Thursday, October 08, 2009

Q & A 174

For the past three years I have been composing a book based on my years as a police officer. I have been working closely with a friend whom offered to be my editor. She (Nancy) is an attorney who is also a published author but not a professional editor. The final draft is suitable for presentation in the hope of finding a publishing agent. Now it comes time to pay the editor who will also be taking on the task of sending it to agencies. Being unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this entire process I am ignorant as to what an editor is paid. Moreover, because Nancy is not a professional editor she is anxiously awaiting my proposal. I am totally in the dark regarding this issue. Please advise me as to what the normal procedure is and what is a fair proposal of payment that I can feel comfortable bringing to the table.

If I understand the question, a lawyer friend of yours offered to read your book and provide feedback. Now that she's done so, she wants to charge you at her law firm's standard rate, $200 an hour, while you were hoping to just take her out to dinner, possibly with a little action later on. You seek a compromise position.

If you went online and looked for an editing service, you'd find prices in the range of 7 to 15+ dollars a page. And that's for editors who have no credentials and no idea what they're doing. On the other end of the scale, if you hired Evil Editor . . . well, let's just say if you have to ask, you can't afford me.

The fact that you're ignorant about what an editor is paid is irrelevant, as Nancy isn't an editor. How much would she pay you to represent her in a divorce trial?

Okay, did Nancy basically proofread the book, pointing out your spelling errors and explaining when to use "who" versus "whom," or did she point out plot holes, areas where your writing was disorganized, scenes that were unnecessary or needed, etc.? What was discussed financially when this deal first began? How much can you afford? Does she know you can afford that much? How many billable hours is she claiming? Is she serious? Is she a good enough friend that she would have wanted to read it even if she weren't doing you a favor? Has she turned weeds into flowers or has she turned your unique voice into something as interesting as a legal brief? Have you considered offering her 10% of everything you make off the book?

After considering the answers I believe you would have given to the above questions, I suggest an opening offer of $600, and if the expression on her face indicates that that's the end of your friendship, let her haggle as high as $900 plus dinner at Chef Ramsay's New York restaurant. Of course if she takes into account the fact that you're a cop, and not even a corrupt cop, she'll just ask you to let her hold your gun.


Robin S. said...

Bluntly, I don't see that the friend who happens to be an attorney should call what she did anything more than doing you a favor. People critique each other's work all the time.

Also, I'd think long and hard about paying a professional editor to edit your manuscript. My guess is - a boatload of wasted money has been spent that way with other authors, author. You'd do better to take a writing class at a local community college or something, or join a critique group (normally I'm not for formal critique groups, as I believe they dumb down anything original and make it sound like a group-think bunch of words - plus, remember, THEY are usually not all that published, either, or they wouldn't be there. Just saying...)

What I'm just saying is, comingto places like this one (EE's) and looking around for yourself and reading, sometimes aloud, your work and other's work to see the best way, in my opinion. You need to do this kind of hoofwork yourself, and it takes time, but then you can call the work your own.

Meanwhile, instead of wasting your money on the hope that others like attorneys and editors-you-don't-know can fix what you've written, can spruce it up, you'll be learning how to do that yourself, and keep it for yourself.

Also, maybe sending out a few anecdotes about your life as a police officer here and there, local papers, here and there, would help you get a toehold.

Anonymous said...

After 3 years of work, now you're going to set a retroactive pay rate? Fat chance. Did you start out with an agreement that she'd be getting paid for this, or is that a new development?

Having someone pitch your book to agents is stupid. That's like having an agent get you an agent. If it's just a matter of having someone else do the grunt work of sending your form letters etc, keeping track of rejections, etc., try losing the attorney and get a secretarial service. If your chum is going to write your pitch and take calls, etc. because she's so much better than you at representing your book, tell her to forget pitching to agents and start pitching to publishers and you'll pay her a commission if she sells it, like all the other agents get.

After working in a law office for years, the only role I'd want an attorney to play in my writing career would be contract review, and I wouldn't pay one to do that unless it was her forte. A lot of attorneys hate their jobs, can't figure how to make money at it, and are looking for new careers that pay better. Their unemployment rate is roughly double the rate of other people with equivalent degrees in other fields. It sounds like your friend has oodles of time to squander on frivolous projects, which either means her law practice is failing and so is her authorial genius, or else she loves you.

Aimee States said...

To pay a friend who isn't an editor for "editing"? No way. I think I'm on the wrong planet here.

Anonymous said...

Given that she is as ignorant as you in this matter, and that she understands well the machinations of the legal world, explain to her that all editors work on a contingency "no win, no fee" basis.

I think you'll be good.

150 said...

If I Quantum Leaped into your body and found myself in this situation, I would offer Nancy a 5% cut of whatever advance the novel made plus 5% of your royalties if they total over $10,000 per year, and shop it to agents myself.

sylvia said...

Now it comes time to pay the editor who will also be taking on the task of sending it to agencies.

Er, she will? Why?

Rick Daley said...

I don't think you want you paid editor querying agencies on your behalf. From what I've gathered, agents want to deal with the author directly.

If you want to be published by a major house, you need to learn the ins and outs of this process for yourself.

Robin S. said...

Hi again author,

I'm worried that you'll get ripped off with all the paying you are talking about in your note - is the bottom line.

There's a learning curve involved here, and I do mean a curve, as it isn't a straight line - from wanting to write to learning how to write to learning how to write (at least decently) well to finding out if what you want to write/are writing is what someone else wants to read and pay to read...

So first, back up a bit and find out a bit more about the first few - as I mentioned before. And PLEASE DON'T PAY anyone to 'help' you do this, other than in a writing class. You'll most likely be getting ripped off, and to no avail.

Pop your opening on here. Have you done that? Have you sent your query? It can suck, that's OK. EE will skewer your britches. That's OK. You'll learn stuff, and it will begin to add up, but you have to own the process.

Nannies won't help you. They'll just get paid.

Kings Falcon said...

EE, your numbers are sadly out of date for what lawyers charge. Try $250.00 as a minimum and depending on the kind of law it can be in excess of $600.00 per hour.

But, to the writer, your friend should be a bit ashamed to be asking you for money. She should have negotiated the fee up front. If you were one of her regular clients she would have. Also, if she's going to introduce you to her agent, she should be doing that as a favor because she thinks what you wrote is something the agent would like. In an effort to salvage the relationship you should let her know that the cost issue was a bit suprising (if it was) and offer her something nominal or a % with a cap off actual sales or advances.

If you want a line editor, there are good people out there who won't sugar coat things because they are not your friends and know what works and doesn't in a story.

Anonymous said...

A guy I know sent out 50 queries on his first trunk novel and never got a single reply. Yours might get more attention. Or not. You're not an A-list star. No assistance with the calls and mail will be needed. Seriously.

pacatrue said...

It sounds a little like you've got a co-author. Did you write the entire thing and she edited, or did you sort of sketch out your memoirs and she re-wrote the whole thing in a lovely narrative.

As everyone has said, if there was to be more than a nice dinner and a gift basket in "payment", this should have been done before the work started. But, at this point, if she's done tons and tons of work to get your ideas into nice form, sort of like a ghost writer, then a percentage of advance or royalties seems appropriate.

Eric P. said...

If you want to be published, I think your first step should definitely be to get "familiar with the ins and outs of this entire process." It's not the kind of process you can put completely in the hands of others, unless you want to get ripped off. I'd recommend taking some of your budget and investing in several books from Writer's Digest.

Since neither of you is doing this as a professional, just ask her what payment she thinks is fair, or make her an offer you think is fair if she won't say. Then haggle as necessary until you're both happy.

Might she be content with simply seeing her name on the acknowledgments page: "Very special thanks to my good friend Nancy ____ for her invaluable help in editing the early drafts...."?

batgirl said...

I'm with paca. Sounds as if you have a co-author here. In which case her being the one to submit to agents wouldn't be so ... unusual.

Was Nancy published by a reputable press? You both might need to check out Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware, and the Bewares forum on Absolute Write, to make sure you don't get scammed or misled.
Publishing is strange, and you wouldn't be the first law-enforcement professional (or attorney!) to be snared by a crooked agent or publisher.