For April, we welcome Noelle Barrick as Member of the Month. She’s a talented writer and copyeditor whose articulate and humorous blog posts allow potential clients to hear her distinctive writing voice. Enjoy the interview! Click this link to listen via podcast.
Q: Please share a little of your professional history with our readers.
NB: My professional history is a bit like a buffet–take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and you’ve got a great career! I have a degree in English from Webster University in St. Louis. After I graduated, I worked at Graphic World Publishing Services in St. Louis, where I learned that I loved working with the editorial process. Because of family issues, it became important for me to move back to my home state of Kansas, so I resigned from Graphic World and started freelancing while I applied to grad school at the University of Kansas.
I worked off and on as a freelancer during grad school, primarily informally helping a friend or two with their seminar and conference papers. After I finished coursework, I looked for a part-time job so that I would have time to study for my comprehensive examination and write my thesis. I took a job as a part-time receptionist and that led to a full-time job as an administrative assistant; I spent most of this time writing client communications and editing communications written by other employees. After a little over a year at that company, it became clear to me that what I really wanted was run my own company. So I took the plunge, resigned from my job, and started marketing myself as a freelancing copyeditor and proofreader.
Q: How and when did you make this business a reality?
NB:Last August I started looking for freelance clients, and when I had three (yes, only three) solid leads, I resigned from my job and started working on making freelancing a full-time business. That’s about as real as it gets!
Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your career?
NB: Freelancing requires much more discipline than a typical office job. I have to be very strict with myself about managing my time. There’s no one who’s going to get on my back for not being at work by 8am, so I have to get on my own back. My first month or so of freelancing was very unproductive because I’d get up whenever I felt like it, putter around the house for a couple of hours, do an hour or two of work, and then decide that since it was a nice day, I’d better go out and weed the flower bed or mow the yard or just sit in the sun. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of paying work done that way–although the yard looked great!
So I finally decided to write up a “company policy manual” for myself, even though the company is just me. Putting a schedule down in writing gave me the focus that I needed to actually put that schedule into action instead of wondering where my time went. I set up rules for myself like you’d find in any company–when breaks are to be taken, how often to follow up with potential clients, when to work on my record-keeping, when to deal with non-work e-mails, and so on.
Of course the joy of working for myself is being able to adjust the schedule according to my own needs. For example, our local zoo charges a $2 admission on Wednesdays during the winter. The last Wednesday in February was a beautiful day, so I and my mom, who is semi-retired, decided to spend the afternoon at the zoo! I spent some time working on the following Saturday to make up for my afternoon out. The freedom to set your own schedule is, to me, the whole point of freelancing. But you do have to actually set a schedule and stick to it.
Q: Are you working on any personal writing projects at this time?
NB: Right now I’m working hard on finishing my Master’s thesis. It’s about the political implications of religiously motivated social justice activism. I’m also having fun keeping up with my blog. If you check it out, you’ll see in my first post that I consider myself more of an editor than a writer, so that’s enough of a challenge for me at the moment.
Q: What are some of the teachers, books, or authors who have influenced your professional life in a positive way?
NB: I haven’t heard from her for years, but I have to give credit to Suzanne at Graphic World. My cubical was next to hers, and she answered all my stupid newbie questions. One of my proudest moments was when I asked her to review a chapter I had edited, and she gave it back to me with only one error marked. (And from that day to this, I have never forgotten to treat “World War II” consistently!)
As for books, Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook was an invaluable resource when I was first starting out. Today, the book I pull off the shelf most frequently (other than Chicago and the dictionary) is Garner’s Modern American Usage. The breadth of information in that book is astounding; Bryan Garner is one of my heroes.
I am also thrilled to be on a listserv with many very intelligent freelancers who can offer up sound advice (and a Chicago cite to back it up) in a matter of minutes. Chief among them are Katharine Moore-O’Klopf, Ruth Thaler-Carter, Geoff Hart, and of course, Janice Campbell <g>.
Q: As a seasoned professional, what advice would you offer an independent writer or editor who is just beginning a career?
NB: Well, I think I’m still “seasoning.” But at this point in my career, my best advice is, when marketing, make phone calls whenever possible rather than sending out blind e-mails. Often if you call the main number of a potential client and ask for the person who manages freelance editorial staff, you will get to someone who is at least sympathetic, even if they’re not hiring. You can keep that contact’s name on file and follow up every three months or so.
Of course, 90% of marketing seems to be luck. I got one of my best clients when I made a blind call to their office, and happened to hit the production editor on a day when she was swamped and had more manuscripts than freelancers. She thought I had dropped from heaven.
My other advice is to be persistent even with clients who’ve already hired you. If you haven’t heard from a client for a while, send a “just-checking-in” e-mail to remind them you’re available for work. Just last week I landed a project through one of these e-mails. The client answered my initial e-mail to let me know she didn’t have anything available, and 20 minutes later she e-mailed me again to offer me a project that had just come across her desk. I got the job because I was at the top of her mind.
Q: What inspires you?
NB: This is where I get a little sappy. I love knowing that I help books come into being. I love helping authors communicate their ideas effectively. I see myself as a partner in that process.
Q: How has your membership in NAIWE benefited you professionally?
NB: I am a new member and am still exploring all the benefits of NAIWE. Right off the bat, I am thrilled to be able to add content to a pre-designed website. I’ve already received positive feedback about my website, and I look forward to keeping my blog up to date. I’m also still exploring the Library, and it looks like it will be a great resource.