So we’ve talked about the nitty-gritty stuff–hiring people to help you self-publish, where to sell your stuff, etc. Now comes something very important, however:
Do not be a douchebag client.
Sometimes it’s really hard to know if you’re being an asshole to the people you work with. Maybe you are totally justified in yelling at them. Maybe they are incompetent. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re being a jerkface.
Look, I’ve worked all sides of everything. I am sympathetic to authors. I am sympathetic to editors and artists. I try to be very objective no matter what side I’m working on. Here is the simple rule I would like you to remember, and I am putting it in very large letters for you:
Your designer/editor is a person.
Let’s unpack that, shall we?
First, people get holidays.
This goes back when I worked in publishing. Late at night and on weekends I would write. Y’know, since I was a writer and all. And I’d tweet about it, like other writers. Multiple people then went to my boss to complain that I was writing and tweeting and not answering their emails/reading their manuscripts.
Your brain is like a muscle and it needs rest. You know how you can work several days in a row typing your manuscript and then your wrists start hurting and your brain feels like it’s leaking out of your ears, and you need a break? Anything that requires your head (and your hands) like that is the same. Editors can only read for so many hours a day before they get text blindness. Artists can only be in Photoshop for so long before they get carpal tunnel syndrome.
No one is going to work 24/7. That means throughout their day they will be on Twitter joking around or posting some stupid quiz on Facebook. Chill the fuck out about it. If you can’t handle that, don’t follow them on social media.
Further, everyone gets vacation days and (almost) everyone has family. Some designers/editors might work Christmas, but I am not one of them. I have a notice right on my site to that effect. So maybe before you yell at the person you’re working with, check what day of the week it is. Is it Saturday? Don’t expect an answer until Monday or Tuesday. Is it fucking CHRISTMAS? For FSM’s sake, leave them alone until the New Year.
And second, similarly, people get sick.
By this time last year, I was in bed almost all day every day except when I was getting poked and prodded at the hospital. I was so weak, I couldn’t walk across the street without having to rest. I was also (wrongly) put on an inhaler initially because I was (wrongly) told I just had asthma, and I reacted badly to it–badly as in my muscles and joints were in excruciating pain and I couldn’t walk let alone sit at the laptop for more than twenty minutes. I was pretty sure, after six months of this bullshit, that I was dying.
Know what else? During that time I still had to pay bills. “Sorry, dying lol” doesn’t cut it for the hydro company. And as I burned through my financial buffer, that meant I still had to work for my clients.
But because I was so sick, my time estimates for work could be wildly off. I lost a couple of clients because it was taking me a week to reply to email (and they didn’t check my availability page where I said this). I came home from a very unpleasant procedure at the hospital to a dozen emails from another client that ranged from merely grating enthusiasm to outright nagging for a project that did not even have an agreed-upon deadline. 95% of my clients were super patient and understanding (bless them) but then there was a handful who would snap their fingers and get belligerent when I didn’t jump.
I’m also never going to not be sick, despite being in remission now, and stress makes everything worse. This isn’t to say that it is an excuse if I’m a dick to my clients, but whether it’s merely a cold or a chronic autoimmune disease, people get sick, and your designer/editor is a person, so try to fact that in when dealing with them. They also have a fuckton of work to do for a lot of people, which brings us to…
You are not their only client.
Unless you are paying for their rent/mortgage, bills, and groceries with the work you’re providing them, they likely have other clients. Those clients deserve their time as much as you do. This can mean some months your designer/editor is quick to respond, and other months it might take a few days. Some months they might have work back to you in a week or two; other months it means you might book them and the not hear from them for six weeks.
If someone’s going past their estimate of time to deliver and you’ve not heard from them, of course inquire. I will wager the majority, however, are not going to run away with your down payment because that will not encourage more people to hire them.
Whatever you think is an emergency is not.
Are you bleeding from the head? No? Then you do not have an emergency (and if you are, do not contact your editor; dial 911).
Whatever is super important to you is likely not all that important if it only involves your book. See, this is why I advise people to hire out help several months in advance and to take advantage of pre-order options–it means you have time to address any bumps in the road and delays, so nothing is an emergency. Something is always going to go wrong and it’s probably no one’s fault, so doing stuff in advance gives you a buffer.
So you found an error in your print book that needs correcting. You know, odds are fifty thousand people are not going to order that print book in the next day, so you don’t need to drag your designer out of bed at 3am on a Sunday to fix it–you can wait a week. Same thing if you’re working with a printer and need books for a signing: not having the forethought to order the books a month ahead of time and then freaking out because there’s a problem with the file and they won’t ship in time is not on the printer, it’s on you for poor planning.
Someone’s puppy dying is an emergency; your designer accidentally delivering the wrong file size for the cover is not. Take a deep breath and calm thy tits.
Don’t waste someone’s time.
Have you ever worked a job where time is money, and then someone gets fishing around asking you questions, which you patiently answer, only to have them not hire you, and then you’ve wasted all that time? Maybe not if you work a 9-5 job, but freelancers know what I’m talking about. Some communication is normal before you’ve hired someone and sometimes it can take a while to decide what you’re looking for, but, again, time is money. Have a concrete idea of what you’re looking for in a cover (or at least what your book is about) rather than make your artist drag the details out of you. Know what you want and what your timeframe is.
If they have a cover art questionnaire, fill that in as detailed as possible and resist sending fifty more emails about it or requiring them to send repeated emails to clarify. If you’re working with an editor, find out if you can email back and forth some questions as part of the editing fee or if it’s an extra charge (are you horrified that it might be an extra charge? again, TIME IS MONEY–crafting lengthy, well-thought-out responses and referring to your manuscript several times is a long process that can eat up hours out of one’s day). Be clear and concise. Don’t send an email every day asking for a status update. And don’t ask someone to pencil you into their schedule if you can’t deliver on time (unless you’ve paid upfront).
And if you ARE fishing, contacting multiple designers trying to see who’s going to work cheapest for you, don’t be surprised if some of them stop answering your emails; we learn pretty quickly to weed out the time-wasters.
Read their goddamn website.
Not all people keep their websites/FB pages/etc up to date with their availability (freelancers who don’t–da faq is wrong with you?? UPDATE THAT SHIT). I think most likely do and it is in your best interest to check it.
Remember, time is money. This means that most people don’t like answering the same questions over and over again. Here are some examples:
- Are you available to do my formatting?
- How much does a cover cost?
- Can you edit my book next week?
- Can you clarify why there is a range in prices for layout?
- Can I get a back cover designed too?
I get asked those on a weekly basis. Guess how many of them are answered on my website.
My response is to politely say “That information is on my website” and then link them to the relevant page. Usually this irritates people who think I’m being rude and they never respond. I am okay with this. I’ve also found they usually ask about my rates because they’re hoping to negotiate them, which brings us to…
Never ask for something free.
If you are unwilling to pay a down payment or want to negotiate the cost of the service, go sit in the fucking corner. What the hell is wrong with you? Do you work free? Do you pay the rent with the charity you’ve given others? Fuck you.
With regular clients who provide me a lot of work, I will do little extras for them. I’m happy to if they’re good to work with and, quite frankly, pay me well. But they have a singular thing in common: they never EXPECT work to be done for nothing.
Be 100% clear on what the charges are for something. Do not ask for a friend/family discount if you’re hiring someone you know (if they offer one, great, but don’t push it).
Also note that you are never paying for just their time and obvious costs: you are paying for their experience and education. When I’m creating a cover, it might take me two hours, but I have eight years experience doing covers and training in graphic design. My editing rates are from six years of professional editing. I pay for the programs I use. I pay for the computer I use. I pay for electricity and internet. Just as you, a writer, factor in the costs of running a business when deciding on how to price your books, so do designers and editors.
Years ago, I used to work with special needs children. I ran into a parent who was having trouble keeping help for her two autistic boys after school while she was at work and she asked me what I charged for respite. She balked at my hourly rate but I said you are not just hiring a random person for a few hours a day, you are hiring someone with over a decade of experience in respite work, developmental programming, and tutoring, who has worked with a hundred kids just like your sons and who knows what the fuck she’s doing.
You want cheap, as I’ve said before, you get someone who is cutting corners somewhere along the line. You want a professional, then you pay for their time.
Pay your invoice when it’s sent.
So yeah, freelancers live on the money they make. They pay bills and buy food by having people pay them to edit their books and make their covers.
This means there is an expectation that you’re going to pay them when work is turned over. Don’t hire someone if you don’t have the money to pay them when they invoice the final amount. Fees should be clear ahead of time, so there is no excuse not to have that money ready. Hopefully they have a bit of a financial buffer there to cover things while they wait for payments but sometimes shit happens, and there is no reason to make them wait weeks to get paid.
Our mental health is just as important as yours.
It’s the one benefit to being a freelancer: you set your own rates. And as time is money, people who waste my time or increase my stress level get charged more.
My friend calls it an Asshole Tax. I call it the Ativan Tax. If you stress me out to the point I need to take an Ativan just to deal with your email (which is rare but does occur once in a while), the cost of it will end up on your invoice. You may not realize the cost is tucked in there, but I guarantee anyone freelancing for a while has added it. Being demanding, neurotic, or otherwise irritating can get you an Asshole Tax.
Most clients? Most clients are dolls. This is probably because I’ve grown more and more firm with my boundaries and potential problem children rarely hire me now. But when working with freelancers, try to keep at the forefront of your mind the fact that they are people and you’ll do just fine.