Thicker Skin

Time is a precious commodity.

For me to accept an editing job is rare since I write four novel series. So, if I take on the task of editing for a client, it’s because I see potential. It’s not about the money, and usually, I charge far beneath what others with my credentials do.

Rest assured, if you request to hire me to edit your work, and I accept, I’ll invest the time. I’ll work hard to get your script polished and ready to submit to an agent, producer, or publisher. If it’s a novel, I’ll proofread, copy-edit, and even ghost-write when requested. More than anything during this process, I want to see you succeed.

After a recent editing job, I had an epiphany and any future editing jobs I undertake will be studied with greater scrutiny before I offer a contract. But due to several personal life factors–one being our second grandchild being born in another state and us traveling to be there–I failed to notice the obvious with this editing job until after it was too late, which was a combination of excitement and weariness.

Any editing job I perform comes with a contract signed before I start the work. And folks, if you’re an aspiring writer and the editor you consult doesn’t offer you a contract, by all means, run and seek another editor. For me, it’s standard. A contract not only states the charge for editing services, it details what those particular editing services are.

Red flag number one was this writer questioning why we needed to have a contract. I simply replied that a contract protects you and it protects me. With the contract signed and money paid, I went to work.

In particular, the writer wanted the dialogue critiqued and to sound more realistic. The best thing about dialogue, if done correctly, is that it defines the characters. Their personalities are enhanced, and the reader learns more about them. In a screenplay, you don’t have the luxury of shining the spotlight with exposition and excessive description. With a screenplay, every word needs to be top quality. Also, if one word can properly replace two-to-four words, use the one word. Brevity is key in a script.

Only several pages into the script, I noticed a lot of incorrect formatting, consulted the writer, and explained the issues. I was told to make the corrections, as this needed to be the best possible and two other ‘editors’ had worked on this before me (perhaps another red flag?).

Red flag number two: Before I even started the process of editing, I’m asked how I like the story. “Don’t know. I’ve not read it yet.”

Red flag number three: I opened an email with bold, large text that asks if I’ve finished it yet. (The contract stated I had until Friday. This was the Monday before the deadline.)

Red flag number four: “I have twenty-something people who want to read this. When will this be done?” Still days away from promised deadline. Why are you already promising to show this?

Red flag number five: I’m told four days before the deadline that a ‘producer’ wants to read it that night.’ Why, when the edits aren’t done?

Red flag number six: Dangles a half script and an amount to pay me once these edits were done. Sorry, but no. I don’t edit works that aren’t complete. I didn’t bite.

Red flag number seven: Too many complements on my ‘creativity’ without having yet received the edits. ‘Singing praises’ about me to others without yet receiving the edits. Wasn’t flattered.

Red flag number eight: I discovered the writer had been bashing others on a forum, trying to come across as someone with great experience.

With permission concerning dialogue, I broadened the conversations to give better insight. In order to follow the proper 3 ACT structure for a screenplay, I had to rearrange certain elements to correct the proper pace but kept the pertinent information/dialogue as the writer had placed.

Finally, I had everything edited, submitted the edited screenplay, and a 9-page summary of the changes and why certain things needed to be corrected. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I had put my heart into polishing/fixing the writer’s project and waited for the response.

I received an email the next day about how the writer couldn’t find the revisions and had spent hours ‘fixing’ my corrections. I get the ‘new’ screenplay back with what the writer called, ‘a revised version of my revisions.’ What? AND, ‘I need someone to go through it all again.’ By this point, most editors/publishers would view this as a ‘client from Hell‘. I opened the file and on the page that came up, I noticed all the formatting issues I had corrected (and had been asked to fix) had been reverted back to what they were before. Complete sentences had been turned into comma splices, both in dialogue and in Action scenes. Words that I had corrected were misspelled again.

“I’ve decided to use the original ending and dialogue.” I’m fine with that, but the reasons for my edits were to fix the pace in Act 3, work past the climatic scene, and wrap up the main plot and the one massive hole in the subplot, which by the ending had not been resolved. Whatever ‘praises’ for my talent she had expressed were now soured and somehow it was all my fault. I had invested a lot of time, three times what I should’ve spent to correct the screenplay for far less than other editors would have charged. I took some time and researched what other editors would’ve charged and got the average price. For all the work and the time invested, I should’ve charged $550.00. I charged far less than that. Now, this person wanted me to revise incorrect things I had already corrected and this person had made incorrect? No. I had fulfilled my job and my part of the contract. That’s why I have a contract signed before I do any work.

I was done and told the writer so. The next day I received an email that stated I was a ‘haughty person and unkind.’ Hmm. I didn’t reply. Silence is golden and I wouldn’t be baited. I had realized far too late what type of client I was dealing with and knew it was best to sever the ties. If I were ever contacted and asked to edit for this writer again, the reply simply would be that “there’s not enough money you could pay for me to work with you ever again.” I don’t need drama. I write drama, but I don’t star in the production. I’ve better things to do with my precious time.

Optimism I like. Blind optimism, where one cannot see his/her faults, is deadly for one’s aspirations. Unless you’re willing to accept revisions or at the very least, suggestions, you’re not going to learn as a writer. You’ll never mature.

Sometimes, writers take constructive analysis personally and misread intent, thinking the editor is personally attacking them when it’s simply not the case. If you hire an editor, you’re not hiring someone to ‘gush over’ what you’ve written. You’re hiring someone to help you find errors, look for plot holes, and hopefully help you get your script polished to where it’s ready to be submitted. It’s not the time to become defensive and attack the one you hired to critique your work.

A good editor is doing his/her job. Now, does that mean you have to accept everything the editor says? No, of course not. But when a movie script has obvious formatting flaws that need corrected and an editor or reader has corrected and pointed this out, it’s time to reflect on those edits.

Read the comments given. Step back and wait a few days. Reread them and then look at the script with new eyes. We all hold our work sacred, which makes it quite difficult to edit and evaluate ourselves; whereas, others see things we cannot. Family members and friends are not the ones you want telling you ‘how great it is‘. It’s not that they’re going to lie to you, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings (if they don’t really like it), and unless they’re professional editors, they’re simply not qualified.

Another thing to keep in mind. If you hire an editor online and will receive your edits/critique via email, you need to disregard tone. That’s difficult. Emails and forums don’t give you the actual tone. The reader sets the tone, and if one is prone to be offended by corrections, the tone might come across as condescending, even when it isn’t meant to be. Face-to-face, you hear the tone and see the facial expressions, but in an email or letter, those are absent.

My explanations were never condescending, and those I have worked with at the colleges where I’ve taught can verify that I have a genuine concern to help others improve their writing. I have returning clients, because I am thorough and explain the reasonings for changes or give suggestions to better clarify situations or characters.

I was never condescending to this client. In fact, I praised the great logline for the screenplay. The writer had nailed it! I liked the characters but their personalities needed expanded (which I had attempted to fix). The conflict (urgency) and pace needed rearranged in order for the screenplay to flow smoother. Scenes needed to be cut. Scenes need to be added. The size of the script needed to be fifteen pages less. In the 9-page analysis I sent, I explained the details for all of these issues. The words fell on deaf ears. Instead of acting like a professional, the writer emails and insults me, as if I’m the enemy for trying to help you make the manuscript better.

In 1993, when I became serious about my writing, I read about the success stories of other authors. I read interviews with agents and publishers. I read ways to better improve my craft. The majority of publishers, authors, and editors advised writers to grow ‘thicker skin‘ when it came to rejections. It’s simply part of the process and no author is immune to it. And believe me, I’ve received hundreds of rejections (I have kept them, too) over the years, but I kept writing. I never whined. I never blamed anyone else. I studied the craft. I was determined to become an excellent writer.

One thing I’ve never been is a haughty individual. When my first novel was published, I understood that not only is my novel the product; I am the product. I must sell myself along with my book, which made me understand that I didn’t need to burn bridges. I needed to show respect to others, as my reputation is at stake.

Kindness goes a long way, and I guess my skin is thick enough to ignore shallow insults.

Until next time ….



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