People say that to me all the time.
Everyone I know is a “writer,” only most people I know are not writing full-time for a living.
Only completely insane people (like me) or fantastically successful people (like Anne Lamott) do that. Everyone else is smart and holds onto his day job.
My husband is also a writer and editor, in addition to being a stay-at-home dad. If we don’t write our family doesn’t eat.
As a full-time professional writer, I am, of course, a small business owner. Writing is my business. My writing business has three main income streams:
1) Magazine, newspaper, and on-line work
2) Books (you can see the covers of the seven non-fiction books I’ve written, co-written or edited here.)
3) Professional editing and writing consulting
For my professional editing practice, I work with a very small group of very successful and motivated writers.
I help them organize their writing. I edit. I give them suggestions for where to sell ideas. I help them write non-fiction book proposals. I coach them on the best way to find the best literary agent (yes, you really need one). I talk through career goals with them. I help them hone their craft.
My clients who already have book contracts use me both for professional editing and accountability. As every writer knows, it helps to have a deadline. A book is a big project and often book editors at the publishing company want to see the whole manuscript once it’s finished and not read it piecemeal as it’s being drafted.
Even the best writers need good editors. I sometimes worry I’m a better editor than a writer. I often can do for someone else what I can’t do for myself. I find myself wishing I could hire myself.
It’s very expensive to hire me.
I charge a hefty hourly rate (more for businesses than for individuals).
It’s also very difficult. I don’t advertise my professional editing services and I turn down more than 95 percent of the writers who contact me.
You read that right. I turn down the majority of the people who would like to hire me.
Because I have a finite amount of brain power every day and if I’m using my best brain to edit someone else’s writing that means I’m not using it on my own writing.
So I only work with highly motivated writers who are not afraid of success, and I expect great things from them. You can’t hire me if you are only dabbling or if you want someone to tell you how great you are. You can only hire me if you are willing to succeed. And you can only hire me if you are going to be so successful that you make back my ridiculously high hourly fees and then some.
But highly successful highly motivated writers don’t need editors, you’re thinking.
Ah, but they do!
In fact, part of the reason they’re so successful and so motivated is because they are savvy about surrounding themselves with and hiring successful, motivated people. If you hire a mediocre editor who charges less money, chances are your work will remain, well, mediocre. And that you will earn less money for it.
When I was in junior high and my parents had recently divorced my father’s new girlfriend decided we needed to go to a family therapist. The first thing the therapist told us was that her goal was to work herself out of a job. I loved her right away, makeup and New York accent and all. She didn’t want anyone to dwell on what was wrong, she wanted to give us all the tools and the motivation to make things right.
I tell my clients something similar. My goal is not for them to become dependent on me while I milk them for money but to give them the tools they need to make the money they need to afford to hire me. It’s a win-win situation. From mindbogglingly high book advances to breaking into the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, my clients are very successful. Often more successful than I am. They would be successful anyway, of course, without me. I can’t really take any credit. But it is also true that when you pay someone a lot of money you are much more apt to follow their advice. And though I sometimes don’t follow it myself (bad, Jennifer, bad) and it sounds enormously pompous to say so, it is also true that when clients follow my advice (which often involves moving out of their comfort zone and doing something they desperately don’t want to do, like flying to New York City to have coffee or lunch with an editor or not deciding on a literary agent until they have gotten close enough to smell at least three), it works.
I used to be happy to spend an hour consulting with writer friends who needed advice. For free. Or for food. I almost never do that anymore.
(Yesterday was an exception, the first in over a year. Yesterday my friend Angela Decker who has a book of poetry coming out soon bought me a smoothie and a salad and I coached her on using social media, like Pinterest and Facebook, as platforms to promote her new book, Splendid Catastrophe.)
If you want my advice you have to pay for it. Why? Because when people who don’t pay me ask for my advice and I tell them something they don’t want to hear, they don’t listen. And then they fail. Because I was right. And then we’ve both wasted our time. Besides, I don’t like to listen to myself talk. I like to see people succeed.
I am frugal by nature and tend to be even more careful with other people’s money. I work as quickly and efficiently as I can when I am doing professional editing. If you take me out for dinner, chances are I will order the least expensive dish on the menu and one glass only of the house wine. (I make a living as a writer, I have four children. We rarely dine out.) But sometimes a job takes longer than I anticipate, despite my best intentions. The brain is a complicated organ and I can’t always force myself to work as fast as I would like to.
I recently invoiced for some work that took longer than expected. It wasn’t a big invoice but I still felt a little guilty when I emailed my client the professional editing bill.
“Worth every penny!” He emailed me back within five minutes. “You are a miracle worker.”
Here’s to all my professional editing clients being that happy in the new year.
p.s. You are welcome to contact me if you are a serious writer looking for a professional editor. I can refer you to some good ones. I am not currently accepting new clients.
p.p.s. A golden rule for every writer, writer-to-be, and high school senior who’s afraid to apply to a top tier school: You can’t get rejected if you don’t ever try. You can’t get accepted either.