Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't Be a Leach Magnet

By Karen Albright Lin

Early in my editing career—let’s just put it at 2001—I was a leach magnet. I was taken on a long, treacherous four-wheel drive ride with a writer who had significant development needs and couldn’t put a grammatically correct sentence together.

I essentially wrote her story for her then followed with hours and hours of endless edits and corrections to the messes she made every time she made her own changes. 

[ Lesson 1:  Be clear in your contract how many editing passes you’ll go through if you aren’t paid by the hour or by the week. Leaches will drain the blood out of you if the contract
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allows it. ]

Was there gratitude when her agent-of-the-day loved the book? No. Instead, there was a plan hatched to sacrifice a higher advance to allow the publishing company to put more money into publicity and contest entries for the novel.  That might have been a winning strategy, but not for me. I had contracted with her for a small percentage of the advance.  Only the advance, no future proceeds. Doing the math, I made pennies per hour on that book.

[ Lesson 2:  Assess carefully the amount of time and work you will put into a project to be sure you’re fairly compensated. Leaches will take advantage of a weak contract. ]

To make matters worse, said author contracted to acknowledge me but she didn’t. Being associated with the book was to be an important part of my remuneration. She had an established reputation and connections she suggested would help advance my career. Call me a sucker. It’s no surprise that since then, she‘s burned all those bridges by sucking everyone she encounters dry and leaving them on the side of the road like publishing jerky. She alienated top agents and publishing houses. She screwed other freelance editors and important media personalities.

[ Lesson 3:  Don’t count on someone’s referrals or connections. Verbal promises are worthless when you deal with leaches. ] 

Was there gratitude when the book earned great reviews and literary awards, or when it went from hardback to paperback? No. Only an expectation that I’d be equally eager to take on her sequel. I told her I couldn’t do it at the same percentage, but would consider editing it by-the-hour. Right then, on the phone, she dropped me off of all the other projects I’d spent hours working on for her—without paying me one cent, despite her use of my work in those later-released books.

[ Lesson 4:  Be sure all projects have contracts with kill fees and compensation for your work that ends up published. A leach has no problem publishing your words when her own suck. ]

Only after the fact, I learned this author had used and abused other editors in similar ways. I had failed to look for the signs; someone with an entitlement attitude in general will often carry that over into his or her professional life. Check with her peers and past employees if you can. Flash a red light if an author is in a rush to sign a contract.  Let my experience be a warning to you; it’s worth it to hire an attorney specializing in publishing. One I highly recommend is Susan Spann, generous to authors and full of integrity. Be sure they can pay and have every intention to pay you what you are worth.  Realize your self-interest may not match up with theirs.

Vow not to be a leach magnet.

If you want to link to it, Susan Spann’s website is:  http://www.susanspann.com

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.