Coffee heat rising

Paying Work DONE! At last….

Oh, the TERROR OF PAYING WORK for the indolent freelance operator. 😀 Over the past nine or ten days, I’ve actually had to (gasp!) WERK, a horrifying prospect, rather than play at pretending to write things.

Hence the regular posts at Plain & Simple Press fell off the side of the earth.

First one, then two, then three scholarly papers flew in from our Asian writers. One of them was quite arcane: higher mathematics, on a subject so celestially abstract it exists only in orbit around Pluto. Another, thank God, in from an êminence grise in Asian journalism studies: intelligible. On media law…not exactly my specialty, but at least I once read the AP Libel Manual from beginning to end. And finally, just as looked like it was safe to go back in the water, along came a statistical study testing the allegations of a theory that says an individual’s propensity to indulge in victim-blaming is mediated by her or his own physical height.

That was weird.

But once you plow through the experimental construct and the calculations, it’s pretty interesting. It actually does appear that — probably because of psychological and biological perceptions of the social significance of body height — people do experience an effect on their world-views and attitudes from their relative body height. There is, as it develops, a whole sub-branch of sociological study on this topic, with its own jargon.

Who knew?

Well, needless to say, I haven’t gotten any of my own diddlings-around done over the past some time.

And as usual, God. Damned. Word decided to indulge a catastrophic crash just as I was wrapping up today’s project. It shut down and disappeared the entire edited version of the mean-short-folks paper.


I hate computers.

Fortunately, I now generate edited versions with Compare Documents: Make all the changes, unmarked, in a copy of the original. When finished, run compare-docs on that against the original. The result shows all the changes in “Track Changes,” in a new file.

It crashed my completed cleaned-up file, too. But mercifully, when I re-opened the file I found it had not lost any data (that I could see) in that file. I hope not. Because I just sent the damn thing back to its author.

This project was rather more time-consuming than I would like given what I was paid. At 3 cents a word, it only generated about $93, hardly worth the number of hours I put in on it. I mean, the number of hours above and beyond the time required to rescue it from Word.

But it pays the bills. I guess. The three of them together probably generated enough to cover a couple months of Cox bills, plus the Web guru’s fees and the hosting charges for FaM and P&S Press. Thus I’m not earning anything, but I’m not going broke, either.

Hm. How much did I bill this week? Hmmm…. $242.74

Let’s see…if I cleaned house, at $80 per job….yup. It would’ve taken me 3.03 days to earn that much. Just about a third of the time I spent on these three papers. Only without the computer aggravation…

How much does one earn greeting Walmart shoppers? Here in Phoenix? $9.82 per hour, 48% below the national average. That would come to just about 10 bucks less than my three clients paid, in toto: $235.68. Not counting the tax withholding…

So I guess I’m doing better than I would at Walmart.

Heh! Here’s a site that says Costco greeters make $24 an hour, or $50,000 a year. Dayum! That’s as much as I earned teaching at ASU with my fine Ph,D.! However, here’s another site that begs to differ: says Costco pays $15.71 an hour, 17% below the national average and a far cry from 50 grand. Still, three days of smiling at the unwashed masses would have grossed $377.04…that’s $134.30 more than I earned reading Chinglish math papers.

Hm. I doubt that withholding would’ve come to $134. And about all you’d have to use a computer for would be checking in on the time-clock. Think o’ that!




One of the freelance writer’s (and editor’s!) mottoes is “A$k and ye shall re¢eive.” It was coined (as it were) by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the best of the few truly useful writer’s groups in existence. The gist of this bon mot is that you should not accept just any lowball offer a publisher tries to inflict on you, but instead should insist on being paid fairly for professional work.

Well, I just landed a client that pays a moderate but more or less acceptable rate. Only problem is, this company expects contractors to sign a nondisclosure agreement that contains not one, not two, but three onerous indemnity clauses. In a nutshell, the contract proposes that the penniless freelancer will pay all the legal bills for any claim even vaguely related to her or his work that is brought against this international corporation by any wretch who thinks he or she should feel aggrieved.

I’ve been going back and forth with the company’s rep for the past ten days or two weeks over this, they offering one modification or another and me repeating that I’m not signing any agreement to indemnify.

Amazingly, they sat down and rewrote their contract to delete the offending clauses! The thing arrived in the e-mail this morning. So… I guess we’re on.

This is the second time I’ve stood my ground on indemnity clauses, expected to be told to take a hike, but prevailed.

The take-home message here is that if you own a small enterprise, you should stand firm on negotiating your terms and your price, and never accept a deal that puts you at a disadvantage.

She who squawks gets

So after our Copyeditor’s Desk client tried to faze an indemnity clause past us in our 2009 contract, I politely demurred. We couldn’t, said I, sign a contract in which we promised to pay their lawyer’s fees for any action they should take against us, regardless of whether we were in the wrong or the right. In Arizona, I observed, courts generally award lawyer’s and court fees to the complainant if the suit is found to have substance. And, I added, the proposed arrangement was not fair to us.

It worked. The client allowed as how this paragraph was a piece of boilerplate she’d lifted off the Web and thanked us for pointing out its unfairness. She asked that we simply cross out and initial the offending passage and said the company would accept the revised agreement.

What a relief! Naturally, I wasn’t happy about causing a stink over a contract with our bread-and-butter client. On the other hand, there’s no way we could have agreed to any such arrangement. Better to go hungry now than to be pauperized later by circumstances over which you have no control.

A$k, and ye shall re¢eive.


Ugh! Spent the entire darned day yesterday building a package to sell The Copyeditor’s Desk to university presses. I hate writing stuff like that.

It’s exactly the same as writing a résumé and cover letter to apply for a job, and just as stressful: not only what do I say and how do I say it, but what is the most effective way to structure a pitch, what do they need and how do I talk about that instead of talking about me, when do I say X and how far do I push Y and how do I get something that should be in the emphatic last position in a graf out of the freaking MIDDLE of the graf without coming up with something that sounds incoherent and….augh! And then I had to targetrésumés for both me and Tina and tweak our track record so the reader will easily spot the work we do that’s relevant to his or her needs…gasp!

After all that, I have one, count it, ONE package ready to mail. Meanwhile, I didn’t get a lick of work done for GDU. I expect this will go easier for the other three presses whose ramparts we need to assault this week: I set up the draft material in boilerplate sections, so that really the only segment that will need to be rewritten to customize for each press is the first paragraph or two. The routine is very much like applying for jobs. The first cover letter is torture, but once you’ve got it on paper, you can reuse a lot of it with relatively light revisions. Ditto therésumé: when you start with the “list of accomplishments” or “relevant skills,” you can adjust those to move the job description’s desiderata higher on the list.

Speaking of job applications, I need to do a bunch more of those, too, in light of Our Beloved President’s recent online fireside chat.

Unfortunately, though, I’m going to be forced to actually work today, as extreme as that sounds. Two new math articles have been sitting on my flashdrive since Friday.

And it’s already 6:37 in the morning. Dang! Gotta run! 😯

What’s an intellectual worker’s real overhead?

Over at The Copyeditor’s Desk, TM opines that a freelance editor working from home does business with a very low overhead: a computer, an Internet connection, appropriate software, some inexpensive paper, a few pens or pencils, maybe babysitting or day-care costs.

On a superficial level, I’d agree with that. But I’d like to argue that there’s a lot more cost behind editing, writing, graphic design, programming, and similar pursuits than just hardware, software, and some office supplies. The truth is, none of us can do our jobs without one very expensive piece of overhead: education. By and large, the more education the intellectual worker has, the more his or her skills are worth . . . but the higher the person’s overhead.

Consider what a good education costs. An undergraduate degree at an in-state public school can easily run you $15,000 to $20,000 a year. We paid $40,000 a year for M’hijito’s four-year degree at a private liberal arts college.

Two years of graduate school will take you to the M.A. (assuming you’re trotting right along): add another $30,000 to $80,000. A professional degree will set you back even more: the Great Desert University, which bills its law school as “among the lowest of all American Bar Association accredited law schools,” presents in-state students with a tab of $35,041 and bills out-of-state students $47,606. At GDU, a Ph.D. in a less marketable subject, such as English, runs from $7,052 a year for in-state students to $19,606 a year for out-of-state students (not counting books, housing, food, transportation, and personal costs); attaining a doctorate can take six to eight years.

So… A bright mind, a bachelor’s degree, and a few years of on-the-job experience probably will put you in a position to freelance as an editor, a writer, a graphic artist, or a computer programmer. Let’s figure the start-up costs:

Computer: $1,000
Printer/FAX/Scanner: $300
Internet connection: $360/year
Software:$300 (e.g., indexing program, etc.; assumes MS Office comes with computer)
Student loan: $8,724/year (approx: $60,000 repaid over 10 years at 8% interest)
Office supplies: $200
Desk: $300 (Ikea or other knock-down furniture)
Chair: $100 (Ikea or other cheap furniture)
Total: $11,984

Assuming you could bill 30 hours a week (a generous estimate, indeed!) and you needed a pre-tax income of $40,000 to live on, you would have to gross $51,984 a year to get by. Giving yourself two weeks of vacation time, you would have 1,560 hours in which to earn that amount, meaning you would have to gross $33.32 an hour: consistently and steadily.

This doesn’t count items that would be in your house anyway, such as a telephone connection, air conditioning and heating, water, and access to a bathroom and kitchen. And the biggie: it doesn’t include health insurance!

If you had a low-end master’s degree that you managed to complete in only two years, you’d add $30,000 to the cost of your training (assuming you count books, living expenses, & the like). What the heck: let’s pay that back in 20 years instead of a mere 10; at 8% that would run you $426 a month, or $5,112 a year. This actually brings your annual overhead down to a mere $7,672; to get that 40 grand of pre-tax income, you’d need to earn $47,672, or $30.59 an hour over fifty thirty-hour weeks.

Hm. What if you had a Ph.D.? Let’s say eight years of graduate school at $14,000 a year, since research assistantships and fellowships usually cover most of your living expenses. Again, you pay it back at 8% over 20 years: $936.81 a month, or $11,244 a year! This puts your annual overhead at $13,804. Now you need to pull in $53,804 to end up with a pre-tax, pre-health insurance take of 40 grand: $34.49 an hour.

In any of these scenarios, you’re having to earn $30 to $35 an hour and bill 30 hours a week consistently for 50 weeks a year. That’s to bring in an amount that’s just enough to call a living wage. Sort of.