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Margaret Sadler

The Weird and the Wonderful: The Art of Selecting Clients

Copyright: creativika / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: creativika / 123RF Stock Photo

What do you do when a clearly weird and off-balance writer asks for your professional services? “Run!” is the response I got from several editor colleagues, and that has been my gut reaction, too.

Such projects can often feel particularly intriguing. And sometimes there’s a sense that good money is there. But then the warning flags start appearing, and they soon obscure any seeming advantage.

This latest author who called rambled sketchily for almost half an hour, covering a lot of life story, but the clincher was the indication that the previous editor was suing for pay and the author was holding out to get back the only electronic copy of the 300-page manuscript. “Suing,” “holding out” and “only” were just a few of the red flags flying in that conversation. “My psychiatrist,” “prison sentence” and “CRA” were among the others.

Eager to get the project rolling, the author asked where I lived and suggested several restaurants where we could meet within the next few days. Fortunately, the next move was left in my hands. I said I’d check my calendar. I didn’t call back, and thankfully nor did the author (although I recorded the number in order not to answer next time). As much as I wanted to warn all my colleagues — post the name on Facebook, tweet a caution, blog a rant — I had to tread carefully; I’m not interested in a defamation suit.

Checking my ODE listing shortly after, I promptly deleted my street address! None of my current clients need to know my coordinates, and certainly no potential client needs to know anything other than “Edmonton, AB.”

One colleague actually took on one of these interesting challenges and lived to tell the tale — got paid, too. The book, as libellous as it seemed, was published and showed up in a “New This Week” bookstore window display. On the other hand, it disappeared as quickly — every copy.

Last year, I deferred a decision on a potential client whose request seemed out of the ordinary, just a little odd. I asked a senior editor with many contacts, and as it happened she assured me that this was a solid author with a good reputation. I loved working with that writer, who came back to me several times within a few months.

Another client indicated that the last editor had not lived up to expectations, but presented as reliable and could explain where the last editor had faltered. Assessing the memoir manuscript was a challenge though, sprinkled as it was with libellous anecdotes. I was satisfied with my results, although I’m not sure the writer was — I got no repeat business.

Although usually hungry for clients, freelancers really do have a choice. “No thanks” is an acceptable answer when the client looks a bit suspect.

As freelancers, we never know what the next job holds, who the next client will be, where the next contract might take us.

Have you had that phone call? How have you handled red flags?


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About the author

Margaret Sadler

Margaret Sadler, freelancing for a quarter of a century, has met her share of red flags and an abundance of red-letter clients, too. What a great job! With a background in education — in particular instructional design — she’s attracted to jobs that involve some aspect of teaching, from fitness to urban planning, from Fort McMurray to the Orissa delta of eastern India — just in the past year.

3 Comments on “The Weird and the Wonderful: The Art of Selecting Clients”

  • As a speculative fiction editor, I perhaps attract a higher percentage of red flag clients than most. One of the first indications there may be issues is when they’re surprised you have referred to their 1st person vampire or space alien manuscript as ‘fiction’. Other common flags is asking for editing advice concerning the action figures to accompany the inevitable movie deal arising out of their book, while still in the ‘outline’ phase of writing the book; submitting a star wars script with the word Jedi crossed out and “Magewright” written over it (or etc); or the cover letter that explains in detail how they are tracking me and any attempt to steal their ideas and sell them in my own fiction will result in “more than just a letter from my lawyer!” My solution is to insist on doing a sample edit before taking on any contract, so that such issues can be screened for before taking on any long term commitment. I still have some crazy clients, but normal crazy like OCD perfectionists or those unwilling to change so much as a comma, or those with some very odd ideas about deadlines–i.e., writers. All writers are slightly off, myself included, because spending hundreds of hours by oneself, hunched over a manuscript, worrying about getting one exact way of expressing a thought down on paper is really not normal behaviour, statistically speaking. One has to tolerate a few red flags, or one cannot be in this business.

    • Margaret F. Sadler


      Good points! =D
      I like the idea of the sample edit.

  • Frances Peck


    An amusing post, Margaret—but of course serious as well. Google is my friend: that’s my motto. If I’m approached by a potential client I know nothing about, I research the heck out of them. If they have no online presence, or they have a presence but it’s sketchy, I say no. You can tell a lot about a person’s credibility by the internet tracks they leave.

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