The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, March 25, 2019

The end of the affair

In my last post, I wrote about some of the challenges of getting started on a writing project, but endings can be tricky too.

When do you know you've finished?
On some projects, there's a really detailed scheduled with numbered drafts and handover dates, and when your final draft has been received, you get an acknowledgement - and maybe even a thank you - and you're encouraged to send your invoice. However, that's not always the case. All too often, you send in what you hope is the last piece in the puzzle and wait for confirmation, but nothing comes. You might get a short 'thanks' from the (often freelance) editor, but nothing to say you've actually finished. And so you have to compose that slightly awkward email asking if everything's okay and whether you can invoice yet.

How do you know it's been published?
If you're the lead author on a book, perhaps working for a royalty, you'll probably follow it through proof stages and with luck, will be told when it's published and receive copies. But if you're writing for a fee, as part of a team, even when you've written a fairly substantial chunk of the book, you often hear nothing at all. I've lost count of the number of times that the first I've seen of a book I've worked on is when I'm browsing through it on a stand at a conference … and flick to the back to find my name buried among the photo credits.

Sometimes that's a good excuse to email the editor (if they haven't already moved on) and ask if they could send you a copy. Sometimes they do, sometimes they’re more reluctant. To be honest, I really don’t mind the lack of credit, but how difficult can it be to keep a list of the people who’ve contributed to a book and at least drop them an email when it comes out?

How do you know how a book's doing?
I've worked on a handful of books for royalties and I get royalty statements every six months. I have to admit, I don’t really have a benchmark for what equates to good sales, but I do, at least, know which ones seem to do better than others. For fee-paying projects though, that last draft, and maybe a copy in the post if I'm lucky, is generally the last I hear. The only feedback I ever get is from chatting to sales reps at events who might mention that a book is 'doing well' ... although it's difficult to tell whether they're just being polite.

Can I help with promotion?
Authors of big coursebook series seem to be forever going around the world giving talks, but in my world of smaller, more niche titles, things don't quite work that way. For some books, I've been asked to do a couple of talks when they were first published, for others I've pushed to do the odd talk, for many I'm told that there's no budget, and for most I'm not involved at all and wouldn't even know who to contact if I wanted to be (see above re. not knowing when a book's been published/contacts moving on).

All of which can prove a bit dispiriting at times. As a writer, I feel that I should have those occasional moments of excitement when copies of my latest book arrive and I pop open some bubbly … but those are actually very few and far between. It mostly feels like my work just disappears off unceremoniously into a void.

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