Point 1: I’ve never missed a deadline in my proofreading career. Deadline-hitting is one of the key elements I sell to publisher clients. I’ve posted previously about how busy in-house production editors are and how the proofreading stage is just one small cog in a constantly moving editorial production machine. I therefore never accept a job if I’m worried about the deadline.
Point 2: I hate turning down work. It’s taken a lot of hard graft and careful planning to build my business. Saying “no” is sometimes necessary, but it leaves me feeling ever so slightly sick, especially when it’s for a client who provides me with regular work. Repeat-work clients are a dream for many editorial pros because they take the pressure off – thanks to them we don’t have to spend time chasing work when we could be doing it. Then there’s the first-time client whom you’ve yearned to work for, and who’s offered you a really interesting project at a rate you’re happy with. Saying “no” may mean you never hear from them again and it’s a lost opportunity to show off your skills and expand your client portfolio.
One of my regulars contacted me this morning to ask if I could take a job for them. I’ve worked with them for years, the rate is above average, the subject matter is really interesting and I know the proofs will land on my desk in good shape because they’ve been well copy-edited. However, the production editor stipulated a return date of three weeks. I have a young child on her school holidays and I have no desire to carry out extensive evening work – it’s not good for me and it’s not good for the proofs. I took a chance and asked if she could extend the deadline to five weeks. I was chancing my arm and I knew it. I fully expected her to say she’d place the job elsewhere. But it turns out that the project is ahead of schedule and there’s wiggle room. This is great news all round – the client has moved the project off her desk, I’ve landed the job, and the deadline works for both of us.
Asking if there’s any wiggle room in a busy production schedule won’t always result in a shifted deadline – more often than not the schedules are just too tight. Thinking back over the past year, two-thirds of the time it’s not been possible. Nevertheless, I think it’s wise not to take this as a given. There’s no harm in enquiring and you might just get lucky.
A note of warning: trying to extend a deadline before you’ve accepted a job is absolutely fine. Trying to extend once you’re halfway through the project is a completely different matter and should be avoided unless there’s an absolute emergency. No publisher wants to work with editorial freelancers who commit to a project and then fail to come in on schedule.
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