Without wishing to sound grouchy and grasping, I am amazed when aspiring writers put time into their work and sometimes money into printing it without being prepared to do the same in terms of attending writing classes and getting professional editorial feedback. One would-be novelist actually said to me, ‘Pay for feedback? Never! It’s like paying for sex. If someone doesn’t enjoy my work enough to read it for free, I’d rather not bother.’
Now surely, if we maintain this rather dubious analogy, that depends on how hot the feedback on offer is. Free of charge, you get the literary equivalent of a sympathy shag, ‘Yeah, that was really good, didn’t you write a lot!’ Pay a really astute editor, like our CBBC BAFTA-laden colleague Jonathan Wolfman, and you get, if Jon will forgive me saying so, a cross between Linda Lovelace and Christine Keeler with hormonal hots.
Professional feedback is totally unlike the feedback one gets (or gives) in an amateur writers’ group. No one wants to tell Marjorie that her short story sucks when she has provided the fairy cakes nor do they dare ask Graham why his heroine acts totally out of character when meeting around his kitchen table. The professional doesn’t say, ‘I don’t know why, I just hated it!’ or ‘I don’t do chick-lit’ because the author reminds him of his mother-in-law. Professional feedback is unbiased, robust, and constructive; it actually tells you how to put things right.
From the monetary point of view, why not pay to become a better writer or to get your work in the best possible shape before you put yourself through the emotionally and/or financially expensive ordeal of sending it to agents or printers? For professional editors, it’s a bit irksome to have your training and experience rated below that of the trainee hairdresser, apprentice mechanic or the girl who did a six week Adult Ed course in Nail Art, all of whom get their palms crossed with silver for the smallest service.
There’s a common misconception that editorial work is the same as reading for pleasure. As the budding novelist of the unfortunate analogy put it, ‘All you people do is lie on the sofa reading and expect to be paid for it. ‘ I could have replied that on the rare occasion when I can put my feet up and read, I will choose Elmore Leonard or Ian McEwan or Stendhal not the over-blown tosh that he’s trying to pass off as a novel but I am much too polite.
My final thought on the sex/feedback analogy is that a professional sex worker is always going to say, ‘You’re the best, big boy; the earth moved,’ where as the professional editor will tell it like it is, ‘Your plot is flabby and the climax is unsatisfying and comes too soon.’
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