Several years ago, the company for which I freelanced forwarded a request to me from a person who was looking for editorial help on his fiction project. He’s a nice guy, my contact said, who has a story to tell.
The writer told me he’d written a draft, but it needed more work and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. It was 216 pages.
I asked him what he wanted me to do. A line or content edit? Write the transitions? Shape it?
Yes, he said. I gulped, but I accepted the offer. I wanted to help. People who have stories to tell should be encouraged to write them, right? And he knew the manuscript needed polishing, so that would work in my favor.
The manuscript was not a disaster. There were a lot of mechanical problems, but he understood the concept of a story arc. He had conflict and a three-act structure. His character had internal demons to overcome, which he did overcome believably.
I spent too much time on the project, and it still needed a lot of work from the author. When I turned it over to him, I explained what I thought it needed and I suggested some online and library resources to help him. I’d also retired in that time frame, so I told him I wouldn’t be available to take another pass at the work.
He called this week. It’s been almost two years since I’ve heard from him. He asked me to do another pass. And I felt bad for him and agreed to do it.
When I got the manuscript, it had grown to 370 pages, and it has not improved since the last time I saw it. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but so far, the only thing he did to it that I can see was make it longer.
Taking his money feels like theft. And the time I’ll need to put in on it feels like theft of my time.
That’s on me. But as I evaluate how much effort this project needs and decide what to charge him for it, I have to wonder: If he’s not sufficiently committed to improve the manuscript, what’s the point of my involvement? Or even of this undertaking? The book will never reach commercial viability. If by writing it he gains personal satisfaction, of course, that’s fine. But he doesn’t need me for that.
Indie publishing has made it possible for anyone to publish a book. But this week, I’ve been thinking about the industry that’s sprung up to enable it, and I’ve been wondering: If anyone can publish a book, does that mean anyone should? What do you think?