The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, April 27, 2007

Furious networking

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer is having to ‘tout’ for work. Thankfully, dictionaries tend to be fairly long projects, so often keep you occupied for months at a time. There are inevitably times though when you know that a project is coming to an end and ‘unemployment’ is looming. Touch wood, in my time as a freelancer so far, I haven’t had too many really lean patches and something always seems to crop up just in the nick of time. There’s always the pressure though to keep yourself in the frame and to make new contacts, especially if you want to branch out into new areas.

One opportunity each year to ‘show your face’ is the annual IATEFL Conference - the main event for EFL teachers and, by association, publishers. This year’s conference was held last week in Aberdeen. It’s always a good chance to catch up with existing contacts - to chat to people you’ve worked with in the past and to remind them of your existence, and more importantly, your availability to work! More difficult is the task of introducing yourself to new contacts. I don’t think lexicographers are the pushiest of people by nature …

This year I’d really ummed and erred about whether to go as Aberdeen is quite a trek and fairly expensive both in time and travel expenses. So when I decided to splash out, I wanted to make it worthwhile. I went for a more targeted approach than usual, picking out particular publishers and even projects that I’d like to work on in advance, then making a list of who I wanted to speak to, even setting up a couple of meetings beforehand. Once I got there, I seemed to slip surprisingly easily into my new approach (armed with a smart, swishy blue coat to make me feel the part!). I went straight for the key people and set my cards on the table.
The funky blue coat!

It’s difficult to judge the line between being professional and enthusiastic, and just pushy, but it felt like it went well and I came away after 3 days feeling like I’d got some real possibilities lined up. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in what happens over the coming weeks, but for the moment at least, I’m feeling quite optimistic and that my train fare was money well spent!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Congratulations - you're a published author!

I always imagined writers as slaving away for months over a typewriter before handing over their precious manuscript to a publisher, then waiting in a state of expectation for the day of publication which would arrive with great fanfare and a glamorous launch party. I have to say, though, that my own experience as a published “author” has been far less glamorous and, to be honest, something of an anticlimax!

Working on dictionaries, you are, of course, just one member of a large team and working on just part of an often long, complex project. You might spend months, even years, working on a particular dictionary, with electronic documents whizzing back and forth every day. Then you come to a set deadline and your involvement suddenly finishes and you move onto the next project. It could then be many months before the final product is published, and in my experience, you’re not always even told (or sent a copy!) but sometimes just find out by accident. I recently chanced upon a dictionary on a publisher’s website that I’d worked on full time for over a year and had heard nothing about since, that had finally been published more than 3 years after I’d finished my work on it. I don’t even know yet whether I get a credit, somewhere on a list of contributors, as I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it yet.

When I first had the opportunity to write a book of which I would be the sole ‘author’, I was told that it was a great opportunity and very prestigious (perhaps to take my attention away from the pathetic royalties!). And yes, it was exciting when I first saw my name on the cover of a book, but otherwise, the experience has been rather unexceptional. Book number two, which was published recently, was a very low-key affair indeed. A few months of sending Word documents back and forth to an editor, then nothing until a parcel arrived unexpectedly the other morning containing my author’s copies and a brief handwritten note – no fanfare, no thanks, no congratulations. At least the cover was a nice shade of purple!

I didn’t get any input into the cover design and, as a football fan, I have quite strong allegiances surrounding colours and would have been utterly mortified if it had turned out to be bright red!

Perhaps more fun was the arrival of a Japanese version of my first book. It had been organised via a series of emails and I hadn’t thought much about it. But then when my copies turned up in the post, it was very funny to see a book cover on which the only words I understood were my own name!