Thursday, July 5, 2018

From the Circular File #1: Your Good Deed for the Day

I thought I'd do something fun today and share a few special stories of what I (and other editors) receive in our DMs on a semi-regular basis.

A couple months ago, it seemed that all the "I want something for nothing" people were coming out of the woodwork. I received a note on Messenger from a guy who wrote exactly one sentence:
Nothing else. All caps.  I knew already I didn't want to deal with someone like this, but I responded politely and asked what he was referring to: a book, an article, something else . . . He replied, "I WROTE A BOOK!"

So I did what I always do in these situations. I gave him my website address, told him to please read the page that listed the services I offer and the pricing involved, and then fill out the contact form so I could learn as much as I could about his project. And . . .

. . . crickets. Which I knew would happen, so I was not surprised but instead was relieved. I have learned over the years to put the ball back in the other person's court to save myself time and aggravation. I have wasted too many hours doing free sample edits on manuscripts that are not even worthy of being classified as first drafts, and telling a writer what will be needed to get their work up to snuff—only to have them say something like, "I don't have much money to spend." Or worse, "I don't have any money. I thought you'd just do it for free."

The following example happened to an editor friend of mine:

This type of stuff happens to her all the time. The same person who sent her this also posted it on an editing "help wanted" group, saying, "Who wants to edit my short story for $10? Think of it as your good deed for the day."

In case you don't know, this is a poor way to approach a group of strangers . . . who happen to be professional editors . . . who earn their living by editing for money so they can feed their families. A good many of those in the group edit for some big-name authors but don't brag about it. When the person was told how passive-agressively insulting her request was, she got belligerent. Belligerent—while asking strangers to work for her for free. A real prize, this one.

She then went back to my friend and asked what she'd charge for it, and was told there was a $75 minimum for any copyediting work. She ridiculed the editor, and I can't remember exactly what the phrasing was, but she basically told my friend she'd gotten too big for her britches and that she (the writer) could easily find a cheaper deal. My friend pointed out that she was being asked to do detailed, skilled work for a dollar amount that would barely buy her a cheap T-shirt at Wal-Mart. The writer came back to her again, a short while later, and bragged to her that she'd gotten someone on Fiverr to do it for something like $20.

As my friend told me this, I reminded her that she was losing nothing by refusing to work with people like this. We also wondered what a $20 edit would end up looking like. I think I have a pretty good idea.

Now, don't get me wrong: I have done my share of free or cheap work when I have deemed it appropriate. Many editors (and cover designers, and formatters, and proofreaders, etc.) do freebies on occasion. Why? Because we're just nice people, I guess. We can't give everything away, of course, because we can't feed our families on good deeds. But it's nice to offer when someone least expects it, simply because we believe in that person's work and want to help them succeed.

I've been on the giving end, and I've been on the receiving end, and I can tell you they both feel great. But it's never, ever come about as the result of bullying strangers.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Editor's Notes #44: How to Improve the Indie Author Reputation

What do you think of when you hear the words "self-published"?

Are your first thoughts positive or negative? Are you a staunch supporter of indies, or do you stubbornly hold to the "traditionally published only" standard and turn your nose up even at smaller presses?

There was a time, not so long ago, that I swore I worked with the only indie authors who actually cared about their work. The self-publishing bandwagon had driven through town and was full to bursting with writers who thought they could finally make it big with the next bestseller—with little to no work involved, of course. All those publishers who'd said a polite "no, thank you" to them were obviously wrong, and they were going to prove it by self-publishing and striking it rich as a result.

The authors whose manuscripts I worked on took a lot of pride in their work, making sure their drafts were revised, revised, and revised again. They agonized over each word, and were not hesitant about hiring a professional editor, typesetter, and cover artist to make sure their books were on par with anything you'd find on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Unfortunately, they were in the minority.

So many writers put out so many unedited, badly formatted books with homemade MS Paint covers that the good books were lost in the sludge, and their work was, as the saying goes, painted with the same brush, resulting in the words "self-published" becoming a term of derision.

Slowly, the tide has turned, but it has taken years of perseverance on the part of determined authors to change the public's perception of self-published authors—now known as indies.

Perhaps the biggest change has come with the realization that there are some really great authors out there who have nothing to do with the Big 5 publishers. Sometimes the simplest explanations escape us for a while, but eventually we catch on. The truth is that there are some garbage authors who get published and some terrific authors who don't. The luck of the draw . . . an agent who's having a bad day . . . an acquisitions editor who may have loved your manuscript but knows their company can't guarantee enough sales of it because it's a bit out of the box . . . someone who saw your manuscript come across their desk but couldn't deal with looking at one more werewolf book . . . all those things may contribute to you getting the "nope" letter.

As more of the higher-quality writers persevere and self-publish, readers are gradually beginning to trust them. Many readers are even surprised to find that some have even turned down publishers in favor of self-publishing because they want to retain control over their final product.

Let's face it: the odds are slim for a new author to break through the Big 5. If you look around, there aren't too many new voices out there in that elite group. The odds are even slimmer that a new author will get such a killer deal that they'll become The Next Big Name.

BUT. And there's always a but, isn't there?

When indie authors, as a collective or as individuals, continue to strive for excellence—learning their craft, polishing their words, and putting out the good stuff—they'll gradually change people's perception of what self-publishing is all about, and what it's not. Those who are willing to raise the bar and work for it will continue to rise in the industry while those who continue to publish the equivalent of a first draft will eventually find themselves without readers.

As the baseline for quality goes higher, readers will tolerate less of the dross. Balance will be restored to the force, dogs and cats will live in peace together once again, and "indie published" will be seen as an opportunity to read something unique and wonderful.