Time and money

time and money

Time and moneyA few months ago I told you about a project I had started for a client who needed help editing her life story. The project still isn’t finished, but we are getting close. (I think.)

Will my client be happy with the end result? I’m not sure. It has cost us both a lot of time and money.

A high price

She’s paying a high price. We agreed on an hourly rate, and I’ve invested a lot of hours—not just scanning all her photos, but also labeling them in a way that will be meaningful to her children if they decide they want the JPEGs. (Not all the scanned JPEGs will appear in the final printed book.) Many of the originals she gave me were torn, spotted, flecked, and yellowed, so I’ve invested time correcting the blemishes and enhancing the color. (She didn’t ask me to do this, but I think she’d regret it if I didn’t.) Sometimes she gave me the same photo more than once with different instructions, and I scanned it both times but named it and filed it differently, and those duplicates became confusing later.

I feel bad that it’s costing so much. I wish it didn’t. For me, it wouldn’t be worth it to pay this much money for a book like this. I would rather spend the time and do it myself.

But I can do it myself. She can’t. (She tried.) Scanning and organizing 500+ photos, and then choosing, enhancing, and laying out roughly 200 of them, and then preparing high-resolution CMYK files to upload to a printer that will print and bind only four copies—well that takes a lot of time and some specialized knowledge. That’s what costs so much.

A limited budget

My client is on a budget, and I know this. I’m trying to be respectful of this. So each time she drops off a new envelope of “must-include” photos, or emails me new details she wants to squeeze into a caption on an already crowded page, or ignores the specific questions I’m asking and sends a rambling story instead—I remind her of how much money she has left and how much time it will take me to do the new things she’s asking. Her main concerns are that her kids won’t appreciate the book, or that she won’t have equal numbers of photos of each grandchild, or that she’ll offend someone she left out. My main concern is that she’ll spend all her money and she still won’t have a finished book.

A gift given

What she’s paying is a lot of money to her. I suppose it’s a lot of money to me too, but it represents weekends and late nights and vacation days that I spent with my hand on a trackpad instead of a tennis racket, alone in my office instead of out with family and friends. Those are hours I won’t get back. She bought them from me so that she’ll have a gift to give her family.

But when we reach the end of her budget, I’ll keep working. Those are hours I’ll give to her so she can get the book she wants. I’ve decided this already.

A decision made

I’ve also decided I’ll continue to track those hours I’m giving. I’ll continue to submit my invoice each month, with the dates and hours worked, and a description of what I’ve accomplished in each session. The invoice will show the dollar value of those hours, but some of them will be stamped “gratis.”

You see, if I don’t give her this information, she won’t know how much this gift is worth, how much it’s costing both of us. She has already suggested that there are other projects she wants me to do for her. I want her to understand why I’ll have to turn those down. I just can’t afford to give this much time all the time!




I just got a call from my client. I had given her a hard-copy printout of the book and asked her to review it. She was overwhelmed. “Unbelievable,” she told me. “It’s just brilliant. I love the choices you made and the way you put it all together. I cried when I saw it. It was worth every nickel I had to pay.”

For me, that makes it worth every hour I had to spend.

That’s what time and money are all about.

Editing your life story

life story

StoryFor months—maybe years—piles of photographs covered her dining room table. Not just photographs, but also old Kodak slides, yellowed newspaper clippings, treasured greeting cards, and miscellaneous handwritten notes. These were the building blocks of the story she wanted to share.

But she struggled with how to tell this story. What to include. Whom to leave out. Where to begin and end. The piles of memories began to feel like walls closing in on her. Finally she called me for help.

She packed up all the piles and brought them to me in a large cardboard box one evening. We met for three hours, and I listened to the stories—of her parents, of her in-laws, of her kids, of their kids. I could see all the work she had already put into the project.

I could also see there was much more to do.

Finding focus

This woman wants to tell her story. She wants her kids and their spouses and children to know some things about her. And she wants her story to mean something to them, to remind them of her values after she’s gone.

But she vacillates between confidence and doubt. “How could I be so selfish?” she tells me at our second meeting. “I was so worried about getting all my photos and memories organized, and I have hardly anything about my grandkids! My grandkids are everything to me—how could I be so selfish not to include them?”

I reassure her: “This is your story—of course it’s about you! And you’re the only one who can tell it. Your grandkids may be a part of your story, but you don’t have to tell that part in this book—they already know that part. Why don’t we focus on telling them the parts they don’t know? After all, you can’t include everything.”

She disagrees: “Oh no, I have to include everything.”

But that’s exactly wrong. No life story includes everything. If it did, it would take another lifetime to read it! And it would be selfish to assume that even your family is interested in all your daily details.

Editing your life story is necessary if you want people to read it.

Providing perspective

After a couple more hours of talking and listening, and after one more meeting where she brings over one more bin of photos and mementos, my client is ready to trust me. She concedes that she is too close to the story, too overwhelmed with the process. She needs the outsider’s objectivity I can bring to the project. Having heard her heart, I know what she wants to accomplish. But not being emotionally attached to her memories, I can provide the perspective she needs.

And so the journey begins.

Being a buffer

Now the piles of photos are on my table. I’m reading the notes and re-sorting the categories, waiting for organizational inspiration to crystallize. Then the doorbell rings.

It’s my client’s husband. He’s delivering another bag of photos that his wife found. She’s captioned them all so I’ll know why they’re important to her. The husband says, “She promises this is the final batch.”

Maybe. We’ll see. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter. The work is mine now, and I can’t let even my client distract me from the editing and sorting I need to do. I might use these new photos; I might not. It’s my editorial choice.

Photos_400And my client can’t verbalize it, but that’s why she hired me. She’s paying me to make the decisions because she needs a buffer between herself and her self-criticism.

You see, if she decides to eliminate a photo, she feels guilty for snubbing someone. If I decide to eliminate a photo, her guilt is absolved. I can trim and edit with a surgeon’s detachment, and she can wake up when it’s all over and just be grateful it’s done.

That’s what I’m here for

At this point I can’t predict what the final book will look like or how long it will take to put it all together. But I know I’ve already served my client just by letting her know I’ll take care of it.

That’s what I’m here for.


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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

If cancer is part of your life story, you may have certain traditions that you observe during October—as a way of commemorating someone or showing support for others with a similar story.

My way of showing support this year involves my love of writing and my love of learning:

Love of writing

Part of my mission as a writer is to build connections between people. Years ago, when I helped Bea Hoek write a book about her cancer experience, I was excited about the project because Bea was trying to connect with other people who were facing cancer. My writing helped her say what she wanted to say, in a way that people were able to hear and respond to. It was very fulfilling for both of us.

That original book has now been updated and re-published as Cancer Freedom, and I continue to share it with people because I keep getting feedback that it is still meeting a need. Cancer Freedom is not my story, but I love knowing that I’ve had a role in sharing someone else’s story in a way that blesses, inspires, and encourages others. That’s what writing is all about!

Love of learning

Through the whole process of updating and re-releasing Cancer Freedom, I’ve learned a lot, and that’s been fun too. I learned how to set up a Facebook page for the book, how to record an audiobook, and how to transform a printed paperback into an ebook. I’ve spent time in publishing forums, LinkedIn Groups, and marketing webinars—learning, learning, learning. It’s been exciting, and occasionally exhausting!

Most recently, I’ve learned how to set up a shop on my own website, and I want to keep adding products to this shop, so it becomes a real resource for people. (If you have ideas about things you’d like to see me include, please let me know.) This month, I not only added Cancer Freedom to the shop, in all its various formats, but I also figured out how to create a discount code that’s valid through the month of October!

At least, I think I figured it out. If any of you are willing to give it a try, I would love to learn from your experience! And it will cost you only $2.50 (if the discount code actually works)!

Sharing the love

If you have already read Cancer Freedom as a paperback, I would love it if you would post a comment below. That’s another way to use writing to build connections with each other.

And, of course, you are certainly welcome to read the book again as a PDF, Kindle ebook, or audiobook! You can do that by visiting the Cancer Freedom section of my new online shop, applying the discount, and downloading the format of your choice.

Buy the book for yourself, or for someone you love.

Thanks, friends!

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Cost and value


cost and value

“Eek! Why does it cost so much?”

People who shop for any service—plumbing, babysitting, landscaping, auto repair—are typically willing to pay for that service because:

  1. They don’t have time to do it themselves, or
  2. They are unable to do it themselves, or
  3. They are unable to do it as well as someone else.

The same is true of writing and editing. You want to weigh the cost and value.

What’s unique about selling writing services though, is that almost everybody is able to write—we learned it in grade school! But not everyone writes well, and not everyone knows the difference between good writing and adequate writing. Even fewer understand that good writing is good business—a worthwhile investment that can reap measurable returns.

Buying time

People who don’t have time to write their own websites or design their own business cards or proofread their own autobiography typically do not react with an “Eek!” when they peruse my pricing information. For one thing, such people understand the value of their own time. They don’t want to spend hours learning HTML or looking up words in the dictionary. They have lives to lead and businesses to run! To them, it’s worthwhile to hire this job out.

Buying skill

Often these same people recognize that wordsmithing is a skill they don’t have. They know they are lousy spellers, or unsure of when to use an apostrophe, or prone to sentences that ramble on and on in the passive voice. Or maybe they are good writers, but they have no idea how to turn their Word document into a printed paperback or an effective brochure. The skills involved are ones they could learn (if they had the time), but they prefer to hire someone who already is more proficient.

Buying quality

Most often, people who have price objections already have some level of skill in the area of writing or editing, but they don’t realize the difference between quality writing and adequate writing. It’s the difference between “good” and “good enough.”

The person who first asked me “Why does it cost so much?” was a would-be author who had received some positive feedback from friends and family about the family history he had written. When I suggested his document would benefit from some basic grammar clean-up and consistently applied styles, he was alarmed at the price I quoted. In the end, he decided his story was good enough without my services.

And I agree. It is not very likely that many people outside of his own family will be interested in a lengthy family history. If they are enjoying the book in its current condition, then it certainly is good enough. You have to know what’s important to you. A Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota will both get you from here to there. For some drivers, the Toyota is good enough; others are willing to invest in the Mercedes.

Like George. Even though he knew his books were not likely to be read by many people outside his family, George wanted to spend the money to make sure they were done well. He was creating an heirloom, something of enduring quality that will last for generations. His children and grandchildren might not thank George for making sure all the commas are in the right places, but I like to think that on some level they will appreciate the quality of the work.


When you hire LifeLines, you are actually getting Mercedes-Benz writing at Toyota prices. (Or maybe Honda prices.) My work is solid, fast, and competitively priced. In fact, I often spend more time on a project than what I’ve included in my quote because I want to be sure it meets your standards. I will not get rich from this work, but I will enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I’m making the world a better place.

If you agree, I hope you’ll hire me! And if you’re not quite ready to hire me now, I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog and share it with others.