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Janey Burton

PUBLISHING CONSULTANT

Editor & Contracts Negotiator

A big part of choosing the professionals you will work with on your writing career is finding the right match for you and your work. You need someone who is able to provide what you need at the time you need it. Some editors or consultants are not going to be a match for you in terms of skills, experience, or interest in your work.

I’m not for everyone, and neither are my services, and it’s important to recognise that sometimes the best, most helpful and most time-saving thing I can do for you (and myself) is to send you elsewhere. So, here are the main reasons you shouldn’t work with me, but instead think again or choose another, more suitable, service provider.

Reasons you shouldn’t work with me

You have written a children’s book, or a book of poetry.

My experience is all in trade publishing in categories for adults, and the categories I’m particularly interested in are listed on my homepage. I’m not going to be much use to you if you’re a poet or a children’s book author, and I won’t be the right person to help you.

You can’t afford my fees

I’m quite open about my starting fees and put them on my homepage, which not all editors do, so they shouldn’t be a surprise to a prospective client. My fees are also pretty reasonable, in accordance with the market, and somewhere in the middle of what you can expect to pay an editor. You could pay significantly more for a more senior editor or one with a specialty you need, and equally a lot less for an editor who is just starting out and hoping to build some experience.

While I don’t believe that publishing should only be available to writers with pots of money, I’m also running a business and expect to be paid for my work. I don’t work for free, or on a commission basis. If you object to paying a deposit or drag your heels about paying your bill, this working relationship may not work.

I occasionally run discounts or special offers, and the best way to find out about those is to sign up to The Inbox Edition, my monthly newsletter. For editing, where the fees are higher than for my hour-long consultations, I ask for 50% of the fee upfront and the remainder on delivery, so you won’t have to pay the whole fee in one go.

If you need one of my services and find you cannot afford it, the best advice I can give you is to save up for what you need and be conscious of looking for value for money – buying cheap can often mean you buy twice.

You want to pay by cheque and have face-to-face meetings only

Those days are pretty much gone, especially for small business service providers who rely on technology for its efficiency and to keep costs down.

Cheques are slow and cumbersome to deal with, while bank transfers or credit card payments are quick and can be made online or arranged by phone.

Face-to-face meetings require travel time, and someone needs to host, while video conferencing can be done from your desk. With a very few exceptions, there’s no good reason for an author to require a face-to-face meeting with me, especially when the literary agents and publishers I work with rarely do.

You need the work done right away and the deadline is non-negotiable

Publishing a book requires planning. You need to be organised and approach an editor in good time to get the work you need.

Sometimes your timing may be lucky, and the editor has space, so it can be worth asking if you are really in a bind. But be aware, if you come to me (or many other editors) expecting me to be able to start a big job immediately, I may already be booked.

You expect perfection

An editor may make thousands of corrections to a manuscript during the course of the edit. Still, it is unlikely that they will catch every single error (and that’s assuming what remains is an actual error and not, say, an alternative spelling, or a matter of style or of judgement – the rules of English grammar and punctuation are surprisingly flexible!) and so there may still be a few mistakes left in the manuscript. (This is especially true if the author continues working on the manuscript after the edit has been completed, and thereby introduces new errors.)

This is why books go through several rounds of editing, via different people with fresh eyes for the necessary corrections. Even when several rounds of editing have been done, and the book has been published by a big, famous publisher, some errors might still remain.

Editors are doing a good job when they correct about 95% of the errors in a manuscript, so if you find one missing apostrophe, it doesn’t mean the work was shoddy.

I, like all my colleagues and every other person in the world and throughout history, make mistakes. You cannot expect perfection.

Your previous editor/agent/publisher was an idiot

Be careful about running down the people you’ve worked with, as your complaint may say more about you than you realise.

If you were taken in by a vanity press or an agent with no relevant experience in publishing, it’s possible you had bad luck, or made a mistake, and so chose poorly.

On another view, you may have breezed past warnings and red flags that your pick was not a real publisher or agent. Maybe you asked an English teacher to perform the same work as a professional editor and were then disappointed that your readers still found errors. Maybe you didn’t do enough research.

Maybe your expectations were unrealistic, and so when the relationship didn’t go the way you thought it would, you blamed the professional and not yourself.

When an author comes to me with many complaints about the people they’ve worked with, it makes me wary. Were all those people really the problem, or was it the author themselves? And if I work with this author, am I just going to be added to the list of people they despise and complain about to anyone who will listen?

Difficult Clients and Unrealistic Expectations

Or, How to Aggravate An Editor by Ignoring Reasonable Boundaries

Be thoroughly defensive

When a prospective client shows themselves to be difficult to work with, that means I’m going to have a lot of extra trouble to deal with, and it may not seem worthwhile.

Some authors have learned a small amount about the publishing industry, but not enough and not from the right sources. Sometimes, they’ve encountered a vanity press, a dodgy agent, or one or more poorly informed unpublished authors, so they’ve learned enough to become convinced that everyone is going to steal their ideas, and that everyone in publishing is trying to scam them. Coincidentally this kind of author is also often the type who will take any suggestion that the book needs work as evidence of another attempt to restrain their genius by trying to require fees in exchange for services.

I can’t work with someone who has decided not to trust anyone. If everything I say is disbelieved, why should I continue talking? If I’m asked for advice which is immediately dismissed because it isn’t what the client wants to hear, why should I give more? If I’m always afraid I’m going to set the client off by telling them how this industry works, neither of us are going to get much out of the relationship.

Assume that because you’re paying me, you own me

I’m a business owner, not an employee. I’m a professional, and I expect to be treated professionally and within the boundaries I have set.

Nevertheless, I’m sorry to say that my experience has included clients who think they are special and so can ignore my processes, or my requests for information or reasonable communication.

Through experience, I’ve learned to recognise and (mostly) avoid these clients who are likely to be difficult – the ones who ring me at 7 a.m. or repeatedly throughout an evening, who want me to make them feel important, or who think I should put up with their unprofessional behaviour, bad moods and rude demeanour because they are creative.

I don’t have much patience for this sort of thing anymore, mainly because it’s also my experience that the authors who are difficult to work with are not talented enough to be worth the trouble, while the best writers and most successful authors are unfailingly polite and appreciative of what I do for them.

Wash your hands of your manuscript: the editor should just fix everything

Sometimes authors are just sick of their manuscript and cannot bear to try and tinker with it any further, so they believe if they just hand it over to an editor, they’ll get back a book that’s miles better and ready to publish.

That’s not how this works, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you may not be ready to hire an editor at all. It’s your book, and you need to remain engaged in its evolution. Nobody else can possibly be expected to care about it as much as you, or to be able to psychically divine your intentions for it. Editors are not miracle workers and we cannot create a good book out of a bad one.

Expect flattery and gushing praise because your work is already near perfect

If excessive and insincere praise is what you want, your best bet is a vanity press, because that’s how they con the highest possible amount of money out of their marks.

I don’t flatter authors in order to get work – it benefits neither of us. When an author is not ready to sell their work, I will tell them so, as well as what they need to do in order to be ready.

Very occasionally, an author comes to me with a manuscript that is ready to publish. In those cases, I tell them there won’t be a particular benefit to further editing and they should go ahead and start submitting, or self-publish if that’s their plan. I’m happy to provide support and encouragement, and sometimes these humble authors are looking for the support they need to plunge themselves into the nerve-wracking submission process.

Just as I’m not afraid to turn down work if it won’t be worth the aggro, I’m not afraid to tell an author they don’t need my services if that’s the right thing to do.

The right fit

Like I say, I’m not for everyone, and neither are my services. And I’m beyond the point in my career where I might take any work I’m offered if things are a bit slow – I’m quite prepared to turn work down if necessary.

The clients I really like and work well with are the ones who have done some reading to inform themselves about the publishing industry, and who are approaching a working relationship with realistic expectations and goals, and a professional attitude.

If you’re that kind of client, I’ll be happy to hear from you. Get in touch.