Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer Upfront

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I should have titled this post “Folks Behaving Badly Online, Part 3.”

Maybe I’ve been hanging out in the wrong places, but I’ve seen several instances lately of folks behaving badly online; from harassing book reviewers for posting a negative book review to asking strangers for 5* reviews, folks really seem to be in their feelings lately and, as my grandmother would say, showing their natural behinds.

I’m not a psychologist (although, I used to want to be one. A rapping psychologist actually, but please don’t ask me about that) so I can’t tell you why folks are running around showing their behinds. I can only assume that they all drank a big ole cup of crazy, made another batch, and then passed it around to their friends.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked about authors behaving badly, but today I’m going to talk about industry “professionals.”

Here’s some background:

An author was unsatisfied with an editor’s work. Long story short: she paid the editor beforehand, but when the editor got the manuscript and started reading it she realized that the book wasn’t her cup of tea. So of course, the editor tallied up the amount of hours for work already done and refunded the rest of the author’s money, right?


She kept the money. Now, during the online slugfest (more on that later), the editor responded, saying that she had already explained her actions to the author in a private message and would not stoop so low and ruin her already starting to be ruined brand by elaborating further. Now, I’m no psychic, but I’m assuming that the private message went something like this:

Dear Dude:

I’m truly sorry but I couldn’t get through this novel. I didn’t realize it at the time (even though your blurb is pretty much an encapsulation of, like, the entire novel) that the novel was about puppets. And I have to tell you: I hate puppets. So to mitigate your damages (please note: I use the word “mitigate” very loosely here), I am returning your manuscript. I won’t be refunding your money, however, because I am using it for a good psychotherapist to help me deal with my puppet issues. I will say this: I totally dug the part where the protagonist faces her stage fright. I do love a strong-willed heroine! Anyway, as I’m sure you already know, editing is a very subjective business, and I can’t, even after accepting full payment, take on every client. Anyway, if you ever have any stories about cats, please do send them my way.

Looking forward to working with you again!


A very shitty editor

Dear friends: what do you think happened after that? Well, the author went online and lambasted the editor from here to Tchoupitoulas. She went to a very popular social media outlet and posted several scathing reviews (and called the editor out by name). And honey chile, let me tell you: it was NOT pretty. What resulted was a public back and forth between author and editor that got so crazy that others eventually chimed in and told them to quit it because they were both starting to look a little woo-woo.

My two cents? If the editor really behaved that way, she won’t be in business for long. But I understand the author’s frustrations because I went through something similar with a no-good cover designer who shall remain nameless. Did I go online and trash him? I wanted to. But instead,  I cut my losses and added him to my “never again, not even if there are icicles in hell” list of vendors.

Moral of the story: never pay anyone up front (not even your cousin Frank). Half before the service, and if all goes well, half later. That way, if you’re ever unsatisfied with the work you can at least walk away with some of your money. But if you happen to read this post too late and fall victim to a shady vendor, please don’t go on a week long bad mouthing tour, because as bad as the vendor will look for his/her shady behavior, you’ll look just as bad.

What about others? Any editor/cover designer/industry professional horror stories? Industry professionals: have you ever dealt with any nightmare clients?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

37 thoughts on “Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer Upfront

  1. Having just entered the world of editing, I say “wow.” This editor was so wrong to keep any money! Specific contracts often help too, but it’s hard to include every possible instance into them. A learning lesson for sure. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Quanie, your recent posts crack me up. And gosh, where do you hang out to hear/read stories like these? I’ve heard about them from third parties, never the ones involved. That editor didn’t do her work, so why did she accept 100% of the fee? If that’s her work ethics, she won’t last long in this industry for sure. For my Little Orchid novel, I approached an editor and we went with the half-half agreement. She let me ask as many questions as I wanted to and even encouraged me to rewrite the first chapter, which she also edited (no additional charges). Slamfests never end well so it’s really better to just weep at the park alone or with a friend, then tighten your shoelaces and move on.
    Claudine @ CarryUsOff Books recently posted..Oliver’s Hunger DragonMy Profile

    • I know, right? I always seem to see these things unfold firsthand (there’s another “can’t believe” scenario that TRULY got out of hand some time last year that’s almost too outlandish to believe). Your editor sounds great, but I’ve also heard of them getting burned by authors (perhaps because they didn’t charge half up front, returned the manuscript, and the author went running for the hills), so it’s definitely a two way street of folks doing each other wrong! Thankfully, I think that most people want to do right and maintain relationships as opposed to burning bridges.

  4. Quanie, I love how you get your points across! You make such a good point and the words you use are priceless. And I loved what your grandmother used to say.. “showing their natural behinds.”
    I had this experience with the company I used to self-publish my children’s book. Unfortunately, when you self-publish, you have to pay EVERYTHING upfront.. the cover design, interior layout, editing services, etc. Well, long story short, I was furious with my 1st round of edits. Even my companion, who is the head of his advertising team, said the editor did a crappy job. I had to fight to get a 2nd round of edits from a new editor which only did a little better.
    My interior layouts were awful for my children’s book!! I had to send them back every single time I was given a mock-up because they screwed it up. It was only until my sister came into the picture and took over the project, even emailing my publishing company mock-ups and layouts to give them examples. It was a huge pain which is why I am unsure if I feel like dealing with something like this again. It took soooo long to finally have my book published the way I wanted to.
    I will definitely be taking your advice when it comes time to have someone edit my novel. There is no way in heck I will be paying upfront for a service which hasn’t been completed.
    Gina Stoneheart recently posted..Cozumel, You Stole My HeartMy Profile

    • Whoa! What a nightmare! When it comes to our books we are VERY protective and want everything to be perfect, and it sounds like this company was just trying to slap something together without considering the quality of the finished product. No, thanks! You might be better off commissioning people for individual jobs (cover art, editing, interior, formatting, etc) as opposed to having one company do it all. But you’re right; paying upfront and not knowing if you’re going to like the finished product??? I’ve done it before, hated the finished product, and felt like an absolute fool. So please, learn from my mistakes: don’t do it!
      Quanie recently posted..Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer UpfrontMy Profile

  5. That’s… ye gods, that’s a mess. Gotta love two people acting unprofessionally snarling at each other and making things worse the entire time. Yeesh! I do think the editor was seriously out of line for keeping the money when they didn’t do the work, though. I would have plowed through it anyway, because I’d been paid and said I’d do the work, but that’s just me.
    Mason T. Matchak recently posted..The Story ElusiveMy Profile

    • Mason, same here! I had a very brief stint as a development editor and let me tell you: I learned A LOT. For starters, to specify my genre. I hate to say this, but I edited one book that I started to dread reading because the author’s sentences were so convoluted. Needless to say, after that I opted to focus on my own writing career and leave editing to someone with a bit more patience. But I will say this: I finished editing the book and the author was very pleased with my work. But Lord have mercy! You talk about a difficult task to complete! But at least I didn’t leave her hanging, lol.
      Quanie recently posted..Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer UpfrontMy Profile

  6. I will have to thank Stephanie for the link to your blog. A rapping psychologist? I like it. As a former social worker, I’m thinking you may have been onto something great.

    I think one of the best parts of blogging is the networking. The only things I have hired done, have been from friends. I know them. I trust them. And not a single one has ever let me down.

  7. I’m visiting from Stephanie Faris’s site (and I just followed you too!) I used a professional editor several years ago for a book I self-published. She came recommended and she took payments in installments. I’m sure there are a lot of dodgy “fly-by-nights” out there!
    Megan Whitson Lee recently posted..Second Stop!My Profile

  8. Please DO start writing a series called ‘Folks Behaving Badly Online”! First of all, I know you, so it’ll be thoughtful and honest and HILARIOUS, and second of all, there’s probably an endless amount of fodder for that series. It’ll be the gift that keeps on giving.

    Also, please write about your dream of being a rapping psychologist? Please?

    Ugh, what a nasty story. I can’t blame the author for posting a bad review, but it sounds like she went a little overboard and crossed the line from ‘honest reviewer’ to ‘wild crazpy-pants’. I agree that it’s probably best to cut your losses and never, ever work with that crappy vendor again; burning bridges, no matter how ugly and old and shaky those bridges are, is almost never a good idea.
    Liz Blocker (@lizblocker) recently posted..Bless Me, Readers, For I Have Sold OutMy Profile

  9. I always love your blogs! Not only are the insightful, but you crack me up with your wording!!! You should definitely write comedy or books for teens/tweens.

    That said, I think I can actually provide some thoughts on this, since I make my living as a freelancer. I get most of my work on Elance…and this actually came up recently. On Elance, you are hired to perform a duty. Money goes in escrow before the work begins and Elance holds it until the freelancer requests release. The money is auto-released in 30 days unless the client releases it himself…but the client can contest it if the work wasn’t completed and Elance decides. In this case, the work was not completed to the agreed-upon terms so the money should have been refunded. If she edited 10 pages, she should have taken a percentage for that work…but the editor should only have been paid for the work he/she performed. It’s tough…because outside of Elance I take a risk sometimes, but I only work with people who are referred to me these days after being burned a few times in the past… With written content, though, the work remains mine until they pay me, so they don’t have the rights to use it if they don’t pay. Not the same with editing/graphic design, but I found my bookmark designer on Elance and she’s awesome (itgirldesigns.com).
    Stephanie Faris recently posted..Q&A with Author Jen Malone, At Your ServiceMy Profile

    • Hi Stephanie, thanks for the compliment! *Blushing*

      I’ve used Elance before (no horror stories there, thank God), and I think they have a pretty good process. Outside of that, I think the only recourse an author might have is paying with a credit card and if they need to, doing a chargeback. And I think it would be interesting to hear the other side from editors and cover designers who have their own horror stories about authors because I know ya’ll probably got some stories! And I checked out itgirldesigns.com. Will definitely bookmark the site!
      Quanie recently posted..Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer UpfrontMy Profile

  10. I guess I’ve been very lucky. Both my graphic designer and my formatter were lovely to work with and very professional.

    I’m glad you posted this, though. I’m about to (officially) start offering freelance editing services, and this prompted me to tweak the contract. 😉
    Melissa Maygrove recently posted..What a lossMy Profile

  11. As always, interesting and well done, and yes, people acting crazy works for me. I agree, half before and half after is a good way to go. Or, ask to see some references, I went that route, and anyone who didn’t give out a reference was a bit suspect. I think, in this business, no reference and you got to question almost anything the person is telling you.

    I’d also say the editor- and the author- are both at fault, one the editor for not paying the money back, and two, the author for not asking more questions beforehand. I’m a big believer in reference, reference, reference.
    Rebecca A Emrich recently posted..Writing on the Backs of the MastersMy Profile

  12. Generally you pay half up front (non-refundable) and half upon completion. The fact this didn’t seem to happen leaves a big question about what really happened.

    I have to agree with those telling them to pipe it down. It’s damaging to both reputations to air your grievances like this for public display. Both may be remembered as individuals not to work with, fearing just this type of rebuttal.
    RYCJ recently posted..Medieval MondayMy Profile

    • Agreed: the last thing you want to be remembered as is someone not to work with. I think that it was just a rookie mistake with the author (just like what happened to me with that no-good cover designer…). I think the whole scenario could have been prevented had the editor stated specifically the types of works that she does and does not accept so that there would be no confusion.
      Quanie recently posted..Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer UpfrontMy Profile

      • yeah… but FYI… most editors don’t do this because they don’t know what type work (or writing) they’ll be evaluating to edit. This is why they charge half up front (non-refundable); just to read work that might give them that psychotic headache. btw… nice writing as usual.
        RYCJ recently posted..Medieval MondayMy Profile

  13. Oh Quanie,
    I think I can consider myself lucky so far, but as they say, “the day is young.”
    I just loved the way you wrote this, sad, but so funny . . . “Muah, A very shitty Editor”
    Burnita recently posted..TORTURE!My Profile

  14. Not a horror story so much but a “probably should have handled better” story. I wasn’t able to attend a conference but wanted my ad in the program. I paid (I believe it was either $200-300) and asked the organizer If I could pay for and be mailed a copy of the final program for my records. The organizer agreed wholeheartedly. The conference came and went, I followed up and no response. I tracked the organizer down on FB and he assured me he would get it in the mail ASAP. Never received it. That was about three years ago.
    I don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the organizer was being suspect, I understand how crazy busy people get around those conferences, but after awhile at least a response to me would have been nice. I have no way of knowing if the ad I purchased ever made it into that program and no documentation for my records. I decided that I would never again make a purchase if I couldn’t, in some way, verify that I was receiving what I paid for or couldn’t verify the reputation of the person I was dealing with.
    Ava Bleu recently posted..Guest Author Dayo BensonMy Profile

    • What? No nothing??? I can’t even believe that some people are in business nowadays. I mean, seriously. To not even acknowledge you is just plain rude. And if he did it to you there’s a good chance that he did it to others (and perhaps you didn’t hear back from him because someone local got the same treatment and took care of things the old school way…). It’s truly unfortunate that people don’t always deliver what they promise! Even some people with stellar reviews still turn out to be shady sometimes, so you really just never know. I guess we’re always just rolling the dice.
      Quanie recently posted..Why You Should Never Pay an Editor or Book Cover Designer UpfrontMy Profile

  15. I am absolutely salivating with my desire to read the entire convo between author and editor. I probably need to get a life, but it sounds like it was so juicy! Anyway, I have had the experience of paying upfront before service. Fortunately for me, I was extremely satisfied with the product. It was a rookie mistake that ended well for me. The vendor was a fellow author I respect and trust, and the product was an e-book cover design. But going forward, I’ll take your words of caution to heart, especially as I’m looking for an editor. Because no one wants to see Faith from the block come out. She’s a mess, and you’d have to write a blog post about me after the funk hit the fan 🙂
    Faith Simone recently posted..Know Me…My Profile

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