Monday, November 24, 2014

Writers and Trust

By Karen Albright Lin

In most endeavors we put ourselves out there. We risk trusting someone with our money when we order online, or when we hand our credit card to the Shirt Barn Cashier. We trust that our important personal information will be protected when we do our banking, buy on e-Bay, and make a payment for a writer’s conference through PayPal.

Trust is a part of everyday life. But writers have additional vulnerabilities. A screenwriter typically waives his rights to sue if a film is made similar to the script he submits for consideration; after all, someone else may have submitted something else substantially the same.

We trust that contest judges won’t run with our entry’s idea, that critique group members have our commercial best interest in mind, and that a conference brings in quality acquiring agents and editors. We assume those editors and agents aren’t attending those conferences only to schmooze with their local clients and each other—while being wined and dined and housed at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been at a conference when an agent admitted to doing just that after he didn’t turn up to take pitches as his contract required.

Writers are vulnerable in many ways, yet we have to trust. We trust beta readers to give us honest feedback. We throw our work out there in the wind for it to get exposure and be bought. We spend precious time on social networking hoping it will pay off in sales.

We place it in the hands of fate or faith that our long, arduous apprenticeship will net us a career.

But there are times when we shouldn’t simply trust and cross our fingers. Examples would include choosing or not choosing the self-publishing route, determining how to get educated in our search for the Holy Grail (conferences? MFAs? Contests? A stack of books on writing?), as well as determining how and whether to spend money on freelance editors.

Having experience on both ends, I’ll address this last one. Trust is risky business here. Be careful when looking for an editor.

  • Trust but know who you can rely on: Get referrals from reliable sources.
  • Trust but do background checks: It’s one thing to hear about an editor's happy clients, it’s another to contact one or two to confirm.
  • Trust but get a sample: Be willing to pay for a short edit to get an idea of quality and how time is used.
  • Trust but hire an attorney: Before handing over a large sum of money, get the contract evaluated.

Trusting can be risky at the other end of those relationships. Editors, pitch consultants, writing coaches, ghostwriters, writers-for-hire, or any service providers also have warnings to heed.

  • Trust but put it in writing: It’s a good idea to have a publishing attorney check your contract to be sure you are offering fair provisions in which your self-interest matches and complements the writer's.
  • Trust but get a sample: Suggest contracting for a few hours initially to gauge quality and needs of the work. Then take that into consideration when you determine how you’d like to be paid.
  • Trust but don’t be a jerk magnet: Look for the signs that someone is a user who will suck your time then not pay you.
  • Trust but cut your losses: There are nuts out there who will ask for advice then go about doing the opposite over and over and over. Consider your sanity precious.
  • Use your gut instincts: Try to spot the big-name author who wants you to ghostwrite for him, contracts to pay you a percentage of a potentially huge book, then yanks it out from under you without a kill fee. (Sound suspiciously specific? Yes, this happened to me.) Again have an attorney check your contract before you sign. Insist on a kill-fee for ghostwriting if there is big money at stake.

In our challenging field, we have no choice but to trust. But there are ways to mitigate our exposure. Live by the cliché, trust but verify.

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


  1. Great post, Karen. I'm often asked by emerging writers to suggest freelance editors to help with their manuscripts. Fortunately, in Boulder we have several top-notch freelance editors and coaches that I'm always pleased to suggest. Your post will provide additional guidance. Thanks for always offering good advice with clarity and intelligence.

  2. Karen, thanks so much for writing this post! While this applies to writers, it also applies a myriad of other entrepreneurs, too! I'm happy to share your advice with my clients - mostly psychotherapists - and colleagues, too!


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