Micro Mentor

Are you just starting out as an editor? Do you have questions that you'd like to ask someone with a bit more experience and knowledge? Ask away! We'll pass on your query to one of our fabulous and generous editors for some considered and wise advice.


Dear MM,

I'm a freelance editor. My partner and I have booked a wonderful holiday in Tahiti for three weeks. I figure it's polite to let people know, and I was just about to drop my publishers an email setting out the dates I'll be away, and saying I'll be available when I get back on x date. I also thought it might be a bit of cunning advertising - you know, recognition of Brand Me, a bit of memory jogging. And I want a real break, not having to deal with anything to do with work. Really unwind.

But my friend Jill was horrified. 'No!' she shrieked. 'Didn't you read Lee White's article on doing the Vacation Creep? It was in Janet's book.'

I don't have the book, I've never heard of the Vacation Creep (is there any such thing?), and I don't know what the advice was. Is Jill right?

My Bags Are Packed


Dear My Bags Are Packed

Yes, your friend Jill is perfectly correct. There was indeed an article in the Society of Editors newsletter, reproduced in At the Typeface, about the dangers of taking holidays as a freelancer. In it Lee White points out that freelancers' clients do not expect them to take holidays. Sure, in-house people go away on holiday, but outsourcing is all about getting things done that you can't get done in-house. As a freelancer you are there to solve their problems, not compound them by being inconveniently absent. As Lee puts it,

I learnt very early in my freelance career that it was a financial death knell to announce forthcoming holiday plans. If you tell clients you are going to take a few weeks off work you are met with one or both of two reactions. First, they generally stop approaching you with work at least a fortnight before departure ... Secondly, they generally fail to approach you with any work for at least a fortnight after return.

Lee offers cogent reasons for this reaction (you'll have to buy the book* if you're bursting to read what they are). Let's just say that at best, your precise list of dates becomes a vague recollection that lodges in publishers' brains, swirling vaguely and enviously around, alighting nowhere specific but emerging each time potential work comes it. At that point, it crystallises into 'X is on holiday about now'. Worse, it can ossify into the longer-lasting impression that you always seem to be away on holiday. (This happy thought generally pops up in a production meeting, where it is difficult to check emails - and who is going to go to that trouble? Better get Joe to do it this time.)

And so it goes. Now you are perpetually on holiday in their minds, just when you are broke after the first holiday you've had in 10 years. Life's a beach. Or rather, your life has been reinterpreted for you as one beach after another.

So get a mate to check your mail, email, answering machine - whatever you can't manage from over there. If you don't have an editing partner, formally or informally, get one. Do the same for them. Be on call to deal with any little emergencies by Skype, mobile phone or webmail.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, right? You have great freedom as a freelancer, but it's not absolute freedom. You don't have to turn up every day the way the in-house person does, and they get to switch off completely when they go on holiday. Take your pick. You can't have it both ways. You can't adopt an in-house mindset when it suits you. You're in business. You have to be contactable, and if you're not, guess what? You're out of business.

As an aside, there is a related notion called Vocation Creep. We might deal with that in a later column if anyone is interested.

Have a great break. Scoff some poisson cru and a few Hinanos for me. With any luck, your phone will stay quiet.




* Janet Mackenzie (Ed) At the Typeface, available from EV. Contact Nicole - Dear Reader, if you mention this article AND come to an EV dinner you can pick up a copy there for $10 instead of the regular price of $25.