When I was fourteen, I wrote my first fantasy epic. It had heavy paranormal elements and featured a sort of teenage-romance between the heroine and the villain. Since the initial draft, it’s been rewritten twice (fully rewritten, not just scenes tweaked and played with), and I suspect I will rewrite it again, maybe in a few years, to get it right where I want it to be.
When I was eighteen, I’d just started my undergraduate degree. I’d given up on my writing for a little while, preferring a social life and uni prep to anything else. Before that, I was primarily working on fanfiction, and unlike many writers, I didn’t reach out for beta readers to help me with my stuff. I’d always been confident in my writing, and I learned as I went at the time, improving a little bit with each story.
One afternoon while my roommate was in class, I pulled up my first book, in its third draft, and started reading. And it wasn’t bad. Decent even, for the level of writing I was at. However, I also knew at the time that I wasn’t disciplined enough to finish the book anytime soon, and I decided to seek some outside help. What I was essentially looking for was someone to give me deadlines that I could meet, and I wasn’t sure where to start.
Looking back now, I can’t believe I did what I did. I can’t believe I couldn’t just make myself write. I don’t think writers are generally all that good at forcing themselves to stick to deadlines, but the successful ones among us get it done—so it’s not impossible.
Anyway, back to eighteen year old procrastinating me. I wasn’t too sure where to start my search for a deadline-setter, but I knew editors and writers were a natural combo. Throwing caution to the wind, I researched editors in my city. To my surprise, I found one locally who catered to students and working professionals alike. At the time, I hadn’t even considered hiring someone to work remotely with me. Maybe I was worried about someone stealing my million dollar fantasy novel with vampires and witches—but more realistically, I wanted to talk to someone face-to-face so that I could see their disapproving stare in my mind’s eye when I wasn’t keeping up with our schedule.
I got in contact with this editor through his website. I’m pretty sure I gave a rambling, incoherent explanation of what I was looking for, and he emailed me back asking to meet me so we could talk in person. What followed was an interesting, awkward, and intense meet-up with a somewhat shy editor who didn’t really understand precisely what I wanted, even after I explained it.
In the end, we decided that I’d send him my stuff, and then go from there.
I was excited. It was like my authorly journey was kicking off again, and something might happen this time.
We met up again a few weeks later, after he’d had a chance to read my stuff. And he loved it. He raved about my characters, my plot, my fantasy world—it was beyond thrilling. I’d never had someone tell me face-to-face that they enjoyed my work, and it was a huge ego booster. It was then that we had to decide what we wanted to do from there. After discussing where the plot was headed, analyzing my fantasy world in extensive detail, we decided that he would edit a chapter or two per month—for the small fee of $200.
Two. Hundred. Dollars.
My draft wasn’t even technically finished, and I was a university student in her first year who wasn’t working yet. My first year was just to focus on school, and apparently I thought it was acceptable to spend almost five months giving this guy $200 each month for him to tinker with a chapter as soon as I finished it.
After a while, I just couldn’t afford to pay him anymore. He was fine with it: we dropped the fee down to $75 a month, but even that ended up being too much for someone who wasn’t working and was spending her money on eating out and bar nights. Ahhh youthful idiocy.
When all was said and done, it was like I hadn’t actually spent any time with an editor at all. Sure, he fixed little things here and there, and he pointed out inconsistencies. We met up once every month just to chat about the book, which I definitely liked… But once we stopped meeting, I stopped working on the manuscript. Instead, I eventually went back to fanfiction because it was safe and easy, and generally gave instant gratification with reader reviews popping up immediately.
In fact, I still haven’t touched that manuscript. With two books published and several more on the way, I’m pretty sure I lost the edits that particular editor made—and probably close to $1500 too.
Don’t get me wrong: this editor was a great guy. Totally friendly, personable, really concise and on-point with his feedback… but I clearly wasn’t ready to do anything with my manuscript. I couldn’t be bothered to read up on critique partners and beta readers, nor did I actually take the time to look for someone online whose fees were actually affordable to me. Instead, I went with the first person I found, and it went financially downhill from there.
I’ve got a couple of fantastic people in my editing corner today, but I hope new and young authors interested in self-publishing take my experience as a cautionary tale. If you can’t afford it, don’t do it. If you aren’t done your novel, DON’T hire an editor unless you have the time and money (and thick skin) for someone to be super involved in your writing baby from the beginning—when, really, you probably aren’t even sure where the story is headed. Read a lot. Ask for advice from fellow authors. Don’t, for the love of god, fork out $200 a month on a manuscript you haven’t even finished yet.
Should you be tempted, remember the wise words of Steve Rogers: