Monday Musings: Pay-It-Forward for Writers and Editors?

Today’s Monday Musings post is going to be a little different. Instead of putting up a picture and typing a few paragraphs, I’m going to ask that you watch this 3-and-a-half minute video before reading on. Then, we’re going to talk about writing, editing, business, and the expenses of self-publishing.

You ready? Go ahead and watch the video above.

When you’re ready, click on to read more.

Compassion and Business

When I first watched Upworthy’s video about Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, I was filled with an indescribable sense of love, joy, and hope. I’d heard of the pay-it-forward philosophy before, but seeing it in action like that was heartwarming. And I know it’s just a $1-slice of pizza, but it’s about more than that, you know? It’s about helping your fellow man/woman. It’s about realizing that everybody struggles in life at some point, and that what you think might be an insignificant thing can have a huge impact. It’s about the marriage between compassion and business.

Usually, the two aren’t often paired together. Most of the time, when the word “business” is mentioned, pictures of corporate fat cats and greedy tycoons counting gold coins comes up. No compassion there. No thinking about “service” or “charity.” More so, in the wake of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and all the suspicion around his tax returns, charities are in the spotlight now.

And so, a few days after watching that video, a thought came to me:

What if we could do something similar for writers regarding editing?

Editing Expenses

Editing a manuscript can get damned expensive. I don’t use expletives frequently on this blog, but it’s true.

According to the folks at Scribendi, if you have a 50,000-word novel, you should expect to pay them $1,461.24 for proofreading. Not line edits that help you sound better. Not content and structural edits that make your story stronger and more cohesive.  This is checking for “spelling mistakes and grammatical, typographical, and other linguistic errors.”

I don’t know about you guys, but…

I’m not willing to part with that kind of money on proofreading. Especially when I can join an online critique group like Scribophile (which is awesome, by the way) or find a beta reader for next to nothing.

I am very, very fortunate to be in a position where if I had to pay that kind of money for any reason, I would not be affected too horribly. But here’s the thing: If I had to pay a thousand dollars every time I wanted my book proofread on my $20/hour freelance income — especially if it isn’t guaranteed that my book will be an instant bestseller that can help me earn back a thousand dollars right away, I’d be screwed.

I don’t know of the statistics for this year, but according to a 2014 article in The Guardian, over “77% of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year”.

Let me repeat that: 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year. 

That’s only $83 dollars or so a month. Yes, it doesn’t go into pricing or genre or whatever, but still — that’s insane. Hopefully, for these writers, writing isn’t their sole mode of income. But even if it wasn’t, that’s a lot of people not getting a return on the investments they made for on their book. The thousands of dollars to get it edited, the tens to hundreds to get a professional cover, any of the marketing they might have paid for — That’s tens of thousands of dollars they might never get back.

And that absolutely sucks.

Both Sides of the Aisle

Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I absolutely 100% believe that editors deserve to get paid for their work and their insight. It takes skill, discipline, kindness, and a keen understanding of multiple contexts to be able to provide that kind of individualized help to a writer.

Writers are notoriously their own worst enemies when it comes to analyzing their own work.  What they think is in their story might not actually be there, and having a second pair of eyes can help writers find and plug those holes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something, and somebody reads it, pointing out something I never noticed before. It happens every time, and I accept that having a second pair of eyes is a part of the process. It helps me improve down the line as a writer.

But as a writer and as a part-time tutor on Chegg, I’ve not only been on both sides of the aisle in terms of giving and receiving editing help. I’ve also been on both sides of the aisle in terms of improving others writing with and without monetary compensation in return.

And I’ve discovered that I enjoy both.

I love helping people, and I love helping people through editing. Getting paid $20/hour — getting paid period doing something I love — is icing on the cake. And if I became a freelance editor, I’d love to be paid $1,461.24 just to proofread a 50,000-word manuscript. I’d love to live a comfortable life, earning thousands of dollars a year to proofread a 50,000-word manuscript each month.

But the writer in me, the decent human being in me that knows how hard a writer’s life can be, couldn’t live with that.

Which is why I wondered what could be done to change that.

Write-It-Forward

What if there was an editing business where, for every $1, you gave 100 or so words of editing to a writer in need? Or perhaps, they’re not in need, but they happen to be publishing their first book?

In other words, if you gave $10, that would be worth 1000 words of edits for someone else’s manuscript. If you gave $100, you’d give 10,000 words of edits for someone else. If you gave $1,000, that’s 100,000 words — two average-length novels worth — of edits.

What if editors were paid in this way such that every first-time author could have their book edited for free?

What if that writer’s book becomes such a hit that they pay for the next writer that wants to get published, and the next, and the next, and the next?

I know. These thoughts of mine feel pretty naive and idealistic and imperfect.

But if we can do it with pizza and coffee and drive-thru lines and healthcare through taxes, surely we can do something similar for writers.

What do you think?

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