bit more tenuous, but you certainly find out how organised you are and I’ve found I can successfully organise an editorial project and a bakery!”
Sara Harden

“I’ve diversified in a way, to earn some extra money without having to make any extra effort! I rent out my driveway (via and I rent a room to a student at a local college. Additional benefits include easy access to a babysitter, and a car parked outside when I’m away!”
Helen Holwill

“I decided to look for another source of income for several reasons:
a) personal fulfilment – I had always planned to have a portfolio freelance career with fingers in different pies.
b) a nagging worry that there are too many freelancers for the amount of work available (at least, the work that interests me and that I’m qualified for)
c) concerns that I’m not making enough money!
I’m hoping to be doing a mixture of freelance journalism in the local press and editing for the UK schools market and trade publishers in the fields of Fiction and English Literature. My ideal scenario for the next year is for me to spend 70% of my time working in ELT, and 30% on other projects. But there’s no science behind this – it’s just a rough goal and it may not turn out this way.”

“Whilst ELT freelancing is a great source of independent work, flexible and well paid, it can be inconsistent and unreliable. A couple of jobs that were agreed fell through at the last minute for me and I’d already turned down other work that had been offered. I ended up losing out on potentially £5k altogether and couldn’t find freelance work again for a good six weeks. This uncertainty was the trigger to find additional/other work, so I took an in-house contract for a year working on Primary UK education courses – a side step from ELT.
I think being a freelancer can isolate you so much that you feel there’s nothing else for you except ELT editing, but this isn’t the case at all. ELT editors do have a specific skill set but these skills can be utilised in other areas and not just publishing. I do feel there’s a freelance saturation happening right now for one reason or another, so diversifying is a good idea during these times, in my opinion.”

“I fill in quiet patches with duties in a local cake shop. I enjoy doing something completely different and getting out of the house. It is quite a physical job so that has made a change from sitting at my computer all day! Being able to work there in conjunction with the editing (which I still really enjoy) brings me the variety I craved when I used to work in-house. Unfortunately it doesn’t pay as well so it’s not a long-term option but it stops me from spending money in the quiet patches!”

“I am doing some voluntary work for a charity – principally proofreading exhibition catalogues and website work. This, although not providing revenue, enables me to pursue a lifelong interest in ceramics and directly contribute to the charity’s work … it has also rekindled my interest in ceramic decoration, so I’ve started designing and hand-painting tiles again – something I used to do, but haven’t actively pursued for a number of years.”

I hope those anecdotes provide everyone with some reassurance that there is life outside ELT publishing, and other options are available. And as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also just seen Why Having Multiple Sources Of Income Is Essential For Success on the Freelancer News blog. There’s a lot of it about.

Have you had to diversify? Leave a comment with your experience, or any tips for others.

16 reasons why being a freelance editor is like being an Olympic athlete


Sitting here watching the cyclists whizzing round the velodrome, and the track and field athletes hurdling, throwing and jumping, it strikes me that being a freelance editor has some similarities with being an Olympic athlete. With no apologies for being somewhat Team GB biased, here’s why …

  1. You train hard to be the best in your field. You take your CPD seriously, keep your online profile updated, and network like a champion.
  2. You eat and drink right. If editors were tested for caffeine as often as Olympians are tested for banned substances, we’d all fail. You know that fruit is a healthy snack and cake is bad, and you try and avoid the biscuit tin every time you go into the kitchen.
  3. You’re a team player. Like the rowing eights with their cox in charge, you work alongside others, pulling together to get your project over the finish line. The project manager will keep you on course.
  4. You’re an individual participant. You might only hear from your client at the opening and closing ceremonies of the project, but in the meantime you’re your own boss, managing your own time to meet deadlines.
  5. You fall over occasionally, but you get straight back up again. Mo Farah tripped and picked up some bruises during his 10,000-metre race on Saturday, but he got up and crossed the line to win gold. If you get knocks on a project, you learn from the experience and move on.
  6. You pay someone to do the support roles so you can focus. Athletes have trainers, physios, chefs and caddies. You might have an accountant, a cleaner and a personal trainer.
  7. You’re reliant on your equipment. Your PC (or Mac) is to you what clubs are to Justin Rose.
  8. You see other freelancers as support rather than competition. Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner are friends, GB-teammates, and are sharing a room in the Olympic village. Only at the last minute did they have to go head-to-head.
  9. You occasionally have to have a late night. Anyone else stay up to watch the end of the Murray–del Potro match on Sunday night?
  10. You can change your discipline if you fancy a change. Rebecca Romero won a silver medal in Athens in 2004 in the rowing quadruple skulls, then in 2008 won gold in Beijing in the individual pursuit track cycling. I know of more than one editor who has their name on a front cover as an author.
  11. You can be a success without everyone knowing about it. Ed Clancy won gold as part of the GB men’s pursuit team, but the name everyone knows from the team is Bradley Wiggins. Behind every bestseller is a hardworking editor.
  12. Your fans will always be there for you. Alistair Panton flew to Rio from Aberdeen when he heard Andy Murray had reached the finals of the men’s singles tennis. My husband will spend hours fixing my PC if I need help. Similar.
  13. You always warm up before the main event. Writing your daily to-do list is like Usain Bolt limbering up in his tracksuit.
  14. You occasionally work somewhere else. Endurance athletes go to training camps. You go to your local library or coffee shop.
  15. You change your routine from time to time. Athletes vary their training schedules throughout the year. That’s like putting your sit/stand desk in the opposite position.
  16. You do things that no one other than you and a handful of others understand. What’s the keirin all about? To the casual observer, it’s a man in a hat riding a funny bicycle. If you work on a specialist journal or list, I’m sure you know what I mean.

And of course, some jobs are more of a sprint than a marathon. Others are a marathon when you expected a sprint.

Small business chat update – Karen White

Catch up with White Ink Limited in Liz Dexter’s Small Business Chat series …

LibroEditing proofreading, editing, transcription, localisation

Small business chat interview two mugsWelcome to another Small Business Update – today I pop back into a business area close to mine, chatting to Karen White, ELT editorial project manager from White Ink Limited. Karen’s a relatively new member of the interview club, first featured in March 2014, and then again in June 2015she’s actually been going a year longer than me, though, and is in what I’d call a mature business position, although, as we’ll see, her business area has been changing recently. When I spoke to her last year, where did Karen want to be by now? “I hope that by this time next year, the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday will have been a huge success, and that the fourth one is in the pipeline. I hope the industry will have settled down a bit, with plenty of work for everyone who needs/wants it. I hope I’m still…

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The 2016 survey of freelance ELT editorial rates – some conclusions

ELT FREelance rates

A couple of months ago, my partner in ELT Freelancers, Helen Holwill, and I sat down to think about redoing the ELT Freelance Editorial Rates survey that we had first done in 2013. We’d been spurred into action by a number of comments about rates not going up in line with experience, etc., that we had heard at the Awayday we organised in January.

By no means a piece of scientific research, our questions were designed to gather a snapshot of where freelancers are right now so we could make some comparisons with the 2013 results. In total, we had 113 responses and briefly summarised the findings here. Anyone who had given us their email address when they completed the survey was also sent a full summary. (Of course, you can’t stop people forwarding a PDF to their friends, and this post on the Copyediting blog that I came across as I was collating the results makes some very good points about thinking about the bigger picture of survey results before blindly accepting them.) (More brackets, but if you ever fancy doing something like this, Google Forms are your best friend.)

So, what are the key points we’ve drawn from this year’s survey? There seem to be a few things that jump out …

  • Between us we have a huge amount of experience. Over 50% of responses were from people with over 15 years’ experience. That’s quite something, and should definitely give us bargaining power when we consider some of the issues that emerged from the questions about rates and set-fees questions.
  • Rates have, on the whole, stayed the same since 2013. This year 65% of responses to the question ‘What is your impression of the rates paid by publishers over the last few years?’ said that the rates have generally stayed the same. Given that a lot of the people who answered the questions in 2013 also answered them this year, the indication is that despite being three years’ more experienced, our income has not kept up. And looking back at the 2013 results, people were saying then that rates hadn’t increased in the previous couple of years, which is really worrying. Whether this is because people haven’t put their rates up and asked for more, or clients have refused to pay higher rates, isn’t clear. However, what we did find out is that the most frequent response to the question ‘What is your hourly rate for proofreading?’ was £25 per hour in 2013, and it’s remained the same in 2016. The same can be said for project management rates – £30 per hour was the most frequent response in both surveys for that area of our work.
  • There has been a considerable rise in the percentage of people responding to say that clients have been moving towards offering fixed fees rather than paying by the hour. 46% of respondents agreed with that this year, as opposed to 36% in 2013. Whether fees work out as well as hourly rates is still unclear, but the good news is that people are willing to challenge unfair fees, and renegotiation is possible in the majority of cases. This is good news because when one publisher announced that it was going to pay fees only, and that there was no room for manouevre if work was more involved or took longer than anticipated, there was a fair amount of concern. It’s good to see some evidence to the contrary.

For me, and a number of others that I’ve spoken to, the main concern is that rates are not going up in line with experience. It’s all very well to research market rates, talk to others to see what they’re charging, carefully calculate inflation rates and the cost of living and running a business from home (and of course we should all be doing that as a matter of course), if the client rejects your new rate and offers you last year’s rates. Of course, if you’re not happy to accept less, they will go away and find someone to do the work for the rate they have to offer. If you need work, you’re likely to accept the rate and get on with it, doing a professional job and planning to stand firm next time. (If you’re not sure what you should be charging, or need a recap, there is a great series of posts on the An American Editor blog on just this topic. In addition, the UK’s Society for Editors And Proofreaders’ suggested minimum rates for this year are here.)

I found myself in this position last summer. I was in a quieter period with work when a fellow freelancer contacted me and asked if I could take on a couple of stages of a project while she was on holiday. The job sounded interesting and I was happy to help out, so she put me in touch with the commissioning editor. When the commissioner contacted me and we were discussing the details, it emerged that the hourly rate was going to be considerably less than ‘my rate’ for that level of work. I couldn’t believe that the other editor, who had already stepped onto the plane, was being paid that either as we have similar levels of experience (and the evidence from both rates surveys shows the offered rate to be considerably below the average for the work), so I stated my rate. The commissioning editor said that wasn’t an option and offered me the rate halfway between the two, despite needing the work done there and then. What to do – stick to my guns, turn the work down, miss out on any money at all, and blot my copybook with that contact – or agree to the rate and get stuck in? I accepted the rate, immediately wished I hadn’t, and spent the next couple of weeks begrudgingly enjoying the project. Lo and behold, I handed the work in, the commissioning editor gave me some great feedback, and immediately offered me some more work at my usual rate. You win some, you lose some, but do you chance it and find out?

If I had turned the work down, the commissioning editor would have had plenty of other freelancers to choose from. With a rash of redundancies from most of the major UK-based ELT publishers in the last 12 months, I’m regularly contacted via the White Ink Facebook page for tips on getting started. I’m pretty sure that most new freelancers’ rates are lower than mine (I’ve been editing ELT materials since 1997 and freelancing since 2008), and making contacts and getting work is the name of the game when you’re starting out, so accepting a lower rate than I’m used to isn’t going to be an issue for lots of people. Which perpetuates the situation with the rates not going up. I’m fairly sure that this topic is going to come up at the 2017 ELT Freelancers’ Awayday, so there’s plenty more discussion to be had, and hopefully we can find some ways to address it.

In my next post I’ll be looking at ways ELT freelancers are finding to supplement (or even replace) their income from editing, but in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on the rates issue, please do comment.

Why don’t you …

If, like me, you grew up in the UK in the 70s, you’ll probably remember being encouraged to “switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead” by the kids’ TV show, Why Don’t You … ?

I’m certainly not saying that my work is boring, but I do think it’s good to get out and do something different from your day-to-day every now and then. I’ve always been an advocate of making time in the day to go for a walk, swim or gym class, but what about literally taking your eyes away from the screen to focus them elsewhere for a whole day. That’s what I did last Wednesday …

I meet my great friend Liz every few months for a mid-week catch-up, usually over a hurried lunch because one of us got stuck in traffic on the way or because we have to leave sharply to get home for a Skype call / school pick-up. About six months ago, Liz suggested we next caught up for a whole day at a craft school rather than in the pub. At a clay sculpting workshop. Erm, ok, yes, sign me up and let me know how much I owe you. And that was the last I thought about until last weekend when she sent me the reminder email telling me to bring an apron and some ideas. Gulp!

Being pretty organised about my diary, I had remembered to avoid scheduling any calls or meetings for the day I’d be out, and didn’t have any problems moving work round to fit, which was a relief. I’d given the key people I’m working with plenty of notice that I wouldn’t be contactable for the day, and set off, determined to enjoy a full day away from all things ELT, editing and social media-related. I wasn’t sure I’d manage not to check in, tweet or download my inbox, but certainly had every intention of not doing so.

I needn’t have worried. It turns out that having hands covered in clay is the best way of avoiding checking your phone! And trying to work out what to do with a large lump of clay focuses the mind and leaves very little room for worrying whether you’ve got any Basecamp messages or missed Skype calls to respond to.


And so we spent a peaceful day with Beatrice Hoffmann and six others at the Ardington School of Crafts, shaping, bonding, digging and flicking. Once I’d been told firmly that the idea I’d gone in with was pottery, not sculpture, and had to do a complete re-think, we were off. There was no discussion of anything work-related, and even though I found out that the lady making a whale’s tail next to me was a dentist, no one even asked me if I worked. Liz and I sat in the school’s garden at lunchtime and caught up on personal stuff, and I can report that I didn’t check my phone once during the day, even though I did use it to take some photos. I did have to stop myself a couple of times, but I was enjoying being away from it all so much, I avoided the temptation. Only when I’d got home and had supper did I check in, and guess what – I didn’t have a single email in my inbox that required any action. Plan ahead, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t take a day out.

During. Can you tell what it is yet?

So, what’s the point of this post, other than to share my snaps? Excuses for not taking time out often include not having enough time, feeling guilty, or thinking it feels selfish. However …

  • taking some time away from your work to do something completely different can be refreshing. As you might go for a walk to mull something over, a change in perspective can help you think more clearly when you come back to your desk.
  • learning a new skill or trying something you’ve never done before could help you find a new direction or hobby. (Clay sculpting was fun for a day, but I won’t be pursuing it further.)
  • arranging a day away from your desk doesn’t have to leave you panicking about when you’ll catch up with work. Plan far enough in advance to give clients notice that you’ll be unavailable and put your out of office message on your email and voicemail.
  • if you’re freelance, a day away from your desk is likely to mean a day without income, and if you’re doing a paid activity, and possibly also need to pay for childcare, etc, this is a consideration. But the benefits should outweigh the costs, and there are plenty of activities that don’t cost anything. A simple day of walking would be a great tonic.

Liz has suggested I choose our next activity. Almost a week on and I’m thinking that a day at a spa might be a relaxing thing to do. But then again, I’ve always wanted to know how to ice a cake without lumps and bumps …

Have you got any recommendations for ways to take time out, or how to manage fitting a new activity in with work?

In case you’re wondering, here’s the finished article (with reference photo just in case!). Just waiting for it to come back from firing in Beatrice’s kiln before I find a home for it in my office, as a reminder that time out isn’t time wasted.