The One That Got Away While I Was Sipping Lemonade

This happens to me three or four times a year: I get an email referral from an agent, or someone at a publishing house, or another author I’ve worked with for a job that I would really, really love to have. Sometimes that’s because the publisher is one I haven’t worked with before, sometimes it’s because I find the manuscript intriguing, sometimes it’s because the author is someone well-known (I am as star-struck as the next person) or someone about to be well-known. Most importantly, the project has come to me first, because I’ve been referred.

I thank the sender for his or her interest in my work, thank the referring party. I say, Yes, I’m interested in this project. I ask a few questions—

What type of editing are we talking about?
What’s the word count of the manuscript?
What’s the due date?

—because invariably this information hasn’t been offered up front. I mention my website (since the author is being referred and may not have seen it) by way of introduction, and include a link.

Then I get back to work, which is the pertinent point. Time’s a-wastin’.

You see, I’m self-employed. If I’m not working, I’m not earning. I’m working on something right now. And I’ve got something lined up to work on tomorrow and the next day too. And next week and next month. To be frank, I have a queue.

Some time later, I’ll hear back from the author or agent. Often this email chase can go on for hours or days. I spend time on it; it can be like pulling teeth to gather the information I need to propose a fee. Sometimes I have to read a writing sample and offer an opinion. All of this takes time away from work, but eventually I write up an email proposal for the project, with a quote and an estimated time I’ll start the work. My start date can be anywhere from three or four weeks to three or four months from now. (Sometimes even longer “in the rainy season.”)

That’s when I hear the client would like a full developmental edit (or whatever) done a week from now.

Seriously, dude? What were you thinking? I’m not sitting around sipping lemonade on the patio, waiting for you to call. Do you call a surgeon and expect to get in today? An oncologist or any medical specialist? No, you do not. (Maybe if it’s a medical emergency. But there are no emergencies in publishing, just procrastination or poor planning.)

And just because I tell you that copyedit will take me approximately sixty hours, don’t do the math and assume I can have it done in seven or eight days. The American Copy Editors Society recommends a maximum of six hours of copyediting in any given day, if an editor wants to remain sharp. And I have other work-related things to do (like answer emails that don’t tell me everything I need to know, just for starters).

You can imagine how I feel when I have to say no to a job I’d like to have. I do have a short list of good editors whose work I respect to whom I can refer you—but very often they’re not going to be able to make your date either. Because they’re professionals who are making appointments too. Just last week I got an email from one of them:


I left the all-caps and punctuation just so you’d sense the frustration. :)

It’s exactly how I felt a few weeks ago when I had to turn down a project I would have liked to have. But I couldn’t have the edit finished to meet the author’s very short deadline, and he took it elsewhere. And I—of course!—went back to the patio to sip a little more lemonade.

Tweet: I’m not sitting around sipping lemonade on the patio, waiting for you to call.
Tweet: The client wants a full edit (or whatever) done a week from now. Seriously?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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  1. Michele Hood says:

    Disrespecting someone’s time is rude. It shows a lack of manners, frankly. If this project was that important to the publisher, he wouldn’t have waited until the last minute to find an editor.

    It happened to me several times as a freelance writer. It happens to me even more as a full-time, stay-at-home parent. Just because I’m home, please don’t expect me to drop everything to babysit or watch your pets. Your lack of planning is not MY problem.

    • Jamie Chavez says:

      Publishers tend to understand this situation a little better than indie writers, even if they have an agent, as this one did. He just wanted it when he wanted it and that was that. Most of the time it doesn’t pain me to say #sorrynotsorry but I really wanted this job. :)