There was a time when I would edit the writing of my friends and family for free. That was a time in my life when I had a surplus of time, energy, and almost no social life. Now, editing is a service that I offer to friends and strangers alike as a paid service. A paid service that I would like to turn into a semi-substantial portion of my income.
Lately, since I have begun advertising my editing services, I’ve had a few friends come to me who have asked for these services for free – and not for small projects like I have done in the past. One friend wants me to edit their novel, another wants me to edit their thesis paper, and yet another wants me to edit their chapbook of poetry. I love these guys and I want to help them out – but I don’t have the time or energy to just edit their writing for free when I have three editing deadlines (all set for this week), school, an office job, a semblance of a social life trying to bud, and a weekly blog that has been pushed to the wayside two weeks in a row because of everything else that I have going on.
So, how do we remedy this? Do we just blow off our friends’ editing needs? Do we tell them they have to pay if they want their work to be a priority? No. The short answer is we do what we have agreed to do because that is the right thing to do. What we will have to do, however, is put our foot down and say, after giving them their completed work, that if they want their work to be a priority next time they will have to pay me. This makes for a stressful situation in which I am forced to complete a stupid amount of work in an impossibly short amount of time and still try to be successful in the other aspects of my life.
Let my plight be a lesson to all up-and-coming writers and editors. Don’t edit your friends’ writing for free. Ever. It seems like the nice thing to do, and the right thing to do with your (perhaps newfound or newly acknowledged) writing skills. It’s not. Editing for your friends makes things complicated if you ever start charging for your services. When they find out that you’re an editor-for hire, suddenly everybody has something they want you to look over. Not only that, but they want the “friends and family” discount before they even ask what the going rate is. They want it because you’ve done it for them for free in the past, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that they aren’t the only person biding for your time anymore, and the project they’re handing you is much larger and more complicated and will require much more time than any of the term papers you’ve edited for them in the past. You have people (complete strangers, even) who are paying you to edit their work with professional quality and they expect it within a set deadline that you have agreed to, so having extra work on your schedule isn’t really helping that. Paying customers about as understanding as friends when you can’t complete an editing job on time, but they tend to have more incentive to be angry and want their money back – that money that you already spent on comic books and alcohol. And no, they don’t want the comics and booze you bought in lieu of the money they gave you.
Let me be concise. Don’t edit for friends and family unless they are paying you. Ever. Even if you aren’t expressly charging for your editing services, always charge for your editing services. It makes for a much steadier and far less stressful platform from which to launch a freelance editing career. Even if it makes you look like a bit of a jerk in the meantime, it will make you look far less unreasonable in the future when you don’t have time to edit their work for free.