Reedsy on a Greek Island: Living Out My Dreams as a Freelancer
Jennifer Barclay is an editor, writer, and literary agent based on the Greek island of Tilos. Her books about the islands are: Falling in Honey, An Octopus in my Ouzo, Wild Abandon and Taverna by the Sea. She's often found walking or on a beach with her dog, Lisa.
As I write this, sitting at my desk barefoot, I can hear waves rolling into the shore; through the open door and windows I can see the deep blues of sea and sky, magenta bougainvillea flowers and thick grape vines, a ruined ancient castle on the hilltop. My dog is beside me snoozing in the breeze, her legs twitching as she dreams of goats and rabbits. I can smell the cake I’ve just baked with a surfeit of figs in the garden.
I haven’t yet had a swim as I’ve been busy working since early morning, but I can’t wait much longer. I’ll take my mask and snorkel, plus a book or my Kindle, lie in the sun on the beach for a while and relax my body and mind. On the walk, perhaps some new ideas will come to me for the novel I’m editing.
One of my clients, Eugene Miskelly, who self-published his book The Journey Continues, thanked me in his acknowledgements, adding: “I am sure the fact that she lives in the Greek islands played a role in keeping her patient and constructive.” He was absolutely right.
The start of my book publishing journey
I’ve always wanted to live on a Greek island, having been smitten with Greece through family holidays and studying the ancient language at school. So, armed with an English degree from Oxford but with no idea what to do next, I taught English in Athens for a year at the start of the 90s, traveled as much as I could, and worked in a hotel on Santorini for the summer — mostly wearing a swimsuit. But I knew I wanted to start a real career, and I left.
I ended up settling in Toronto, Canada, where I made my way into book publishing and spent seven years with a big literary agency, learning everything from accounts to admin as I moved up the ladder, until I was selling novels in a dozen countries and helping my boss with authors like Naomi Klein. At last, I quit to travel and write, part-timing as a freelance editor in France for a couple of years, working out of internet cafes and using so-called floppy discs. I returned to the UK in my early thirties and was hired first as commissioning editor and then as editorial director for an independent publisher.
Looking for a change of pace
So far so good: I’d established myself and gained a huge amount of understanding of the book business. But the years were racing by in the same cycle of work, and there was something missing in my life. I realized that I didn’t want a more high-powered job with all the accompanying stress — which would have been the obvious next move in my career. When my personal life took a nosedive as I turned forty, I remembered my dream of living in Greece and decided life was too short not to reach out for what might make me happy. I reduced my working week to four days to allow for personal projects, and meanwhile booked myself a month alone on a Greek island in late spring.
Back then, there was GoToMyPC and Skype, and that month I did a trial run to see if working remotely from Greece could work. I knew what I wanted, but it took a couple of years to make it happen. In 2011, I took the plunge and moved to Tilos: 64 remote and mountainous square kilometers at the edge of Europe. I certainly wasn’t planning to retire and was relieved when my boss offered me to work on contract as a commissioning editor. I would have a regular income. I was still working full-time, but barefoot, to the sound of cicadas. I could step outside into the sunshine whenever I wanted. Eagles would fly above my house, and goats clamber over the walls. My neighbors were honey producers. People looked at my surroundings and asked how I had the discipline to work, but it was simple: working allowed me to live here.
“People looked at my surroundings and asked how I had the discipline to work, but it was simple: working allowed me to live here.”
Despite living on a small island, two years later I was still thinking big about my career. I wasn’t very good at having less power in decision-making at my old company. I wanted to expand my role, to keep growing and developing, and when my hints were ignored, I asked for a phone meeting with the boss. The conversation didn’t go as I’d hoped. Half an hour later, I was drafting my one month’s notice, and my income had been reduced dramatically.
It was terrifying — and exhilarating. I soon reached out to a potential client and was immediately hired for a project that would stretch me more than I had been for a while. My judgment was being sought and valued, and I was thrilled. What’s more, working for myself would allow me more freedom to make the most of life, to do what I moved here to do: spend more time outdoors and be more creative.
🤔 Thinking about quitting your 9 to 5 in favor of freelancing? Check out Arley Concaildi’s story to learn how they did it.
I’d already published the story of my journey to Mediterranean sunshine, with its various personal twists and turns. I was working on my second. Could I continue to make a living doing things book-related — editing and representing authors — and still have time for writing and everything else?
Back then, Reedsy was barely a twinkle in someone’s eye and my biggest editing clients were mostly publishers. Still, since I was now fully freelance, I no longer had to work set hours. This has been one of the greatest benefits of working for myself: it allows me to work when it suits me. In summer I can work during the early, cooler hours, then take a siesta. If I need a break, I can take a nap to freshen my brain (editing is intense work), or I can go outside and do some gardening for half an hour.
I don’t usually do a full day’s work every day — it doesn’t seem necessary to work that way. Unless a job is urgent, the afternoon usually sees me walking my dog to a remote, wild beach. In the winter I can make the most of the daylight and finish early to spend a few hours walking the herb-covered hillsides looking for firewood and orchids and crumbling frescoes in old chapels. Not being tied to the desk means I enjoy coming back to it later. And often ideas come to me when I’m not focused on the screen.
Becoming a freelance editor, I had peace and quiet to work in, more time to read, and could make something good for dinner in the meantime… And because I reduced my living costs by moving to a small island in Greece that happens to make me happy, I could start my freelancing career by taking on something that paid less but particularly interested me, or would be helpful in developing my portfolio.
Finding stability with Reedsy
This all coincided with a time when authors had more options available that leveled the playing field and allowed them to take control of their work. Self-publishing, in particular, was becoming less stigmatized and was seen as a viable alternative to the mainstream. By the time I started my first Reedsy collaboration in 2017, I’d already learned a lot about freelancing, managing my time, and setting my rates properly, so how would Reedsy change things for me?
Firstly, on the most basic level, it’s a reliable source of income. One of my publisher clients back in those early freelance years sent me good novels to proofread, but getting paid meant chasing and waiting and usually chasing again. When working directly for an author, there was always a chance that if the author wasn’t quite as open to constructive criticism as they’d said, I ran the risk of not receiving the final payment. That never happened, thankfully, but Reedsy removes that risk by asking clients to verify their payment details in advance, guaranteeing that you’ll be paid for your work. I no longer have to chase or worry about payments.
💸 When you freelance via Reedsy, you will automatically be paid on the dates you have agreed upon with your client via Stripe. Your payment receipts are saved on your profile, where you can also input your VAT information (if applicable) and download your invoices for bookkeeping purposes.
Secondly, what it also means is that I can turn on my out-of-office for as long as I like, without worrying that a publishing client will replace me. Since I moved to Greece, I’ve allocated more time to my own writing, and have published four books based on my experiences in the islands. I’m not the kind of writer who can spend a couple of hours in the morning or evening writing — I need to immerse myself in it fully, just as when I’m editing a manuscript. So if I want to take a month or two off work to write, I can without worrying about where my next job will come from or clients feeling snubbed.
Several years ago, for instance, I took the summer off from editing so I could help run a taverna at a remote beach on another island, as well as help with a small hotel in a mountain village. It was exhausting, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I wouldn’t have missed for anything, and I ended up writing a book about it. And this August, I took the month off to start a new writing project, and to take some lessons to advance my Greek.
Being able to work from anywhere means I’m able to travel more too: I’ve spent time on the Aegean islands of Symi, Nisyros, Leros and Tinos this year, working in the mornings and walking in the afternoons. And last year I stayed for six weeks in a wooden cabin in the mountains in Romania with my writer-editor partner — I rather sensibly suggested he join Reedsy a few years back, and we’ve worked together from there…
With Reedsy, I can allocate to a project the time I believe it needs, based on discussion with the author. That makes me feel satisfied that I’ve done the best I can with the time and resources available. I love the interaction with the author — something I did as a commissioning editor but for which the corporate world has less and less time. The Reedsy system makes authors think a little bit about what they’re trying to do and what they’re looking for from the outset.
Expanding my world
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s also something else I love about editing in general but through Reedsy in particular: the variety of the requests that come through, the range of projects on offer. I’m a person who thrives on variety and learning new things, and Reedsy expands my world. There’s always something exciting about receiving a new brief to consider.
I’ve worked with an artist in California, a chef in the UK, an Airbnb host in Singapore. I’ve worked on family stories from India and Cyprus and Sudan. I’ve helped turn a New Zealand/Slovenia family love story from World War Two into an international bestseller. I’ve traveled by bike from Kampala to Cape Town, up the Indus river from sea to source, and run a few ultramarathons — all from the comfort of my Greek island desk.
For me, having interesting editing work contributes to my enjoyment of where I live, especially in the quiet winter months. Though I also edit fiction, my top speciality is memoir, and while I love big outdoor adventures, I’m inspired by anyone who’s done something unconventional, who’s tried a different way of living. Working with other writers continues to inspire and feed my imagination as I pursue a life with more freedom.
🏝️ The freedom to work from wherever you want and design your life to fit in projects and activities that bring you joy and happiness — whether you’re working from a remote island or following the circus — is one of the major perks of freelancing.
I no longer worry about having to move back to the UK; five years ago I took the decision to sell my UK flat and buy my own home here on the little Greek island. I now have much more knowledge of Greek language and culture, so I have also developed that specialty as an editor and am able to spot mistakes that other editors wouldn’t, or make suitable suggestions to a story based on inside knowledge. Those Greek-related projects then help my Greek life in turn.
My client Eugene was absolutely right: I’ve become a better editor since I moved to a Greek island. It’s partly because when I stop work, I can step outside for a walk to a beach. It’s because I can allocate to a project the time it needs and deserves. It’s because being creative makes me happier. It’s because being a writer and being edited makes me a better editor. It’s because I’m living my dream.
What’s your dream — and can you combine it with your work to make life better?