Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The State of Educational Freelancing

I sent out a query to my freelance listserve yesterday, remarking on the fact that I've had four projects start and fold this year already and wondering whether I was just unlucky or if something else was going on. Here are some responses I received.

I've stopped doing educational publishing. Ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.
I was burned out on assessment projects years ago, kind of in solidarity with kids, I reasoned, and tried to live in hope of the return of the olden days when nearly all the writing projects I worked on seemed to value high-quality research, creativity, and writing. So much fun! Hard work, but great compensation and satisfaction.

I'm still open to such a project, but I'm no longer expecting it to my working lifetime anyhow. Still, I mull what it would take to get out of this rat's nest we're in and will fight to the end for a vibrant public education system worthy of our children and, in my case, my grandchildren. :)

I don't know whether to be glad or sorry to learn that I'm not the only one. I have literally had no work since December. One project seems to have fizzled; other people not even getting back to me. Longtime clients whom I've worked for repeatedly over several years; it burns me when they can't even be bothered to reply to e-mails.
I had a relatively decent year in 2013. There was steady (if not always well-paying) work through the winter and into the early spring. Since then, however, I've had three projects that have turned sour: One was cut back in scope and then postponed until the fall (and I'll be surprised it if revives even then), one suddenly went back to the drawing board (and has since revived--but it's very small, and I hear that it is still a very rocky road), and one that has parceled out one lesson at a time, with unannounced gaps in-between (thus far). In putting out a few feelers, I've heard from one client, "Maybe something in July or August"; and from another, "It's still very much up in the air."
I recently did a social studies project that ended up with my earning less than the lowest paid employee at McDonald’s. The only advantage over McDonald's is that I don’t smell of cooking oil.

The whole industry seems to be fracturing. Digital publishing is spawning a whole new set of players—and a new mentality about publishing. Remember when we prided ourselves on our "bookmaking skills"?

There are now Indian firms who are training their writers to do assessment. I know this because I was approached to do the training! The offer was too low to consider (especially when it involved flying coach to India); I also had serious qualms about undermining a threatened species--American editors. Cries of “turncoat!” haunted my dreams. Nonetheless, overseas writers are poised to grab a share of our too limited market. A writer from another (somewhat) English-speaking culture could do assessment in some areas (math and science, for example) with relative success. With an American editor, non-native writers could even do assessments in other subjects. Their biggest challenge would be to avoid the forbidden topics.

I am currently working on a project for a company that has to have a translator on site so that editors can communicate with the boss a few steps away in the corner office.

Mind you, these are the best of the best and include two people I worked with closely at McGraw-Hill and Harcourt back in the short-lived glory days of educational publishing. DZ wrote a blog post that sums up all of our feelings, I think.

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