An Observation Concerning… Working for Free

“It’s a sacrifice working day to day, for little money, just tips for pay, but it’s worth it all, to hear them say that they care.”
-Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money”

There is a major error in Cursed: A Jack Swift Case, and it’s embarrassing. It was pointed out by a reader, which I appreciate, and I quickly posted an apologetic statement regarding the issue here. I’m sure many others will bring up the mistake, and some may even base the entire novel on an innocent mishap.

There are two truths to think about: One, there are other proofreading errors than just the one, just like in every book, and two, some reviewers may deem the story to be completely unsuitable for publication.

Let’s cover the former first because I think authors need to be defended. Proofreading or editing your own work is nearly impossible; it will never be correct because the writer already knows what it’s supposed to say, so they tend to heavily rely on squiggly colored lines or will glance over some basic typos or grammatical errors. I know there are some authors who will say, “No way, my book is perfect and I do all the editing myself.” You may think that, but I would suggest reading it again. And then again. Sometimes I’ll go through close to ten drafts, and readers still point out errors. So why not just hire an editor? Ugh, this advice.

Proofreading and editing services cost money; it’s that simple, and they’re not cheap. Basic copy-editing can range from $25-$40 an hour, and an hour’s pace is five to ten pages. We’ll take the low-end of this calculation and use Cursed as an example. The book would have cost $1000 for the most simple of edits. So why not just have a friend or family member read through it for you? Ugh, this advice, too.

Fresh eyes are great, but you must be considerate of others’ time, and you also can’t push them to meet some unreasonable deadline—especially considering they’re doing this read-through for free. Many writers probably have someone who will help out, but money and time remain two major challenges for authors. Not only are proofreading costs high, there are other expenses that come with self-publishing—no matter how much Amazon says it’s free. If you want a professionally done cover, that will cost you a couple hundred dollars; then there are the printing costs if you decide to offer physical copies of your book (for authors just starting out, Amazon actually nets more money than you do on a print copy, so keep that in mind and push your eBooks); lastly, promotional costs can add up, and unfortunately, they don’t guarantee any positive impact on sales no matter how much the provider boasts about their service. In the end, authors can spend thousands of dollars to get their work to market, and never actually turn a profit, and some don’t even remotely come close. So why not just get an agent and get published by a traditional publisher—they have in-house editing, design and promotions, right? Ugh, this advice, too… again.

It’s not that easy. Agents only accept 5-10% of submissions, and due to the popularity of writing among amateurs, the over-saturated market and the volume of submissions, they don’t even look at every query they receive. We can leave that at that because it has been covered before.

I’m a perfect example of an author who has never turned a profit. I’ve now published work through self-publishing, boutique presses and the traditional process (not by a big house, however), and though I’ve sold copies and made money off my books, I’m in the red on each and every title because of the cost to get those stories into the market and exposed to readers.

My novel Forgotten Kids, which is set to be released early next year, almost had a huge bill attached to it because the use of song lyrics. I wrote about it here, but in the end (wait, can I say that because it’s a Linkin Park song?) I decided to re-word to avoid those costs because I, and the publisher, know that the book won’t ever come close to making that sort of money. In fact, in a 2017 Authors Guild survey, Calvin Reid and Jim Milliot reported that the median income received by published American authors for all writing-related activity in 2017 was $6,080, and 25% of the published authors surveyed earned no money at all—18% of them were full-time authors, which is no bueno for them.

People also tend to forget that writers spend hours, months and even years putting together their novels while receiving no wage to do so. They work for free and sacrifice a lot of their time just for the possibility of entertaining and moving readers, and then they use out-of-pocket expenses to issue free copies (that they had to pay for) to beta readers and reviewers, and sometimes all they receive back is nonconstructive criticism and judgment—and it comes from within their own networks as well.

One thing I will never forget is a situation that made me stop using Facebook for networking. I had completed my fourth draft of Forgotten Kids, but was thinking of changing the lead girl’s name from “Lizzy” to “Nikki.” I asked what people would prefer in a post, and one guy said, “Oh, so now we have to pick names for people? Give me a break. Do your own work, were not going to write the book for you.”

Really? That’s interesting. I was unaware that changing the first name of a character meant the same as writing and structuring a 115,000-word novel for me.

Over-exaggeration is a killer when it comes to properly reviewing an author’s work, and that brings us to the latter from earlier (geez, finally!). Reviewers need to be constructive and the criticism will be accepted. For example, in two recent reviews for Cursed, both readers mentioned there was a small amount of proofreading errors, but not enough to distract from the story. That is a great way of mentioning that the editor needs to do a better job when they are reviewing the work, letting the author know there are some mistakes they need to work on before the proofing process begins, and it also doesn’t intend to completely deter future readers from the story itself.

On the other hand, some reviews will blatantly defame the author and their writing ability. For Crooked Gold: A Jack Swift Case, one reviewer gave the book one-star and their summary simply said, “This didn’t interest me at all. None of the sentences even made sense.”

Really? NONE of the sentences in the entire book made sense? I’m surprised so many other people missed that. Amazon actually deleted that review because it appeared to be fraudulent. With that being said, I’m currently in graduate school, and my communications theory research targeted Amazon as a gatekeeper, and how incentivized reviewers directly impact the success of authors. The findings were actually fascinating, as were the studies that have been done beforehand, and from the feedback received by the faculty, my work may turn into my master’s project. We’ll have a nice recap of that if you have a little time next post to become bored.

Please don’t take this as a complaint of criticism because I value constructive reviews incredibly, and appreciate when people point out mistakes. However, when people blatantly and publicly offend an author based on a handful of typos and grammatical errors, then it’s a little uncalled for because they may not be fully aware of outside variables. Readers and reviewers need to keep in mind the financial restrictions authors have when crafting a story, and also that sometimes promotional expenses are more than book sales.

With that being said, authors just need to really buckle down during their line edits to avoid these poor reviews and nonconstructive criticism, as do indie publishers. Slow down and do more drafts, as many as it takes because the market isn’t going anywhere quite yet. Then, if necessary, do more editions after those inevitable typos are discovered by outside eyes (wait, ISBNs cost money, too, dammit!).

Here’s something to think about leading up to the next post: Amazon and incentivized reviewers can make more money off a book than an author.

Ah, the politics of the publishing industry.

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