You call a plumber a friend has recommended. You say to the plumber: I have this pipe thing. Could you come look at it?
The plumber comes and looks at it. They say, “Yeah, that needs to be fixed. It will cost about a billion dollars.”
And you say, “Oh. I didn’t want to pay for it. I just wanted you to take a look at it, give me your opinion, and then get so excited about it, you wanted to do it for free.”
The plumber stares at you blankly. They may, or may not, burn down your house.
This situation (sans the burning down part) happens to people in the creative industry more than I can say. Artists get told it’s good for their portfolio, writers get told it’s good exposure. It’s happened to me a few times from an editorial aspect just this week, in fact. Hence, the rant.
Them: “I’ve written this novel/book/poetry anthology/memoir and I’d love you to take a look at it and help me get it published.”
Me: “Happy to. My rates are on my website.”
Why are creative projects so under-valued? Do you know what it takes to go through an eighty-thousand word manuscript, line by line, to make sure everything is correct? To look at character, plot and romance arcs to make certain there are no gaps? To be aware that thing an author mentioned on page seven never gets followed up? Let me tell you, it takes intense concentration and an absolute love of words.
Hearing someone say, “I think I’ll become an editor. I mean, I can read and I majored in English. That’s all you need, right? Anyone can do it,” (that same logic is often applied to being a writer) makes me want to tear my hair out.
You don’t assume you can become a carpenter because you know how to hold a hammer. You don’t try to fly a plane because you’ve set foot in one. You don’t try to perform heart surgery because you have a heart.
Writing, and editing, are skills. Just as you’d have to learn about wood to make furniture, you’d have to learn the rules, the nuances, the rhythm and beauty of words in order to write, or edit, a novel (to do so well, anyway). It takes time, patience, and a desire to be better at what you do with every novel you write and/or edit. I’ve been writing for the majority of my life, and I’ve now been an editor for a decade. I’m still learning every day. With every new story I write, with each new book I work on with an author, I learn something new. I work my ass off to help authors create the best book they can, and I love what I do. I hope that as I learn, I can pass that knowledge on, and they become better authors for it. It’s a craft, and just like any craft, it takes work and passion. While it’s true, yes, I might take a project at a lower rate because I believe in the project and I know the person doesn’t have much money, I’ve learned that people value what they pay for. Give your work, your talent, your sweat, away for free, and I can guarantee you they won’t appreciate it as much as if you had charged them for it. Does that sound jaded and capitalist? Perhaps. But, sadly, I believe it to be true.
So the next time you have this novel/poetry/manuscript/memoir/cookbook you’ve finished, please: don’t pass it under a bathroom stall because you know I’m dying to read it, and you simply have to give it to me right this instant, even though you’re certainly not going to actually hire me to do anything with it.
Q: What are your feelings about paying for creative industry work?