This whole post is TOP SECRET and will hopefully self-destruct after you've read it ... but I've been involved in this weird episode lately. One of my gigs is editing for a very, very, very large POD self-publishing company. I can't really say which one, and I can't get into specifics at all here, but just bear with me.
Basically, when a self-pubber signs up with a POD press, they have an option to buy various publishing packages. I'm one of the contract editors who might end up with their manuscript if they buy a certain level of editing. Most of the time, I don't think about the writers themselves—I do a lot of these books, so it's just another editing job. But sometimes I'll look up the person and see who they are.
One of the books I recently edited was a YA book, and I felt moved to look the author up. Turns out she's keeping a blog about her experience with this POD company. So there I was, reading about her experience of me doing my job and the various travails of waiting, spending thousands of dollars, and her relatively high anxiety level over the future of her book and her decision to use a POD press.
Boy. Talk about living in a world of mirrors.
I finished her book and sent it back to the publisher. But I was unsettled. For the first time, one of these authors had become real to me, and I could totally empathize with her mix of anxiety, insecurity and pride in her book. At the same time, I knew almost objectively that she has no real chance of selling this book. It's a virtual knock-off of another best-selling book, with major problems of its own, and she'll face all the obstacles any POD author faces.
Part of me felt sleazy for doing this kind of work at all. But then ... part of me felt like, at least in this case, I had the ability to give her part of the experience she was looking for. So after I sent the book back, I contacted the publisher and asked them if I'd be allowed to generate an editorial letter. They said yes (even though it's not required), so I whipped up a 2-page critique of her book on a meta-level. I wasn't overly harsh, but I gave her my straight opinion on the fairly major things that need to be fixed. I signed it Your Editor.
I've been waiting these past few days to see what would happen next and how she would react to my letter and the job I did. Today, she updated her blog with a happy post about how she's "loving" the POD experience and I did a "quality" edit. She also said she was so happy to be self-publishing because it meant she didn't "have to change anything I don't want to change." Which I took to mean that she's disregarding most of my letter.
The whole experience really got me thinking. I was talking to someone recently who compared my job to Simon Cowell, who famously tells people they should stop singing because they'll never be any good. Truthfully, that's 100% of the writers I've edited through this POD company. Even the best of them aren't very good. I wouldn't buy a single of their books. So I get it: they are fools, chasing a pipe dream, and I am not only enabling their impossible dream, i'm profiting from it. I'm the editorial equivalent of the girlfriend experience. And yet ... part of me can't help but to wonder: is it so wrong to help these writers live a dream, no matter how foolish it is? Isn't that what we all want, at least a little?