How a Mean Editor Helped Me Triple My Writing Income

Client management is harder when your client's a jerk.It seemed like a dream come true.

I landed a high-paying blogging gig on a popular software blog. I knew that the clients I wanted read this site, so they’d see my name there and come to me with gigs.

In my mind, this was the break I was looking for to make it big as a business writer. I felt like I’d finally made it as a professional freelance writer.

But it didn’t take me long to figure out it wasn’t the absolute dream job. The editor was mean. Here’s how I handled it – and how it helped me with marketing and client management in the long run:

 

Working with a real meanie

Now when I say this editor was mean, I don’t mean she was the kind of tough-love editor that actually cared about your improvement. I mean she was rude.

One day, an article I’d write was great, and the next day it was horrible – she didn’t know what I was thinking by writing something so terrible, and refused to pay my invoice.

Call me crazy, but I kept going.

You’d have to be incredibly nerdy to know, but in the world of software, this company (and its blog) are big names. Plus, the $200 per post price tag was the highest I’d ever earned at that point.

But my audacity to stick with it came crashing down on me in November when I tried as politely as possible to ask for more clarity from the editor, pointing out her conflicting statements about my work.

She lost her temper and fired me on the spot – still owing me $400.

I was furious and sad. I was angry I didn’t have the resources to fight her for that $400, and Christmas was right around the corner.

What I did to recover

I harnessed my anger as inspiration (I really didn’t have a choice). I worked my tail off through the next month, with the goal of increasing my income and filling out my calendar for the first few months of 2015.

I networked like crazy on AngelList and LinkedIn, going after software startups that needed writing and marketing work done. (Startups are usually open to remote work, and if they’re well-funded, they pay well for people who know what they’re doing.)

I made a detailed spreadsheet of company names, their needs, who to contact, LinkedIn pages, and message dates, to keep track of the sheer amount of marketing I was sending out.

A lot of people didn’t respond, but many did. And from the ones that did get back to me, I was able to fill out my calendar with high-paying clients (some even higher than the mean editor – hah!) that wanted regular, recurring work from me.

And you know what? They’re all nice to me. They love my work, recognize my expertise, and work with me to make effective content for their business instead of against me.

Plus, because I’m working for people who are more friendly and easier to predict, it takes me a lot less time to complete their projects and do any requested revisions. Client management is a dream when you start with quality clients.

The projects I landed

By January, my plate was so full that I had to work nights and weekends to keep up with demand! By February, I learned that I had to start saying “no.”

A quick look at my bank account showed me that my monthly freelance writing income had grown to three times the rate it was in November.

Not bad, huh?

Here’s a sampling of some of the work I landed:

  • 4 blog posts per month for an IT education site for $150 each, $600/month total
  • Basic editing duties for a podcast for $1,200/month
  • One feature post per month for $650
  • Weekly consulting for $120/hour of phone time, or $480 per month
  • Large writing projects for one client, ranging from $300 to $700

As you can see, that more than makes up for the $400 per month I lost from the mean editor.

And you know what? I’m still getting those passive leads from the mean editor’s posts, that I cared so much about when I got that gig.

The biggest lesson I learned was that a difficult client simply isn’t worth the hassle, no matter how seemingly reputable they are.

If you’ve got the talent and drive to land one reputable client, then you can land as many as you want–as long as you’re willing to put in the time and marketing effort to make it happen.

Have you had a mean editor? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Chelsea Baldwin is a web marketing consultant and business writer. Check out her blog Broke Girl Gets Rich.

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55 comments on “How a Mean Editor Helped Me Triple My Writing Income
  1. Taylor says:

    I headed over to Angel List after reading this and got a few good bites. Thanks for the advice!

  2. Jon Lee says:

    Hey Chelsea,

    What an inspiring post, and great way to turn rejection into success! Sometimes I feel like we all need a mean editor or business partner or whatever to really kick us into action. How amazing you were able to get all that work after!

    It seems like you were also able to branch out and use other skills like podcast editing etc, which make you more of a full stack marketer type writer as well which I believe is the future for all content producers.

    Awesome post.

    Best,

    JL

    • Chelsea says:

      Yea,

      As writers, we definitely shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and work in related fields, even if they’re things we haven’t done before.

      The podcast is a really cool gig. I get paid well (I’ve actually raised my rates quite a bit since I wrote this article), I learn a lot from the interview guests, and I gain new skills from working on it. Win-win-win.

  3. What a mind blowing post Chelsea,
    I’m really impressed. Indeed, there are people as stiff and difficult as anything you can think of and they’re also motivation suckers.

    Working with such people will only be draining your energy and the worst thing is that they will be giving you peanuts but inside their mind, they will think they’re paying you too much for a little work.

    But when you’re working with someone who’s very friendly, they’ll always applaud your work and will also motivate you to do your best even when you’re making mistakes.

    I’m very happy you were able to forget about that insatiable fellow with the money she was owning you.

    I have a question for you though, how do you normally land such clients? What’s it like?

    Thanks for sharing mate.

  4. Amel says:

    I enjoyed reading this post, and it is great that you bounced back from the negative experience of working with a meanie. I am curious, though, by what you mean by saying you didn’t have the resources to get the $400 that was owed to you. If you did the work and it was used/published, then it seems like you should not have a problem getting paid…but it’s not clear from your post whether the work was, in fact, published or completed according to whatever agreement you had with the publication.

    I only mention this because some writers might feel intimidated by working with difficult people and think that they have to give up what is rightfully theirs in the event of some conflict or disagreement.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Amel, if you have to sue someone to get the money, it COSTS money, so it’s not worth it for a job that small.

      • Amel says:

        Thanks, Carol. I did not realize that the author might have to sue for payment. Since it was a big-name publication, I assumed she could just send an invoice and pursue payment through the accounting department. I guess I was just curious if the publication actually refused to pay, or if she just let it go due to frustration with the editor or some other reason.

        • Patricia says:

          Wow. This thread just made me remember an article I wrote for a franchise of a well-known magazine that I did NOT get paid for! The article was for their December issue and I kinda forgot about calling their accounting department a month after its publication to follow up on my check. Back then, writing was more of just a sideline gig so my main concern was really just beefing up my portfolio.

          Earlier this year, I applied for a position in the publishing company handling that particular magazine. I thought that my application was also a good opportunity to drop by their accounting department to inquire about my check, so that’s what I did. Lo and behold, I discovered that I wasn’t even on the list of writers that had to be paid for that issue. The person handling the checks couldn’t really do anything since my name wasn’t in the official document of commissioned writers to begin with.

          That particular mag published its last issue last year (the company decided not to renew the local franchise), so when I finally inquired about my check this year, there was no one from that mag’s staff to ask about the lapse. Also, my only contact all throughout my stint there was the EIC. Ultimately, it wasn’t about the money. It was more about the principle of the thing. Ugh. Things like this DO happen.

          • Chelsea says:

            Yes, exactly.

            You can always make $50 more or even $400 more, but principles and how you treat people in business are important.

            The golden rule, though cheesy, is very crucial to doing business.

          • Carol Tice says:

            The moral to that story is — ask right away! Magazines do fold. I used to keep a calendar of when payments were due me — and I’d be on the phone the day after, if they failed to show up.

  5. Patricia says:

    I completely agree that “a difficult client simply isn’t worth the hassle, no matter how seemingly reputable”! Great post! Am happy that you were able to bounce back so quickly.

    I was also wondering what happened to the rest of the post when I checked my email last night. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice says:

      We had some kind of bizarre gremlin attack — luckily we were able to slay them and get them to hand over the rest of the post. That was a first in my 7 years running this blog! Hopefully gremlins will stay dead.

  6. How great to turn a kick in the teeth into such a positive experience. Brilliant!

  7. Mike Johnson says:

    Defective people work in every industry. Then there are the smathering of people you’ll never be compatible with. Bumping up against them is good motivation to build a life self-sufficient enough to dump them from your life.

  8. Mary says:

    That’s one of the reasons I appreciate my day job. I work with so many nasty people and am getting quite adept at handling them. I have learned a lot of tricks to keep my cool, talk them down off the ledge or get rid of them. After reading this post, I see it’s good practice for managing my own clients! Great post!

    • Chelsea says:

      Yes, I think the day job I had before going full-time freelance definitely helped me learn how to better deal with this situation… even if I absolutely hated those office politics!

  9. Barb Johnson says:

    Chelsea, you handled this awful situation perfectly. You are an example to all of us. I haven’t faced this situation I guess, because I haven’t enough clients! Which is definitely my fault.

    Now I will follow your great example and get going!

    Thank you.

    Barb

    • Chelsea says:

      And hopefully you don’t have to deal with those clients, Barb!

      I’ve found there’s more good ones than bad ones… just trust your gut when agreeing to sign a contract!

  10. Kinya says:

    This came at just the right time for me.

    I’m was just wondering how I’m going to go about getting new blogging clients. I like how you said you networked your butt off on certain sites. That’s what I’m going to have to do.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Chelsea says:

      Yea Kinya, there were some days where I spent all eight of my “working hours” networking or putting together pitches.

      It wasn’t fun at all, but it definitely paid off.

      Good luck to you!

  11. Derek says:

    With respect, would love to hear other-side.

  12. Cherese Renee' Cobb says:

    Chelsea,
    What an inspiring post! I haven’t worked with any mean editors, but I’ve dealt with them when I’m pitching. One particularly nasty editor told me that he doesn’t work with women!

    I’m curious. Did you ever get the $400 the editor owed you? I also have to say knowing that Carol or you–who in my opinion are awesome writers– were ever fired makes me feel better. (I hope that doesn’t make a gremlin!)

    • Chelsea says:

      Hey Cherese,

      Omg! What an a**! Discriminating because of gender… ha! I thought we’d moved away from that as a society!

      Clearly, you’re better off with him.

      I never got that $400. At the time I didn’t have the resources to fight based on the signed agreement I always use, and once I started making more money, I didn’t even want to deal with her. I decided to let karma step in and take care of it.

      And I guess getting ‘fired’ from gigs is kind of inevitable as a freelancer. You’ll certainly never be able to please anyone! But, for me, it’s better to get fired from one freelancing gig than from one full-time job.

      • Cherese Renee' Cobb says:

        Legal battles can be costly, so I completely understand letting karma step in. Did you make any alterations or add any clauses to your signed agreement after this editor ripped you off?

        • Chelsea says:

          No, I didn’t make any real changes.

          I’ve just learned that if a client is wary of signing even a basic contract that pretty much simply states that they pay me the agreed-upon rate for the work I do, I should drop them before even starting.

  13. I’ve met more than my fair share of “mean” editors and clients who would just drop me and not even explain what it was I did that they didn’t like. It had gotten to the point where I started thinking there was something wrong with me. Then, I read this article. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement! πŸ™‚

    • Chelsea says:

      You’re welcome Jamie! I’m glad my story could encourage you!

      Hopefully you don’t have to deal with so many of those clients in the future! (I know, it can be really infuriating!)

  14. Pinar Tarhan says:

    @Carol: When I couldn’t read the post, I was sure it was an Internet connection from my end. Maybe the gremlins were working for the mean editor πŸ˜€

    @Chelsea: Sorry, she didn’t pay what she owed, and it seems to me she should have paid more for being that demanding and unreasonable in the first place. And I thought I had seen one or two unreasonable clients. But I’m glad things turned out to be more than fine for you!

    • Odds are that editor has driven off a dozen writers and is constantly grumbling about how she always gets people who are “impossible to work with.”

      • Isn’t that always how it goes? You’d think, sooner or later, they’d realize that the common denominator in all their failures is THEM.

      • Chelsea says:

        Yes, Katherine. I’ve noticed that the site has an uncommonly high turnover for writers. Very few have stuck around long enough to have lengthy author profiles on that site!

        @Deborah – Yes, I’m surprised the site owner hasn’t realized this yet!

        But, whatever will be will be. There’s plenty of other great blogs out there!

  15. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Chelsea,
    So cool to see you turned a tough situation into something great. Another reminder that having a positive-work-hard-work-smart attitude can transform your writing business in a short amount of time. Love it that you’re still getting referrals from the site managed by the mean editor.

    -Evan

  16. Chelsea, way to turn that frustration and disappointment into productive work! And with a stronger income stream, you can well afford to avoid or let go of any future mean clients who come your way.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, the mean editor I had was at one of my staff jobs. Eventually, he fired me. I keep meaning to write him a thank-you note… πŸ˜‰

    • Chelsea says:

      Yes! this is one of the best things about having a better income… I can totally afford to trust my gut on clients that I can just “feel” are going to be a total pain in the neck. And my sanity is thanking me for it! Ha!

      • Shari Held says:

        What an inspiring story, Chelsea! I’m getting geared up to launch an onslaught of LOIs and see what I can scrounge up. I’ve always dreaded the marketing aspect, but I’m getting excited about it now. Loved that you made it a game to see how high you could go!

        Keep up with the good work!

        Shari

      • The “bad clients” topic has been covered several times in MALW; obviously a common problem. (There’s also an article on “how to spot the no-pay risks” on writing-world.com right now.)

  17. Hi Chelsea

    It’s very easy to get stuck a routine and become content to just plod away as we are.

    So sometimes, when things go pear-shaped, they’re the catalysts that help us to improve our lives.

    But, as your very last line says, you’ve still got to get of your butt and make it happen.

    • Chelsea says:

      Yes, exactly. And the end of the day, getting good clients comes down to how much effort you’re willing to put into the grind of marketing to find them.

  18. Angela Tague says:

    Great post! It’s the perfect reminder to keep looking for bigger and better projects. We don’t have to settle for assignments (and editors) who drain our energy and inspiration. ~Angela

    • Chelsea says:

      Yes, Angela.

      I’ve recently been making it a game to see how high-paying of projects i can go after (or how high I can quote a client), and it’s surprising how much people are willing to hand over for quality work that will help them sell.

      Money certainly isn’t the answer to everything, but having more rather than less of it definitely puts you at ease about certain things!

  19. Karen Briggs says:

    Way to go, Chelsea! That’s how you make lemonade, when you are handed lemons! That mean editor did you a favor, though she didn’t mean to! Pun intended! Her loss was definitely your gain.