Coffee heat rising

Read that contract!

One of our Copyeditor’s Desk clients asked us to sign a contract to cover whatever work we do for them in 2009.

Ohhh-kay. It looked fairly benign. I started to read through it and was about to fill in our names and sign it when I came across this little gem:

15. ATTORNEY’S FEES: Should Contractor not abide by the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement and it becomes necessary for the Company to engage the services of an attorney or mediator to resolve any such dispute, Contractor agrees to pay all Company costs associated with this action, including, but not limited to, attorney, mediator, and process server fees. All legal action will be initiated in a Maricopa County, Arizona court.

Even though the dreaded word does not appear, this is an indemnity clause.

Never sign something like this. The paragraph above isn’t as drastic as many; in some contracts the language says you agree to indemnify the other party against (i.e., pay for) any action associated with your work that comes up at any time and in any place. It puts you at horrific risk.

What the paragraph above says is that if a dispute arises between you and the client, you had bloody well better knuckle under to anything the client demands or you will be paying lawyer’s and court fees. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in the right; doesn’t matter whether the client is reasonable or unreasonable: whatever comes up, you get to pay for it. And that’s not fair to you.

People will sue for anything and nothing. Years ago the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual offered as an example of this fact the story of a woman who spotted a photo published in a book showing a crowded beach scene; she decided to sue because her kids were visible and she hadn’t been asked for permission to print their images. She sued everyone—the writer, the publisher, the photographer, everyone in sight. Eventually the writer, who had had no say in what images would appear in the published volume, was let off the hook, but not before he had been forced to hire and pay for a lawyer. Lawyers cost as much as doctors.

Clauses like these often occur in publishing contracts. You’ll see them in book contracts and, even worse, in assignments for freelance magazine articles where the writer earns all of $300 for two or three weeks’ worth of work. They’re often promulgated against people who are underpaid and don’t know any better, as though you were earning the kind of money that you could afford to pay for a publisher’s lawyers.

It’s hard enough to avoid being made to foot the bill for things you shouldn’t have to pay for. Don’t agree to do so just to make a few shekels here or there.

Always, always read every contract before you sign it.
The sequel to this tale appears here.

Today’s PF Post at The Copyeditor’s Desk: Freelance fees

I just spent a couple of hours writing on how freelancers should set their fees, based on posts by Mrs. Micah and by veteran editor Katharine O’More Klopf. The subject seemed especially germane to The Copyeditor’s Desk, and besides…neither Tina nor I have posted there for a while. So if you will, please drop by CED to view Setting Your Freelance Fees, a subject that seems to be growing nearer and dearer to PF bloggers’ hearts as more of us struggle to cope in the faltering economy.

Work is a place…

…not an activity.

Over at the Empowering Mom blog, author Tisha Tolar posts a thoughtful and interesting rumination on the way people react when they learn someone is stepping off the job treadmill to start a business—especially a work-at-home business. She takes the negativity that you can encounter (especially when you first get started) as a manifestation of jealousy.

There’s no question that people say the strangest things to freelancers. A friend’s mother, for example, asked her when she was going to get “a real job.” Said friend’s pretend job entailed stringing for Time Magazine (a nicely paid gig), regularly writing for The New York Times, generating 30 to 40 column inches a week for a Scripps-Howard business journal, running a successful public-relations practice, and (oh, by the way) raising two children and functioning as an active corporate wife for a successful lawyer.

I don’t think, though, that jealousy is quite the word for it. It’s more that people are trapped in a specific mindset and can’t break free from it. For most people, work is a place, not an activity. You’re “at work” when you’re at the office, on a jobsite, down at the shop…never mind that half the time you’re standing around the water cooler, a quarter of the time you’re out front smoking, and the rest of the time you’re building a championship score at Spider Solitaire on your office computer. When you’re “at home” you can’t be working. Can you?

This is a cultural box, like all the other cultural boxes we use to compartmentalize our lives. Most of us find it difficult to climb out of any given box and see the world from a new perspective. The result is that most people genuinely, truly cannot imagine that you’re gainfully employed if your workplace and your home coincide. To their minds, if you claim to be working while you’re physically at home, you’re in the wrong box.

During the several periods when I worked as a freelance writer out of my home, I published four books and more articles than I can count, spoke at endless writers’ conferences, and taught feature writing on the college level. Despite a busy schedule and some high-profile success, the wrong-box phenomenon manifested itself over and over.

There was the time, for example, that my son was in preschool and the school’s volunteer room mother was trying to round up moms to drive vanloads of kids to a farm south of the city for a Hallowe’en pumpkinfest. She called every mother who had been foolish enough not to provide a business telephone number. I used to repeat my home number as my business number, because that’s where editors and clients called me during the daytime; when you do that, people assume you’re not working. She called me while I was on deadline for a national magazine and demanded that I “volunteer” to drive kids to this farm.

I explained that I could not, because I was working on a job and I had to meet a deadline.

This simply did not register with her. She persisted. I tried again to explain that I couldn’t drop what I was doing to drive kiddies around the landscape. She grew angry. She insisted that I certainly could take a full day off my job (because, understand: in her mind I didn’t have a job) to drive children to the pumpkin farm. By the time I finally scraped her off the telephone, she was furious!

At the time this incident occurred, I was writing one feature-length article a month for a city magazine, one to three short pieces a month for each of two monthlies, 30 to 60 column inches a week for a business newspaper, and one to three feature-length articles a month for regional and national magazines. None of that activity came under the heading of an unpaid hobby.

This effect—the “you must be eating bon-bons in front of the soap operas” reaction—is particularly pronounced where women are concerned. Men face a slightly different response (the “what kind of lazy worthless fruitcake of a bum ARE you, anyway” question). Women, when they’re working out of a home office, are assumed to have nothing better to do than socialize, volunteer, and babysit.

The most extreme episode that I can remember came the morning my son committed the heinous crime of uttering the word “fart” on the kindergarten playground. I was on deadline for an article that had to be finished that day when the school principal called on the phone to announce that I had to come and pick up my child forthwith.

I explained that I had a job I had to finish, and that I would come and get him as soon as I could.

No, he said, he was being sent home and I had to come and get him RIGHT NOW. I said, look: I’m a journalist. I write on deadline. I’m writing a project that has to be done today. If I miss my deadline, I will lose my client—the editor will not hire me to do any further work for him.

“Well, that’s fine, but you have to come and get him right now,” he said.

Understand: Editors and publishers have no commitment to freelance writers. You’re not an employee. Some of these people never see your face. All you have to do is miss one deadline, and you’ll never get another assignment from that editor.

I called one of our adult sitters and arranged to drop the kid with her while I finished the job. Traipsed over to the school, drove him down to her house, and raced back to my computer.

An hour later as I was sweltering through the feature, phone rang again: babysitter.

“He hasn’t stopped crying since you left him. You have to come and pick him up.”


The kid was so anguished by being thrown out of school for half a day, he was beside himself. He was just frantic, so much so that our sitter, an accomplished mother and grandmother, could do nothing to console him. So…

Of course, I missed the deadline.

By midafternoon, I was so furious—especially after I got off the phone from my audibly irked editor—that I called my husband to vent.

He called the school principal to inquire what was going on, and in the course of the conversation, he explained in exactly the same words I had used that I worked as a freelance journalist, that I had to make my deadlines, that I had to finish an article that was due that day, and that picking up my son before school was out meant that I would miss my deadline and risk losing an important client.

The principal said—get this!—that if he had known that, he wouldn’t have insisted I come and get my son.

Two phenemona were engaged there:

1. The ineffable inaudibility of the female voice; and
2. The impossibility of conceiving that a person who works at home is working.

It’s not jealousy. It’s not meanness. It’s not even stupidity. It’s plain old social convention. You can’t beat it. You just have to learn to ignore it or work around it.


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! 😯

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine…

Cassie the Corgi decided the crack of dawn was too late to start the day, and so began campaigning to spring to life at ten to five. Gronk! After wringing her out and finding myself still being importuned to get up, I put her on the bed, in hopes that would quiet her down. You don’t put a dog on the bed when you do that. You put a 23-pound puffball of fur on the bed — one that wriggles. So…we’ll be washing the bedding this morning, among other activities.

Precious few blossoms are clinging to vines here at the tail end of summer. When the power went out the other day, it shut down the irrigation timer, and so quite a few of the blossoming critters in my yard are parched. The weather has been surprisingly balmy this year: only a few 115-degree days. We’re supposed to have a heat wave this weekend, with temperatures predicted at around 110, although just now it’s quite lovely outside.

Thank goodness we get an “extra” paycheck this month! Last week’sfurniture-buying exploitoverspent my Diddle-It-Away savings by about $200. Truth is, the money could come out of ordinary cash flow, but that maneuver would engross this month’s payment into the Renovation Loan paydown fund. A couple hundred bucks out of the paycheck of the 29th will do no harm.

I vacillate between taking the $9,500 now accrued in the paydown fund and applying it to principal right now and keeping it in savings to double as emergency fund cash. One thing to be said for paying it toward principal right this minute is that it will keep me from spending it on anything else. Another thing, of course, is that it will cause a much larger chunk of the regular monthly payment to go toward principal, which would be good. On the other hand, with the economy as iffy as it is and the university busily laying off its employees, I hesitate to let those dollars out of my hands.

This is gunna be a hectic weekend. I’ve got to hand over an indexing project to my sidekick for proofreading no later than Tuesday noon; at the moment two chapters and an endless series of narrative endnotes remain to be marked up, and then I have to type, format, and organize the entries. That job alone will take at least an entire day. The author is paying us a premium to do a rush job, so in fact we each will earn more than enough to pay the extra $200 needed to cover the entire furniture adventure. But horrors! It requires me to (shudder!)work! Meanwhile, food needs to be purchased, laundry laundered, floors and furniture cleaned, pool tended to, yard plants rescued….where will the time come from?

TheHealth & Wealth rafflehas had its first two drawings. So far the organizers have not awarded me the million work-free dollars to which I feel I am entitled. One more drawing is slated for September 26. Surely at that time the money will be deposited to my checking account.

And so, to work.

Side jobs, side worries

Tomorrow I’m meeting with the editor of a small local press about a freelance job. It’s low-paid, but one of my RAs is freelancing for this outfit and says the work is steady.

For the time being, I don’t need much pay. The amount I’d make in a year would be about 1.5 times the amount I’d earn teaching one course, and the work is a lot easier and a lot less annoying. Two gigs of this nature would out-earn the equivalent of teaching a course a semester, a reasonable load in addition to a full-time job.

I also hope to let her know I’m open for other work and may soon be in the market for a full-time job.

My boss has had my annual review materials for three weeks. All I’ve heard from her is silence.

Meanwhile, today the legislature is expected to cut the Great Desert University’s budget by $50.4 million. My college alone is millions of dollars in the hole, far deeper in the red than at any time in the university’s history. And my job? By no stretch of the imagination can it be seen as “essential.” It supports the university’s mission, but only if you understand that a university has a mission to do research and scholarship as well as to teach. And our state’s legislators and regents never have fully grasped that point.

So I worry: Is the dean silent because she’s waiting to see if my contract will be among those to be canceled? Is she already mulling over ways to show me the door?

This is a recurring worry for me, since I work on a year-to-year contract that can be canceled at will. Under normal circumstances, it’s not much of a worry, because of institutional inertia: replacing me would be a hassle, and so it would take quite a dramatic circumstance to move the administration to do that. However, in the face of gigantic budget cuts, another possibility arises: get rid of me and all my staff. Closing down my entire office would not be a hassle. My RAs’ contracts end at the semester and mine ends on June 30. To get rid of us all, the university simply has to let our contracts lapse.

That strikes me as not unlikely. Experience has shown that silence from the dean’s quarters is often a bad sign.

So it behooves me to start looking around for other work, even it it’s just freelance stuff.

It has to be possible to get by on the reduced collect-at-age-62 Social Security and the proceeds from my retirement savings. My income would drop from $61,000 to $37,760, of which $12,000 has to go to pay the mortgage on the Investment House. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would live on $25,760-pretax! With no health insurance! Health insurance alone, through ASU’s retiree system, would consume another $7,200. How on earth would I eat, to say nothing of support a house?

Be This Way describes how she and her husband arranged to make it possible for her to knock off work. On the other hand: she has a spouse who’s earning a living. I have no one. And SDXB has been insisting for years that Bumhood is feasible for anyone who’s determined to make it work. But: he has a military pension and gets twice as much SS as I will get, on top of his savings. He lives in Sun City, where housing costs are a fraction of mine, taxes are a third as much as mine, and insurance is half of mine. And his idea of “normal” is most people’s idea of “ascetic”—he lives an Extreme Frugal lifestyle as a matter of course.

I don’t want to live like that, and I don’t want to live in Sun City. But if I lose my job, that’s pretty much how it’ll have to be.

Comments from the iWeb site:

1 Comment


This is very stressful stuff.You’re right in that my situation is very different, and I’m lucky that we have no debt besides my small (under $600 a month) mortgage.

I don’teven knoe you but I have every confidence that IF they close tyour department or don’t renew your contract that you will manage.You’re capable and not afraid to work, and work hard.

Keep us posted!