For Want of a Nail: Writing and editing the details

Frequently Asked Questions


·        I’m not convinced this hourly rate is best for the project I have in mind. Is there another way you can bill me?


Many freelancers will charge by the project or page rather than by the hour. If you have worked with someone this way in the past and prefer it, I am open to going this route. Please contact me to discuss the details of a specific project, and we can evaluate whether a project or page rate would work.


·        I don’t want to commit to a contract before I know what I’m getting. How do I know if your style of editing is right for me?


This is a good hesitation, as the work of editors (like that of writers, and like language itself) can vary incredibly. If desired, I will provide you with a sample edit, free of charge, before we decide to work together. You may find this especially useful if you are looking for an editor for a larger work—a novel, dissertation, and so forth—and want to be sure you choose someone whose editing style is a good fit. (Kudos for doing your research, by the way!) These sample edits will usually cover one to three pages of your text, depending on the size of the project.


  • I want to pay you with a check/money order/cash instead of PayPal; is this okay?

PayPal is my preference for two reasons: a) it's well known and secure, and b) payment can be done entirely online, and instantly. This way, I don't need to give out an address or wait for the proverbial check in the mail. As in most other aspects of the business relationship, however, I am open to special circumstances and requests. So if you'd rather do it another way, just ask me and explain why. Chances are I'll be able to accomodate you. Note: PayPal invoicing does not require you to have a PayPal account. All you need is an e-mail address and a credit card of some kind. 


·        Um, what does the title “For Want of a Nail” mean, exactly?


Good question, you inquisitive soul, you. The phrase comes from a proverb that has been popping up in various forms (and in various mouths) since roughly the 14th century. It describes a situation in which one miniscule, seemingly insignificant thing—a horseshoe nail—effectively causes the downfall of an entire kingdom, thus:


“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
The earliest known written version appears in John Gower's Confesio Amantis, circa 1390. But it’s gotten around: Benjamin Franklin printed a variation in his Poor Richard’s Almanack of 1758, which got the most limelight; Mother Goose made mention of it; you could see it on London walls during World War II; the poet George Herbert included it in his anthology of proverbs; and modern writer Robert Sobel used it to title his alternate history novel, For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne had Won at Saratoga. It’s the idea behind causality and chaos theory, or the “butterfly effect,” ultimately making its philosophical debut in pop culture via that classic vehicle (no pun intended, though I did let it stay once I noticed it), “Back to the Future.”


But enough of that. The bearing it has on editing is that the little things matter, and it pays to have someone caring about them. You may think that semi-colon placement makes no difference in the grand scheme of life, but who knows? Let one unclear pronoun slip, and presto—a rip in the space-time continuum. (Maybe.) Well done, Marty McFly.


So in brief, that’s what the title means. I’m the one on my hands and knees, rooting around in the dust beneath the blacksmith’s feet to find that pesky nail. I am here, in fact, to save the universe as we know it.