December 2018 Q&A: Malini Devadas

Dr Malini Devadas AE started editing in 2004 and now has her own business (MD Writing and Editing) working as an academic editor and writing coach. This year she set up a second business (Edit Boost) working as a coach to help editors make more money.

How has your month been? 

It’s been a busy and varied month, but as I look back I realise that I have done very little actual editing. I do have editing work lined up for December, however.

Here is a summary of November:

  • I ran a beta round of my new e-course to help editors increase their income. It has been great to see editors taking action to market their business and get more clients, and I look forward to launching this course in 2019.
  • I worked as a writing coach/consultant at a local university, helping PhD students overcome the challenges they face in academic writing. I had one-hour sessions with 12 students over two days.
  • I ran a month-long writing coaching program for women in science at another university.
  • I worked as a consultant medical writer for a government agency, attending meetings and writing the (extremely technical) minutes.
  • I created and delivered a new webinar for IPEd on stylesheets. I love giving live workshops, but the reality is that travel in Australia is time-consuming and expensive, so I am learning to embrace technology.
  • I had a number of one-on-one coaching calls with both editors and academics.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Probably my biggest challenge is managing distractions. I recently had to install an app on my computer to force me to stay off social media. So, if you see me commenting too much in the Secret Editors’ Business Facebook group, feel free to tell me to get back to work!

What do you love most about your work?

I love the variety and the freedom I have to do the jobs I want when I want. I only work part-time so that I can have time to exercise, socialise and help at my children’s primary school (where I run the choir), in addition to all my family duties. I am an advocate of charging rates that enable me to reduce my working hours while still earning a good living so that I have time to all the other things I want to do.

How did you get here? 

Good question! I did a science degree and then didn’t know what to do next so I did Honours. Then I didn’t know what to do next and was offered a PhD scholarship, so I did a PhD. Then I thought I may as well do a postdoc and was lucky enough to be awarded a fellowship by the Japanese government.

When I came back to Australia I, once again, still didn’t know what I wanted to do (do you sense a theme here?). By chance I met Janet Salisbury from Biotext who was kind enough to employ me because of my science background and train me as an editor. At that time, Hilary Cadman was working at Biotext and running training courses to teach people writing and editing skills. I became her training assistant and discovered that, while I enjoy editing, I really love teaching. When I set up my own academic editing business in 2013, I decided to focus on giving writing workshops at universities. However, when I realised is that giving people a writing process isn’t enough. People need one-on-one help. In the meantime, I could also see that, on the whole, editors were not charging enough money to live on. 

At the end of last year I started to think about becoming a coach so that I could help editors increase their income. Like many people, I was too scared to do much with this idea at first. But after going to Los Angeles in mid-2018 to work with a business mentor, I realised that I didn’t want to let fear stop me from taking action. So, I set up the new business and am now completing a coaching certification so that I can learn from professionals and be sure that I’m doing things properly.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year? 

Yes, it certainly varies. I have six hours per day when the kids are at school, but on some days a significant amount of that time is taken up with non-work things. I am a night owl so am happy to do some work in the evenings once the kids are in bed. When I have all-day work events or I need to travel, my partner can be at home to take care of the home duties. I don’t think I could manage to run my business in this way without him being an equal partner on the home front. 

If you are comfortable discussing salary, can you give an idea of an indicative rate of pay for the kind of work you do? 

I aim to earn around $100 per hour at a minimum. However, the prices I charge depend on so many factors, including the type of work. For editing, I give a project price and focus on the value I provide rather than the time I spend on a job. The client shouldn’t care whether a job takes me five hours or 10 hours. What does matter to them is that I give them an edited document within the requested timeframe.

The whole issue of pricing is such a contentious one in our profession. I find that very few people want to share their rates, either because they feel bad that they are not charging enough or because they think they are charging too much (‘who am I to be charging so much when there are other editors who are better than me?’). 

What are the most common issues editors face running their own editing business?  

Editors face the same issues that many sole traders face in various industries, such as not having enough clients and not knowing how to find more, not charging high enough rates to make a living wage, not believing in their own skills, not knowing how to write compelling marketing copy, not feeling confident in the financial side of running a business and not understanding how to use various social media networks.  

If you didn’t have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

Honestly, I feel that working as a coach is my true calling; at this point I can’t imagine doing anything else. I do enjoy speaking, so perhaps I could be a professional speaker who gets to travel the world from time to time. I have also played music my whole life. However, while I love performing, I have never been great at practising, so perhaps that wouldn’t work out so well as a career option!

Thank you, Malini, for sharing your editing (and beyond) life with us.

If you want to learn about Malini’s coaching business, you can sign up for her newsletter at www.editboost.com. She will be launching her blog soon and has exciting plans for a podcast in 2019.

Malini is also running a pre-conference workshop, ‘Money Matters: how to increase your income by understanding your mindset’, for next year’s national editors conference in Melbourne.