Did you ever read those The [Insert Type of Teacher or School Administrator] from the Black Lagoon books as kids? As an adult, I've developed the habit of referring to particularly nasty or difficult people and experiences as the [Person or Experience] from the Black Lagoon. It gets the point across without swearing, since I don't do that. 😁
A few months ago, I encountered the Potential Client from the Black Lagoon. While the experience wasn't fun, it taught me a few things that can help us improve our writing and being-edited experiences.
I met the Potential Client from the Black Lagoon (whom I'll call "X" for brevity) when he posted in a Facebook group we both belonged to. He was looking for an editor for his book, and I agreed to do a sample edit to see if we'd be a good fit.
I thought I'd seen some train wrecks of manuscripts in my career. But this one . . . 🤯
Despite supposedly being about world history (which suggests starting from the beginning), the manuscript started with the Korean War and proceeded from there. IIRC, things weren't always in chronological order.
One chapter consisted almost entirely of extended quotations from what appeared to be military documents. Given everything else I was finding, I'm pretty sure the author didn't have the necessary permissions to quote that much material.
Some oddly specific chapters about certain counties in Pennsylvania also made an appearance.
The formatting was so messed up that I spent close to an hour trying to untangle a timeline that covered only one year of the Korean War.
In short, no amount of money would be worth that headache. I'd already decided to turn down the project when I came across rumors about "X" having stiffed at least one other freelancer. While I try not to give much credence to rumors, there's usually some truth in them, so this discovery only confirmed my decision.
To make a long story short, when I tried to decline, "X" insisted on knowing why. I mentioned the manuscript issues and the rumors. He became profane and verbally abusive, so much so that I had to block his email and block him on Facebook.
Forget dodging a bullet—I think I dodged a cannonball there!
As nasty as "X" turned out to be, this experience illustrates some things that good writers—like you guys—do and don't do:
Do make sure your title accurately reflects what's in the manuscript. The title is the first promise you make to readers, and they'll get frustrated if you break it.
Do cut material that doesn't fit with your overall story/argument. (What were those random chapters about Pennsylvania counties doing in a book about world history?)
Do have any potential editor give you a sample edit before you commit to working with them. The world's best writer and the world's best editor still won't have a good experience if they're not the right fit for each other.
Do follow (or have your editor help you set up) a consistent organizational pattern in your manuscript. You might organize the topics you talk about by geographical location (e.g., the way travel guides are usually organized), chronological order, order of importance, or whatever. There just needs to be some kind of structure to help readers follow what you're saying.
At the risk of stating the obvious, do be a decent human being when working with your editor, and don't abuse or stiff them. 😉
If you need some help with any of these things, click here to book a free discovery call so we can figure out how I can assist you.
(Thanks to Jonas Friese for sharing their work on Unsplash.)