Write Tip: How NOT To Approach An Editor

This is hard because I hate to potentially embarrass someone. But I was pretty shocked by this approach and really felt it worthy of blogging about so I am taking that risk. I am paraphrasing things as much as I can and, since it was done through a website and anonymous, I am not revealing a name or project title. But nonetheless, this is worthy of a Write Tip, it really is. Now there are many things you shouldn’t say to editors which won’t be covered. This post refers to a specific situation and scenario, but I hope you’ll see why I thought this warning was important to give.Recently, at the recommendations of friends, I have sought out freelance sites to promote my editing and drum up business. I’ve got enough experience now and recommendations to really make that worth my while but not enough incoming business just from reputation to keep my busy or keep food on the table. So I posted an add that read like this:

I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5

Here’s a paraphrase of  the response I got:

Hi,  I have done the opening 500 words of a novella. Would you be interested in reading, editing, criticizing, providing ideas etc. Feel free to comment or add ideas. I won’t care if it grows from 500 to 1000 words.  

First of all,  the client means well. He’s just unaware of the right approach and what editors really do. So here’s the problem: 500 words is flash fiction but if you want an editor to help you with a longer piece, it’s probably not ready to be edited. If you’re looking for an assessment of craft, maybe it’ll work, maybe not. It’s not much to go on for a longer piece because it’s just a snippet. You need to write more. Plus, asking me to provide ideas sent up read flags. I am offering editing, not cowriting or ghostwriting by to give the person benefit of the doubt, my response was basically:

Sure. But 500 words is not very far in to be doing much good for you because the story likely has yet to take shape fully. I can certainly comment on the beginning and how it works, etc. but I’m not sure how useful it would be.

There were some minor exchanges between but then I got this (again paraphrased here):

I think your input at an early stage would actually be very useful. At an early stage bad habits that set in can ruin the book. And without early comment one can have nagging doubts and uncertainties that will not only plague the author but lead to a despondency and lack of confidence and finally failure and surrender…. another unfinished novel. Thus, your early action is imperative.

I did end up doing the edit, and I gave as close to 30 minutes worth as I could. $5 is well below my usual rate but as  a try out, it’s fine, and since this is my first bid on this site, I didn’t want to turn work down and risk a bad rating or something. But the attitude really doesn’t sit well with me. Here’s why:

First, an editor’s job is not generally-speaking to provide ideas on your unfinished work. Oh they can help you shape a book already written but not on something that’s incomplete. Especially not something that’s one page. What you’re looking for is someone to tell you what to write, and, frankly, that’s not the editor’s job nor am I going to risk working with someone I don’t know or giving away ideas. That’s something for which I should get paid, and probably a much higher rate than the standard editing fee. There would contracts and all kinds of negotiations and I’d have to know you better and really like the piece to agree.

Second, one page can reveal bad habits, yes, but it’s not a good assessment of your overall ability. It may tell a slush reader or editor that your work is not professional enough or interesting enough for their zine or anthology, but it’s not enough to determine your overall skills. Perhaps you’re just bad at openings. Perhaps this idea just didn’t work. Perhaps the reader just has different needs or desires. There are a lot of factors, but truthfully, one page is not a whole lot to go on. In this case, the writing was fairly strong in many ways but the polish was definitely not there and I made suggestions above active vs. passive voice, etc. It’s not ready for prime time, but the person shows potential.  I could see it turning into something decent with time and effort.

But when edited it, beyond typos, verbage, punctuation, tenses, and a few observations, I did not offer ideas. It’s just not what I’m there for. It’s your vision, your piece and your decision. All my input could do is muddy the waters and risk changing the story into something you never intended or might not write well, because it’s from me not you, and, since I’m not going to write it, how does that help you? What’s in it for me? At $5, nothing. Realistically.

The third issue with this: you are basically telling me you don’t know how to finish or what to do, and you are suggesting that I fix that. Again, that’s not what I’m there for, and it also, frankly, leaves me with the impression that despite your claims that by proving myself for $5 we can establish a future relationship, you are not a good basket into which to put my eggs, because if you never finish a story, when will there be anything to edit? It’s  not that I object to one-off clients, mind you, but I’d really like to establish a client base that keeps coming back and, thus, someone who doesn’t demonstrate the ability to finish stories is not someone I can count on to come back for more.

So basically, I’m doing him a favor and taking a risk to preserve my relationship and reputation via the site,  but not for any real benefit to me. It’s not something I would do a lot. Maybe not again. Because it’s not something that’s likely to bear fruit with steady work.  So, frankly, even if this is the position you’re in, revealing it is not the wisest course for the reasons stated. Someone else might just say “no” and never look back and you may well have left a permanent bad impression. In this case, it’s anonymous over the internet, but what if it wasn’t?

In 30 minutes, I could have edited the first 3-10 pages of a novel, perhaps a whole short story, depending on length, etc. So what really happened here was my doing something that probably won’t pay off long term and may well not serve the client well for an overall evaluation. Neither the client nor I got the full benefit of the offer: I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5. Unless, of course, this blog post goes postal and many of you buy my books. Which would be really coolness, let me say, but I’m not putting my eggs all in that basket either. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

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Write Tip: How Not To Use The 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book

Our recent Write Tip on 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book has been popular but people have asked me how NOT to use those techniques, so I thought it appropriate to do a follow up post. First, here’s a refresher on the 9 Free Ways which are:

1 ) Author Site/Blogs 
2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews 
3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing 
4 ) Press Releases
5 ) PSAs 
6 ) Signings 
7 ) Appearances 
8 ) Book Clubs 
9 ) Reading Group Guides 

The previous post goes over how to use those, so I won’t cover that here. Here’s how not to use them:

1 ) Author Site/Blogs — The goal is to create a relationship with readers and other interested parties, but primarily readers. Don’t use your blog and author site to self-aggrandize and totally for sales. Use it instead to reveal yourself. You don’t have to just lay it all out there transparently. In fact, that, in and of itself, may be a big mistake. You have a right and need for privacy. Determine up front where the lines must be drawn and stick to them. A couple areas you might avoid are religion and politics. I rarely blog on these. They only lead people to be offended and possibly lose interest who might otherwise enjoy your books. Unless your books promote your political and religious views, you don’t really need to go there and you’re better off if you don’t. You also don’t want to lambast people. Flame wars may draw traffic but they don’t do it because you’re winning fans. People stare at car wrecks not because they envy those involved but because it’s just hard not to stare. The same is true of flame wars. Don’t get in nasty arguments and back and forth with people. Avoiding controversial topics can help avoid drawing those kinds of comments in the first place.

2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews–Don’t reveal spoilers in your interviews or profiles, unless the book has been out a very long time and you are discussing aspects of craft where it’s relevant. And try and stick to authors and topics where an audience who’d be interested in your book and its genre/topic might find you. It’s okay to reach out to new readers but, seriously, you shouldn’t be on a Christian romance authors blog promoting your paranormal erotic romance, okay? It’s just a waste of time. And don’t lie either. Be honest. At the same time, try and hold back some in interviews. Don’t tell everything to everyone. And find a new way to answer the same old questions. Keep it fresh if you can. You’ll be answering a lot of the same questions again and again at various places. It’s boring for you but it’s all the more so for fans, so try and find new ways to say the same thing and reveal new tidbits with each interview if you can. It’s hard, so hold some things back and give a little each time.

3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing–Great for giveaways and networking with book lovers and fellow authors but these communities tend to give back what you put into them, much like Twitter. They are the most successful giveaway sites, in my experience, for spreading interest and generating reviews. Not so successful, in my experience, for their ads or for generating huge sales numbers. They are a tool to be used with lots of others for spreading the word. It’s important to remember they are about “community.” Door to door salesman are as welcome on Goodreads and Library Thing as anywhere else. Goodreads has the easier interface but both are popular. Approach them as opportunities to share yourself, your love of books, and review and discuss books, genres, trends. Author interviews so far don’t generate a lot of interest in my experience. It’s more about communicating through observing what people do and their observing what you do and say about what you read. Approach them accordingly in both time dedicated to them and how you use them.

4 ) Press Releases–Don’t just copy someone else’s and don’t write blind. There’s an art to this and the goal is give them a ready to print article about you, your book, etc. You want to minimize the work for them so they’ll jump on the opportunity for an easy to prep story. And that takes practice and careful thought and editing. If you can afford it, write the first few drafts, then pay a publicist to fine tune it. There are plenty of independent publicists, like Matt Staggs or Adonna Pruette, who would be happy to assist and charge reasonable fees.  Once you’ve done several and get the format and style down, you may be able to work on your own but I know from experience, your first several press releases will not get the results you need without a professional touch. The difference is startling.

5 ) PSAs–Public Service Announcements are a funny thing. They aren’t as common as they once were but they are indeed true to their name: Public Service. It’s not about sales. It’s about making the public aware of an event which might be of interest/benefit.  Stations can be very selective about the kinds of events which qualify. They make income from selling ads, after all. Library and school events, for example, are far more likely than bookstore events to be accepted. After all, both imply educational content. And both libraries and schools are publicly funded to serve the public. Still, it’s worth checking these out but you will have to write and time the text yourself and be very careful with wording. Again, don’t self-aggrandize and don’t sell. Just inform. If the radio or tv station does you a favor, you need to make it easy and worth their time. If you make them mad or offend, you’ll alienate them from not only PSAs but also other potential opportunities for you.

6 ) Signings–Don’t expect to sell hundreds of books. The average signing is 4-6 from everyone I talk to, unless you’re a bestseller with multiple books. Signings are as much about letting people know you exist and cultivating valuable relationships with bookstores as they are about actually signing and selling books. I’m sure it varies from author to author but especially new and unknown authors need to approach Signings as opportunities to put their best foot forward and network more than selling books. The signings I have done so far have all sold at least 4 books. The most I sold was 11. All of them brought stores who carry and promote my book for me. And all of them brought publicity opportunities in the community I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I also sell other people’s books. My goal at signings is for people to buy something from that store and to make customers feel welcome. Hopefully they buy my book or at least talk to me. But if not, at least I helped the store and the store will want to help me in return.

7 ) Appearances–Appearances are hand-in-hand with signings as networking opportunities. Especially when you get the chance to read or be on a panel, you get the opportunity for people who didn’t know your name or the titles of your book to remember you and learn of your expertise (or at least ability to b.s. really well in public).  The goal is to make a good impression on as many people as you can. You don’t do that by aggressively selling. You do it by being personable, knowledgeable and respectful. You do it by smiling a lot and being warm and friendly. If you can do that while waving a copy of your book subtly in front of yourself, all the better. But high pressure pushy tactics will not bode well for you.

8 ) Book Clubs–These are groups of book lovers who offer two advantages: 1. They go through a lot of books. 2. If they love it, they’ll buy more, recommend it to people and otherwise spread the word. The disadvantage is that some are quite picky and blunt in their response. Do offer to visit or otherwise interact with the group. Do offer group discounts if you can. Free books to group leaders are a good idea if you can afford it, but these are book buyers, so free books aren’t essential to win both interest and loyalty. The most important thing here is to write a good book. If they enjoy it, they’ll take it from there with very little effort on your part. Again, selling is less important than personal connection. Cultivate this as networking for word of mouth, more than an opportunity to sell multiple copies. If it works out, you’ll get both.

9 ) Reading Group Guides–Do not SPOIL. Do not SPOIL. Repeat after me. Reading Group Guides are for Book Clubs and others to stimulate thought and conversation, PERIOD. You do not repeat your story in intimate detail. Do not preach on your themes or message. Your goal is to get them to read thoughtfully and interact on what they’ve read. Help them enjoy the reading experience in a way which will likely result in their wanting to read more and spreading the word.

Well, those are some tips on how NOT to use the 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on other cautions, etc. as well as your successes. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

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