Working for an Author Services Company

At the February Ottawa-Gatineau Speaker Night, Wayne Jones talked about the publishing industry and how it has evolved over the years due to technology. He talked about traditional publishing and self-publishing, noting the editor’s role in each. In traditional publishing, editors work with the publisher. In the self-publishing world, editors work with the writer.

Wayne then spoke of a third option for freelance editors: the many publishing businesses out there who offer full-service support to self-publishing authors. These businesses will, for a fee, guide the author through everything a manuscript needs in order to become a book, from manuscript evaluation to cover design and printing – or any subset. 

I’m on contract with one of those third-option companies. Freelancing for them has been positive, and I’d like to tell you about it. 

Doing the Work

The pros of working for an author services company: 

  • I address all my comments to the author, but I don’t correspond with the author directly. That task is done by the project manager. This saves me a lot of time in emails and phone calls. 
  • Freelance jobs appear on the company’s job board, and I take one if I want one. As soon as I click “accept,” it’s mine. I don’t have to bid for a job like I did when I was trying (unsuccessfully) to make Upwork work for me. 
  • I get lots of coaching and support. The communications platform the company uses is full of questions, answers, and advice. Editors are always encouraged to contact their project manager directly if they run into problems. 
  • Payment is sure and on time. Payment is per word; I know exactly what I’m being paid, and I’m always paid exactly that (plus HST).

There’s one con to working for this author services company, and you’ve probably already guessed what it is: low pay. It’s my only complaint. With this company, I make about a third of what I charge my own clients. 

But I’m a contractor and I do have options. I’ve learned that manuscripts over a certain size are too demoralizing to work on for the amount of time they take me compared to what I eventually get paid. So I take the smaller jobs and genuinely enjoy them. Presumably some of this company’s freelance contractors are just quicker or more satisfied with the return than I am. They can go ahead and take all the big jobs. 

Also, I only take jobs when I don’t have more pressing and better-paid work, which is how I ended up with the company in the first place. I was having a couple of slow freelance months, and this company’s job offer appeared on one of the many email job board notifications I’m signed up for. So I applied and was soon busy working on my first manuscript.

The interesting development that ensued was that I started doing substantive editing. I have gained confidence with this skill by working with this company. Up until then, I had been most comfortable with copy editing. But the company manager who took care of setting me up as a contractor said I had done well on the substantive portion of their test and encouraged me to take a substantive project off the board (it pays better, too). She reviewed my first project and gave me some advice. 

Working for this company helps me keep up my editing chops, which I really only just acquired in the last few years and could probably quickly lose if I wasn’t careful. 

Supporting the Stories

In his talk, Wayne Jones expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the rise of self-publishing and the fact that more people are now getting their stories out. I think that enthusiasm is well placed. I’ve gained a respect for the interesting stories individuals have to share and am aware of the importance of giving people any sort of encouragement to start sharing them. In Two Trees Make a Forest, author Jessica J. Lee talks about the autobiographical stories her grandfather tried to write during his decline into Alzheimer’s. Jessica and her mother found the stories after her grandmother died. Up until then, Jessica had concluded about her grandfather: “…his memories wasted.” The stories were incomplete and sometimes convoluted, but there was enough there to give Jessica a picture of her grandfather’s life. 

So anything that encourages people to write their stories, I’m all for. The author services companies themselves are enthusiastic about their role; it’s one of the first things I noticed about them when I started checking them out. Public-facing enthusiasm could be put down as just good marketing, but I’ve seen the same enthusiasm internally through the coaching I received on how to encourage the authors and also by the praise expressed by some of my fellow editors on the company’s communications platform. There, they talk about the books they edited; many of them love the books so much, they buy them. 

It happens to me, too. My husband was so intrigued by the first manuscript I edited (a memoir written by an inmate) that he bought the book as soon as it was available. And if I ever find myself in the right part of Canada, I might just track down the little church whose bicentennial history I edited and get myself a copy.

If all the author services companies are as enthusiastic as the one I work for, I think Wayne Jones has reason to be so optimistic. I’m glad to be involved in this kind of work. 

About the Author

Jean Rath is an Ottawa-based freelance copy editor who also works part time for the senate scoping debates and committee meetings. She has been a member of Editors Canada for ten years. She loves to spend her spare time reading, writing and going for walks or (seasonally) bike rides and canal skates. As part of her growing appreciation for the importance of telling stories, she is slowly working on writing her own stories, contenting herself with blogging for the moment at Living the Canada Life.

March Speaker Night: Editing Academic Research Grant Proposals with Letitia Henville

Written by Tom Vradenberg. Edited by Stephanie Mason.

Editing research grant proposals: it’s about as specific as it gets. Most editors, throughout their careers, specialize in subjects they gravitate to, with many pulled towards the more popular genres of scientific journals or poetry (amongst others). However, editing academic research grant proposals may be the niche of niches.

During our March Speaker Night, we were joined by Letitia Henville, of BC Branch, who primarily works with academics seeking research grants and secondarily works with artists seeking Canada Council grants. Among her many achievements, Letitia completed a PhD in English in 2015, a Claudette Upton Award in 2017, and a President’s Award for Volunteer Service. 

One of the first notes Letitia made was how, though one needs to learn about the most current events in specialized academic or artistic fields, it’s also essential to know about the vastly particular bureaucratic processes and how to help applicants through it. Further, the more specific the knowledge is, the farther it will go for the “stressed-out smartypants people” that need the help and, by proxy, make the work intellectually stimulating and rewarding. Letitia cited a recent project worth $27.8 million: “They’ll go to great lengths to make their proposal look shiny,” she said.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Letitia’s biggest piece of advice was to “get narrow, find your specialty subject.” She noted how, with progress, it’s common to work with the same academics repeatedly and get to know their field. However, it’s not just about learning their jargon; there needs to be a familiarity with the field to be able to identify any gaps in their grant applications. 

She then went on to detail the rules of the grant-application process, both the written and her own unwritten rules. They go as follows:

For the written rules: 

  1. Note when granting agencies publish their rules for applying. (For example, the three federal granting agencies publish a Guide on Financial Administration.)
  2. Read those rules carefully and read them for every new project, even if you think you’ve read them before. Granting organizations will change the rules and not flag the ones that are new or changed.
  3. Expect that clients won’t read them or keep updated. Reminding clients of the rules looks professional, but don’t charge for the time spent researching. 

The unwritten rules:

  1. Know that researchers should understand what their results will be before they propose the project. The work should not be too innovative, out there, or risky. 
  2. Try to anticipate who will be on the review panel before the client prepares their application. Each reviewer serves roughly three years on a committee, so it’s a fair bet most of the reviewers from the previous year will return. Google them, look up their research profile, and explain to the client how varied their research backgrounds are.
  3. Emphasize that even if the committee doesn’t completely match the research of the client, the multidisciplinary committee is worse as they are funded at lower rates. Instead, find the right singular disciplinary field. 

The last bits of information that Letitia offered were to do with the funding landscapes that she works with. There are different levels, and she noted that in Ontario, the Ontario Research Fund is not considered a major market considering editors most often get hired for lucrative, high-prestige projects, and this fund doesn’t have the money for them. 

She instead recommended the federal level grants where, essentially, all the funds are. The three agencies of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Social Sciences, and the Humanities Research Council all have multiple funding streams with lots happening in each one. She noted that even if there’s uncertainty about having the core scientific or technical knowledge, there are likely funding streams for projects in familiar fields. 

Letitia also noted some non-government funders both in Canada and out, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Wellcome Trust in Europe, and the Max Bell Foundation in Canada. 

A highly educational and enjoyable night for all!

April Speaker Night: The Final Touch: Editing a Speech with Wendy Cherwinski

Speeches present editors with special challenges. After all, speeches are meant to be spoken and heard. And that makes them different from documents  written to be read silently on the page or screen. So, how can editors fine tune their skill set to add more value to the speechwriting process? Join us April 20 to find out from our guest Wendy Cherwinski, the spoken word strategist.  

Wendy will explain what editors can do to add polish and precision to speech drafts. In particular, she’ll cover how to write ‘out loud’, sharpen transitions, take the ‘numb’ out of numbers and heighten the impact of stories. As well, she’ll share the one thing every editor should do before passing a speech back to the speaker.

Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Time: 6:30pm – 8:00pm EDT

Text that reads Boost your writing and presenting skills to new heights! A small rocket in flight appears at the end of the text.

If you’re planning on joining us for Speaker Night, let us know by emailing publicrelationsog@editors.ca with your name, your Editors Canada branch/twig, and the Speaker Night you intend to attend. You will receive the Zoom link via email in advance of the event.


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