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Long story short - guy joined our writer's group 6 months ago, said he had his memoirs (dealing with mental health issues). He liked my writing (I have made a living writing fire department books - was a LT on the FD for 29 years - have written others, but those books pay the bills). He likes how I write, wanted to know if I'd edit his book for pay. I said sure. Big mistake. He had no beta readers, no writing group, no nothing. No problems doing line/copy editing - which it needs a lot of, but the book flat-out sucks. You don't feel for him at all.  Unorganized, disjointed, cliched, you name it, he broke the rule. He has not taken suggestions as to what to expand on,what to take out, how to organize the book better, etc. But he wants me to turn it around and give him back a book that will sell as well as my first one. I told him if he wants a good book, it needs a LOT of work, but I can turn it around and it'll be ....I think I said a mediocre book.

Do I take the money and run -making sure my name is off the book? Do I try to encourage him to make the book better? He's got some great stories, but he's left them out of the book. He is convinced he knows which ones are the great stories. Ahhh, no.

help, please
 

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I personally wouldn't feel comfortable taking the money and editing it. I'd tell him no thanks, the book needs a lot of work first.

Suggest that he get a couple of beta readers first.
 

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I am editing my first book right now. I am on the fourth draft and after looking at sections of it I think there are hideous mistakes in terms of characters, dialogue, blog-like prose and clumsy "this happened, then that happened, then this happened" style plot.

I can see that it is wrong but it is taking me a long time to figure out how to fix it. I would appreciate someone else slapping me round the head and pointing out what I am unable to see.  In that, I think you should be clear and honest with this writer and tell him his book sucks. But obviously in a very gentle manner.

I read two books recently by writers from this forum. One was so bad it was just laughable, the other was not so bad, but still rubbish. These guys seriously needed a harsh editor or beta reader to tell them the news.
 

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If it's more than you want to help him fix, then simply tell him that and return his money. 

Really. It's pretty simple.

You either sign up for line/copy editing, which means you don't care about the story, or you sign up for developmental/story editing and then you dive in with both feet...

I don't know what services you agreed to provide, but if it is the latter, you need to step up or step off.

Personally, I would not line/copy edit if I felt the overall story was not something worth line editing, and I would simply tell him as gently as possible and go do something else.  No need for him to waste his money editing something that will just be well formed junk when you are finished.
 

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Lots of editors/proofreaders are KB members.
Recommend one.
Easy enough.  ;D

Luck. 
 

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Half the people I've ever met now approach me to read their books. They think I have some magic formula to make them money. I simply tell them I don't have time to read them. That's essentially true. I honestly don't believe I'm equipped to tell someone their stuff is terrible because I know what I like. I've read tons of "masterpieces" that bore me to tears. If you could explain how Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey got so popular, I still wouldn't believe they're good. They're just not my thing. They obviously have fans, though. I like to be entertained when I read. I like strong heroines, snark and sarcasm, and absurd situations. I like very few literary masterpieces. Do they bite? I think it's fair to say they bite for me. Other people may love them. That's why reading and writing is great. There's something for everyone.
 

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I edit professionally, and through that I ended up having a lot of authors come to me for their independent work as well. Because of that I set up a page for my editing services, however right at the top of the page I have this disclaimer:

"This is not a page where you can just click a button and order services. While I would like to take on everyone who needs my help, I just don't have the time. Additionally, sometimes an author's work isn't at a stage where I can provide much help. Work may be turned down if the author doesn't have a good grasp of the fundamentals. This doesn't mean their work isn't any good or never will be, it just means that after reading their sample I determined that they could get more help through independent study than through a content edit-I'm not going to let you spend money you will regret. If I turn down your work, please look over the email I sent you and check out the books on writing I included. These books are some of the very same I was given in graduate school, and are all books I feel helped me tremendously. Don't be afraid to come see me again after you feel you've progressed!"

If a book is not ready for an edit, you just can't edit it. The author has to be willing to do the heavy lifting on their own, and if they aren't willing, that is not your problem.
 

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Elizabeth (Arrowhead Editing) said:
I would simply let him know that his manuscript isn't ready for the editing stage yet and recommend that he needs to further develop his craft; if you have any books or resources you can recommend to him, that would be helpful too. I'm not sure what type of agreement you have with your client, but I would also refund the unedited portion of the manuscript or only charge for the hours you put in. It's a tough situation and one that requires honesty and finesse. Good luck <3
^^ People have posted several good suggestions , like this one.

One thing about saying no: I worked in an office where I dealt with people who needed help with serious life problems. Sometimes I had to tell them no, we couldn't help them for various reasons. People tend to accept "no" better when you give them something else along with it, like the name of another place to look for help. In this case, you might give this person a short list with a craft book or two and online groups like Critique Circle where he can workshop his material (I haven't used Critique Circle and am just listing it as an example). Good luck. It's a sensitive problem.
 
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In the stock market they say - don't throw good money after bad money.

You shouldn't waste any more time or effort with him. He sounds like he's at the unconscious incompetence stage.

Point him to the page that has

unconscious incompetence
conscious incompetence
conscious competence
unconscious competence

Let him know he needs to at least be at the conscious competence stage before engaging an editor and releasing a book. To try short stories and story based blogs in the meantime.
 

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I'd tell him something to this effect ...

"Editing makes one read a story really closely - and, having done that, I can tell your story doesn't fit the what seems to be the "rules" for a good, well-selling story these days. That doesn't mean it's a bad book, just that (IMHO), it won't be a good seller. Meaning I CAN edit it as-is, but editing alone will not make it a better seller. That'll take change-work. And since change-work means changing the text I'm supposed to edit, the editing should wait until AFTER change-work."
 

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mojomikey said:
But he wants me to turn it around and give him back a book that will sell as well as my first one.
It strikes me he has pretty unrealistic expectations anyway, if this is really what he wants. Even if his book was a masterpiece there's no way you could guarantee good sales for him.
 

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One thing many writers, especially new writers need from an editor is authority. If they can see you as an authority figure, then you can say to them "this is what you have to do" and they'll trust you and do it. Authority comes from doing a lot of editing. But everyone taking their first steps into paid content editing goes through the experience you're going through. The way to deal with the author is to tell him you've asked others, more experienced than you, for their advice and they've more or less unanimously agreed that the manuscript is not ready for a content edit.

I will however pass on the advice that Derek Prior gave me a few years ago, which is this: how good is the money?
Because even if he's a total incompetent, he may be able to afford a ghost writer, and the very best ghostwritten books are those which are projectmanaged by a third party, ideally a writer or editor. In addition, the ghostwriting process can show the client just how steep a cliff that learning curve is.

My advice is that if you want to justify to the client the cost of making his manuscript bookworthy, tell him about all the time, effort, learning and practice that it took you to reach a point where you were able to write your first one, and that is effectively what he wants to pay to not have to do.
 

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mojomikey said:
Long story short - guy joined our writer's group 6 months ago, said he had his memoirs (dealing with mental health issues). He liked my writing (I have made a living writing fire department books - was a LT on the FD for 29 years - have written others, but those books pay the bills). He likes how I write, wanted to know if I'd edit his book for pay. I said sure. Big mistake. He had no beta readers, no writing group, no nothing. No problems doing line/copy editing - which it needs a lot of, but the book flat-out sucks. You don't feel for him at all. Unorganized, disjointed, cliched, you name it, he broke the rule. He has not taken suggestions as to what to expand on,what to take out, how to organize the book better, etc. But he wants me to turn it around and give him back a book that will sell as well as my first one. I told him if he wants a good book, it needs a LOT of work, but I can turn it around and it'll be ....I think I said a mediocre book.

Do I take the money and run -making sure my name is off the book? Do I try to encourage him to make the book better? He's got some great stories, but he's left them out of the book. He is convinced he knows which ones are the great stories. Ahhh, no.

help, please
Never be afraid of saying "no" and handing back the cash. You only get one life, and it's too short to waste your effort on effectively writing someone else's rubbish book for them.

I've been in your position, when a publisher I do bits and pieces for asked if I could do a "final polish" on a debut novel last summer. I had a very defined window of time where I could do it, before moving house. The book arrived so late that I don't think the publisher was even able to open the file. They just asked if I could do "as much as I could" in the 36 hours remaining of my window, and reiterated that this was just a final polish.

Much of it wasn't even written in paragraphs.

I skimmed the manuscript and my heart sank even further. Quite apart from the massive amount of work needed to even put it into vaguely accurate English, the book was just horrible. I'm not interested in naming and shaming here so I won't go into any more detail than that, you'll have to trust me. It was truly nasty stuff, and given that I've written a short story about the abusive relationship between a small boy and the evil clown under his bed, you can imagine I have pretty relaxed boundaries.

And the deal was that I was getting my name attached as an editor, and a [very modest] percentage of the royalties. I took a deep breath, emailed the publisher and basically said: "Look, I can spend a few hours working on this, but it won't scratch the surface, and it's not a book I ever want to see my name associated with in any way. Have you actually read this?"

Things went very quiet, but then the book was published towards the end of last year, without my name or any work from me. I've not read the published version, so I don't know to what extent the problems with it have been addressed. Weirdly, I heard that it's actually selling pretty well, but I remain satisfied that I had the integrity to turn down the work.

And the publisher in question is putting one of my shorts in a chapbook in the next month or so, so my brutal honesty doesn't seem to have tarnished our working relationship.
 

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The fact that you are asking rather than telling him means you're emotionally involved, which is a very bad position to be in if you're trying to edit a manuscript. You should have him get a professional who he doesn't have a relationship with other than a professional one.
 

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This is a tough position to be in.  I am starting to learn that in a situation like this, it is best for you to just tell them that the type of work just doesn't fit you, and that you do not feel like you could effectively edit it.  You could then take that time to say, "From reading the first chapter I noticed a few things here that you could work on, and perhaps get a few beta readers for content flow before finding an editor. It just doesn't feel really for a full edit. I wish you all the best."  Time is money, and your time is valuable too.  I think it's best to cut yourself from the project as soon as you can if you really feel that strongly about it.

Also the fact that he doesn't really seem interested in your feedback says he is too attached to his work, and you'll be fighting an uphill battle with this.
 

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I haven't had a chance to read all the replies yet, though it looks like you've gotten great advice. I will say that most editors I know of have a disclaimer on their website that just because they have edited your book does not guarantee sales, a deal with a publisher, a deal with an agent, none of the above. I know I certainly don't guarantee any of those things. That is the biggest notion I would disabuse him of. All we, as editors, can do is help a book be the best it can be. We cannot create things out of thin air. And sales are a mystery to a lot of people. Why one thing takes off but another does not is often a mystery.

EDITED for not-enough-coffee typos :p
 
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Uh....

Are you a professional editor? Do you have a website where you gather clients and practice your editing craft on an ongoing basis?

I can't see where it says that. So you just, off handedly, to someone who isn't even a friend, accepted the job of editing their work for money.

Just because you're a writer doesn't qualify you to edit other people's work.

What you should have said, if you were feeling generous, was that you would look at the book and give an honest look at it, for like ... free.

If you take a job though of editing for money, then uh - you like have to do your job. Yeah - of course it's hard. The writer isn't the saviest fellow out there. He's total amateur by the sound of things.

He hired you, remember?
 

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ShaneJeffery said:
Uh....

Are you a professional editor? Do you have a website where you gather clients and practice your editing craft on an ongoing basis?

I can't see where it says that. So you just, off handedly, to someone who isn't even a friend, accepted the job of editing their work for money.

Just because you're a writer doesn't qualify you to edit other people's work.

What you should have said, if you were feeling generous, was that you would look at the book and give an honest look at it, for like ... free.

If you take a job though of editing for money, then uh - you like have to do your job. Yeah - of course it's hard. The writer isn't the saviest fellow out there. He's total amateur by the sound of things.

He hired you, remember?
Um... that's a bit strong.

Merely having a website doesn't exactly qualify one to be an editor either.

I have to ask... did you actually write the book in question? :D
 
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alawston said:
Um... that's a bit strong.

Merely having a website doesn't exactly qualify one to be an editor either.

I have to ask... did you actually write the book in question? :D
I just mean he's not a professional editor so he shouldn't take people's money and then blame them when he's in over his head.

And no ... I didn't write the book in question. Just some random guy's opinion here :)
 
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