Why I Stopped Taking Editing Clients, For Now (Maybe Forever)

CC License_TheCreativePenn_stopped Editing
From Flickr user TheCreativePenn CC Attribution license

I think it’s always been that people believe they’ll write a novel and get rich. My friend Jamie wrote at least one blog post about this, and we freelancers often bemoan our shared plight of wannabe writers chasing that gravy train.

My world seems to be shrinking around the edges with the slew of people who have produced a manuscript after a long, lucrative career as something else, or during a lucrative career, or who believe that all people who’ve written and published a work of fiction are as stinking rich as Stephen King (which is not true. There’s him and JK Rowling. The rest of us are teaching or waiting tables or both to pay the bills).

I recently had a facebook convo with a grumpy mid-list author (who wishes to remain anonymous) and, certainly out of jealousy of the economic freedom to while away the hours, obliviously typing convoluted absurdity after stilted dialogue after overly obscure or pop allusion and then to pay someone to read it, we groused about having to schlep through tomes (that sometimes read like 70s performance art) in order to fund our writing.

Why, Lord?

When I say what I do, I never say, “I’m an editor.” I just don’t. I say, “I’m a writer.” Sometimes, if people ask if I make enough money at that, I say, “well, I also freelance as an editor.” Because, love or hate it, editing pays.

But my soul lathers whenever I read a beautiful book. I can barely make my typing fingers rest until I can get to a keyboard or a notebook. The words are in me. They thrum to get out.

And editing sucks out all my creative energy.

And it’s frustrating.

And I’ve been working so hard at writing for so long.

And I feel like an imposter already. I can’t handle clients with less than half my experience being graceless with my feedback just because they have money and I do not. I don’t have any more space inside for shit.

I dislike the power balance when the uninitiated, naive writer (regardless of his or her life stage) is signing the check and I am assessing the work.

The expectation is that I am being paid, not only to read the work, comment on its effectiveness, find its typos, fix its grammar, style, and usage, all without letting the writer’s voice get gobbled up by mine, but to respond thoughtfully to  long, defensive emails or to listen to a client yak on the phone for an hour or two; and frankly, even after drawing clear phone boundaries, I just don’t have time.

What my clients paid me for was my expertise, my experience, my felicity with grammar and style.

What they got was a little piece of my soul.

I know that sounds insane and melodramatic, but I’m in graduate school for writing. Editing is one of the many things one can do with a graduate degree in creative writing, but I need to hone my focus. I need to be the guy with the manuscript for a while. I am the guy with the manuscript.

And I am smart and I have every right to have a manuscript.

This is my story. I’m tired of helping with yours.

I guess a gal can only muster so much cheer and helpfulness.

And maybe I’ll get back to it someday. Hell, even though I said I wouldn’t, I’m proofing a romance novel now. Just one toe in the door.

I’ll see ya’ll at AWP, or after. My next post will be all about that.

Late 2012, or Self (Publishing) Help: How to Be a Baller Client

Flowers from Susan Norris
Flowers from Susan Norris

Late in 2012, I had the honor of working with two excellent writers.

These authors are not excellent because they and I share a bit of commonality in terms of literary goals and aesthetics, they were excellent because they were wonderful to work with.

The authors were REKTOK ross, author of YA Inspirational Romance, and Susan Norris, author of YA Agenda Fiction.

REKTOK’s book, Prodigal, had already been through a number of substantial developmental edits when I saw it. I did the copy edit, and I had some significant notes. Of course, though the author was tired and finished, was still willing to stay the course and make some considerable changes that made the story tighter, more believable, and ultimately, more marketable.

Susan Norris’s book, Rescuing Hope, was a mission from God. That’s how she tells it. She spent a lot of time on her knees before her maker, begging for an easier path. But in the end, she wrote it. About human sex trafficking.  And Susan’s book is only a sliver of her work on that important issue. You can get more information and links from the post just below this one.

If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to be as much like REKTOK and Susan as possible.

Here’s How:

1. I’ve said it before, but Engage Professional Editors.

2. Listen to your professional editors. We usually have years of experience tweaking stories and have read more stories than most people. Susan and REKTOK were both incredibly easy to work with–and I’m sure they both had to beat their inner diva off with a stick from time to time.  In REKTOK’s case, I think it helped that I added a lot of humor to my comments, REKTOK chuckled while reading them to me over the phone when we were talking through some things.  But still. It is never ever exactly pleasant (though after a time, it becomes exciting and revelatory) to read comments, no matter how delicately worded, that ostensibly say “up your game, fool.”

3. Be a class act.  Understand that professional editors are perfectly willing to negotiate their fees.  Both Susan and REKTOK chose from a number of editing packages that I offered, and neither of them got my proposal and then ran away, never to be heard from again, which is the thing that happens more often. I suspect, if they’d opted to use someone else’s services, they would’ve let me know.

4. Pay when you say you will. As a freelance editor and writer, I am paid on all kinds of wonky schedules. I am always willing to work with clients to figure out something that works for them, but it is always a complete joy when a client says, “The check’s in the mail,” and I get it three, not thirty, days later.

5. You are paying for your editor’s time, so if you need a phone call or an extra email, or some clarification on some comment or another, ask for it. This editor is only too happy to oblige.  And I would a million times prefer to clarify something than to have a client run off and weep or whine or, worse still, post nasty reviews or troll.

6. Thank your editor. I am talking about a polite phrase here, not gifts or flowers like the ones above for my birthday, which happened in the middle of the project with Susan. I appreciated those flowers. I never understood about getting flowers before because they always came from some kind of obligatory social convention–prom, valentine’s day, being in a show–but those flowers from Susan were wonderful. They represented a vote of confidence, a kindness, thoughtfulness.  But your editor is not expecting flowers. I would be as thrilled to have worked with Susan with or without them. Your editor is not the enemy. She is can be your biggest cheerleader and greatest ally.  She is probably a writer, too.  She understands what you’re going through.  This is not Us vs. Them.  This is team work, sometimes friendship, and always giving the world better art.

Editors, what would you add to this list? Writers, what do you want from your editor?

Funny Little Language Things

From Flickr, user Digital_Rampage. Used under CC Attribution license. Wiseguys.

Lately, I’ve been encountering a ton of spelling errors.  I don’t know if it’s that the people who learned how to spell before spellcheck have mostly retired, or if it’s something else, but I am generally more amused than annoyed about errors like these.  I have a pretty good memory and I’ve done a lot of reading in my life, plus, have an overfondness for the Dictionary, which is how I’m able to spot them, and certainly I am imperfect at this…

I love the thrill of learning new stuff about words, though.  I can’t wait until I learn how to access Wilkes’s subscription to the OED from home.  Oh, the perks of being a student.

Here are some of my favorite mixups from manuscripts (with pictures):

From Flickr user julia-koefender

Hairsbreadth:  Yes, the breadth of a hair.  One word according to Merriam Webster’s, and here’s a touch of etymology. Here’s how I’ve seen it: Hare’s breath, hairsbreath, hare’s breadth, etc.

The jig’s up:  A jig is a dance.  When the jig’s up, reality checks are imminent.  One of the

From Flickr user ibm4318

funniest spelling errors I see is “the gig’s up.”  According to M-W a gig is only a job for an entertainer in the fifth sense of the word as a noun, and that that a gig could also be a cylindrical spinning thing, a thing to do with sailing, or a grotesque or ugly person, among other definitions.  This is why I love English.

Wiseguy:  When a writer means mobster and writes wise guy, I think, this is kind of a contranym: when the same word can have opposite meanings.  It’s not exact here, because wiseguy is different from wise guy, but you catch my meaning.  A wiseguy is a mobster.  A wise guy is a funny person or jokester.  The word that gave me the concept of contranym is staggering:  The moon is a staggering distance from the sun.  I am lucky to live staggering distance to the bar.  Very big in the first use, very small in the second.

From Flickr user Tony.L.Wong

Tack vs. tact: A tack is a push-pin, but it’s also a method or course, especially one that’s drastically divergent from previous methods or courses.  Tact is a social nicety in which a person knows how to speak without offending others.  Here’s an example of a hilarious misuse, “He thought he’d try a new tact.”

Pour-over, pore over: Pour-over is a method for brewing coffee in which a porcelain (or

From Flickr user Redband-Coffee-Co

plastic) cone-shaped brew basket rests on a coffee cup, and it is brewed, one cup at a time.  When one pores over something, one studies it closely.

Canvass, canvas: Canvas is that stuff that shoes and sacks are made of.  Some artists paint on canvas.  Canvas is a noun.  When one is surveying an area in hopes of

From Flickr user Net_efekt

catching a criminal or electing a particular person, one goes canvassing, and uses a second s and a verb.

Farther, further: This one is the trickiest of all of these.  Farther connotes distance, as in, “if she could make it a touch farther, she’d be home free.”  Further connotes concept, so to encourage or increase the reach of an idea or philosophy.  For instance, “She hoped that if she saved the puppy, she’d further PETA’s cause.”

How about you, fellow editors?  A favorite or funny misuse?  Have you been seeing a lot of spelling errors in the world, too?

Self (Publishing) Help: Show Me The Money!!!

This is from public-domain-image.com

Just because J.A. Konrath is standing up there on the rafters, shrieking down at all of us about the insane pile of cash he’s making as a “self-published” author does not mean that the gravy train is just waiting for you to step on board.

I would ask Mr. Konrath why the heck he’s still using a blogger site for his author platform if self-pubbing is making him so filthy stinking rich?

Like every other creative pursuit, if you are looking at it strictly as a way to get money, you should probably stop.  You should stop–not because you are not allowed to write, or because there’s 0% chance of success for you–because there are about a thousand easier ways to get money than by writing.

Take a sales job.  Car dealerships like newbies.  I would have made $70K my second year if I didn’t have this damn fool compulsion to write, write, write.  And of the sales jobs I’ve had (there’ve been four proper, career-type sales positions), selling cars was far and away the least invasive of my regular life.

Self Publishing Is Not Free

Self Publishing is more than just writing a book, putting it in a PDF, and posting it on Amazon for sale.

You need people to sell your book to.  You need a platform.  Building a platform is a full time job.  Writing a blog or tweeting or being consistent on any social media while writing, and doing whatever it is you’re currently doing to get money, equals two full time jobs.

Here is a short list of the main costs of self-publishing (if you want to be successful):

1.  Your Time: I spend at least 3 hours a day with my blog.  Writing a post, editing it, finding a public domain picture that works with it,  reading comments, replying to comments, and monitoring it on Facebook and Twitter and (less frequently) on LinkedIn and Google +, making notes about ideas for future posts, taking pictures of noteworthy life moments, etc.  I could spend more time because I love my blog, but I can’t because I have other stuff to do.

Self published authors must blog.  It is not optional.  They must also provide all the other marketing muscle: scheduling blog tours, soliciting reviews, scoring public speaking opportunities and preparing for these, researching and attending industry conferences (RWA for  Romance, SFWA for Sci Fi & Fantasy, AWP for literary authors, and many more) getting their writing and names in front of tons of people, plus all the numbers and stats grunt work of self-publishing (and self-employment in general).

Hazarding a guess, building enough of a platform to make the kind of bread J.A. Konrath likes to shriek about would take about a decade’s worth of full time work, and you couldn’t let up and coast.  Ask Konrath about that, would you?  Tell me what he says.

This is besides the hours upon weeks upon months upon years of toil that go into the writing and editing of a book.

2.  Your Ego: Ok, so you’ve written a book, and your lover, family, and handful of friends who like you enough to invest the time to read it have told you you’re brilliant, and you must get your book out there.  I’m willing to bet it’s not.  I’m sorry.  It’s just probably true.  The first draft of everything I’ve ever written has sucked, and my friends and family have told me what a damn genius I am.

You can’t believe what people who love you say about your writing.  How devastating would it be to write the book, put it up on Amazon, and after the first 20 copies your nearests and dearests buy, it just sits there, collecting proverbial dust?   This is why you have to get editors to look at your work before you take it public.

3.  Your Cash Money: Writer’s Market has a handy-dandy table called, “What Should I Charge?”  It amasses data from thousands of freelance respondents around North America.  Here’s a little run down on the minimum/maximum costs of the services you need to self publish:

Content (developmental) editing: High: $125/hour, Low: $54/hour

Copy Editing: 6 pages/hour x $46-100/hour OR: $1.00-$6.00/page (page is firm at 250 words, that’s double spaced, 1″ margins)

Proofreading:  $31-$75/hour, or $2-5/page (this normally happens in a single-spaced, publish-ready document).

Book Production: $67-100/hour, or $10-17.50/page (this could be a touch lower if you are not printing any copies, but it’s a safe estimate for all the steps between having a polished manuscript and having a book or eBook to send out into the world.  Print runs would cost separate money, and are widely available both online and probably in your town somewhere, and would probably start at $3,000 for 1,000 copies.)

Cover Design:  I’ve seen quotes as low a $300 for a digital cover design.  I’m sure you could pay as much above that as you wanted to.

Dues: All of the professional organizations and their conferences mentioned above cost money to join, and more money to attend the conference.  Self-published authors spend their own cash going to these events (I believe that most traditionally published authors do, too), and they are–again–not optional for self-published authors who want to be successful.  It would be easy to spend $3,000 a year paying dues and in the costs associated with attending conferences.

4.  Your Sanity:  You think I’m being melodramatic?  Penelope writes a lot about the startup life, the 100-hour work weeks, the blood, sweat, tears; the way your family will suffer.  Being a successful self-published author is like running a startup.  Buckle in and get busy.  It’s not a casual consideration.  I hear people say all the time, “I’m thinking of self publishing.”  Like they’re deliberating over the choices on a menu.  Yes, it’s true that the publishing world is changing, and this is a unique time for Authors.  But if Authors really want to take their successes into their own hands, they must realize that they are going to be holding a mountain of work.

Amazing News for November 1st & Thanks

This is from http://www.aspiremag.net

It’s a little early for New Year’s thinking, but I find myself in a place of reflection, and with the desire to re-examine where I want to land.  I’ve been doing some reading along these lines: things about how to run my freelance business better, how to get writing work from writing for free, etc.

In that vein, November 1st, an essay I wrote about my interview with Rosemary Wells will appear on Jane Friedman’s blog.

Jane Friedman is a giant in the industry I am trying to infiltrate as a freelance writer and writing teacher.  I am both honored and excited to have the opportunity.  Plus, she liked my essay.  And said so.  Both to me and to her audience.

I am also hoping, with my fingers crossed, and my eyes squeezed shut, and my spiritual observances made, that the essay yields an inquiry or two into my services as a writer.

One of the awesome things about being self employed is that I have total control over the focus of my business.

This same awesome thing can be hugely dangerous for a person like myself who has obsessive focus and drive, but can switch gears quickly and often, especially if something new is more interesting (or potentially more lucrative).  For example: my present focus in writing is divided in three. I am doing some short stories, a novel, and some personal essays.  I am thinking about learning graphic design. For a time, I was obsessively pursuing additional proofing and copy editing work.  But the last two are not my passion.  They are a distraction.

At the core of what I want to be now, and what I have always wanted to be, is a wordsmith tapping away at the keyboard for 8 hours a day (or more), journaling at the park while her kid plays, and 10-year-plan style, retreating to some secluded place in the summer for writing solace and fulfillment.

And on more levels than some other people with my same credentials, I am successful.  But I’m not there yet.

So thank you, people who read this blog: those of you whom I know, whom I don’t know, whom I hope to someday know.  Your consistent visits here encourage me on a daily basis.  And any greater success I obtain will be yours, too.  Since what I write doesn’t matter a lick without you who read.

And thank you, Jane Friedman, for lending me your audience.

Onward.

Everything Matters!: the Reading Life

lifted from penguin's cover art websiteRon Currie Jr. is a really excellent writer, and as far as I can tell, a reasonably swell guy.  I read his first book, God is Dead, shortly after it came out.  I bought it in hardcover from the Borders in Pittsburgh that I could walk to.  It was the kind of read that made me feel like proselytizing.  I lent the book to as many people as I could before one lendee did not give it back.  My copy, wherever it is, contains a signed book plate, and corners gray with wear and a cover that’s nearly not.

Understanding that writers are people in a way for which I have Tim Parrish to be grateful (among a great, great many other things), I sent Ron Currie Jr. an email thanking him for his wildly enjoyable book and complimenting his writing.  He, in turn, sent me a signed book plate.   I facebook friend requested him, and now I am occasionally delighted by writerly status updates from him & get a little thrill of admiration.

This sort of thing  also makes me think about how the internet makes the world smaller.  Twitter and Facebook compress the entire world into a single room.  I have friends I’ve never met.

Anyhow.  Currie’s new book, Everything Matters!, is a ton different from God is Dead, but just amazing.  I’m not even halfway through, but I get excited to read in ways I haven’t in sort of a while.

I have traditionally read Lorrie Moore or Amy Hempel when I want to feel inspired to write.  I have also read far, far more contemporary fiction writers than classical ones, I’m afraid.  In 20-50 years, the people I read now will be canonical.  I hope.

I play this game, Quizzo, and it makes me feel under-read sometimes.  So I decided to bust out some classics I own but have not yet read.  So I picked up Moll Flanders and Silas Marner.  I love the Victorians and find Silas Marner to be a far more agreeable read than Moll Flanders, especially sine the copy I have of Moll is prefaced by some academic wanking that is so repugnantly ignorant of the middle class that it made me snort a few times and quit reading.  The novel itself seems to be okay, but if I want to take a train through dullsville, I’ll have to be more upright and caffienated.  So I went and scared up the copy of Everything Matters!.

Everything Matters is the kind of book that could keep me up reading all night.  It gets me all dizzy and itching to write.  It inspires me and strikes me with awe.   Currie messes with point of view so successfully, and his wit and observations hit me the way the best from Steve Almond do, or everything from Brock Clarke does.  Clarke is the author of my present favorite book, The Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, which may get supplanted by Everything Matters!.