Freelancing: Bleeding in the Arena

Gee QE, for a person with editor in your blog handle you don’t talk about editing much.”  All right, let’t talk about editing today.  Freelance editing specifically.

When I started freelance editing, it was chaotic.  This is likely because I started on websites like Upwork and Freelancer.  It was the literary equivalent of stepping onto the sands of an ancient arena.

gladiator arena.jpg

Despite your past glories (editing chops) when you step onto those cyber sands, you are just a nameless slave.  So you build a stately resume to stand out.  You talk about all those days spent swinging swords in your homeland, and offer examples of battles won.

Unfortunately for you, the arena is already populated by seasoned and deadly gladiators who have proven their valor time and time again.  You realize quickly, despite what you’ve done in the real world, once you step into the cyber arena you have very little credibility compared to the people who have come before you.

Pollice Verso, by Jean-Léon GérômeSo what do you do?  You go to the Ludus Magnus and begin training.  Instead of carrying logs on your shoulders and hacking dummies with swords, you run in full armor while reading The Chicago Manual of Style.  For the price of time, the arena keeper offers tests to increase you rank.  Tests on grammar, syntax, and punctuation – you take them.  You surrender every extra denarii you can scrounge and upgrade to super-premium-ultra-silver editor status, and your ascension continues.  But still, unless you can get fights, you are all thunder and no lightning.

Now fights are hard to come by.  Maybe when those arenas first opened their cyber doors it was easier.  But those sands are packed down like cement.  Hardened by years of blood, tears, and broken dreams.  Those ancient gladiatorial juggernauts have the advantage, they get priority, and you must settle for smaller bouts.


Denarius (plural denarii) a Roman coin worth ten asses.  True story.

But even these minor squabbles are a bidding war.  Budding gladiators from around the globe have flocked to these cyber sands – they want your glory!  So what do you do?  You underbid on jobs.  “Two denarii a word?  Hah!  I’ll do it for one.”

Your tears mix with caked blood as you open your mailbox to see a scribbled letter. “We are sorry, but the winning bid was .0028 denarii a word.  We have no need for your sword.”  How is that even possible?  Is it measured in silver dust?  Have they even heard of the Editorial Freelance Association?

You continue to train.  Growing colder, harder, and more efficient.  You go to other arenas and market yourself there as well.  Finally, for a meager .0025 denarii a word, you land a fight.  It’s not even about the coin now.  You relish the opportunity for open literary combat – for glory!  The training pays off and you crush you opponent (you kill your deadlines and deliver a solid product to the client).  However, the mob is not impressed.  They don’t even leave you a review of the fight to bolster your rank.  This time, there will be no glory.

gladiator net.jpgRegardless, you will be paid, even if it is just a little.  You go to your doctore with an open hand, but he has nothing to offer you.  “It was spent to allow you passage into the arena,” he says.  More tears harden the sands (many of these websites, in addition to charging you to use their services, also take a percentage of your total pay from a client). 

This is your existence gladiator.  Steel yourself – there is potential for glory still.

You could impress the mob and they demand your return (you land a solid client who requests you personally when they have work).  There is also potential one of those older scar-covered gladiators could earn their freedom and join the ranks of the Rudiarii (they go into business for themselves, leaving the chaos of the sands, creating more clients for you as you increase in status).

Crossed_gladii.pngWhat is the moral of this story?  The moral is this – if someone tells you freelance editing is as simple as rolling out of bed in your pajamas and plopping down in front of a computer, they’re kind of right, but you should still chop them in half with a gladius.  On the other hand, you could ask them the secret to their success in exchange for a few denarii.

In my experience, it’s hard work.  The work itself can be easy (and fulfilling), but actually getting work when you just start off, now that’s the hard part.  If you’re lucky, you will get some repeat clients and won’t have to spend all of your time mindlessly scrolling through client ads.  Regardless, these cyber arenas are a good place to start generating clients to work with if you have no other place to pull from.

gladiator fallen.jpgTruth is, the clients are also gladiators in this cautionary tale.  They bleed and wage battle just like everyone else.  Many of them will die and lose themselves on those sands.  In this way, we are brothers and sisters in arms, lashed together by chains, doing our best to stay whole.  If you can keep each other alive, you chances at glory rise.  Perhaps your once unassuming client, and battle buddy, becomes something more.  Perhaps they join the ranks of the Rudiarii and remember the sweating blood covered slave who helped them survive the arena.  You are forging unshakable ties.  You are becoming more.

When you are able, you can start your own business and keep those clients with you.  Seize glory with those blistered fingertips!  Those global cyber arenas aren’t going to miss you.  The money you spend to start your own small business (especially if it’s just you) will be far less than the monthly/yearly fees and garnished paychecks you receive on many of those websites.

All of this, of course, is just one gladiators opinion/experience.  Have you had great experiences freelancing?  Are you considering taking to the sands?  Have you worked with freelancers and been burned?  Have you freelanced and been burned by a client?  You show me your scars and I will show you mine.

As for me, I’ll just be over here making sure the sand stays nice and moist.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

Copyright Info (final)

39 responses

  1. Reblogged this on J.R. Handley Blog and commented:
    For those who want to try their hand at self-publishing, you’ll need a good editor. Here is a great article on the topic! The author writes in a fun and enjoyable manner that makes learning fun and easy. Check it out yourself and chat about it! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing my rantings JR. So many posts out there talking about how easy it is to freelance, I thought a contrasting view might be nice. I do think it’s a great option for some people, but like anything worth doing, it’s a pain sometimes.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It can be just as hard, from the writers side, to find someone to EDIT your work. It is such a huge output of resources for pre-revenue authors that you stress out trying to find just the right person.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would agree with you, it is a big expense. And honestly, it is something that needs to be researched significantly prior to signing off on.

        Weech, who you see comment on many of my posts, lost a great deal of money grappling with sub-par editors. While that’s his story to tell, the skinny of it is many writers end up paying sub-par or untrained editors to do work for them to try to save money. It’s totally understandable that as indie authors finding ways to cut spending is essential. However, it’s pretty crushing to pay someone to edit your work, get it published, and have a friend tell you there is a typo on page so-and-so.

        What I have seen, and you can browse around the internet to find more information, but legitimate editors (depending on what exactly they are editing/type of editing) cost around one to two cents a word. There’s wiggle room in both directions.

        I’ve seen an 80k novel get scooped up for $150 (USD) before on those freelance bidding websites. That’s .001875 cents a word. When I see that happen, I often wonder about the quality of the work being done.

        Of course, that’s just my .001875 cent opinion. There’s always a small chance it’s a person cutting their teeth and trying to generate a portfolio – so they are taking a financial hit to accomplish this. Their portfolio should help you make a more informed decision, as well as interviews – never be afraid to interview.

        Liked by 1 person

      • True, you get what you pay for….. BUT you also have to be able to get something out there to start attempting to generate income. I guess, one route would be to make nice with some local HS English teacher and hope they’ll take pity on you? LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do enjoy your blogs. It is nerve-wracking to find a copyeditor who you can trust to not only edit well but not rip you off. You’ve said it before “you get what you pay for” so true. Who knows maybe one day I’ll need an editor 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for leaving a comment and reading today Sheryl. I’m glad my blogs give you a smile.

      It’s an interesting relationship between editor and writer. There is an odd courtship dance that happens as you begin feeling each other out. I feel like it’s the stage where you are trying to decide each others legitimacy, as well as ability.

      Another issue we face on our side is the ambiguity of what exactly an editor does. Dario Ciriello (an editor here on WordPress) has one of the most transparent and well written posts I’ve seen about what the types of editing are, and what you should expect a legitimate editor to charge you.

      Thanks again for stopping in – good luck with your writing.


  3. Well written, and since my gladiator skills are weak, I will simply clap and give the thumbs up for the vanquished. Yeah, yeah, yeah…. that might not actually be the sign, but this is a blog, not my thesis, so work with me people!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for swinging by and reading – as well as sharing. After I read what I wrote I was like, “Dang, pretty bleak perspective Corey.” But hey, it’s the truth – freelancing isn’t all sunshine and fairy wings.

      I’m in the process of starting my own business of it now that I have a few solid repeat clients, and that was my goal going into the process. I had a couple clients I worked with sporadically before moving into the freelance websites, but I wanted a few more to fill in the voids in my schedule. I would rather work with a handful of solid repeat clients, than the trail and error of the online freelance sources. That’s just my two cents those.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, we will definitely hire you when we get there…. and work around your schedules as well. Vets helping vets and all! Plus, otherwise we get ‘the look’ from old military wives!! 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really hope we can work something out in the future. More so, I hope the other venture you are involved with works out, because that will be far more fruitful for you. Then when you are rolling in accolades I can get an autographed copy (autographed by Captain Porkchop of course).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I do a lot of video editing and I swear the freelance websites are built to destroy you. It just takes time, patience and a bucket full of grit to get someone to trust you with their three minutes of footage. Awesome post as always!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping in and reading today. Glad I’m not the only person to feel this way.

      You are right – patience and grit will take you a long way. It’s funny because I read so many posts about how easy it is to freelance. I have written any like this, because honestly, it hasn’t been that easy for me.

      I guess it can be easier once you reach a high level of prestige and online presence on an individual site. Say, you are in the top 20 or 50 on Freelancer or Upwork. Regardless, it takes a lot of trail and error, time, bizarre dealings, and suffering through server problems to reach that level.

      Good luck with your video editing! I can only imagine those server issues would impact you more than they do me given the file sizes involved.

      On a side note, there are a handful of dad blogs I follow, but I can’t access yours to view content. I’m always looking for stay-at-home dad advice to help me navigate the minefield of dirty diapers and bottles. If you don’t follow Papa Parisien already, I would recommend him. His posts are always a joy.

      Thanks again for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re a great editor, especially in terms of content edits. Not to diminish your skill with the blade of the Chicago Manual of Style, I’m simply saying your content editing is your sharpest and best blade. Caught is a great book, and you helped with that. You’re already helping with 1,200 as well. One thing you do that I’ll discuss later is you actually work and communicate with your writers. Maybe I just have the worst luck, but my experience with editors isn’t very good. Of course, we’re good friends, but you’re just a true professional anyway. That alone is worth more. When we’re headlining the Colosseum, you’ll be right there with the rest of my team.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate the compliment and kind words Matt. It’s easy to work with you because you know exactly what you want and are open to looking at things from different perspectives. Plus, our working relationship has spanned years so we know how to communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t cause our ears to bleed.

      And I would agree with you, content editing (or General Editing) is what I am better at. I like to think I am pretty good at line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, but for me, those are not nearly as enjoyable of General Editing. These are all things I work to improve everyday through application and self-imposed study.

      Until we earn our freedom, we’ll just have to keep training and getting better. It’s always easier when you are surrounded by good people – and you’re certainly one of the good ones.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Love this – you’re right that there are lots of articles out there making all sorts of freelance work sound like a walk in the park – presumably so they can then sell their ‘magic formula’ to help out when the poor reader finds it’s not as simple as it was made out to be. It’s refreshing to see an honest point of view for a change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing a similar perspective. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this wide cyber world.

      I was certainly one of those gullible readers when I started freelancing. My wife had just given birth, I quit my job as a police officer to be a stay-at-home dad, and decided I would do something to contribute (and stay sane).

      When I decided to revert back to by editing/writing background, I did what everyone does – I read every article on freelance editing I could find. I even snagged a few books. “Work in your pajamas,” “Be your own boss,” “Do work as you need it,” everything I read made it seem like there was just a bounty of work to be had.

      You know the rest of the story. Live and learn – that’s life for you. Regardless, it hasn’t all been bad. I’ve scored a few solid clients, I’ve gotten better at editing, and in turn, reignited a passion I had for my own writing. So all in all, not such a bad journey.

      On a side note, I absolutely love your blog page. I bookmarked it so I will swing by more often. Your voice and writing style crack me up – good stuff! (Did you ever do a tortilla chip post?)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, I’m certainly glad that it worked out for you in the end and wasn’t all pie in the sky! I got as far as signing up for Freelancer myself, and then they started asking for money for certifications and I got very suspicious very fast… but it sounds like from your experience it’s worth it at least to some extent?
        And yeah, I knew there was something I needed to get around to doing! I do have a great tortilla chip recipe around here somewhere that needs to be unleashed on the world, and thanks for the kind words 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Another consideration, regarding editing, is the differences in grammar and syntax when you change countries. English grammar (UK) being different than US grammar and all. Would English in Canada and other former territories of the empire be separate or more in line with UK grammar? Anyway, still a great post!!!


  8. Although I have not tried editing or proofreading professionally, I would like to add it to my skill set someday. Any skill that helps one be more marketable as a freelance writer is a valuable one in my book. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you do give it some thought. Maybe just grab some books or take a couple classes. There is a lot of personal reward in helping writers achieve their visions. I know it has helped me with my writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to hire a good editor to help me when the time comes.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Haha! Beautifully put there oh mighty gladiator! You have quite a way of teaching and weaving a tale all the same. I used to free lance, but not editing obviously. Writing, reviews, doing interviews with indie musicians and such.

    It is really a crazy thing, and for me at least, while I hold a dear place in my heart for those times and years, was something that ultimately I didn’t find fit for me. I can def agree, whether writing or editing, freelancing is much like a coliseum of gladiators.

    I fond memories of those years. It was part of what I did while rediscovering myself on that long 5 year journey. I made great friends, but what I found was that I thought too critically when doing things like gaming or listening to music.

    It made those things I used to enjoy become less enjoyable. The critic would never shut off in my mind. It’s a large part of why I stopped. Still I learned a lot during that time and made several contacts while I was at it.

    You have such an amazing grasp on many of those struggles artists as a whole go through. Thanks for sharing that and your wonderfully creative advice with the rest of us.

    Cheers! ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • While some of the memories you shared sounded bittersweet, I can tell you certainly evolved and grew from your experiences. Your personal Hero’s Journey sounds like it was interesting to say the least.

      I also was a far more critical person in the past. It was largely built into me by my life experiences in the military, homeland security training, and police work. I think it was the analytical part of me that wanted everything to be ordered, categorized, labeled, and sterile. It’s harder to give into feelings of despair and hopelessness when you are able to compartmentalize everything into to tidy piles.

      I think that’s largely why I love editing, writing, and blogging so much. I love learning the rules, not to enforce them with an iron fist, but to give people options. It also opens up options for me in my own writing. When you only know one way of doing things, and that way doesn’t pan out – life gets tough. Knowing there are countless roads leading to your destination, for me, inspires hope.

      Thanks for sharing a bit of your life experience with me and for reading. It’s always good to know my words are helping someone other than myself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I tend to be overly analytical, but I can’t say I’m the best at compartmentalizing everything. If anything it stresses me out more! I overthink too much. Maybe I can become better at compartmentalizing things. I’ve been trying things like deep breathing and meditation and it helps quite a bit.

        I envy you for being able to do such on a whim though. It seems from what you share, you have experienced and learned a lot yourself. Also I love learning and so I find your blog a wonderful balance of learning and creativity.

        Two things I absolutely love!

        Keep up the amazing work here on your blog.

        Cheers! ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: The Image Swap: Update Complete « Quintessential Editor

    • Nice explanation of what the different kinds of services are in this video! I only do the first kind she mentioned. I call it general editing, but I’ve also heard it described as: developmental, substantive, content, or structural editing. I like general editing as a name because there is general disagreement as to what it should be called.

      On a side note, she still has a bright, glowing light in her eyes. It makes me wonder how long she has been freelancing…hahahaha! I will have to stop by in a year and see if she has been ground into dust or if she has ascended into the sky as an editing demi-god.

      Thanks for sharing this JR!

      Liked by 1 person

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