Saturday, 6 April 2013

A shock and a knock

The shock was a complaint about my work. The knock was to my self-esteem. I am still trying to come to terms with both. Here is what happened...

About three years ago, an old boyfriend I hadn't seen since 1981 tracked me down on the internet. He has a high-powered job in the Intelligence services and had started writing thrillers and asked me to appraise and edit them for him. We agreed on a fee and the work began. He was a new, raw writer with a tendency to over-wordiness and an inability to get under the skin of his characters, but he wrote terrific, authentic-sounding scenes and his plots were very good. A few drafts later and he had a much better grasp of writing techniques and his work had improved considerably. However, after several tries, he had failed to find an agent or a publisher.

Ten months ago, I proof read the final version of his first book and last week he decided to send it to a publisher who had expressed interest in the first three chapters. Yesterday, I received a withering email from him telling me I had done a rotten job and that, on re-reading his manuscript, he had found loads of typos and words omitted from sentences. I was horrified. I always do a final read-through before sending a job off to a client. I recalled that he had made a few changes to the book, which he had discussed with me, but he insisted that the version he had found the errors in was the same one I had worked on.

I was terribly upset. I won't say that proof reading is my favourite job. Writing is what I enjoy most. Creative editing of other people's work comes second. Proof reading is, to me, the equivalent of ironing, my least favourite housework chore, the reason being that by the time I am at that stage, I have already been over the book several times during the editing and rewriting process and, unless there is a gap of a couple of months and I am coming to it afresh, I am, quite honestly, getting slightly bored with that particular story. I think an author should bring in a pair of fresh eyes to do the final check.

Perhaps this is where things went wrong. Maybe, knowing the story so well, my eyes skated over it too fast and I missed things. But I doubt it. If I am being paid for something, I like to do a thorough job. So last evening I emailed him three times, asking him first, to send me some examples of things I had missed (he was adamant that he was reading the same version of the book that I had proofed for him); second, offering him his money back; and third, apologising as grovellingly as I could.

I haven't heard a thing. I am very upset, wondering how I could have done such a sloppy job. It's not only my professional confidence that has been knocked, but my personal confidence, too. He is (was) a friend and the fact that he is so angry with me, so scathing about my professional abilities (I have been editing and proof reading for a staggering 43 years!), has damaged our friendship. I don't think he will ever want me to work for him again. No wonder they say that you should never mix business with friendship. I once wanted desperately to buy the flat in Camden that a friend was selling, but she refused to sell it to me for fear that if I was miserable there because the neighbours were noisy or the freeholders causing problems, I'd blame her. She said she would never sell a home or a car to a friend. I think 'never work on a friend's book' should be added to the list. I am certainly never going to do it again.


Perovskia said...

I'm sorry your confidence is shaken, but try to remember he's responding personally (not professionally) to a professional issue. You have that tie, so maybe he thinks he can get away with more...expression...than otherwise. You did all the right things in response, now you just have to (as I've been told), "let it be". You can't control his responses, so detach from that. If he does send you a copy of the work you missed, then own up to it. Otherwise, he also has to take ownership. It's HIS book.

hydra said...

Thank you, Perovskia. You're right, it has shaken my confidence. I remember now that I did the proof read for free as I felt he had paid me generously (£300)for the edit. Though when I think about, the agency I work for would have changed him about £800! I think he wanted it in a hurry so I probably just glanced through it. It still took me hours, though.

Perovskia said...

I imagine it would. Such is the work.

I really do think you need a new environment. New town, new home, new.. everything. Clean slate. New perspective. A new reason for a positive outlook on stuff. x

Jacula said...

I wouldn't be too quick to take the blame if I was you. Do you have the work with the final proofing still on your pc? If so, check it against what he sends you.