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Old 11-01-2012, 07:11 AM   #1
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How to say no?

Hi guys, I'm hoping you could help me with a little problem I'm having. A friend of mine recently contacted me and asked whether I could edit his grandfather's manuscript for publication (they're self-publishing). I told him I'd take a look, but after reading through the first 20 pages or so, I can tell there's no amount of editing that will help this novel.

How do I tell him I can't do this, that his grandfather needs to do an extensive rewrite of the novel? I'm sure he'll be either angry or offended, but I just can't work with such a terrible manuscript, especially since I'll be charging for it. How do I break the news gently?
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Old 11-01-2012, 08:21 AM   #2
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This could be a great novel, but I don't think I'm the person to edit because I write fiction/I'm too close to it/it needs a lot of work first

I'd go with the last myself, with some notes on how/why and an offer to take a look when it's revised.
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Old 11-01-2012, 09:08 AM   #3
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I was also thinking about doing your third option, but tact isn't really my thing. I wouldn't know how to phrase it without sounding like an asshole.
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Old 11-01-2012, 09:35 AM   #4
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Maybe "The manuscript is not ready for publication. In my experience the author needs to carefully revise the MS at least once more, to get it to a professional standard."
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Old 11-01-2012, 10:13 AM   #5
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Well, I think honesty is the best option. I would say I'm not the person to edit the novel. If they ask why, you can be honest and let them know that you believe it needs further rewriting before editing could be beneficial.
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Old 11-01-2012, 12:18 PM   #6
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Nein. (German)
Non. (French)
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Old 11-02-2012, 07:44 AM   #7
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Nein. (German)
Non. (French)
Nyet. (Russian)
No. (English, Spanish)
Ne. (Bosnian)
Ndaga. (Navajo)
Ez. (Basque)
Caw. (Corvid)

If you need to know more:

http://users.elite.net/runner/jennifers/no.htm

caw
I'm half-tempted to send an e-mail just saying no in 15 different languages. Alas, no.

To everyone else: Thanks. I know honesty is the best policy, but I've always really sucked at tact. I'm not offended easily, so I always misjudge how other people will take my words.
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Old 11-02-2012, 07:47 PM   #8
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Another question is how much editing the friend and grandfather expect you to provide. Are you supposed to be doing a final check for surface issues like spelling and grammar, or are you supposed to be doing a close line-edit, or are you supposed to be doing a complete overhaul, in the manner of a "book doctor"? Or do friend and gramps have no idea about the different levels of editing, and why the most intensive (book doctoring) should cost a LOT of money?

Plus, how much do YOU want to do?

How much do you feel capable of doing?

What do you know about gramp's aspirations? Does he have a serious interest in publishing and a drive to improve until he can put out a good product? Or is this really a one-time vanity thing? In the first case, he could benefit more from tutoring than from an outside edit. In the second, he might just want to get the thing out there and look at his name on the cover. And stuff in between the extremes.

If friend was someone important to me, I'd ask him the above questions, trying to get a clearer idea of what gramps is looking for. If it's something you can't or don't have time to provide, maybe you could direct them to AW to get a better idea of what writing and publishing are about.
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Old 11-03-2012, 12:00 AM   #9
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I was also thinking about doing your third option, but tact isn't really my thing. I wouldn't know how to phrase it without sounding like an asshole.

Do a thorough critique of the first 3-5 pages, complete with mark-ups. Print the pages off and mark them in red pen. Take those pages to the person who contacted you and explain that if Grandpa wants to make a serious go of self-publishing, that's the minimum effort it's going to take ON EACH PAGE to end up with something people will take seriously. But that effort has to be made on their end, not yours.

If all Gramps wants is to have a novel in his hands, then tell them they might want to look elsewhere for someone to edit it.
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Old 11-03-2012, 03:15 AM   #10
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I would start by asking your friend what their expectations are, then go from there.
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Old 11-03-2012, 05:20 AM   #11
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Do a thorough critique of the first 3-5 pages, complete with mark-ups. Print the pages off and mark them in red pen. Take those pages to the person who contacted you and explain that if Grandpa wants to make a serious go of self-publishing, that's the minimum effort it's going to take ON EACH PAGE to end up with something people will take seriously. But that effort has to be made on their end, not yours.

If all Gramps wants is to have a novel in his hands, then tell them they might want to look elsewhere for someone to edit it.
Amen. This is exactly the right approach. The marked pages will speak with the tactful eloquence which sometimes eludes mere humans.

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Old 11-03-2012, 06:42 AM   #12
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Hmmm I think Phael and Cyia have got it... I could ask him those kinds of questions, then do a thorough edit on the first page and explain to him all the hard work involved in seriously getting this novel published.
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Old 11-03-2012, 07:58 PM   #13
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Just say you looked through it and decided it will take a lot more time than you have available.

A good thing to remember that fudging, that trying to say nice things, may get you off the hook, but it's puts the writer on an even bigger hook.

No one does a writer a favor by trying to soft soap a really bad book. Doing so means you can go away feeling good about yourself, but it also means that writer is now going to spend a very large amount of time, and often a LOT of money, on a manuscript that's horrible, that never will be any good.

And it's your fault.

It is possible to be completely honest without being nasty, but giving someone hope when there is none is not being nice, it's the worst kind of mean and nasty.
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Old 11-03-2012, 09:43 PM   #14
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Cyia's idea is perfect because it allows the writer to see all the editing work.
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Old 11-03-2012, 09:59 PM   #15
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Cyia has great advice. I'd go that route. Good luck!
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Old 11-04-2012, 03:05 AM   #16
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I had a similar thing happen to me. A friend of a friend wanted me to edit a manuscript. It was, to put things mildly, almost unreadable. I made myself sit down and edit 1 page just to see how it might go and I was pretty much rewriting 80% of it.

I told MY friend that I only worked on manuscripts closer to a final draft, but that there were editors/writers out there who specialized in more intensive "editing" like rewriting (and ghost-writing). I also recommended "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" and suggested that the writer take a stab at editing himself.

I let my friend figure out how to tell their pal (a person I didn't know well at all). Can you do the same with your friend? You don't have to be a douche-lord about it (not saying you would be), but you can be professional and diplomatic.

If the friend pressures you, you can then say that it's too much of a time commitment for that kind of intensive work and apologize.

Cyia's suggestion is also awesome. I may have to add that to my arsenal.
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Old 11-05-2012, 11:35 PM   #17
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Amen. This is exactly the right approach. The marked pages will speak with the tactful eloquence which sometimes eludes mere humans.

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As a human, I resemble that.
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Old 11-05-2012, 11:58 PM   #18
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With some families, honesty is not always a policy that contributes to overall harmony. IMHO a gracious excuse sometimes has its place-- I'm too busy, feel it needs more skill than I possess, have run away and joined the circus etc
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Old 11-06-2012, 12:14 AM   #19
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Or you could just hand them your rate-card, and let them know you'll have time to do the work in a couple of months.

I've done that before. It went down very well (from my point of view).
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Old 11-15-2012, 04:28 PM   #20
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Or you could just hand them your rate-card, and let them know you'll have time to do the work in a couple of months.

I've done that before. It went down very well (from my point of view).
This was my thinking. Tell them how much it would cost to do the editing and that you'll most likely need X amount of time to do it and that won't shake free until Z month.

Price yourself out of the job. :/
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Old 11-15-2012, 07:39 PM   #21
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Or you could tell your friend the truth and let her/him decide how they want to phrase it to grandpa. If gramp's self-publishing and it's purely for family it doesn't really matter in the final analysis and certainly not worth splashing cash.
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Old 12-23-2012, 04:29 AM   #22
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Honesty is usually the best policy. Just let 'em know the book needs a lot of work and it's not something you a) presently have time for, or b) it's beyond your level of expertise, or b) for the amount of work necessary to bring the ms up to professional standards, you expect to get paid (though you'll give a family discount). I also like the idea about revising 3-5 pages and showing the amount of work involved.

This all reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago. it all turned into something kinda scary, actually. I wrote about it in my blog...

http://theworkingscreenwriter.blogsp...-thriller.html (go about halfway down the entry to where it says " Mr. creepy.")
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Old 12-23-2012, 05:24 AM   #23
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mellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsmellymel is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
Since at this point you've only offered to take a look, I would probably let them know that you thought he was further along in his revision process than you had first thought. I would do what Cyia suggested and give him a feel for the kinds of revisions that need to be done and tell him that you'd be happy to consider editing in the future when he's revised the entire MS and it's closer to being in a form that's more publish-ready.

I've been in this situation before and it really REALLY sucks. I now make it a point to let people know that I will only beta read for people who are in their final drafts (other than my CPs, but their first/second drafts are usually pretty clean). And I make it a point to make no guarantees and ask for only the first few pages/ 1st chapter to make sure I'm a good fit for beta reading/editing their project. Sometimes the writing style is just not my thing and sometimes it's the story itself.

GL
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Last edited by mellymel; 12-23-2012 at 08:31 AM.
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Old 12-23-2012, 07:09 AM   #24
haunted
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it may be more of a family kindness, where the children are trying to get granpa's novel published before he dies, and there aren't big expectations about it. I'd try to ascertain this first, and if this is the case, either let standards drop a bit just to help them get the thing out there, or go with the earlier good advice.
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Old 12-25-2012, 01:14 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by veinglory View Post
With some families, honesty is not always a policy that contributes to overall harmony. IMHO a gracious excuse sometimes has its place-- I'm too busy, feel it needs more skill than I possess, have run away and joined the circus etc
This.
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