"Hi Ksenia. We tweeted briefly about the matter of not being able to afford an editor. You mentioned the term 'crowdsourcing'. Although I do understand what the word means, am I a little unsure of its meaning in relation to Twitter. Are you saying I should simply ask editors on Twitter if they are willing to help me out? That’s the real trick isn’t it? How does one justify to any person that they will benefit if they offer their services for free? Please explain it, so this simple mind of mine can understand it. I know that you have had success with crowdsourcing, which I’m jealous of. I do of course see the benefit and perhaps necessity for an editor. However, I cannot at this point invest several hundred dollars in an editor. Anyway, I would appreciate your input and advice. Now I’ll get back to finishing my final draft."
Hi Maximilian. I did not understand what crowdsourcing means either until someone told me that that's what I do. I simply ask people for help. The big queen of this is Amanda Palmer (she is excellent at crowdsourcing and crowdfunding and crowd-everything), and I highly recommend you read her book The Art of Asking. A lot of what she talks about as a musician we writers could use too. In fact, that is how we got connected. Someone told me, "Hey! You're doing the same thing Amanda does!" And I was like, "Who is Amanda?" The rest is history.
Now allow me to answer your questions one by one, and hopefully by the end of reading this post you will feel that if I could do it, you could do it too. There is no secret to this, really, except for being human (though I do sometimes pretend to be an angry Russian bear, what, with the threat of mauling those who don't write and stuff like that).
1. SIMPLY ASK, AND PEOPLE WILL HELP.
I know this is a hard concept to swallow. I mean, who in their right mind would want to spend time helping you out for free? Lots of people. The shame we experience when asking it a societal pre-programming we have received as children. "Don't ask this, don't ask that." Or, "Be quiet." Or, "Stop asking stupid questions!" At first we keep at it, oblivious, but once beaten upside the head enough times, we learn to keep our mouths shut. We learn the ways of the "adult world" where nothing is free. When we were kids, we could just ask, "Hey, Joe, can I have your toy truck?" And Joe would probably say, "Sure!" Or maybe Joe would smack you with the truck. Regardless, we quickly forgot and moved on. Now, would you walk up to your neighbor and ask, "Hey Joe. I like your truck. Can I have it?" No fucking way.
This is an extreme example, of course, except the same thinking happens when you ask for anything, like for socks to borrow, or for a pinch of salt cause you've used your last salt on the brine for cooking your neighbor. That is perhaps where I get it from, this shamelessness as you might call it. I just ask. If I'm told NO, I move on, and ask again and again. In Russia it was customary when I was growing up to knock on the door of your neighbor and ask for butter or sugar or whatever, because you ran out. Your neighbor could do the same. Try this in America. Ha. You'll get a gun in your face and the lovely greeting of, "Get the fuck off my property, moron, or I'll kill you." So I can see how asking in America is harder than in Russia. Or in Europe, I should say. It's more of a tradition there. I still remember vividly how when I was in Lisbon, in Portugal, and had no cash on me to pay for groceries at a little store. The owner waved his hand and said in bad English, "No worry! Go! Bring later." THAT MAN SAW ME FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE. And he trusted me to take his produce and bring money later. And I did. And that experience floored me. I forgot that humans can simply trust other humans. But I digress, as usual. Back to your questions.
2. PEOPLE WILL HELP NOT BECAUSE THEY WANT MONEY.
This fixation on money we have is a big creative stopper, I tell you that. Yeah, sure, you have to pay mortgage and eat and not walk around naked, for Christ's sake, but you also have to remember that money is not everything. In fact, money is nothing, it's a concept. Strips of paper migrating from one pocket to another. There are other more powerful incentives for people to do things. Are there things you enjoy doing because they give you a thrill? Get your heart going? Excite you? Same here. If you can't pay an editor, then there should be something there the editor can get out of working with you.
One thing that every creative values above everything else is creative freedom. Let people edit your work. Post your drafts for free on your site and invite comments from anyone willing to spend time on reading your work. That is priceless. That is what I do. And I'm always blown away that people are willing to spend their time. Why the fuck would you want to read a draft?? Because it's about collaboration.
This is what crowdsourcing really means. We're all making books together. I read every input from everyone on my drafts, and I use everything I can. I quote readers on the backs of my books. Do we do it for money? No. We do it for fun.
That's how I met Colleen M. Albert, my first editor, on Twitter, doing fun stuff. I did a writing contest on my blog, and she participated, and then SHE OFFERED TO HELP ME WITH EDITING. Why? I didn't even ask. I just shared my process. I wasn't aware back then how important an editor was. Colleen taught me that. She took me on as a pro bono client. She had a practice of taking on one pro bono client a year. I got lucky. But I wouldn't have gotten lucky if I wasn't open to possibilities. Same with Sarah Grace Liu, my current editor. Colleen took a year off editing for personal reasons, and I shouted on Twitter and everywhere else that I'm without an editor and I will die now. Of course, by then I've been doing crowdsourcing for a while, so many people responded to my call. Sarah was the best, and I try to promote her by shouting about HOW AWESOME SHE IS FROM EVERY ROOFTOP. As I can't afford to pay her. Yet. I will. I'm getting there.
I invite you to be open to possibilities, Maximilian, and ask and be vulnerable and ask again. If you're self-publishing, you need an editor or you're shooting yourself in the foot.
3. YOU MUST HAVE AN EDITOR OR DON'T EVEN PUBLISH YOUR BOOK.
Can't stress this enough. You have to have another pair of eyes to look over your manuscript before you publish it. You might think you're good at catching things, but you aren't. You can't unknow what you know, and you can't unsee what you've seen a hundred times. Have your friends read it, have your fellow writers online read it, have anyone willing read it and listen to what they say. This is a not-so-glamorous way of editing your book as opposed to being able to pay a professional editor, but it's still better than having no editor at all. Have I convinced you? I hope I did.
There is one more thing, though, something I was blind to until recently.
Asking is perceived differently due to your race and gender in America, which are two big fat problems here. If I were black, would people help as readily? If I were male? If I were gay? If I were old and ugly and with warts all over my face? (Which I am, underneath my pretty human suit.) I say, go ahead and ask and break stereotypes. Maybe it will be easier for you in Sweden. Be human. Be vulnerable. EXPECT NOTHING. That's the thing about asking. If you ask gracefully and receive a negative answer gracefully, you can always come back and ask again, and people will remember you not as an asshole, but as a nice person. And being a nice person will get you places. Assholes don't get far, even if it sometimes it seems like they do. So squash your ego, lower your expectations, and go for it.
And always thank everyone for their time. We don't thank each other enough, and a simple thanks can make someone's day. More, it can make people excited about helping you again as you actually appreciate their help.
I think I've exhausted my sermonizing powers here (this coming from an atheist Russian girl). I can get over-passionate and get carried away and come across as a bit crass. Ignore it. My intent is good. If I could, I'd saw off the top of your skull and drill this directly into your brain, Maximilian: STOP BEING AFRAID AND ASK. But I can't do this. I have to calm down and be gentle and hold your hand and say, "Darling, I'm here with you, there is nothing to be afraid of, let's do it together." Maybe I should offer you a shot of vodka for courage. Come on, drink up. Feeling better? Good. Now go ask. Ask people for help. Open yourself up. Be you, share your fucking humanity, and people will respond. If they won't, you are allowed to show up at my door and complain. We might even wrestle to settle this dispute.