About Jennifer Harshman: talented and determined.
When I was three years old, my aunt didn’t believe that I could read or write, even though I had already written my first story and it was hanging on the refrigerator in the house where we all lived. So she grabbed the Quaker oatmeal container and demanded, “Read this.” I did. She was speechless and so shocked she forgot all about making me prove (again) that I could write, too.
I’ve read an average of more than one book a day since then, eating up just about anything I could get my hands on. It made most of my classes—especially reading, writing, spelling, and grammar classes—a breeze all through school, and all of that experience made it possible for me to spot typos and other errors in books from an early age.
When counterfeit money spotters are trained, they aren’t taught the many ways that money can be counterfeited. They are taught exactly what each bill should look like. They spend hundreds of hours studying every detail of the way it should be. Then, they can spot any mistake and identify all counterfeit bills. My experience reading more than fifteen thousand (15,000) books in about thirty years has given me that same ability: I know what writing should look like, the correct way to do it.
Every story needs conflict
Like so many writers, I wanted to write books my entire life. I also wanted to line edit and proofread books. The problem? I was living far from the publishing houses. They were all in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I lived in podunk Southern Illinois, the publishers weren’t hiring any telecommuters or freelancers, and I didn’t feel capable of living in a large city. In fact, I’m agoraphobic and what I really want is a house in the middle of nowhere—but with wi-fi.
In every job I’ve ever had, people intuitively knew that I was the house writer and editor. They brought me all sorts of things to look over. They even brought me things from their personal lives to edit—at work! I enjoyed it, but I wanted to help more people. I wanted to help writers, people who have to write for their businesses/jobs, and people who have that oh-so-common dream of being writers but don’t consider themselves to be writers yet.
How was I supposed to do create a success story and do that, though? I was stuck in a village (not even big enough to be called a town), unable to move to where the jobs were, and I didn’t know a single person in the publishing industry. I knew that reaching people online would leverage my time and allow me to help a larger number of people in the same amount of time, but needed to find out how, then do it.
I had read all these books about online business and marketing—each one had at least one success story—and I kept reading more, gathering knowledge I didn’t know for sure that I’d ever be able to put to good use. I had some self-taught website-building skills but the competition was huge. I had to narrow my target market and take more risk. I wanted to change the world, but I didn’t have any idea how. Would my life be wasted? I kept searching, kept reading, bought courses online, and subscribed to membership sites.
How I get paid to read
It finally dawned on me that I could stay stuck with no income, unable to help writers, and feel crummy about my life—and that would have been understandable with all of my disabilities—or I could take matters into my own hands and start helping people with the skills I’d been developing for 30 years, without even realizing I’d been developing them.
It wasn’t easy, getting going. To get credits for my CV, I had to edit the first few books for free. I still do an occasional book pro bono, because my first love is helping people whether or not they can afford to pay me. I had to look for writers and offer my services to them, which took guts I didn’t know I had. Sometimes, after sending an email offering my services, I’d feel sick to my stomach with nerves. But most of my emails were successful.
Success story: The Happy Ending
Now, I’m working at home fulltime, and I have some authors contacting me to edit their books before they’re even written. Some are satisfied clients coming back for more, and some are new to me. It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a message saying they heard about me and want my help. I still want to climb a little higher on this mountain and get some big names on my list of credits, but I’m happy—and I’m still working on it. The important thing is that I’m helping more writers do what they love. That’s a happy ending for all of us.