Soliciting Free Advice [UPDATED]

November 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm (By Amba)

Trying to decide whether to apply for a “job job” I am fully qualified for, copyediting kids’ books.  Pros: unprecedented financial security, IF I got it. Cons: probability of being rejected for my age, but if not: confinement to an office for first time in 40 years; loss of short-lived freedom to travel and write; giving up on promising specialty as freelance science copy editor before giving it a full-fledged shot. Opinions?

UPDATE: All of the input was very helpful in thinking this through, and very much appreciated.

I have decided that I prefer to develop the freelance science editing business (a key factor is that thanks to J and Screen Actors Guild I do not need health benefits), but that I will respond to Random House’s job ad with an offer of freelance copyediting of kids’ science books.


  1. Icepick said,

    I’m not certain that I have an opinion yet. More information, if you don’t mind sharing: How good is your current medical insurance? Would the job improve that situation?

    Would the job provide an improvement to your retirement income? (Assuming that you might stop working at some point. Even if you’re not planning to do so it is good to consider the options.) A 401(k)’s main benefit would seem to be lost at your age, even if the markets weren’t a mess. in such a case it would really depend on how much employer match you could get. I’m not sure differing the tax burden would be worth it otherwise, as taxes may well go up in the meantime. Also, if it is a 401(k) you need to check the vesting schedule on their match. If you don’t think you’ll be there long enough to fully vest, that is a mark against it.

    If they offer a pension, then all that matters is if you think you will be there long enough to vest. I believe there may be age related rules to vesting in pension plans as well. (I used to know this stuff, but my brain has rotted over the years.)

    As for the office versus the freedom, I can’t say. The office provides (nominal) security, and some people like being in a work environment with other people. Some prefer not having to deal with others. Maybe you’d like to try it for a change, I don’t know.

    One other thing: If you take the job now and decide you don’t like it later, how hard would it be to get back to your current status? I assume you’d probably lose the specialty freelance science copyeditor job, but would there be other minuses? (For that matter, could you do that freelance job on the side, even just as a part-time part-time gig, just to keep in the mind of the people you’d be working for?)

    As for age: If you’re already covered by medicare (or even if you will be soon) AND you aren’t likely to be a worker’s compensation case (seems unlikely copyediting), your age might not be a barrier if they’re smart. Most of your potential medical bills would already be paid for!

  2. TT Burnett said,

    FWIW, my wife is a freelance textbook editor who specializes in foreign-language materials. After having left corporate employment partly because of downsizing and partly because of being a mom with toddlers, she was happy enough with her freelance status through the kids’ earlier school years.

    She would LOVE to be confined in an office with a regular paycheck again. She’s tried to find a job since the oldest started middle school. She’s had several promising leads, but it’s been made abundantly clear to her she is too old. Most editorial staffs are young. They are usually women recently out of college, working for a few years in publishing before moving on with their lives. They tend to be supervised by a few, old, grizzled veterans, one of whom might have been my wife if she had been able to stay in the corporate world. Her former boss at Houghton-Mifflin, still a good friend and sometimes freelance employer, is just such a veteran, remarkably un-grizzled as she may be.

    This is not to say you shouldn’t try for the job. It’s just that I strongly suspect that you will be rejected. It’s often said older people make the best employees. From what I’ve seen, however, publishing (nowadays “media”) companies don’t seem willing to believe it.

  3. karen said,

    I say go for it and then decide- provided you get the job- to take it?
    Yes, both a statement and a question.
    What can it hurt?

  4. lh said,

    I put in my 2 cents (or, maybe more like 8 cents) over at Facebook, but I can copy them here, if you like, if there ends up being a discussion.

  5. karen said,

    Ih… hI:0)–
    i’m curious, if amba doesn’t mind…

  6. wj said,

    If you are still too young for Medicare, and the job includes health benefits, Ice is right that that’s a significant factor.

    As for the possibility of being rejected because of your age, I think that refraining from doing something because you might fail is a terrible way to live. Granted, being rejected (for whatever reason) is not fun. But living controlled by fear of failure is worse IMHO.

    It’s worth looking closely at what constraints the specific organization places on other activities. Some places don’t want you doing anything else for money. Most are OK, as long as you are not working in the same field as your day job. And some don’t care, as long as there are not immediate conflicts of interest and you get your work done. (The latter makes the most sense to me, which is probably why I was never a manager.) There might be an option which would let you keep doing freelance copyediting, as long as it was for something other than the children’s books the job would have you working on.

  7. amba12 said,


    I don’t even need benefits. I inherited J’s Screen Actors Guild insurance, which currently costs me $25 a month (it will surely go up, but it has a long way to go). That’s secondary to Medicare. I’d be a bargain, and the majority of younger people, especially much younger people, while they have more productive years ahead of them, do not have the knowledge of the English language that I have.

    But I’ve just gotten back the freedom to shape my own time after most of a decade of caregiving. Do I want to give it up in order to have a nest egg for a future that may never come? I probably need to start getting long-term care insurance ASAP, before it becomes hugely more expensive; that’s the main difference

  8. amba12 said,

    lh, I saw your comments at facebook and they are very valuable to me.

  9. TT Burnett said,

    As I said, I’d certainly try for it, but not get my hopes up.

    In-house jobs in publishing have become very scarce. Nowadays, the editorial work is mostly done by an army of starveling freelancers, presided over, as I say, by one of the veterans lucky enough to have survived the Slaughter of the Editors that has occurred over the past 15 years or so.

    There has been so much corporate turmoil that it’s surprising any books are published at all. Actually, making quality books to historical standards of content and production is very far down the list of priorities of the few remaining (very large) companies in the former publishing business.

    This is obvious if you happen to stumble into one of the few remaining book stores, most of which are named, “Barnes & Noble.” The editorial standards of books across all categories is abysmal. Unlike my wife, who can spot typos and usage errors in five languages at twenty paces, I’m a terrible editor. But even I can find at least a typo per page in the average new book pulled at random from the shelf.

    But you don’t have to go to Barnes & Noble to find bad editing. You can get it online from Amazon. The standards for e-books are even worse, if possible. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my Kindle, and find the e-book phenomenon a fantastic development. It’s just that it’s very easy to publish an e-book, and even easier to edit it badly. Actually, editing electronic content is harder than paper, but that’s too long a story for now.

    I have several classics, such as the complete Addison & Steele Spectator in an 1892 edition, Tristram Shandy in an 18th century edition, and a number of others in historical editions, all in PDF format, which my Kindle will support and allow me to read. PDF’s on the Kindle are limited to representations of the original page, magnified or not as you choose, but there is no searching or other electronic hand-holding. WYSIWYG. I also have the best modern e-book versions of these I could find. E-books of course allow searching, noting passages, etc. In every case, there are awful, annoying typos in the modern editions. These are mostly caused by the scanning process. So many errors make these versions much worse than their ancient brethren if all you want to do is read the page. Poor Tristram Shandy had enough trouble being born in the 18th century, without having been mangled in the 21st.

    So, that’s the short version of my rant on the publishing business. There is much, much more, but the executive summary is that it’s a mess, and a helluva way to make a living. My wife has done it for nearly 30 years. We both certainly wish Annie well in her career. In fact, I think we all need to wish each other well in this business. A few prayers wouldn’t hurt, either.

    I suppose this isn’t in the “helpful advice” category, but more “let me vent frustrations.” Sorry. But anyone who makes a living in the words business these days is living through probably the most wrenching transition since Gutenberg. In what shape it will stabilize, who knows? Meanwhile, they are interesting times, aren’t they?

  10. Icepick said,

    But I’ve just gotten back the freedom to shape my own time after most of a decade of caregiving. Do I want to give it up in order to have a nest egg for a future that may never come? I probably need to start getting long-term care insurance ASAP, before it becomes hugely more expensive; that’s the main difference.

    The paragraph, especially the second sentence, make me think the job just might make you miserable if you get it.

  11. Icepick said,

    To repeat myself (from many other times), I don’t understand the desire to hire people that ‘plan’ on staying at the firm forever. Everyone knows that is almost never going to happen these days, especially in industries going through a lot of tumult. (And which ones aren’t?) As the book title says, “Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haricut” every time.

  12. kngfish said,

    I have a feeling you’ll burn out on it….just due to the grind of it…(and it WILL be more than 40 hrs/week!)

    So do it, ride the wave of it, horde the cash, and assume that the end will come sooner than you think! You’ll go back to working the way you want to, and have the shekels for travel queued up.

  13. Danny said,

    Keep us posted! I faced this dilemma last year when I was desperate for a full-time position (I’ve been freelance ever since I was laid off from a publisher in 2006). I came extremely close to getting three separate jobs last year and was salivating at the idea of benefits and a regular paycheck but now, a year later I have to say I’m grateful that I didn’t get them (even though my bank account isn’t). I so value the freedom I have to flit around town doing my work and I wouldn’t give up my mornings with Charlie for anything. That said…IF the right job came along. But for now I vastly prefer the joyous freedom (and diversity) of non-office work for a variety of companies (when I can get it!).

  14. michael reynolds said,

    Apply. If you’re miserable after a while, quit. If you need a reference I know a kid book writer who will be happy to write you one. Email me the company and I’ll tell if I’ve heard anything that may tip you one way or the other.

  15. TT Burnett said,

    Michael Reynolds is exactly right. Apply. If you’re miserable, quit and go back to freelancing. My wife actually did that. It was trying to find a job the second time a few years later that was the problem.

    My maunderings on the state of publishing have very little to do with your situation, but are intended as a bit of context for those unconnected with the business.

  16. lh said,


    I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. Herein I will copy comments from Facebook (but please do remember that while you’ll be reading a block of copy, originally the words therein were contained in separate comments; I’m doing no editing other than cutting and pasting):

    You could always give it a try and then quit if you don’t like it or can’t or don’t want to adapt (which is fine!). Based on your family’s longevity, you most likely have lots of time. You could try this new experience of “being in an offic…e” for a year or two, sock away some bucks, work on picking up some new sources for freelance science editing as a side project, and then go back to what you’re doing now. I guess what I’m saying, in short, is that is doesn’t necessarily have to be an either/or choice for the long run. It can be just a job, not a long-term lifestyle choice!See More
    10 hours ago

    Also, being in a place of steady financial flow can be freeing, too!

    Also, nothing in life is free, not really–including “being free!” There’s always a price. You can change back and forth from what you want to “buy” or “pay for,” what sort of freedom offers the most at any particular time, if you want to!
    10 hours ago

    One other thing–a year or two as children’s book copy editor might also bring you contacts and leads to do that sort of work on a freelance basis as well. Then you’d have another option to balance the science editing when it goes through dry periods. Multiple options, when it comes to freelancing, is never a bad thing, right?
    10 hours ago

    You know, Donna might be onto something. With this job you might get some valuable contacts etc. and can also start working on a series of science books for kids! I can tell you, from my perspective not just as a mom, but also as a mom who …homeschools and knows other homeschoolers, there could be a real market for real, quality children’s book on science! (I’d offer you feedback and copy editing for free, at least until you hit it big! : ) [For onlookers, believe you me, I don’t approach editing AT ALL as I do commenting; typos etc. are a Jekyll/Hyde with me, lol.]See More
    4 hours ago

    Perhaps you could use a cat character or two as narrator (hey, you could model it/them on some of your own cats, past or present!). A couple of the interactive programs my son uses feature “host” options, and he always goes for the cat (even though he loves our dogs as well as our cat).
    4 hours ago

    One other thing, Annie. Let’s say for some reason the day comes when you really must go for a full time sort of position. It would be useful to have some sort of experience in that capacity within recent memory. It’s tough out there, in the… job-hunting world (as you know I know so well). Just something to think about from someone who has worked in all sorts of capacities over time (and, currently, is worried about “aging out” of my skills).See More
    4 hours ago

    I’d also like to share a link from that thread whom someone else shared (I hope it’s OK, and more, I’m hoping that Annie will agree with me that there’s no problem with doing that on account of that person likely being OK with that):

    While I didn’t include within my cut-and-paste here my direct response to that, I have no problem saying here that what I said there was that it was one of my favorite columns of that writer’s output.

    Anyway, Karen, I hope that satisfies your interest. And while I’m at it, can I just say that your curiosity and open spirit has made me a fan of yours for, quite literally, years?

    Regards, lh

  17. lh said,

    OK, now I see that clicking “see more” didn’t actually allow me to transport the comments to which that applied here, in their entirety. Well, I suspect the basic drift got communicated anyway. If there are people who want to see the “see more” continuations, I’m pretty sure I can capture them. Otherwise, I think, as I already said, the core’s already there. The rest is just details, or expansion, or whatever.

  18. amba12 said,

    Random House. They are advertising for a full-time copy editor. Thanks, Michael . . . I guess if I got it, which seems a long shot, it wouldn’t take me long to work my way out of my sole remaining debt (to the IRS), and then I could reevaluate. If I didn’t get it I’d be happier. So I guess that is kind of a no-lose proposition. You actually did write me a reference, which of course I still have.

  19. michael reynolds said,

    I’m slightly known (and not yet disliked) at RH right now because they distribute in the US for Egmont which is publishing BZRK. I don’t know that my letter will exactly be the magic beans, but it might help. Make sure you tell them Michael Grant, they don’t know me by my real name.

    I’ve never heard anyone diss Random. I don’t know them personally, but people seem to like them. And they do good work. You wouldn’t be editing crap.

    Obviously this is about what you want, but if you’re afraid of being rejected remember the worst they can say is, “No.” Not exactly a rare word in publishing.

  20. lh said,

    Oh, oy.

  21. Randy said,

    Everyone else has already basically said what I would say, but that won’t stop me saying something anyway ;-) If it were me, I’d apply. If I were offered the job, I’d take it. No law says I have to stay if I don’t like it. While the freedom of the moment may be appealing, having a regular source of income for a while after so long without it can be equally liberating. That’s me though. Im not you ;-)

  22. karen said,

    You just made my decade, you know.
    Also, that’s the nicest thing i’ve heard in– oh, ok– @least a decade:0).

    I’m always so worried i’m being a pain in the tailfeathers w/all my insignificant, boot-scuffing questions& ways.

    Thank you for your kindness.

    Randy– you’re not amba and i’m not you… but… word.

  23. Icepick said,

    Just out of curiosity, do you ever get anything like this to copyedit?

    PS Kumquat has turned up this evening, aparently fine. No sign of the other two.

  24. karen said,

    !(0; 1) =
    minf0(); 1()gd:

    OMGawsh, ice!! What the hell language is THAT?

  25. Icepick said,

    Physics, with a quantum mechancal accent.

    And no, I don’t understand very much of it, though I’m going to try and read it later anyway. Those seven pages might just win those three guys a Nobel Prize, and quick. It’s a REALLY BIG THING if they’ve done what they claim AND if the experiments can verify it. OTOH, if the experiments don’t verify it then they’re screwed, LOL.

  26. Icepick said,

    FWIW I’ve read about 2.5 pages. I think I’m understanding about 20-25%. It looks like they’ve done something very clever indeed. An awful lot of people are going to be smacking themselves in the head for not having thought of this themselves. Construction and proof by contradiction, it’s freakin’ brilliant. IF it holds up.

  27. Icepick said,

    And they’re off! People are already looking at other possible interpretations of the result! THIS makes me miss academics, in a very narrow sense.

    Robert Spekkens, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, who has favoured a statistical interpretation of the wavefunction, says that Pusey’s theorem is correct and a “fantastic” result, but that he disagrees about what conclusion should be drawn from it. He favours an interpretation in which all quantum states, including non-entangled ones, are related after all.

    So Annie, you’ve got this, or the next “The Bear Goes Over the Mountain”. Actually at the moment I’d personally favor “The Bear Goes Over the Mountain” but it’s hard to turn away from getting applause in the middle of the performance….

  28. mockturtle said,

    I’m a little late on this post and don’t know if this thread has already fallen into the chasm of oblivion but: First, I have found that there is probably no such thing as security. If there is, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Second, I think that doing what you like best is almost always the right course. At this stage of our lives, especially after losing the anchor that held us in love and contentment, it is all too tempting to find another anchor when we should be preening our wings and preparing to fly. JMHO, of course. And a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ ;-)

  29. mockturtle said,

    PS: I hope you like your metaphors mixed. ;-)

  30. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    I mix ’em with abandon myself! And I appreciate and agree. That job is still being advertised, but by God, I DON’T WANT IT. I wrote and offered them my freelance services for kids’ science books.

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