This week I stepped right out of my comfort zone.
I talked for nearly two hours to a local writers’ group.
Now, if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you’ll know that I’ve given the occasional talk before, and that I am really, really uncomfortable doing it.
I’ve given two lightning talks at SfEP conferences fairly recently. These were only five minutes long – and timed. And at the time those five minutes felt like forever.
So you can imagine how apprehensive I was to give a talk to an established group of local writers who publish their own writing.
To prepare for my talk I really had to look at what I thought would be most useful to the group. The brief was vague – talk about editing and proofreading.
My initial thought was ‘Oh, shit. I’m going to send them to sleep’.
My second thought was ‘Right, what will they find most interesting and helpful’.
And my third thought was ‘Oh, shit. I’m going to teach them to suck eggs and I’m really going to send them to sleep’.
It’s actually really difficult to take a step back, look at what you take for granted and unpack it to see what isn’t as obvious to others as it is to you.
I decided to start at the very beginning, pretend to be Julie Andrews and go back to basics.
To keep me on track (I do tend to go off on a tangent quite easily), I started with a piece of paper and some headings:
This was THE most important thing I had to get across. Too many times editors are approached by authors who think they’re ready for a proofread when really they need a copyedit. I figured that if all I managed was to stumble my way through this, it would be useful to the group.
As the group self-publish I thought it would be good to go over this, and explain why it’s a useful way to look at self-publishing too.
Perhaps this would be a persuasive argument when so many writers think that they can do it themselves.
I should explain to them what the different levels of editing are, why they are different and why they are all important.
Really, I thought this would perhaps be the second most important thing to get through to them. It’s all very well hiring an editor, but no one really tells you how to do it properly.
Following on from the last point, I figured that it would be good to tell them where to go to find an editor. And how to make sure they pick a qualified editor and not a hack who’s just out to do a spell check and take their money.
I’d also give them a small number of useful links to take home with them, and a couple of other handouts.
I thought this would take me an hour.
I was wrong.
Cue Tuesday night.
I checked my bag about 100 times to make sure I had everything. Ok, only 50. I have a thing.
I left in plenty of time to make my way across the county. During the drive the surrounding countryside was subjected to me singing tunefully to Panic! At The Disco’s latest audio delights. Well, I enjoyed it.
But when I arrived at the venue I honestly thought I was going to bomb as my hayfever tablet wore off and the cough I call ‘daffodil’s revenge’ took over. Ack. (or rather, ack-ack-ack-aaaaack)
Hurrah! My lovely host got me a cup of coffee and all was well.
But I was still scared.
When everyone arrived they were absolutely lovely, and were very receptive to me sitting around the table with them, rather than stand up and talk at them. I think this worked out much better as I didn’t have to stand up with everyone staring at me, we were all on the same level and it allowed the conversation to flow more freely.
Besides, I have no idea how a smart board works.
The group finished off their initial business. Then it was my turn.
Deep breath. Smile. Remember to breathe.
What happened over the next two hours is slightly hazy.
I kicked off by asking the group if they knew the difference between editing and proofreading, and they mostly did. Which was good. But I still whipped out the SfEP fact sheet that I’d printed out for them (from the website, it’s all good). We went through that, just because it was the most important thing of the night.
And then we kinda got side-tracked.
But that was a good thing. The group started asking questions.
Over the course of the night we talked about most things on my list, just not in order. We talked about getting beta readers and why family and friends are not good at critiquing your work. We talked about the different levels of editing and we talked about getting the most from your editor. Towards the end we also talked about where to find a qualified editor and what those qualifications are.
Oh, and I talked a lot about money.
For someone who hates talking money, I figured that it was important.
Then, on the back of giving them examples of how much an editor might cost you, I whipped out my style sheet. None of the group had seen one before or used one.
Now, it’s a fairly cluttered style sheet as I included parts of the drop-down menu I use when I’m working, but it gave them a pretty good idea of how to keep their writing consistent. I explained that if they use it when they write, and give the sheet to their editor when they begin work on their novel, it makes their editor’s job easier.
Next, I gave them a character sheet. Like a style sheet for characters in their novel. I didn’t tell them that some of the information on the sheet came from old D&D sheets I used to play with at college.
Finally I handed out my ‘handy links’ sheet. It just had a couple of websites of fellow writers and editors whose information I find useful, and editorial societies and tools that can help the writer.
By the time we’d got through all this is was 9 p.m. and time to go home.
I actually ended up enjoying talking with the Caithness Writers.
The atmosphere was good and most members of the group were engaged and asked questions. Many of these questions were things I hadn’t even thought of including, such as the worry that you’re writing something that someone else has already done, a kind of unintentional plagiarism, and the difference between a subplot and a parallel plot.
So, overall it was an interesting night. I think they found the talk useful. And it goes to show that you can plan a talk, but it’s ok if it goes slightly off piste.
I drove off into the night, singing along to Panic! (only quietly this time), and looking forward to reading the anthology they kindly gave me for not sending them to sleep.
A little while ago I wrote a post about Imposter Syndrome. I said back then ‘I don’t know a single freelancer who hasn’t been hit with it at some point’.
That was two years ago. If anything, I’ve seen more freelancers lately sharing that they feel inadequate, a phoney, a fraud or they just have no confidence in their abilities.
What is it that makes competent, trained freelancers turn into individuals full of self-doubt?
What is it that makes intelligent men and women look at other people in the same situation then think that the other people are better than they are?
To be honest it really pisses me off!
I’m a freelance copy-editor and copywriter living in Caithness, a remote part of Scotland. Most of my training and my work has been done remotely. Since I wrote that last article I’ve gained Advanced Professional Membership of the SfEP. This is the highest grade of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. You can only reach this ‘deliberately tough’ level if you’ve proven to be well trained and highly experienced. Yet, I still get the Imposter Monster sitting on my shoulder at times. Boy, is he heavy.
I’ve worked on some brilliant books and written some excellent copy. Yet I still occasionally think no one is ever going to hire me again.
I’ve written relatively few articles on this website since the New Year. Can you guess why? I ran out of things to say that I thought might be useful or worth reading. Seriously. I thought no one would care.
And I’m not alone.
A quick search on Twitter shows SO many people struggling with the feeling of being inadequate.
Look, if Neil Gaiman and Neil Armstrong have suffered with Imposter Syndrome, then what hope do the rest of us have?
My original five steps towards killing the monster still hold true. But first you have to realise when you’re feeling inadequate for no reason, and when (dare I say it) you really do need to take stock.
If you find your inner dialogue telling you the following:
ask yourself: can I prove that I AM an imposter?
Did you honestly put in no work, training or have no knowledge? Prove it.
Have you done the work to the best of your ability? Have you trained in your chosen sector? Are your clients happy?
Have you done enough to be competent at your craft? Have you trained and gained experience? Is there really something else you need to do right now? Prove it.
Your clients are relying upon your expertise. DO you know what you are doing? Have you trained, can you give reasons for what you do? Are your clients happy with your work? Do you really need to take stock and do more training? Look at your training and what you’ve done. Prove it.
That’s what you’re aiming for – success. Why should you be frightened or guilty for success? Enjoy your success, you earned it!
Why do you feel like this? Have you never done this successfully before? If you’ve failed before what did you do differently this time? Will you do it again? It was only a one-time thing if you don’t do it again.
What training have you completed so far? Is there more you need to do? Why? Do you need to do it or are you just addicted to training? Are you competent at what you do now? Why do you think you need more training? Are you keeping up with your CPD?
Are you charging more than the market will stand? Do you not have enough experience to charge a higher price? Remember that more experience and training commands a higher fee – are you charging similar to other freelancers in your position with your background? If you think you should be charging less – prove it.
What is the worst that can happen if you fight the fear? If you’re not worthy, prove it.
By now, hopefully, you’ve realised that you’re not an imposter.
You may have also highlighted areas where more training would be beneficial. This can be a positive step – take that training.
With your head held high, use these five steps to move away from Imposter Syndrome and kill that monster. It’s all about emotional intelligence, understanding what’s happening and taking positive steps to take back control.
Realise that this monster will attack you when you’re vulnerable.
If you feel the first niggle, take stock, understand the situation and realise that the monster is trying to feed. This may be enough to kill the monster dead – accept what it is and let it go.
If the monster does take hold understand this:
To keep the monster at bay, realise your self-worth. It is not a dirty word.
Kill the monster. By believing in yourself, and understanding the nature of the beast, you may eventually kill it. If you do you are one of the lucky ones.
Imposter Syndrome is a real problem. It can be debilitating. It sucks the life out of you, stops you moving forward and eventually, if you give in to it, can destroy you and your business.
Don’t let it win. You can do this!
I’m writing this in my kitchen, listening to an old ‘You Must Remember This’ podcast* and trying to calm down.
You see, I’ve spent ALL day (and a lot of yesterday afternoon) arguing with the Customer ‘Support’ department of a well known subscription website. I won’t name names, but if this isn’t sorted properly, believe me, I probably will next year when renewal is due again.
The problem? Automatic renewal failed. I followed the link in the ‘notification of failure’ email and renewed what I thought was my subscription. Instead it was actually ‘re-subscribing’ me to a new subscription. You see, the problem was, my old subscription level is no longer allowed for new customers – only existing customers on auto-renewal are allowed to re-subscribe on that, now defunct, level. And as auto-renewal failed at their end …
In short, due to their error, my renewal never happened. Because I followed what seemed to be a renewal link to allow me to manually renew, I was put onto a lesser account.
So I spent all day asking why, because of their error, I was being penalised. A ‘goodwill gesture’ was given, adding Pay As You Go credits to my account. Accepting this ‘goodwill’ I would effectively accept the lower subscription (and to be honest, their credits wouldn’t even last me a week).
As a long-term subscriber I was told – tough. I was told it was impossible to put me back onto my original subscription (can you hear the bullshit klaxon, because by this point I could).
Now I know many people would let it go or get frustrated and give up. But I’m savvy enough to know that things can be rolled back and computer systems aren’t as rigid as the ‘Customer Support’ team would have you think.
After a day of to-ing and fro-ing, and after a couple of times asking to be put in touch with the line manager, I eventually got an apologetic email from the line manager and was reverted back to my original subscription type. Although it’s only likely to be for a year (we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).
Ok, I know I’m venting, but this is one thing that really makes me mad. Customer Support departments are there to support the customer (the clue’s in the name), not fob them off or frustrate them so much against a wall of ‘Nos’ that they give up.
When departments don’t communicate and when automatic emails don’t communicate effectively with the client, then things break down and everyone suffers. Well, the customer suffers, the customer support employee gets frustrated and the business just merrily counts the cash and moves on. But the business loses credibility and eventually the client’s money. You see, when the client loses faith in the business eventually they’ll take their custom elsewhere. And tell their friends.
In this case, was it a story of genuine renewal malfunction or an effective way to dump long-term clients and force them to either accept lower value subscriptions or go for the more expensive option? Call me cynical, but it happens. How many people have had the same problem and given up?
For me, I’ve seen both sides of customer service and know not to settle and accept easily thrown ‘goodwill gestures’ (which, let’s face it, are rarely good will).
By now I’ve calmed down, but have spent the day with raised blood pressure and lost hours. You know the feeling, when the next email arrives and you dread which way the fight is going to go next. How many of you get palpitations, like I do, when these hit the inbox?
Ok, so this post has been all about me, but I’ll bet you’ve had something similar happen at some point. You’ve been fobbed off by ‘Customer Support’ departments hoping that you’ll shut up and go away.
Now, this is not legal advice, but you should know that you don’t need to give up if you get no support from Customer Support.
Here’s how to tackle it when you’re being fobbed off and the problem’s genuinely not your fault.
When negotiating, remember:
And if you run a business? Well, it’s simple:
As an update to this little saga, the line manager has been in touch again. They’re refunding and recharging to allow the renewal next year to go ahead. In other words, refunding my lesser subscription and doing that auto-renewal properly.
Let’s hope it goes smoothly!
Have you had experience of good or bad customer support? How do you deal with it?
* (not heard of it? If you love old Hollywood you’ll love this)
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