Caveat Scriptor: When Creators Become the Customers

when the creator becomes the customer

Caveat Scriptor: When Creators Become the Customers

The current DOJ antitrust trial about the Penguin Random House acquisition of Simon and Schuster has got the publishing and writing worlds chattering about some of the facts and stats coming out in the procedures.

Most sobering are those like this: of the 58,000 trade titles published annually, fully half sell fewer than a dozen hard copies (see industry expert Jane Friedman’s addendum about this here). Or that 90 percent of books sell fewer than 2,000 units. Or that PRH spends just 2% of their 2.7 billion annual sales on marketing those titles. (Learn more from Jane’s roundtable discussion about the trial here.)

These trials are spotlighting some harsh facts of our industry, chiefly that most books do not sell well and most writers do not make a living from their writing, even as they are increasingly responsible for bearing the costs.

And yet in my 30 years working in the publishing business I have never seen the level of industry that has grown up in recent years around services and products marketed to authors.

Writers have become not only the product but the customer. 

The writing-career business model

Imagine pursuing a business where your chances of success and profit were small, but the overhead costs to operate it were significant and ongoing. Where your vendors were doing quite well in their businesses, even while yours might be struggling just to break even, let alone turn a profit. Where even if you do sell your product, it is likely to yield less than a living annual wage. And that doesn’t even factor in things like health insurance costs, sick leave, or retirement savings.

 Most people would look at these P&Ls and step far away from this business model.

But dreams are powerful things, and artists are powerful dreamers. It’s one of the most magnificent and sublime things about creatives. Not only do they stay connected to those most hopeful and tender parts of being human, but through their art they share it with others.

That can also make creatives uniquely inclined to follow their dreams—sometimes at the expense of reality.

We all hope we might be among that tiny fraction of authors who catch fire—become bestsellers, sell foreign and movie rights, reach—and make—millions. But the reality is that most won’t.

There is no part of me that wishes to discourage writers or any other artists from their art. The value of art in our world to me is incalculable.

But the cost of living is calculable. And it’s a key consideration in how we run our writing careers if we want to build and sustain them for the long haul.

I’ve written about the upside of this knowledge in operating the product side of your business—how understanding the financial realities of the publishing business can give you more autonomy over your own writing career, rather than leaving authors feeling their success is at the mercy of the gatekeepers.

Read more: “The Happy Harsh Truths of a Writing Career

How to Be a Working Writer

Today we’re talking about operating the customer side of your career—you as a writer hiring other professionals and services for your business. I am not denigrating or dismissing those professionals or services, or their potential value to writers. I am one of them, making my living offering services to writers and publishers.

But I am encouraging you as an artist and a businessperson to be an informed consumer and make sound, practical investment decisions. That starts with asking yourself two essential but entirely subjective questions.

What do you need versus what do you want?

To be a writer the overhead is encouragingly low. Since time immemorial the main requirements are writing implement and something to record your thoughts on, whether that’s a cave wall, a stone tablet, paper, or an electronic file.

To run a writing business there may be more costs involved. Your job is to determine what you actually need to operate your career, and what you want.

You may desire someone to help you with the writing itself, like a writing coach or teacher. You may want to invest in classes, books, conferences, and other educational opportunities. You may want editing help, or to pay for critique or beta-reading services. You may consider hiring someone to assist you with design, marketing.

But how much of it do you actually need?

Read more: “’Leave Me Alone—I Know What I’m Doing’

Here are just some of the many services and professionals you can pay for, and a few considerations in deciding whether they are “necessities” for your goals:

  • Do you need an MFA, for instance, or an expensive writing program that claims to replace one? Nope. Many MFA grads are also not making a living from their writing, and many published authors do not have MFAs. That’s not a requirement for or guarantee of success. There are other ways to learn your craft and your business.

Do you want an MFA? That’s something different—and that becomes a subjective cost consideration—is that expenditure personally worth it to you, considering that it is unlikely to yield much measurable ROI?

  • Classes, conferences, retreats: You can find excellent ones priced extremely reasonably, and mediocre or even poor ones priced exorbitantly—and vice versa. I promise you that price is not the indicator of value. Caveat emptor—do your research: Vet the offerings and those who are providing them, and look for ways to see what previous attendees have thought. Quality writing education and training don’t have to cost a mint.
  • Writing/book coach: Having someone to help in the process, to keep you motivated and focused, may be a lovely luxury, but is it necessary? This field has exploded lately, but since time immemorial writers have managed to write without them. 
  • Paid beta reading or critique services: This is another field that has expanded in recent years, but the time-honored way of doing this—trading crits with other authors, enlisting educated readers, etc.—is free (or just the price of a thoughtful thank-you gift or dinner) and can be just as useful if you understand what you need from these other sources and how to get it. See my Editing Toolbox page for a free downloadable questionnaire you can offer your beta readers, for example, to elicit useful, actionable feedback.
  • Editing: A good, experienced dev editor can be a marvelous luxury, someone who can offer you objective, actionable input to help you make your manuscript as strong and competitive and marketable as it can be, and push your writing and your story to the next level. But if you are contracted with a traditional publisher a dev edit is generally encompassed in-house, as are copyediting and proofreading.

For authors self-publishing, or with small/indie pub houses, I often suggest at least a copyedit may be a “need,” as readers can be brutal about mistakes and typos, and you are competing with every polished professionally published title out there.

But authors have long succeeded without hiring an independent developmental editor—if you can find good, solid crit partners/beta readers, often they can help offer the objective input that will help you see whether your intentions are on the page and show you where the manuscript may need more development or clarification. Editors often make this process much easier and more focused—but I’d still qualify this as a “want,” not a need.

Read More:Editors, Coaches, and Beta Readers: What’s the Difference, and What Do You Need?”

Defining the Types of Edit—and Deciding Which You Need”

  • Formatting and cover design: Personal choice. I know many self- and indie-pubbed authors who do this for themselves, and there are good programs to help you with both (which are also an investment, FYI). But you can also hire this done if you need it and worry that your abilities won’t match your expectations.
  • Audiobook production can also be done with little overhead (if you are willing to sacrifice part of your royalties for it), or you can bear these costs yourself if you choose to self-publish your book in this format. Those expenses usually involve equipment to record with; a space to record in, whether you create that or rent it (I created a very affordable and effective version of my own recording studio in my closet with shower rods and moving blankets); and an engineer/editor if you decide not to do that yourself, or the software to do it if you do.
  • Marketing, publicity and advertising services can similarly be as much or as little as you choose. Know that spending more does not always guarantee more exposure nor more sales. Spending less may not get the results you want either, though. And there are plenty of marketing/outreach efforts you can do on your own without needing to hire a publicist or other pro. This one is, again, a “want” item.

Depending on your career and personal goals, you may weigh which of these services feel necessary to you. With a traditional publisher, most will be provided in-house. If you choose to go with a small or indie press you may deem more of these services “needs.” If you go hybrid you may still be financially responsible for a great many of them, if you/your publisher deem them necessary. (Make sure you fully understand what you are getting in return with a hybrid publisher—the costs can be exorbitant and the benefits unclear. Jane Friedman has some excellent info about hybrid publishing on her website.)

Adding all these services up, you could be looking at a very significant investment into five figures.

Will you make that back? It’s unlikely.

I’m leaving that statement as stark as it seems because I think it’s important that authors understand the realities and likelihoods in this business.

Which leads us to the second question: Knowing the slim chances of fully recouping those investments, are they still worth making to you?

Is it worth it?

It’s important to define “worth it” by metrics specific to you:

  • Your personal goals and desires
  • Your career/business goals and needs/wants
  • Your financial situation

These considerations will help you decide whether what money you do decide to spend is a worthwhile investment. That means vetting what you’re getting, and the ROI (return on investment) for each—and this is a subjective equation.

In deciding what is worth it to you, ask yourself some key questions:

  • How important is this to you?

This is a purely subjective assessment of where this expenditure/service falls on your priority list for your personal and career goals—the more specific you can be in defining what those goals are, the better. Are you seeking a traditional publishing path? Self-pubbing? Do you want to hit bestseller lists? Garner X number of reviews? Just share your work with an audience of any size?

Read more:Why Do You Write?”

I once paid several thousand dollars to buy my rights back from a small publisher to whom I had sold them for zero dollars. Think about that: It cost me money to own a story I had written.

When I did so, though, it felt worth it to me—even not knowing whether I would recoup those costs—for important personal and professional reasons. But I took into account several other considerations in determining that as well:

  • What will you get out of it?

This isn’t always a tangible product—like a formatted book, for instance. You might decide to spend money for an opportunity—to meet with your dream agent one on one, for instance, in a paid consultation, or to learn from an expert you admire in an intimate setting. You might do it to level up your story and writing by working with an expert.

But be clear about what you are and are not getting. Consider that paid services are just that—because you’ve paid to add in a private crit consultation with an agent, for instance, that doesn’t mean that they will sign you. The best editor or educator in the world can’t guarantee you will be offered a publishing contract. That fancy writer’s retreat won’t necessarily result in a finished or polished manuscript or key industry contacts.

Those things may happen as a result—but there are no guarantees, no magic formula. If anyone is promising you miraculous or foolproof results, you’re likely getting hustled. No one has the secret sauce or a magic wand.

Judge whether an expenditure is worth it to you by what you know you will get from those services: An agent you’ve paid for a consult is likely to provide valuable, professional input on the marketability of your story or whether it’s ready to submit, in greater depth than if you’d simply queried them. A good professional edit will likely help you level up not only your story, but your writing and craft skills and knowledge. That fancy writer’s retreat with published authors or industry pros probably at the least offers a wonderful, writing-focused vacation with like-minded creatives.

Consider what you are spending, and what concrete ROI it will yield—not the possibilities, but the realities.

  • Is this money you can comfortably afford to spend?

I hope it’s evident by this point, but given the financial realities of this business, do not spend money that isn’t discretionary for you. Don’t gamble that you will make back money you need or want for other important areas of your life—including paying bills, savings, and other expenses and personal priorities.

Decide how much you can/will budget for this type of service—and for how long, based on what they may yield in terms of income—and stick within that.

  • What is your time worth to you?

Many of these services are things you can find “workarounds” for with less expensive ways of accomplishing them, or by learning to do them yourself. Weigh the costs of that—in your time, effort, peace of mind, and the quality you hope for—in deciding what is worth paying someone to do, and what you might accomplish in other ways.

With Intuitive Editing, which is self-published, I spent a pretty good chunk on my book designer, graphic designer, audio engineer, marketing, and other overhead costs. However these were all services I did not want to learn or to perform myself, or that would cost me more in time and lost income than it would save, or that I worried I wouldn’t be able to do myself to the level of professionalism I wanted—and I was fairly confident I would at least recoup those costs. That made these expenditures worth it to me.

Your writing career is a business—operate it that way

I keep an extensive spreadsheet of all of my expenses and my income, and I regularly track it in ascertaining how much it makes sense to spend on what services, for my personal goals and financial situation, and often against what the time commitment of doing it myself—including learning a skill—“costs” me in income, effort, and mental stress, as opposed to what it would cost me to hire someone else to do it.

The costs I’m willing to incur for my editing business are substantially higher than what I am willing to incur for my fiction, both because editing is my main passion and focus as well as my main income, a more profitable venture I’m willing to sustain higher operating costs for.

I strongly recommend authors keep spreadsheets year on year to track their operating costs and income. That lets you see growth as well as gauge what expenditures are worth it, not just financially but for your personal goals—but it’s essential that you have a realistic idea of what those goals and expenditures are if you want to sustain and build a long-term career.

You should also vet the professionals and services you hire carefully. I offer a free 13-page Get It Edited guide on my website to help you do that with editors, and the tips I suggest there can also apply to vetting most any other service or professional. Victoria Strauss investigates complaints about professionals in her wonderful Writer Beware feature through the SFWA.

The beauty of this business is that the overhead for product development, as Flo Rida says, is low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low.

And yet judging by the marketing for some of these services, authors can’t properly do their work without whatever services they’re offering. Be cautious of those who make you believe you “need” to hire any service, that writing is best done by committee, that writers can’t write without external guidance and accountability and motivation…all of which they are happy to provide to you for a price.

Your day job should support your writing career, not your writing staff. Make sure that you carefully consider where you’re spending your money, and for what, in creating the career path you want.

All right, authors, I’m sure I’ve opened quite a can of bees here—what are your thoughts on all the many paid services available to you these days? Have you used any of them? What were your thoughts on what you got out of it? Do you have an actual business plan, complete with goals and a budget?

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19 Comments. Leave new

  • Susan Reinhardt
    September 8, 2022 12:58 pm

    Excellent piece! So eye opening and full of great information. Thank you.

  • Maryann Kovalski
    September 8, 2022 1:17 pm

    Sometimes I think you are psychic, Tiffany. At least as far as your posts go.

    I’ve also noticed the internet explosion of editorial services. I’ve joked with friends that this latest editor I have hired will be my last. But then I see myself as Little Red Riding Hood’s first cousin on her way to the writer’s room at the library, determined to stay sober, detox from spending on the writing addiction, when bam, don’t I discover a new dealer?

    I’ve found it rather easy to get free or hired feedback on the first eighty or hundred pages of my novel. My writers group has been helpful with excerpts, but I find it difficult to get feedback on an entire novel. I don’t think I am alone. Writer friends have hired editors who pointed out problems, but when I’ve asked if the editors have done a re-read to see if the writer has truly understood and acted on the fixes, they’ve said no, it wasn’t part of the deal.

    Another discovery I’ve made: friends and family are not useful readers. Other aspiring writers may not be useful either because, in my experience, they tend to feel far more comfortable ladling compliments than diagnosing what is wrong with the driveshaft of your novel.

    This is a hugely difficult thing to do. And subjective too. Those who can diagnose a novel’s problems and (and this is where the gift comes in) are able to offer possible solutions as to what might be done to fix it, what you the writer have put in place but are not making full use of, are probably making a living doing it professionally probably for a big five publishing house.

    I have a friend who has completed her MFA at a prestigious Ivy institution. I am in the process of reading her novel. I paused to ask if it was read by her advisor in its entirety. It wasn’t. Various instructors read sections as did her classmates. This surprised me but in reading the beautifully crafted sections, I am not surprised. It seems to have the common problem of a problem attic driveshaft that was neglected.

    Another problem with working alone is being an outlier in the industry and the community inside. My MFA friend’s highly praise and published advisor sent her book to his agent. It was ultimately rejected with glowing praise. It has to be said, there is a definite advantage to knowing highly placed people within the industry. The personal relationship, knowing that a writer is a pleasure to know and work with is invaluable. This agent will certainly read my friend’s next novel eagerly, no query necessary.

    Much is made of the query letter and I understand why, in this overcrowded place we aspiring writers live and scramble, but I would venture to guess that many, if not most of the great writers of the past could not cobble together a decent query. I laugh just imagining Faulkner’s or Joyce’s or Hemingway’s queries.

    I think I’ve given up any real hope of getting published, but never my dream of getting better. I know I will write until I die. Because I must. Life is just too empty without it.

    • I love how much thought you’ve put into what services you hire and why and from whom, Maryann. I think the more educated we are as consumers, the more likely we will operate our writing careers as a viable business that we can sustain for the long term.

      I agree with so many of your points about what you get out of these services. I do think having an experienced, knowledgeable editor, for instance, can be so valuable to authors in gaining an objective perspective and, as you say, finding an actionable path forward–it can cut out hours of time and plenty of anguish in trying to do it all yourself. But yes, the risk is in thinking an editor can “fix everything” or get an author published or that not hiring one means you aren’t a “real writer” or competitive.

      I do want to point out that there are PLENTY of very good editors out there who do not now or even have never worked for the major publishers (I fall into the latter category, in fact, having always worked freelance/contract with publishers). Income and industry realities mean a lot of good, experienced people are working outside the trad pub industry these days. But yes, vetting who you hire–for any service–is crucial (and much of what I cover in the free Get It Edited guide I mention).

      As far as follow-up with an editor, many offer multiple-pass edits for this reason–it can be helpful to see how revisions are working and continue to hone a manuscript. Authors can choose whether they want a single pass or two or three or more–with varying rates (that’s how I work, in fact). I do think multiples are valuable for the reasons you say, but costs are also a factor, and not every author wants/needs follow-up passes.

      Also agree that there are potential pitfalls with nonprofessional beta readers–though offering guidelines, as I mention (I offer a free downloadable template on my website) can be useful. I’m not suggesting the free or DIY versions are always as efficient or pinpointed as the professional versions–but I do think it’s important that authors realize these are all optional, depending on their goals, preferences, and resources. Finances should never be a barrier to entry for a writing career–and in my opinion they don’t have to be.

      I LOVE your point about creating a support network/community. I actually think of my own service providers that way–I’ve used the same people for many years and they do feel like my team. I love that, and how I can now “shorthand” what I may be envisioning because they get me, my intentions, and my brand. Those are values well worth paying for, to me, as is the sense that I’m not doing this all on my own.

      I’ve heard many versions of your anecdote about the MFA manuscript–many MFA grads have told me that they rarely get feedback on a full-length manuscript as a whole, big-picture. The detailed crafting of prose and scenes and chapters is so valuable, but I agree with you that it’s essential to make sure the whole thing holds together and is built on a solid foundation. One of a number of considerations of pursuing an MFA that is worth weighing, I think–along with, as you say, the fact that you very likely will indeed develop more industry contacts, and also perceived credibility in some arenas.

      Query-writing services are a great area I didn’t mention–glad you did. Like all the others, this is something that writers can certainly learn and do on their own, and also that may be made a little easier/more effective with expert help. It depends what you want and need and are willing to pay for. It’s all so very subjective–it’s up to each writer to determine what services they may want and what it’s worth to them for what they will get from it, but the more educated a consumer and “business owner” we are, the more we’ll be able to make choices that allow us to build and sustain viable writing careers.

      It sounds like you know your reason for writing–such a core knowledge to have about ourselves, and one that can make staying in this for the long haul much more likely, and more enjoyable. But your dream of publication (if that’s still a goal you have) is impossible only if you decide to stop pursuing it, especially if you are dedicated to continuing to pursue and hone your craft, as if sounds like you are.

      Thanks for a very thoughtful comment, Maryann, with some really interesting insights.

      • Maryann Kovalski
        September 9, 2022 1:16 pm

        And thank you, Tiffany, for your thoughtful and informative reply. I will certainly download your guide for Beta readers. I also didn’t know that one can ask for a second and third pass with an editor (and pay for, understandably).

        It’s also gratifying to know that there are indeed many free lance editors out there who offer services as skilled as one would get from a traditional publishing house. I sensed that when I found out some (hint hint!) had super long waiting lists! It’s good to know they are there.

        I know there are published self-taught writers, but I do think that they, perhaps like the self-taught visual artist, seem to stay within a certain range or genre. This is not a criticism. Being known for writing a certain kind of book is a very savvy business plan. I like knowing the kind of exploration (family, marriage, whatever) I will be getting from authors I love.

        For me, there is no substitute for the right teacher/editor/coach, whatever you might call such a person. The seasoned knowledge, the plethora of books they recommend to expand my knowledge and aid my own writing journey has been invaluable to me the one time I hired someone for an extended period.

        An MFA is out of the question for me and I find eight or ten week courses interesting and sociable, but one-on-one has always been my best learning tool- that is, after I’ve taken myself as far as I can go solo.

        PS: Yikes! Forgive the typos in my first response!

        • I am also a big fan of ongoing learning, and help when you need or want it. The more informed we can be as consumers–not just about who and what we’re hiring, but about how it fits into our career goals and business plan–the more likely we can create and sustain our career long-term…and reach those goals. Thanks, Maryann, for being here!

  • An excellent overview. I’ll recommend this to all the fledgling writers in our regional mentoring meetup (which is free haha, because, things are rough out there!)

    • Ha! They are, for sure. I’m not anti-paid services at all–but the more deliberate and clear authors can be about what services they hire, what they spend, and what they hope to get out of it, the better we can run our careers. Thanks for the comment, Kelly.

  • Best line of the piece: “But dreams are powerful things, and artists are powerful dreamers.” Amen sister! For me, and I suspect many others, it’s about the urge to share that drives us. And if you can share, without the need to get paid for it, you are one of the lucky ones.

    That there is some real medicine!

    • That’s the core, isn’t it? I am a businessperson as much as anyone and want to make a living through my craft, but the more I can stay in touch with the reason I do it, at the heart–the love of doing the thing itself, sharing it with others on whatever level–the more fulfilled and content I find myself, and the better able to weather the seemingly constant vagaries and challenges of this field…and stay in the game. Thanks for the comment, Ken.

  • Tiffany, thank you.

    The emails in my inbox (overwhelming emails in my inbox) are all offering me new, shiny bright things to make me a writer, get published, find readers, be the best I can be. Even I can hear the copy in their talk.

    You speak from the heart, suggesting sensibility and caution, being accountable for the business of writing and the outgoings from your savings account.

    I really appreciate that.

    I am grateful for the wonderful information that can be accessed online. I’ve spent the last 18 months down the proverbial rabbit hole, and gained knowledge and advice in my genre that was hard to find here in South Australia. My understanding of the craft has improved immensely, and I know I am better for it.

    But, as you say, the amount of services on offer has exploded, and I’ve had enough. I need some quiet. I’m going to follow a select few online, and shut out the other distractions until I’ve finished my book.

    Thank you Tiffany, you have made a great difference to my writing.

    • That’s a lovely thing to hear, Helen–thanks.

      I am a HUGE fan of ongoing learning–I’ve been in this business a long time, and I still feel I learn every day, and I’m a big “craft nerd” with courses, books, articles, etc. I am also a fan of hiring help when I need it–or want it, as the case may be. But I try to make considered and careful decisions about what I hire, and whom. I think we have to, if we’re to sustain our careers for the long haul. Thanks for this comment–I’m happy it was useful, and you made my day.

  • This post was thought-provoking, indeed! I’ve always wanted to hire an editor or coach, but the price for such services (even though they are totally worth it with a good match) has kept me from doing so. You can definitely learn things on your own, but working with someone moves it along a bit faster, whether they are a shrewd CP or a pro. My CPs can point out all sorts of issues with a first chapter that I never saw, or never learned, even though I’ve just read my 108th article on how to write a stellar first chapter.

    I’ve realized after almost 20 years of writing that there are really only two ways to get better:
    1) Work with someone and get eyes on your work.
    2) Teach it.

    Nothing has taught me more about writing than helping others to write. I volunteer everywhere to read other writers’ work because I learn from it. It’s practice using the analytical side of my brain so crucial for editing, which makes that “muscle” stronger when I approach my own work.

    The amount of help and advice out there is definitely overwhelming, and my inbox is filled with it. The way I’ve learned to manage it is by only paying attention to what I need at the moment. I’m revising, so I’m listening to all the talk about editing and revising. I’m not listening to how I should market, or who to hire for formatting, or what comps I should use in my query. It’s all part of a process, and knowing where you are and what you need at that point in the process is key to staying sane.

    But I do read every newsletter of yours Tiffany, no matter the subject, because you always have something interesting to say!

    • Funny you should say that abut teaching. I read a manuscript as a beta reader, then got so involved that I cheekily edited the first chapter and put suggestions about the rest. Told him to disregard what I had said, as it was only my opinion, if he didn’t like it. So much easier, I find, to see what might need adjusting in someone else’s work rather than your own, however long you leave between read-throughs. He was delighted and we kept in touch and he sent photographs of the ‘original characters’ who were friends of his. Going through his work taught me so much.

    • Maryann Kovalski
      September 10, 2022 1:23 pm


      Your post was wonderful. A doctor friend told me that in medical school they were told that the best way to learn was :read it, sing it, then teach it.

      I also forgot how helpful reading others’ novels, (in-progress). It’s most especially helpful if the novel has problems, glitches and rawness.

      I return to my own book I imagine is close to finished and see that I’ve often done exactly the same things: assumed the reader knows this or that because it has been in my mind for years so I assume I can trim to being someone or something the reader can’t know.

      I’ve tried to expand my readers (two at the moment) to exchange with others on line, but what I have found deals almost exclusively with genre books. Mine, I suppose, would be called book club/comic/family dynamic. A bit more difficult to categorize.

      Does anyone have any leads?

    • Cate,

      Your post was wonderful. A doctor friend told me that in medical school they were told that the best way to learn was :read it, sing it, then teach it.

      I also forgot how helpful reading others’ novels, (in-progress). It’s most especially helpful if the novel has problems, glitches and rawness.

      I return to my own book I imagine is close to finished and see that I’ve often done exactly the same things: assumed the reader knows this or that because it has been in my mind for years so I assume I can trim to being someone or something the reader can’t know.

      I’ve tried to expand my readers (two at the moment) to exchange with others on line, but what I have found deals almost exclusively with genre books. Mine, I suppose, would be called book club/comic/family dynamic. A bit more difficult to categorize.

      Does anyone have any leads?

    • I couldn’t love that observation more, Cate: The BEST way to improve your own writing–bar none–is to learn to analyze other people’s writing. You see things that often it’s easy to be “blind” to in your own work, where we are always filling in the blanks of all we know, rather than clearly seeing just what’s on the page. Honestly I cut my teeth as an editor this way–in crit groups where I not only did that myself with all the members’ submissions, but heard many other perspectives as well. Such an incredible, hands-on learning opportunity that can’t be matched–and why I am so passionate about this as a way to internalize these craft skills for your own writing.

      I agree: Hiring a good, experienced expert to help you can make the process faster and more efficient–and the result perhaps more professional. I have likened it before to hiring a contractor for a big renovation job. You don’t strictly need it and the job can be done without it, but hiring someone who knows what needs to be done and the most effective way to do it can make the whole process smoother, even if it adds a cost. And it can be so hard to see our own work objectively–that’s a big benefit too, having someone bring that 30,000-foot view.

      But yes, there’s a lot of “noise” out there as far as services available for authors to hire, and it can be hard to navigate it and decide what you really might benefit from at any point in your writing career. Thanks for your insights–these are such good angles–and for your kind words! Always nice to see you here.

  • Hi Tiffany.
    Your article is a sobering insight to writing and publishing. There are so many so called experts out there, many of whom haven’t even written a book, all wanting your dollars, or, in my case, pounds. Most webinars are a means of dragging people in. One I watched recently was particularly hard sell, a gentleman who has written ‘over 200 books’, I’m sure you know who I mean. Fifteen minutes of ‘information’ followed by an hour of increasingly fraught ‘signup by tomorrow for a special bonus’ spiel. I’ve unsubscribed from him!
    From what you write in this article, the reality is even worse than I thought. So few books sold. So much cost. Money spent on development editing or all the other editing stages will never be recuperated. This is what has put me off signing with anyone. I have written for 40 or 50 years, never sent anything off, but wondered now that I am an old codger (you can’t take it with you!) whether to sign up with the Novelry (they are only a few miles down the road, not that that matters as it’s all online) as they seem to have a good reputation.
    But overall it seems that many authors make more money teaching other authors how to write than they do at their craft. Perhaps I should regard it like buying golf clubs and membership as you might for a hobby.
    Anyway, really this is to thank you for the webinars of yours I have watched, your book, which I bought and found very useful, and look forward to the next webinar for which I have signed up.

    • I know the type of sales pitch you mean, Charles–it’s a sales model often referred to as “the funnel,” and while I get that providers are running a business, a heavy-handed hard sell can be off-putting (at least to me). And with anyone who wants something so much–like writers, or actors when I was in that world–it can be so easy to sell them a dream. That’s not to say there aren’t wonderfully valuable services available–I just think authors should be informed consumers, and run their writing careers like the business they are, with all the considerations that entails. But I don’t devalue these services on the whole–experienced, knowledgeable experts can help a writer make great strides along the path.

      It’s remarkable that you’ve been doing this so long–what an achievement! But it’s never too late, and I hope you will consider taking that next step of getting your work out there. You’ve more than put in the proverbial “ten thousand hours” for mastery of a skill. I’m not familiar with the Novelry, but the value of a writing community is incalculable, not just for how it can improve your writing and expand your contact, but for the support and camaraderie it offers.

      A side note to something you mentioned: Writing a book isn’t necessarily a standard, in my opinion, for whether an expert knows their stuff. Great directors often have never acted…great coaches weren’t always great players. And by the same token, just because someone is a talented or accomplished author, that may not mean they have the skills in another arena (editing, coaching, etc.). They’re different skill sets.

      Most of all, thank you very much for your kind words about my own work. This is my lifelong passion, and it means more than you can know to hear an author finds it helpful to his art and craft.


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