Now and then I sense that many observers think I have a pretty good gig: “You fix their grammar, duh, and get paid.” I grant that I’ve had worse jobs, and ones to which I was worse suited, but it has agonizing moments. (And I don’t just “fix their grammar.”) Take for instance:
A referral contact comes in: a rambling phone call leaving a several-minute message about her manuscript. It is evident that the caller is elderly and perhaps dealing with memory issues. Her name is Ada Miller. She conveys:
- The ms is an autobiography about Ada’s life, which has been about as interesting as most people’s (that is, not very much so).
- Ada was referred to me by my old friend Edna, who lives in the same senior complex. Edna is a wonderful lady who is always trying to do nice things for people, and I respect her very much.
- She has not quite finished it, but she would like a firm quotation. You know, just to get an idea of how much it will cost to clean up a few minor errors.
- Ada is on a fixed income, and in case I don’t get the hint, more or less indicates that this better not cost much and that I should offer a senior discount. After all, how hard can it be to fix a few typos? she asks with a chuckle.
I call Ada back, addressing her as Ms. Miller (old school Kansas boy, here), and attempt to discuss the ms. That is not feasible, unless I’m willing to talk over her and be branded rude. Ada rambles about her life, her story, her two cancer diagnoses, her children, her life, her story, how to find a publisher, her poverty, some other health problems, what a great buildup Edna gave me, and on. And on.
Ada is a lonely elderly lady hoping to make a little bit of extra money and get her story out there. She is a fundamentally nice, good person who thinks of others. However, she understands little about editing, the modern world of publishing, marketing to publishers, self-publishing, or any of that stuff. She expects me to educate her about all this, in between her soliloquies, and certainly does not expect to pay me for that time. (Not that I’ve ever charged for it, but I also reserve the right to limit it.)
When Ada does not like what she’s hearing from me, she argues with me in her genteel way. Each disagreement is grounds for her to deliver several minutes of reasons why she is correct.
Okay. You want to be an editor? Here’s your job. Decide:
- Plan on a massive amount of unpaid effort, wading through a ms loaded with problems, knowing Ada will reject probably half the edits, all in service of a project that will never make her one dime, for what will turn out to be an effective billing rate of about $5/hour. And that’s just for the editing time, which will be the most painful editing of your entire career. That’s not taking into account all of Ada’s loneliness emails and conversations.
- Find a way to reject this poor, nice, elderly potential client, who has no idea what she’s doing and isn’t willing to follow any guidance that she might not agree with. Challenge: do so without crushing her soul and sending her to Edna with many humphs about how unhelpful and rude you were to her.
Yeah, I have such an easy job.