When Not to Hire An Editor

An erstwhile author with some Kindle books up hired me to edit his/her latest effort.

He/she displayed an extreme bout of patient waiting as I finished my steampunk. I finally got to the book.

I'd read the first chapter and thought I'd be able to do a simple copy edit on the rest. Gosh knows I needed the money: vet and car bills were each in the 4-figure mark, and the mortgages continue to demand I pay them, I still have to eat and deal with ordinary bills. Business as usual. I was grateful for the job and determined to see it through.

So I began editing in earnest. I needed that job and kept thinking of the money it would bring. My eye was on the prize. I'd do the best job possible and accept payment in good faith that I'd done right by the author. If she/he liked my work I might get more business!

I was just over 10K words into the book and came to see I couldn't finish. Not in good faith.

The book wasn't ready. It was not ready to pay an editor to go over it, much less self-publish so the general public could read it. At this point in its development it was like having carpet installed on a house's bare foundation, with no walls and no roof.

I know the author is proud of that book, and he/she put a lot of work into it. She/he did something awesome just finishing a 75K-word book. Few aspiring writers are able to stick with such project. Writing is hard work!

But the book had problems. I could not in good conscience take more money for it. I charged the person for my work up to that point and put in 8 pages of detailed feedback, writing in general, and ways to get better at it. I sent an invoice along with the files with the corrections so far. The writer paid the invoice, but I've heard nothing more from the person.

I feel badly about it. First I made the poor writer wait for months on end while I cleared my schedule, then when I finally got to it I sent the whole thing back with unsolicited comments and a bill.

But the book just was NOT ready for publication. It wouldn't have made it out of one of my workshops alive. I'm not known for holding back on critiques, but I don't shred something just to be mean; I'm only ever going to be honest and offer alternatives and suggestions on how to fix it.

Which means it's gonna be painful. No writer enjoys hearing what's wrong with their labor of love.

However, if they want to be better that their craft, they put on their game face.

When they get over being mad, they take a second look to see if the critique raised some valid points.

To that writer I say, I am sure you feel ill-used to have waited so long and then get your book sent back only partially edited -- with a bill. I don't blame you if you're pissed as hell and I'm on your shit list forever.

I should have vetted things more closely. Your first chapter didn't show any problems that I couldn't deal with, but the following pages proved otherwise.

It would have been wrong for me to finish the edit. I charged you for what I did edit because my time is worth something, but the feedback was free. One of my colleagues charges 500.00 for such feedback and then only for short excerpts.

I feel badly about it, but am sure you feel worse, and I'm sorry for that.

You have an interesting idea that should be developed. I hope you'll find a good local writing workshop and take advantage of feedback from other writers, but I rather think you will bull ahead and self-publish and make a few sales to kindly friends. Maybe in a few years you will improve your craft and produce something worth reading.

For aspiring writers reading this, I hope you'll be honest with yourselves. You're going to want to get that book up on Kindle and hope for glowing reviews and lots of sales. You are dazzled by the gold rush success of other writers and want a piece of that. You've read badly written books that somehow still sell. But don't take them to be examples to follow. You be better than those writers.

Some books will make it and others won't. But the first and last thing you have to ask: is your book REALLY ready? You worked hard on it, but that effort is no indication of whether it's good enough to let loose on the world.

The hardest thing I ever did was to finish my 1st novel. I'd never put so much effort into a single project for such a sustained period before. (Eleven months!)

It wasn't ready. A couple dozen rejections told me it wasn't ready. I wanted publication so much that had Kindle been around then, I'd have uploaded the book in a shot. It would have crashed and burned.

A couple dozen rewrites and feedback from some very brave readers improved things, brought it up to pro publication level. After two years and 25 rewrites it finally sold. That was my learning curve.

Twenty-five years later I STILL want to tinker with it. The moment you think a book's finally perfect, that you can't possibly make it better, that it's "good enough," that's the moment you should find another career. I am tinkering with that book, preparing it for a new release under my own small press name. It can and will be better.

Have you gotten feedback from other writers? Friends and family are going to support you; they're not the best critics. Other writers are going to be honest.

Are you professional enough to accept a solid critique even if it rips your guts out?

If not, then don't worry about this post. You'll publish and probably be happy. For a time. Then brace for incoming. The wide world out there is not a kindly place.

If you are that level of a professional, in attitude, if not sales, then you hold off hiring an editor. You get as much feedback as you can and do rewrite after rewrite. You do what it takes to make it worth the reader's time and cash. Then see how it does in the commercial market. I hope you sell. There's nothing quite like the sweet feeling of that first sale. Not to mention all the whooping and yelling and calling everyone you know...!