What I Do Isn’t “Horseshit”

Hi. I want you to read this post, then come back here.

The short version? Someone paid $800 to someone who didn’t deliver.

The part I have a problem with? Right here:

This is utter and complete bunk. Horseshit of the finest kind.  When I see agents doing this, I actually interrupt them on the panel and howl “horseshit.”
There’s nothing wrong with hiring an editor. I’ve recommended it several times myself. I have an ongoing relationship with a very good editor who reads manuscripts I’m thinking of taking on.  The problem is not editors at all.
The problem is WHEN you consult them.  IF you’re getting rejections, and you’ve been to writing conferences and taken classes, then maybe you invest some dough. 
You don’t hire an editor as step one of the query process. 

Um, okay, we need to unpack the “this”. Janet’s referring to the idea of hiring an editor to go through your work before you send it off to possible publication. She’s calling that idea horseshit. Now, I’d like to point out that I make a part of my living as an editor hired to go through work before it goes to publication. So, thanks to logic, she’s saying part of my living is horseshit.

Granted, there’s no reference to me, my blog, my resume or the things I’ve worked on in that whole blogpost. And I’m willing to bet that if asked, Janet Reid has not the first clue who I am. Which is fine, I don’t need to be known by all of humanity or editorkind. This isn’t a megalomaniacal rant.

What I do isn’t horseshit. I don’t take the money people give me and run. I don’t deliver poor quality work. I do my best to deliver thorough work done quickly. Yes, I can always be more thorough, and yes, being thorough is something I’m working on improving, because I think it only helps my clients and my projects to be so. Granted, in the Fast-Good-Cheap pyramid:

You're supposed to pick two.

You’re supposed to pick two.

I’ve got Fast and Good on lockdown, so comparatively, I’m not cheap. And I’m not. But I provide a service that isn’t inconsequential. If you want me to make sure your spelling is okay and your margins are spiffy, I can totally do that. If you want to know if your story makes sense from beginning to end, I can do that. If you want to know why people are rejecting your work over and over again and why your manuscript is a mess and you don’t know how to fix things and you don’t like your plot or your characters are out of whack, yeah, I can help with that.

My job, my greatest love in life, is helping people make their ideas into things they can share with other people. Sometimes, that’s the novel they always wanted to write, or the game they’d love to play with their friends, or it’s the start of a career in development and design or whatever. That’s my privilege to have the skills that can help make this happen. To call it horseshit is to tell me that what I’m good at and what I’m proud of is meaningless or worse, detrimental to others. That’s not cool. What I do helps people. Is it going to cost them money? Yep. Are they going to see improvements? Yep. Is that a bad a thing that I make my living doing that and charging people for it? Nope.

I’ve talked before about how I used to feel super guilty for charging people, and how I’d grossly undercharge. One of the reasons for this was because I wasn’t attached to a big publishing company, and at the time, being outside the system meant I really wasn’t seeing a lot of work, since the expected model of publishing (the “traditional” model) teaches people that they’ll get edited post-query acceptance. With the explosion of self-publishing models, I found more work, because now the bulk of development fell to the author, assuming they weren’t just uploading error-packed files to a server and charging money. And with that development process, I found I could help people. In helping them, I could help myself (it’s wonderful what a full work schedule does to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness). Charging wasn’t an easy decision, since I tied it to my self-esteem, but it’s worked out for me, since now I can make my living doing this.

What Janet’s talking about is a legit problem – people get hosed in shitty deals when they try to make stuff, and it’s important to be careful and clear in what you’re trying to do. Yeah, people do go too far and get super guarded, holding back even talking about their ideas lest someone “steal them”. That extremism makes it super difficult to work with a person if they can’t even share the idea with the person who can help them. But, it speaks to a level of intimacy and trust – the project is near and dear to them, they don’t want to see what they love smacked around, treated poorly or wrecked. And they don’t want to lose money over it.

Totally understandable. And I get that it doesn’t help to say “I’m not an asshole who will take your money” if you don’t know me and you’ve had assholes take your money before. But you can find people who I’ve worked with who will tell you (some of them even emphatically) that I’m not going to take the money and run and that I can in fact help you learn to make awesome things.

While I was getting dressed, sorting out what I was going to say in this post, it occurred to me that there’s maybe a hint of this-how-things-are-done-don’t-question-it. The editing process can exist in a variety of spots in the publication process. What’s wrong with getting your stuff looked at before you send it off to someone who has a great deal of sway over its publication? Isn’t that like getting someone to check your outfit before you go on a big date? One of my good friends compared editing to “being told there’s spinach in your teeth before a date”, which is a great way to look at it.

Maybe it’s a sense of Don’t-question-me-I-have-an-audience-and-a-big-job-and-fame. I don’t really think this is an ego bullying trip. But for a second, let’s talk about validity. To do so, I’ll pull another quote from the post.

 “She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc.

Here, there’s a discussion of what makes for a good agent, and the idea that it’s not found in a website or conference attendance or co-workers. So … by extension, you can’t measure quality based on how things look, or who they work with or where they’ve been, and the post goes on to say that you measure goodness based on accomplishment. Now, if you’re about to point out that Janet has a huge reach, and a big audience and posts way more regularly, and likely not about mental health or food or game design, and instead only looks at queries and publishing, I’ll just point you back to this paragraph. Measure the validity based on how something/someone helps you accomplish something.

An easier version – I can help you make your thing. It might involve dealing with bad habits, it might take time, but if you do the hard work, you can make a thing. I’m not here to take your money or let you down or leave you in a worse position than when I found you. I know there are predators out there who will rain on your parade and kick you while you’re down. And I know saying “I’m not a predator” when you don’t know me is about as comforting as being told “Hey I’m not going to rob your house” by someone walking by. If I wanted to make gobs of money, I would have paid way more attention in school, or learned to sell drugs by the kilo or something. Instead, I learned how to be really good with language, and how I can use that skill to help you make stuff. Less lucrative than drug kingpins or lawyers or plastic surgeons, but to my mind, way more rewarding.

Does this mean I’m out shilling in front of every conference room or seminar? I can tell you that I used to, when I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. And I can tell you that it got me NOWHERE. This doesn’t mean I don’t shamelessly plug myself in panels, both seriously and humorously. Yes, of course, I want to build my business, and yes I want to have more blog readers and get more emails and help more people. Sure, yes, I like getting paid for it too. I ask on Twitter for work, I post openly about my work schedule, I stick my rates on my blog, so that people can hire me. I do that, because I don’t have a company behind me or guaranteed work waiting for me. I have to hustle and pursue it. So I do. That’s not a sign of predatory behavior, that’s a sign of I need to have money to afford travelling to conventions and I like paying bills on time.

Over the course of my writing this post, as my stomach has grumbled (must be time for lunch), my initial sense of being slapped in the face for being “new” or “freelance” or “small-time” has faded somewhat. I do think that bad practices need to get called out, no matter who’s they are or what the fallout could be. Many emperors wear no clothes, and we as a consumers and creators need to be aware and willing to point out the bad practices and be equally able to point to the good ones as well, and then do better all around.

I’m going to keep telling people “You should get someone to look that over before you send it off to publication” NOT because it’s money in my pocket, but because that can make your project better, and isn’t that the point?

Happy creating, I’m going to go eat something before my stomach gurgles any louder.

0 thoughts on “What I Do Isn’t “Horseshit”

  1. You seem to be coming at this from a “creator/quality” perspective: that the primary purpose of people with manuscripts is to create something good and worthwhile. If your assumption is correct, the rest of your points more or less follow.

    Janet Reid seems to be coming at this from a “professional/business” perspective: that the primary purpose of people with manuscripts is to publish them and make money – or possibly a living – off of it. If her assumption is correct, the rest of her points more or less follow.

    There’s no contradiction in the statements “editing can make a manuscript better and more saleable” and “it is a poor business choice to hire an editor before you’ve submitted your work, or attempted to improve your writing in other ways that cost less money”.

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