I want to be… a freelance author and editor

Laura Baker works from home as a freelance author and editor for children’s books. She project manages and writes everything from board books, picture books and reading books to activity, craft-tivity and non-fiction. Laura’s clients include Scholastic and Welbeck (through packagers), Ladybird, Make Believe Ideas, National Geographic Kids, OUP, Pearson, Save the Children and more.

Laura, thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions for us – your workload is so varied and interesting that I had so many! To start us off, what was your route to becoming a freelance author and editor?

I started out doing technical writing and marketing through my undergraduate programme in Canada. They were great… but not for me. Eventually, I moved to Wales to do a Masters in Creative Writing. From there, I worked at a local indie press in both marketing and editorial. This was my first real introduction to publishing and led to some great contacts and jobs in the adult publishing world.

One day, I saw an advert for an assistant editor at a children’s publishing company… and I applied. Even though I didn’t have any children’s experience, I managed to use my publishing background and passion for children’s books to get the job. So, I’d say always give it a go! I worked there for seven years before going freelance.

Working for an indie press sounds like such a great way into the industry. And what encouraged you to seek out a publishing role in the first place, before going freelance?

I’m not sure I always wanted to be in publishing – it never really crossed my mind as an option when I was younger! I loved books though, and magazines too (I thought I’d be working on a glossy magazine, probably inspired by films!). I enjoyed my university writing courses and everything just led me in this direction. It’s funny how that happens! Children’s books are especially important to me – I think reading when you’re younger is an experience that stays with you, and I realised I wanted to be a part of that.

After starting out as an assistant children’s editor, I worked my way up through editor, senior editor and group editor in the company. I think this was essential before venturing out on my own – I learned all about how publishing works and made contacts with authors, illustrators, agents, etc… Eventually though I felt that I would love to be working with a wider variety of publishers and doing some of my own writing too, and I felt that I now had the skills and confidence to do so. The long commute was what pushed me over the edge!

Oh my gosh – I had that same thought about working for a magazine! So, before you got into the industry, did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like? And was it what you were expecting?

I don’t think I had too many preconceptions or expectations going in. I was pretty naïve! The biggest realisation is how long things can take, despite how fast you seem to be working. As an editor, you’re working on and planning books years in advance. And as a writer, you’re doing a lot of waiting to hear from people!

Can you walk us through a typical working day?

I work for a number of different clients, so I am often juggling different projects. Some of these are project management, and involve managing schedules, working with the designer and illustrator and working up copy. Other projects are purely writing. I also squeeze in proofreading and even ghost writing when it is offered to me.

My day usually starts with catching up on emails and making my list of what I need to accomplish that day. I try to do small jobs first, such as checking PDF layouts of a book, actioning amends that were requested or sending invoices, and then get into bigger chunks of writing. I end the day by updating my timesheet to keep a log of how long I spent on each project (useful to know when setting fees!).

You make a really good point about keeping a timesheet. I love how organised you are. So what is the most satisfying part of your job?

I honestly love working with the various people in publishing. It’s such an exciting industry to be in, and as a freelancer I get to enjoy a glimpse into various companies. I work from home in Wales but try to travel to London and other places to meet clients every six weeks or so (in normal times!).

It’s also extremely satisfying seeing the books, of course! I love viewing them at various points along their journey: seeing sketches or layouts come through after I’ve sent text, then final PDFs, and then the books in print. When you’re writing from a little desk by yourself at home, it’s always exciting to see how it’s all come together.

And what is the least satisfying part of your job?

Self-employment can be a challenge. It isn’t guaranteed steady income, and so it can be stressful. The work definitely comes in waves. I’m either stressed that I don’t have enough or stressed that I have too much!

How do you juggle your author and editor work?

This is where the quiet times actually come in handy. Any paid writing or editorial work I class as my ‘freelance’ side – this is usually non-fiction writing, activity books, board books and work for mass market publishers or packagers (who work directly with the publisher and hire me on). Each project is guaranteed and has a set fee, so it becomes a priority. Alongside that though, I write trade picture books, which are quite different – there is no pay until after you’ve put in the time and effort to write the text, and even then only if a publisher wants to publish it! I tend to do my own writing quite a lot when freelance work goes quiet, and I also give myself writing time on certain days of the week (e.g. Wednesdays are writing days) if I can afford the time. It’s a tricky balance that I’m still trying to perfect, and there are quite a lot of late nights, I’ll admit…

Setting aside writing days is such a sensible approach, and it sounds like you need to be highly organised overall. What are some of the other skills that you’ve developed?

One of the most important skills has to be the ability to change my writing tone depending on the audience. This started with marketing and technical writing but has been equally important when writing straight non-fiction versus tween journals versus funny picture books versus editing where you’re working with someone else’s voice.

Time management has also been extremely important to develop – working in-house, I juggled dozens of projects at a time, and now as a freelancer I need to manage projects for various clients and make sure I deliver on all of them.

On top of all that I think I’ve developed the skill to talk to people across all sorts of levels and roles – and also the confidence to approach different people for work, support and even negotiations.

These are all really useful – and transferable – skills! And I feel like adaptability is such a useful skill across the board. So, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve come up against?

Everybody works in different ways, so I’ve had to adjust to different situations with different clients and learn not to expect the same way of working from each. It’s also been scary to see some publishers close down (and the work go with them), but there are always new opportunities coming up, so you just have to see it all through and be flexible.

Lastly, what are some of your personal highlights?

So many of the books! I’m really proud of the projects I’ve worked on – for example, a boxset I wrote for Lonely Planet Kids was briefly at the top of an Amazon list; I’ve worked on some cool TV tie-in books for CBeebies and CBBC; and I recently got to write the script for a Ladybird audiobook, which is part of a series that my six-year-old son really enjoys. My claim to fame is that my very first picture book (which I wrote in-house under a pseudonym) was read on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. And more recently, I’ve heard that my picture book The Colour of Happy, illustrated by Angie Rozelaar and published by Hodder Children’s, has been used to speak to children about their emotions – and that is just the best, most rewarding feeling.

Laura Baker on Twitter.

Laura Baker’s website: www.lauraannebaker.com

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