Editor Guilt and Author Depression

Sophie Playle

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I edit novels, they usually follow up with ‘anything I’ll have read?’ My answer is ‘probably not’ …

Not because the authors I work with aren’t read, but because there is an uncountable number of published novelists in the world. Scan any shelf in a bookstore or library – you’ll probably not have heard of most of the authors there.

The famous novels, the ones with money poured into big promotions and author interviews, are the exceptions. Most writers, even after being published, are relatively unknown.

I worry that a lot of blogs, websites, podcasts, courses and services sell authors the idea that once they’re published, they’ll have made it. They’ll achieve fame and fortune. The reality is that most traditionally published authors don’t get advances large enough to live off while they write their second book. Some books don’t sell enough for the author to earn anything beyond their advance. And authors who self-publish without a pre-existing platform usually sell very few copies.

Just because a book doesn’t sell very well, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book. And just because you don’t earn your living as a writer, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a writer.

You don’t have to be rich or famous to be a successful writer. Stop making these unrealistic demands on yourself. They’ll only make your miserable.

Sure, dream big – after all, some people do find literary fame and fortune. But don’t place all your self-worth on how many books you sell or how many literary prizes you win. The idea that you have to earn your living as a writer and be read by millions of adoring fans will only lead you down a path of shame and depression.

Of course you want your writing to be read – and so you should. And of course you deserve to be paid well for your art. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that financially rewards the arts. So don’t judge your success as an author by how much money you make.

As a professional editor, I like to think money spent on editing is an investment. The reality is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you won’t earn back what you’ve spent on bringing your book into the world.

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. That’s the cold, hard truth of it.

It’s not fair that I can earn a living working with manuscripts while the authors of those manuscripts struggle to make money from those manuscripts.

This thought often plagues me with guilt.

But just because statistically the likelihood of fame and fortune is slim, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother striving for publication – or that editors like me should feel ashamed of what we do. Writing to be read by others is a valuable pursuit.

Think about how it feels to read to a small but engaged audience, or how it feels to receive an email from a reader whose heart was touched by your story. Publishing your work so others can read it brings you these opportunities.

And think about that feeling of collaboration when you work with people who want to help you publish the best version of your novel. Without being able to earn a living, these people wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m grateful to the authors who hire me, and I’m sorry you don’t always receive the recognition and compensation you deserve.

I hope you find satisfaction in what I do. I hope by pushing you towards a stronger draft or by smoothing out your sentences and correcting your grammar bloopers you feel good about releasing your work into the world.

I hope that when your readers email you to say your writing meant something to them, you feel our work together was valuable, and that all the time and effort and money you put into publishing your novel was worth it in the end.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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