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Experts and Professionals

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I screwed up getting paid because I thought I was an expert. This was back in my idealistic college days, back when I thought I knew more than the rest of the world, but reflecting on this experience now (as an adult who recognizes that she knows nothing) makes me wonder if I was wrong and what other writers would do in this situation...

My father's friend wrote a book. He's not highly educated, his grammar and spelling were horrific, but his plot was thick and he was a great storyteller when it came to reading the text out loud. My "job" was to take his story and make it publishable, make it something that an editor or publisher would consider.

I wrote, on my typewriter (yes I know I'm dating myself), for several days and handed over the revised version of his first chapter.
He hated it.
He said I was using too big of words and that this particular story was written by a layman, for a layman. Specifically he complained that his wife had to look up more than one of the words I used in the revision. This discussion turned into an argument - with me saying that laypeople aren't readers, they don't buy books. People who are readers, and who DO buy books, would refuse to read the generic second-grade level of language use that he was asking me to write. A publisher is not going to accept, "...he said." and "...he said." and "...she said." over and over and over again, through a 500 page book.

So I didn't revise the book for him.

I've felt bad for years for not just doing what he wanted, until I took my car to the mechanic and told him what I thought was wrong with the brakes. Brake pads, rotors, that should set my car off nicely. He did exactly what I said. It wasn't three days before my brakes were grinding as loudly as before. What the heck?

Turns out the calipers are bad. "You didn't say to look at the calipers," the mechanic argued. No, he's right, I didn't. But I'm not the expert! He had the car apart, he's the professional, he should have been able to look at that mess and tell me what the problem really was, much in the same way that I thought I was telling my father's friend what the problem with his story really was. It made me feel like I went to the doctor for a stomach ache and told him I thought I had an ulcer. He checks me for an ulcer and sends me home with a clean bill of health and meanwhile, my appendix is busting, all because I didn't say, "you ought to check my appendix too." Who's the expert on this stuff?

So, should I have done what my father's friend asked? Should I have just corrected his grammar and spelling and gave the draft back? For years I wished I hadn't had that argument, but I'm the expert. I'm the one with training and skill in that area. I feel like I did the right thing...what do you think?

Comments

Fossil, (that's probably one I shouldn't shorten, isn't it?!)

Damn! You've been carrying this guilt load for a while! Let it go.

Now here's the rest. Did he offer to pay you for your services or did you volunteer? That's the crux. Just being an expert isn't enough. You must be an acknowledged expert, sought out by the consumer and paid for your services. Then you can have a contract--just like you signed at the auto place. Doctors, car techs and even editors are busy people. If you steer them in a certain direction, that's where they'll look--and probably only there.

Again, let it go. And if you want to be an expert, make sure you're getting paid for it!
 

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