Manipulating authors, or helping them?

If you are or hope to be an author, there are people who make their living by manipulating people like you. They are hoping to sell you something, based on your dream.

It annoys the crap out of me to see people preying on authors by telling them things that are not true. For example:

  • You can write a bestseller. (Barely possible, but very unlikely.)
  • It’s easy to write a book. (Nope. It’s pretty hard if you want it to be any good.)
  • You don’t need a publisher. (You might. You might not. Depends on your goals.)
  • You will make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. (Possible, but not a slam dunk — depends on what your book is about and how good it is.)
  • You will have a speaking career. (Building a speaking career is a big job in itself, and depends a lot on — gasp! — whether you are actually a good speaker.)
  • Your problem is writer’s block, and we can fix it. (Unless you have something to say and have done the research, writer’s block is probably not your problem.)
  • It’s cheap. (Between the time you spend, hiring an editor, doing research, and putting a promotional plan in place, it’s going to cost you some money. If you spend no money, and you’re unlikely to have a successful book.)

These methods of manipulating authors remind me of “The Think System” in “The Music Man.” As in the musical, thinking you can do it doesn’t get you much closer to doing it. But it sure is easy to sell to people who want to succeed.

There are many ways these people sell, but the simplest and most misleading is to hold themselves up as examples or to elevate the one or two of their clients who were breakthrough successes. “You can be like me!” they say. Or “You can do what she did and get rich.”

Somehow, you don’t end up hearing about their many other clients who didn’t have instant success.

How I motivate authors

Since I sell services to authors, I worry about this. I don’t want to manipulate anybody, but I do want people to hire me.

Here’s what I do to motivate people:

  • I focus on your goals. My definition of success is whatever you imagine it to be.
  • I always talk about the book as real. For example, my invites for author meetings read “Talk about your book” or “Editing schedule for ‘Transportation Transformation‘ ” (which is a recent title I worked on). It helps people to believe when they hear phrases like “your book.”
  • I work on gaps. Is the idea unfocused? Does it have a good title? Is the table of contents compelling? Is Chapter 5 well organized? Are the sentences too long? These are solvable problems. I can help solve them, and the author is likely to accept that solving them is worth doing.
  • I teach. If you haven’t learned to be better after working with me, then I’ve failed. Learning to be better is motivational, because making progress feels good.
  • I promise nothing. You are the one who has to do the work. All I tell you is that if you do the work, you have a chance to have a good book. Whether it’s successful for you, you’ll have to see.

Is that manipulative? I hope not. Setting up unrealistic expectations generates unhappy clients. Telling people the work they need to do and how to do it tends to generate better results.

This isn’t about me, really. It’s about you. If you are going to work with somebody to help with your book, don’t get sucked in or manipulated because you have a dream.

The question isn’t whether somebody else can make your dream come true, because they can’t.

The question is, when you are ready to do the work, what help do you need, and who can help you with that?

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  1. Alas, so true. I’m really perturbed by pitches to “Write a life-changing book in 30 days…” Writing a book is a growth opportunity. Short-cut it, and you generally end up with no growth, and a not-very-good book.

  2. I enjoyed your blog today. New subscriber. I have just finished (more or less) my first novel. I am looking for an affordable way to have it content edited. Have already read the book in read and critique group locally in San diego. How do you actually find someone to provide this help and to do some handholding since this is the first time for me.