Interview with Writer and Freelance Editor, Andrea Barilla

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s, a young Andrea Barilla with brown wavy hair and wide eyes sits at a kitchen table nibbling on cookies and drinking Coke. In a nearby room, she watches her daddy talk to his clients about their life insurance. He’s one of the top salesmen in the company, and it’s not because he has charisma, it’s because he knows his clients’ kids. He knows their birthdays. He values them as individuals. The young girl smiles from the other room; she doesn’t even know yet that this moment is teaching her the secret that would later make her business.

Today, Andrea Barilla starts her coffee, grabs her planner, and steps outside in a pair of her favorite LuLaRoe leggings. “The best investment I made,” she says, “was my outside table because we so often have trouble getting outside in this line of work, and you need things to force you to get outside.”

Andrea Barilla is an established freelance editor and writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-fiction from UNC Wilmington and a BA in English from Westminster College in Pennsylvania. She is a member of several editing groups including the American Copy Editors Society, Editorial Freelancers Association, and Publishers Marketplace. She has edited book manuscripts (of various genres and types, including textbooks) for Stackpole Books; Paradigm Publishing (a division of EMC Publishing, LLC); Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc.; and individuals. She has edited over 300 health articles for Healthline.com, and she is a regular editor of online courses for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), for whom she has edited over 100 courses. She has served on the staff of three literary magazines, including Ecotone (now a national publication) and the trilingual El Protagonista in Puerto Rico. One of the books she worked on, A Girl Named Nina, went on to win Best Young Adult Fiction Book in English at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. Andrea attended the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writing Conference and was a guest panelist at the 2017 Professional Networking Symposium at Westminster College.

Andrea starts her day the night before with coffee grounds ready to brew in the pot and her planner set up with her next day’s schedule.

“The beauty of freelancing,” she says, “is that you have your own routine and the freedom to do what works for you. Nothing is wrong as long as it makes you productive.”

For Andrea, that is a task-oriented schedule and whatever clothing makes her as comfy as possible. Outside with her coffee and planner, she centers her day around the tasks she needs to complete that day.

“Over time, I’ve learned how many pages I can edit in an hour and how long different types of editing take me. That’s a really great thing to learn because it helps you know how many projects you can take on and how to break them down to make them manageable.” When Andrea looks at her schedule, she sees the manageable chunks of the projects she is working on. She can decide which work needs her time the most and structure her day around the goals she has to complete.

Business Coaches

One of the things that really helped Andrea early on was working with business coaches, particularly those with SCORE, a nationwide free and low-cost nonprofit supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). She worked with these coaches to create processes and systems to streamline the things she does over and over again in the business.

“I used to panic when I got an email,” she says, “now I don’t have to panic because having these systems, these templates, makes it easier and keeps my responses professional and pretty much the same for everyone, save a tweak or two. I’ve had people thank me for being so professional because of them.”

With potential clients, Andrea starts with a paid sample edit. She likes to show the clients what they will be getting with her services and the quality of the care and work she will give their project. She treats the clients and their work as gingerly as if it were her own; that is a lesson she learned from her father, and it is the lesson that keeps clients coming back to her for repeat business.

Determining Worth

It took time for Andrea to learn how to determine her worth. “I can’t believe I am an editor,” Andrea says. “In grad school, I was surrounded by amazing authors and didn’t always give them my critiques in workshops because I didn’t feel I was worthy of giving them my opinion. It’s crazy to see where I am now versus then.”

When Andrea started her freelancing career, she thought she wanted to be a freelance writer. She would send out queries and pitches and wait anxiously for responses. Sometimes editors would take her ideas and give them to their own staff writers. It was very stressful. She had to try a lot of things to figure out what she was good at. One day she got a chance to take on a large editing job for Healthline.com. She wasn’t sure she could handle it, so she called me. I encouraged her to try because I knew she was capable of doing the work.

“I really thought I would fail,” Andrea says looking back, “but then I realized I could really do it and I enjoyed it. My whole career shifted to editing and it all hinged on one job I thought I couldn’t do until I tried it.”

“You’re going to have some failures,” Andrea advises, “that’s just a part of being an entrepreneur.” Nevertheless, she wishes that she would have kept a part-time job in the beginning when she was still trying to build up clientele. “There is nothing wrong with working another job while you are freelancing,” she says, “and many freelancers maintain part-time jobs for the consistent steady paychecks.”

Andrea has an hourly rate, but she didn’t charge much and even did a few jobs for free when she first started editing. “I wanted to put feelers out there and build up my confidence and portfolio,” she says. Confidence and time can help you learn how much to charge, but there are also reference guides to know where your prices should fall. The Editorial Freelancers Association website and the Writer’s Market yearly guidebook both have respected information about industry standard rates. Andrea used both of these to help create a list of rates and services that she offers. They also give her professional leverage when she is negotiating her worth with potential clients.

Making the Budget

Being your own boss can be exciting when you control your own freedom, but there is also a huge responsibility to acquire new clients to be able to keep the bills paid. Andrea keeps a spreadsheet to see exactly how much money she has coming in and how much she needs to make to stay ahead. She knows how much each current and potential project is worth, and the spreadsheet can help her determine what kinds of projects she should pursue. “It is not good to depend all on one project,” she advises, “you need to have a couple of projects going at all times.”

A key component of Andrea’s business is repeat business with clients she refers to as her “bread and butter” clients.

Andrea says, “you want consistent work from a few bread and butter clients coming in every month. That gives you a consistent revenue to work with and room to be a little more choosy about the projects you take on with the rest of your time.”

Though the field of editing can be competitive, Andrea’s organic approach is dependent on the fact that the quality of her work will create repeat business. “Try to build relationships with people who could become bread and butter clients. Try to build repeat business and, in that way, it isn’t about competition at all but about creating a product people want to come back for.”

Andrea does not worry about where the next source of income will come from; her faith directs her business. Andrea has been amazed by the way clients always show up when she needs them, and she credits this timing to her faith.

“I have a faith in Jesus Christ. I tithe and try to put Him first in my life. I don’t stress,” she says. “I know God will provide; He always does. Still, it’s up to me to do my part, and that means sowing seeds.”

Marketing and Specialization

Andrea advises that you should “constantly be sowing seeds” when it comes to your business. She is constantly making connections and networking with people who can become future clients. She also keeps a list of potential clients whom she can reach out to—for example, people who are working on books, people she has worked with before, and people she has met at functions. She always tries to get testimonials from happy clients that she can put on her website and point potential clients to.

In the world of freelancing, a lot of jobs are posted on job boards in organizations where freelancers maintain memberships. Jobs vary widely and are filled quickly from the boards. In some cases, they are fought over. When you are just starting out, you try anything and you take any job you can get. Andrea advocates trying as many things as you can, but she also advocates specializing in particular fields and learning what you do not want to work with. Specialization doesn’t mean you work in one area of interest only–sometimes you have to work outside your specialty. It does, however, bring you unsolicited business.

“Creating a reputation in an area is huge in this business,” Andrea says. “You become the go-to person for that area based on your reputation. Clients know to come to you.

Determining Projects

Experience has taught Andrea a lot in this business. She has learned what kinds of projects she will enjoy and what kinds of clients will be difficult to work with. She avoids the problem clients and the projects too-far outside her comfort zone, such as poetry. She navigates to books that she feels will make a difference in the world–especially memoirs, business and education titles, Christian living and inspiration, and literary fiction. She is able to sift through potential clients by the level of their commitment. “The people who are serious,” she says, “will be willing to pay the price and sign the agreements.”

Andrea has learned the hard way the value of having clients sign contracts. Without them, she experienced some clients disappearing mid-project and “ghosting” her on payment. “It is important to have contracts to avoid getting caught with people who will ghost you,” Andrea says. “I have my bread and butter clients and that lets me be more selective about the other stuff I take on. I love working on books. I love critiquing projects, or discussing the big-picture issues of plot, characters, setting, etc. I love fixing things with copy edits—which can be very meditative and fulfilling (though sometimes you can get caught up in a grammar or punctuation quandary that sends you down a rabbit hole of rechecking every comma or hyphen in a piece. That is a sign it’s time for a break!)”

“I try to balance my schedule with critiques and copy edits. They use different parts of the brain and require different levels of energy.”

Andrea also loves to help clients create query letters and book proposals to pitch to agents. She keeps her finger on the pulse of the publishing world and helps her clients take their writing to the next level.

Making Personal Space

Because Andrea is also a writer, one of the things she had to learn the hard way was not to take on work that is too similar to her own. In one particular project, she realized that it was “pulling energy away” from her own work.

Editing is usually relaxing for Andrea; it helps her maintain some mental space and energy for her own work. “I want to conserve energy for my own writing projects,” Andrea says, “and editing helps me do that.” If a project is too close to her own work, Andrea will now tell a client up front that she is not the best editor for their project. In the first few years of the job, Andrea didn’t have any time or energy to write her own stuff. Now, eight years into her business, Andrea tries to keep one day in the week free to pursue her own creative work. She writes a blog about Christ-centered dating at https://datingwithjesus.com/ and she is working on a book on that theme. She is currently shopping the book proposal to agents.

“It is really easy to let freelancing take over your life,” Andrea says. “It helps if you have some involvements that force you to get out and have a life away from work.”

Andrea maintains active involvements with social groups in her church and community. She also has a lot of friends who pull her away from her work when she needs it. She claims that the breaks help her avoid burnout, isolation, and loneliness that are often side effects of her job.

Why Andrea Barilla Loves Her Job

In 2013, Andrea’s aunt states away was diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Andrea was able to go home and spend the last month of her aunt’s life with her. She was able to be with her family and go through the grieving process with them while she worked. She was never so thankful for her job than in that moment.

Andrea loves the fact that she is learning something new in her job every day. “I get to work on fascinating things and I’m constantly learning and meeting really cool people from diverse walks of life,” she says. “I love that I’m always learning and that people are trusting me with their stories.”

When I asked her about what she envisions next for her business, Andrea said she wants to write books. She hopes to see a couple of her own titles published in the next five years. She also hopes to build relationships with some of her dream publishing houses, getting on their roster of go-to editors.

“It is really important to keep in community with other editors and writers to keep your passion alive,” Andrea advises.

She has come a long way, and she is just getting started.

If you would like to know more about Andrea Barilla and her editing business, you can check out her services at: http://www.andreabarilla.com/

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