Discovery is a key part of a freelancer’s work

If you’re considering hiring me as a writer or editor, we’ll have to discover a few things about each other. You’ll likely interview me. And you might send me some samples of your writing and your ideas.

I’ve been through this so many times that I no longer worry about the impression I’m making. I know my experience will become apparent, and that I instinctively connect with writers about their ideas as well as the emotional aspects of writing.

So instead of concentrating on myself, I concentrate on discovering more about you and your project.

What I’m learning about you

These are the things I learn during our interviews and my review of your writing:

  • Do you have ideas? The writers I find worth working with are more focused on their ideas than themselves.
  • What is the quality of those ideas? Ideas worth writing about are big, new, and right. So I’ll be asking about whether those ideas of yours are powerful or trival; novel or tired; supported by evidence or just made up. I can help with all of these, but I like to know where we’re starting from.
  • Do you have stories? Case studies and personal stories make writing interesting. If you don’t have those, we can find them, but that’s going to be a challenge.
  • Do you understand what a narrative is? Almost everyone feels comfortable with storytelling — it’s a shared perspective for writers, editors, and readers. But I have worked with one author who just didn’t understand stories, and it was a disaster; what he created was almost unusable, and it was difficult to communicate about how to fix it.
  • Are you logical? Appeals to emotion are fine. But nonfiction depends on logical reasoning. If you’re resistant to logic, it will be hard for us to work together.
  • Are you collaborative? This is a team effort. Our back-and-forth in the interview will reveal a lot. If you are inflexible in the face of facts, I’m not inclined to work with you. If you give in on everything too easily, I know I’ll be pulling most of the weight in this project. But if we can have a productive, fact-based discussion, that’s a very good sign.
  • Are you an ass? We’re both human beings. I’ll be working for you, but I am not your slave. If you treat me with respect, you’ll get an enormous amount of value back. If not, well, who wants to work with someone like that?
  • How much work will it be to fix your writing? Everyone’s writing has flaws, which is why we need editors in the first place. The problems may relate to structure, vocabulary, repetition, sentence construction, passive voice, jargon, breathlessness, or any number of other issues. I’m not looking for perfect prose; I’m evaluating how much work it will be to improve that prose. That’s why I don’t charge by the word; some text is more labor-intensive to edit.
  • Does this content connect with my expertise? I try to be as broad as possible; I’ve ghostwritten or edited manuscripts on technology, politics, management, leadership, innovation, networking, marketing, nutrition, and statistics. On the other hand, I won’t be much use if your book is about gardening, love, relationships, coding, or philanthropy.
  • Is this content evil? I’ll work on material on nearly any topic, but there are limits. If your book is about exploiting workers, manipulating partners, lying effectively, or promoting Ponzi schemes, I’m not interested in helping you.
  • Is it interesting? If I’m going to be cohabiting with your ideas for a while, it helps if I find the topic fascinating — and luckily for me, I’m curious about nearly everything.
  • Will I get paid? If your accounts payable system makes it hard for me to get paid, that makes a difference to me.

Freelancers must develop the skill of learning quickly

Every freelancer has horror stories. We learn to make rapid judgments about projects because our livelihood depends on it.

The point is not to find the perfect client, because perfect clients don’t generally need help from freelancers.

The point is to figure out if we can work together productively, where we can best help you, and what’s going to take the most work (and therefore be the most costly).

Just recognize that when we’re first connecting, you’re not just interviewing me. We’re doing discovery. And I take that very seriously.

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