Half of Nothing Is Still Nothing

Every once in a while I receive an e-mail from a writer who wants me to edit his manuscript for nothing. Crazy, right? Well, to be fair, the writer doesn’t come right out and say that. Instead, he asks me to partner up with him when he self-publishes his book.

Take the message I received the other day for example. This author had hired another editor to edit his novels, but he admits he hasn’t had any success selling them. So, he’s looking for someone to edit, proofread, and market his books for him for no money upfront. He’s offering me half of the revenue and says he believes this deal is fair because the book has already cost him a lot of money. “Assuming all the risk is not what I’m here for,” he said.

Let’s go through why ALL of this is just plain WRONG.

First of all, it sucks, but writers take advantage of editors. This is why many editors expect payment upfront, or half now and half upon receipt (the latter being risky but not as risky as asking for full payment upon delivery). Even with a contract, if I did the work expecting payment later and didn’t receive it, I’d have to take the guy to court. I wouldn’t have any other recourse because I’d already handed over the edited manuscript. Is it worth my time or money to pursue payment legally? Probably not. Although, don’t underestimate the power of the need to maintain one’s pride and dignity. In any case, I’ve set up my business model so that this won’t happen to me. This means, the idea of partnering up with a writer hoping, trusting, him to pay me half the revenue (if there is any) isn’t something I would ever consider.

As for the author who contacted me, I love that he had no problem paying another editor to do the work, and because he wasn’t happy with the results, I’m supposed to take the financial hit. That’s fair how exactly? This reminds me of a guy I dated eons ago. He’d told me he was tired of doting on women and buying them things. That never got him anywhere, so he’d stop doing it. Lucky me. I mean, why would you tell your new girlfriend that you treated other women better than you plan on treating her? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for this author. But it’s not my fault he didn’t do his homework and research who he was hiring in the first place. He made a mistake and that should cost HIM, not me. Not to mention, I edit books. I don’t market them. I’m not a publicist. I don’t have experience doing this and can’t say I’d do a better job than he did. And the idea of “re-publishing” books, as he called it, doesn’t appeal to me. Once you put out a poor quality product, it’s hard to come back from that. There will still be bad copies out there, and I don’t want my name or reputation associated with that.

I see where he’s coming from. He’s wasted a lot of money on these books and isn’t satisfied with the results. He loves these stories and wants readers to love them too. Obviously, he wants to sell these books and, at the very least, recuperate his financial loss. And he’s probably nervous about paying another editor only to come out no further ahead. In all fairness to the other editor, her editing might not have been the reason the books weren’t selling. It might be the author’s inability to market them. In this case, having another editor go through the work won’t make a difference, which is probably why he also wants that editor to market the books. He’s washing his hands of the process, giving her the responsibility to make these books succeed. If she doesn’t, she won’t get paid. Ever. Half of nothing is still nothing.

So, what’s the poor guy to do? He needs to find someone who can honestly tell him if these books need another round of editing. I would suggest having editors look at the books and assess whether or not more editing is needed. They might charge for this or they might offer a small sample edit in order to determine how much work would be involved. However, if they deem it necessary to have the books edited a second time, this author needs to pay for the service and not promise half the revenue later. It’s not the editor’s job to market or sell the books. It doesn’t matter how much money this author has already spent. That has nothing to do with this new editor. Then, once the editing and revisions are completed (including copy editing), he can either try to promote the books himself or he can hire a publicist or marketing company to do this for him. However, I strongly recommend he do his homework both when acquiring an editor and when hiring a publicist or marketing company. Maybe there are editors out there who edit, proofread, and market books. I don’t pretend to be one of them. My services are listed on my website. I ask for payment upfront, but writers can make payments up until the date they hand in their manuscript. Since I often book up months in advance, this allows time between payments.

But this post isn’t just about an author who didn’t do his homework. Editors work hard and deserve to be paid for their work now, not later if/when you make a respectable profit. A lot of elements go into a book’s success. Editing is just one of them.

Lynnette Labelle
2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist
2015 Molly Winner

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2 Responses to Half of Nothing Is Still Nothing

  1. Linnea Ren says:

    I would NEVER ask for an editing job for free. When I ask for beta readers, it’s always an exchange with people I’ve already beta’d for, and something we agreed upon earlier. I will do free line edits to a certain extent, but only if it’s a fair trade. But when I go to hire a professional editor, I will have money and will pay them.

    My biggest issue with hiring an editor is the payment up front. I understand completely why they do it, but as a poor college student, handing over a chunk of money large enough to feed me for three months is extremely difficult. I personally would do better with a payment plan that works for both parties, but unfortunately due to horrible scammers, that’s not a safe option for the editor.

    I’m sorry you’ve had people contact you and ask for free edits. It’s not fair to you or any other editor out there. I hope people start getting the message soon, because editors are extremely important and you guys do amazing work.

    Excellent post.


  2. Lynnette Labelle says:

    Lin: Thanks for your comment. I’ve added the following to clarify how I operate. “I ask for payment upfront, but writers can make payments up until the date they hand in their manuscript. Since I often book up months in advance, this allows time between payments.” Basically, as long as I have the full payment the week before I begin (when the MS is due to be handed in), it doesn’t matter if it’s one payment or several.

    Lynnette Labelle
    2015 Molly Winner (Romantic Suspense)
    2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist

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