Editing has been the beating heart of my life since 2015, bringing me a sense of drive and purpose that no other career previously offered me. I gave myself 5 years to build The Fine-toothed Comb up from paying hobby to a self-sustaining business, gathering clients, experience, and testimonials along the way. The COVID-19 pandemic provided me with the prod I needed to flee the day job, so I threw myself into self-employment full-time, buffered somewhat by the voluntary redundancy pay-out.
It’s been good, these last two years – working from home, burning through manuscripts – but it hasn’t been profitable. As I see it, that’s down to a number of factors:
- Economic downturn – the destruction wrought on the global economy by the pandemic has hit everybody. That has been exacerbated for the majority of my clients by the calamitous impacts of Brexit and Russia’s war against Ukraine, resulting in this cost-of-living crisis we’re living through. I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to go self-employed. Who has money to burn on a freelance editor right now? Indie authors? Indie publishers? I’ve been getting work through from people I’ve previously worked with, people who know my value, but it hasn’t come with the growth I needed. People don’t feel they have the money to spend on an unknown quantity, particularly when it is for a personal rather than professional project.
- The big squeeze in the publishing industry – the pandemic has been awful, but it opened up new working practices that meant I might (just might) be able to get work with a large publisher without having to uproot my family and move to London or Oxford. Real employment in the career I love – wouldn’t that be perfect? Online meetings are a cinch these days, manuscripts are emailed all the time, so who needs to be in situ? Sadly, even the very biggest publishers have been forced to cut costs, and that seemingly started with in-house editors. The only way I could find to get work with the big boys was as a freelancer, and that was not a happy experience. The high-pressure turnaround and meagre pay was enough to put me off pushing for more of that kind of work.
- Professional pride – I could have taken on more work from places like Fiverr, who provide a market for freelancers. I made a choice not to because their model relies on us bidding for work, pushing our prices ever lower. We end up working faster and harder for what tends to be a poor return on our labour. If an author prioritises low cost when it comes to the editor they’re hiring, it does not bode well for their quality. Writers who are serious about their work – who want to progress, who want to find a publisher and expand their career – know the value of good editing. They save up for it and they pay what the editor is worth to ensure the best outcome. I am not here to teach people how to write; I want to help solid writers get better.
- Mental health – I took some hard knocks to my mental health during the pandemic. Whilst the first year felt like a dream come true, the second began to feel like a slow-motion collapse. I couldn’t drag myself out of my mental health slump, so all the seeds I had planted began to wither through lack of drive, consistency, attention. I began to feel that the only aspect of my business I could justify working on was the editing itself, just trying to earn enough each month to pay the bills. It was lower-gear thinking – working harder not smarter – and that only led to a downwards spiral.
Nine months ago, I reached the conclusion that I ought to take on some part-time work to help supplement my editing career. I lucked into a short-term administrative post at the local university and have been hopping between roles ever since. It’s been nice learning new things, getting to grips with practices and procedures, building a new network of friends and acquaintances. The Specialist Mentoring role that I currently hold – helping students who live with Autism Spectrum Disorders – is one I find particularly rewarding, so I have applied for the post to become permanent (albeit part-time). If I can find an additional university role that fills out my shift to something approximating full-time work, I will be strongly inclined to take it.
As I said, Editing for me began as a paying hobby. Its development into a full-blown career is a privilege I can no longer afford to indulge. I am not leaving it behind entirely, though; it maps onto my mental landscape far too neatly for me to want to walk away, but I am stepping back – for the time being at least. I need time and space to recoup, to restrategise, and for the world at large to regain some stability. Until then, The Fine-toothed Comb does remain open for business but I’ll be working at a slower rate, chasing fewer jobs and tucking them into evenings and weekends again, just like I used to. It’s the right thing for me, and it’s the right thing for my family.
Blog posts will continue here at The Fine-toothed Comb, and I’ll still be all over Facebook like a rash so don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. If you want to meet up in the flesh, I’ll be red-cloaking at FantasyCon 2023 in Birmingham. I also plan to go to EdgeLit when it resurrects in Derby later on in the year. Hell, you might even catch me at Abertoir if you’re heading over this way. It’d be lovely to see you.
Until next time, look after yourselves and look after each other. This too shall pass.