Editor Guilt and Author Depression

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I edit novels, they usually follow up with ‘anything I’ll have read?’ My answer is ‘probably not’ – not because the authors I work with aren’t read, but because there is an uncountable number of published novelists in the world. Scan any shelf in a bookstore or library – you’ll probably not have heard of most of the authors there.

The famous novels, the ones with money poured into big promotions and author interviews, are the exceptions. Most writers, even after being published, are relatively unknown.

I worry that a lot of blogs, websites, podcasts, courses and services sell authors the idea that once they’re published, they’ll have made it. They’ll achieve fame and fortune. The reality is that most traditionally published authors don’t get advances large enough to live off while they write their second book. Some books don’t sell enough for the author to earn anything beyond their advance. And authors who self-publish without a pre-existing platform usually sell very few copies.

Just because a book doesn’t sell very well, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book. And just because you don’t earn your living as a writer, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a writer.

You don’t have to be rich or famous to be a successful writer. Stop making these unrealistic demands on yourself. They’ll only make your miserable.

Sure, dream big – after all, some people do find literary fame and fortune. But don’t place all your self-worth on how many books you sell or how many literary prizes you win. The idea that you have to earn your living as a writer and be read by millions of adoring fans will only lead you down a path of shame and depression.

Of course you want your writing to be read – and so you should. And of course you deserve to be paid well for your art. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that financially rewards the arts. So don’t judge your success as an author by how much money you make.

As a professional editor, I like to think money spent on editing is an investment. The reality is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you won’t earn back what you’ve spent on bringing your book into the world.

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. That’s the cold, hard truth of it.

It’s not fair that I can earn a living working with manuscripts while the authors of those manuscripts struggle to make money from those manuscripts.

This thought often plagues me with guilt.

But just because statistically the likelihood of fame and fortune is slim, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother striving for publication – or that editors like me should feel ashamed of what we do. Writing to be read by others is a valuable pursuit.

Think about how it feels to read to a small but engaged audience, or how it feels to receive an email from a reader whose heart was touched by your story. Publishing your work so others can read it brings you these opportunities.

And think about that feeling of collaboration when you work with people who want to help you publish the best version of your novel. Without being able to earn a living, these people wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m grateful to the authors who hire me, and I’m sorry you don’t always receive the recognition and compensation you deserve.

I hope you find satisfaction in what I do. I hope by pushing you towards a stronger draft or by smoothing out your sentences and correcting your grammar bloopers you feel good about releasing your work into the world.

I hope that when your readers email you to say your writing meant something to them, you feel our work together was valuable, and that all the time and effort and money you put into publishing your novel was worth it in the end.


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By | 2017-10-31T17:03:27+00:00 October 31st, 2017|Novel Editing, Novel Writing|4 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages is a professional fiction editor. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before gallivanting off to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and she trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Every now and then, she slips her laptop into her rucksack and works from a different country for a few weeks.


  1. Liz Dexter November 1, 2017 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Oh, that’s lovely. I assuage the guilt when it comes by knowing very firmly that there are a lot of vampires and people who take advantage out there, and that if someone has a strong enough wish to publish, they will do it whatever, and I’d rather they did it with me taking care of their work than by sending it to someone who won’t take care with it and will charge them an awful lot more and fill them full of fake promises. I have also turned down quite a few potential clients, counselling them to rework the piece before bringing it to an editor, or sent them to a carefully recommended other editor who can help them with what they need. By being decent people and working diligently with authors, we help them ethically and save them from less-ethical folks.

    Also my own books don’t sell millions but I’m so thrilled every time I get an email from someone saying I’ve helped them. My book sales keep me in bus tickets each month, and that’s fine!

    • Sophie Playle November 1, 2017 at 12:21 pm - Reply

      That’s a fantastic point, Liz!

  2. Georgina Green November 23, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this Sophie, I needed to hear that!
    So I’m not alone in experiencing “editor guilt”?
    Writing is such a tricky combination of art, self-expression, mastery, and marketing.
    Editing is an investment in your manuscript, but the return on investment won’t necessarily be monetary (though it could be).
    Is it the editor’s responsibility to increase sales? Not exactly, but they can help you to connect to a target market within your text, they can help you to get out of your ideal reader’s way.
    Hopefully, the process of editing will have value in itself, in terms of developing as a writer, not just as a means to a monetary end.

    • Sophie Playle November 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Georgina – the value of editing isn’t just about increasing the monetary value of a manuscript.

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