Would you condense your knowledge into a single email — for free?January 16, 2012
I helped someone out on this blog a while ago. Because I couldn’t easily diagnose her Word 2003 problem based on the comments on the post, I asked her to email the document to me so I could see what was going on (I rarely do this, but it was very hard to diagnose based on what she said). I was able to quickly determine the issue — she was trying to create an automatic Table of Contents and despite my instructions on that blog post to the contrary, she hadn’t used ANY styles other than ‘Normal’ in her document.
Anyhow, I took each of her seven Chapter titles and made them into Heading 1s, and generated the TOC. This took me about five minutes. I sent her back the document, with a very brief explanatory email in which I had included this:
If you wanted this [document] properly formatted and edited, then I could do this, but I’d charge you for that work.
I got an email back from her within hours. I won’t try to paraphrase it — you can read it yourself (my highlighting):
Now, I like being appreciated as much as the next person, so I was glad I could help her, and she did thank me profusely at the beginning and end of her email.
But am I being overly sensitive? On reading and re-reading this email, I just felt angry and demeaned. This is my job. This is how I earn a living and pay my bills. I share tips and hints on this blog for free, but I won’t do jobs such as this for free. I thought I’d made that clear in my email to her. It’s taken me 20 years of working with — and fighting — Word to gain the knowledge and reputation that I have, so my immediate reaction to ‘just email me the steps to properly format my book’ was ‘You’ve GOT to be kidding!’, followed by anger and disappointment…
I was angry and disappointed that someone could even assume that a person who has gained a lot of knowledge in a field would give that knowledge away for free to someone they didn’t know (or even someone they did know). You wouldn’t ask a dentist, medical practitioner, engineer, plumber or any other professional or tradesperson to do a job for free (‘I can’t pay you. Would you just email me the steps for building a bridge across my river?’, ‘I can’t pay you. Would you just email me the steps for extracting my rotten tooth?’, ‘I can’t pay you. Would you just email me the steps for giving myself a shot of antibiotics?’, ‘I can’t pay you. Would you just email me the steps to unblock the toilet?’). So why ask me to do the same?
If I *choose* to provide hints and tips via this blog and if I *choose* to do that for free, that’s my choice. But that’s a lot different to taking on a job of editing and formatting a stranger’s (or a friend’s) book for free.
So many people think that this writing and editing stuff is easy just because they learned to write at school — and that includes those employers who think that everyone can write so why would they need a writer/editor on staff.
A good practitioner and someone who has honed their profession or craft by working at it every day for years, can make that profession or craft look easy — but it’s not. It comes from many years of hard work, frustration, testing, trial and error, and thousands of hours of going down different paths to find the answer, then applying that knowledge to each job that they do, and building on their previous knowledge. It also comes from attending conferences, workshops, training courses, seminars, and buying and reading books, etc. often on their own dime and in their own time.
When you pay me to do a job for you, you’re not just paying me for the number of hours I put in to do the work — you’re also paying me for my 20 years of accumulated knowledge in this field, and the shortcuts and workarounds I’ve discovered along the way to make the process of writing or editing your document as efficient and as quick and accurate as possible. My rate reflects that. You might think that I make it look easy, but that’s because I’ve learned a lot and I apply that knowledge to every job that I do.
But to ask me to give you that for free is just insulting. And demeaning. And it makes me angry.
What do you think? Am I being over-sensitive about this?
(BTW, I replied by sending her a link to the Microsoft Word training website.)
- Adrienne Graham — No you can’t pick my brain. It costs too much: http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2011/03/28/no-you-cant-pick-my-brain-it-costs-too-much/
- Harlan Ellison — Pay the Writer (YouTube video; offensive language): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE
- This photo is not free: http://www.petapixel.com/2012/01/10/this-photograph-is-not-free/
[Links last checked January 2012]