How to piss off an editor

If a prospective client (or, for that matter, anyone else) sends me an email, I will respect their privacy. I will not go around telling everyone what we talked about.

Unless, of course, they cross what is known as the Critical Jackass Threshold (CJT), whereupon I enthusiastically reserve the right to post the entire email exchange online for the purposes of public mockery edification.

Let me tell you a story.

On February 18, I got an email from someone I’d never talked to before, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. That email, in its entirety:

Hi Mr. Buckley,

I want to know if you still do sample edits. If you could let me know, thanks!


Now, a sample edit is just what it sounds like: An editor edits a small portion of a larger work so that a prospective client can evaluate the editor’s skills before committing to an entire project. Some editors refuse to do sample edits at all, while others will do them but charge their usual hourly rate for the time. Personally, I offer free sample edits of a few pages — I’m still early in my career, and it’s (mostly) worked well for me so far, but I can understand why many editors don’t.

Anyway, I responded:

Hi [Name] — Yes, I do sample edits. What do you have in mind?


He wrote back (and again, this is the entire email):

Well. I could send you a few pages, if you want. Do you do in depth editing ? for a sample.

This isn’t a promising start.

For starters, it tells me nothing whatsoever about his project. Fiction, nonfiction, or something else (e.g., poetry)? A book, or something else (e.g., article, essay)? Remember, I have no idea who this guy is, so I’m still completely in the dark here. If he’s writing his postdoc on the finer points of organic chemistry as viewed through the lens of post-fin de siècle French literary criticism, I’m probably not his guy.

Also, “in depth editing” isn’t a thing. Is he looking for a copy edit (spelling, grammar, etc.) or a developmental edit (plot, characters, etc.) or something else? Again, no idea.

Now, so far, none of this says “jackass” per se. So far he just seems kinda clueless, which isn’t a crime. Everybody’s clueless when they embark on something new. Granted, in his situation I would’ve done some research about how editing works, and I would’ve volunteered some more information rather than making the editor drag it out of me.

But, whatever. I’m game. I reply, asking some specific questions to get a little basic information about his project. I finish by saying:

Once I understand what your project is about and what you’re looking for, yes, please send me some pages (preferably the first 3 to 5 pages) and I’ll be happy to do a sample edit.


He responds, answering my questions. I learn that he has a complete draft of a novel, but is “reworking a lot of it.” As to what kind of editing he wants (copy editing or developmental editing), his response is:

Is there a mix between the two ? lol. um, I guess copy editing.

Again, this is not promising. Asking someone to copy edit a book you’re still revising is like asking someone to paint the inside of a house while renovators are still gutting it. You can do it, but you’re kinda wasting your money.

Still, I understand what it’s like to shop for a service you know nothing about (e.g., home renovation). So I’m trying to be understanding.

He closes that same email with this little gem:

don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. I mean, I am looking for a reason to pick YOU over every OTHER editor out there.

[Name] 🙂

I have no idea what “don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty” means, since I’ve already told him I would do the sample edit.

But of course, I am giddy with excitement when I realize that he might pick ME over every OTHER editor out there. In fact, I had thought I was the only editor in the world, but now that I realize I have competition, I am energized with the succulent ambrosia of free-market capitalism and desperate to win his approval. Truly, I will try harder than ever to do my best at — what was it again? Oh, right: “A mix between the two ? lol. um, I guess copy editing.”


At this point Betsy is telling me not to do the sample edit for him, which is of course the correct answer. But I’m still trying to be nice and give him another chance. I tell him to send me the sample, and he gives me the first three and a half pages of chapter 1.

The writing is, surprisingly, not godawful. It’s not good by any means, but it reads like it was written by a human being rather than a precocious baboon. So that’s something. Since it’s only a few pages, I decide to be extra nice and do both a copy edit and a developmental edit — that is, making small corrections to things like punctuation, while also giving him comments to guide revision. You should only do one or the other at a time, but I figured it might help him decide which one he wanted.

So I send him my sample edit. He writes back with an email that begins as follows:


So I accidentally sent you chapter two, instead of one. I was renaming files and got mixed up.

This is not a promising start.

Okay, it doesn’t really matter for a sample edit, but still. Besides, this explanation is a bit sketchy, since not only the file name but also the main header inside the file says “Chapter 1.” But, whatever.

Mix-ups aside, he’s enthusiastic about my developmental edit comments. (He evidently does not consider my copy edits worthy of mention.) He has lots of follow-up questions. Should he do X with this character? Should he try Y with the story? And, of course,

Is there any other things I can tighten? or perhaps change?

Ah yes, the author’s eternal question: Is there any other things I can perhaps change?

He concludes:

Please let me know asap,


He’s a busy guy! He doesn’t just want to know if there is any other things he can perhaps change, he wants to know it right now.

I’m going to pause for a moment.

Those of you playing along at home may have noticed a certain minor omission in this chain of events. Let’s review what’s happened so far:

  1. Author asks editor for a sample edit.
  2. Editor provides sample edit for free.
  3. Author expects editor to do additional work.

What’s missing there? Can you guess? Here’s a hint: It’s right between steps 2 and 3.

You guessed it. Step 2.5 is called “Author agrees to pay editor for additional work.”

Yes, that’s right. Editors, greedy plutocratic bastards that they are, typically ask to be compensated for their services. And as a matter of fact, I have actually done free editing for clients on more than one occasion — but the common thread was that they were people I liked. You may have guessed that we’re in distinctly non-liking territory at the moment.

Nevertheless, I dutifully reply with an explanation of my rates and an estimate for the project. For reasons that will perhaps elude him, I do not answer any of his follow-up questions.

That was almost three weeks ago. Shockingly, I haven’t heard back.

Now, I’ve had some internal debate as to whether this guy (1) is such a genuinely self-centered nut job that he simply didn’t realize he was being a jackass, or (2) was deliberately scamming me.

I’m actually leaning toward the latter, mostly because of what he said about the chapter — that it was really chapter 2, not chapter 1. That suggests that he may have sent multiple different chapters to different editors for free sample edits, calling all of them “Chapter 1,” hoping to get a significant portion of his book edited for free.

(Incidentally, besides being a supremely jackass thing to do, that strategy also isn’t very effective. Both copy editing and developmental editing need to be handled consistently throughout the work.)

Of course, if he was scamming me, wouldn’t he have had a clearer preference between developmental and copy editing? So I don’t know. Maybe he’s scamming, but also a clueless jackass? It’s really hard to say.

The moral of this little tale: “If you screw over the person trying to fix your story, you might end up in a different kind of story.”

Nah, that’s dumb. How about just: “Don’t be a jackass.”

Fun etymology fact!

…and if you think I’m a dork for saying “fun etymology fact,” just remember that some poor kid has to grow up dealing with me as his father.


“Potion” and “poison” have different connotations. “Potion” tends to be positive, as in “love potion” and “healing potion,” whereas “poison,” of course, has a negative connotation.

Despite these opposing meanings, the two words sound similar, and they both convey the idea of (possibly) drinking something. As it turns out, this is not a coincidence. Both words come to English via French, ultimately deriving from the Latin verb “potare,” meaning “to drink.”

In particular, Merriam-Webster tells me, they derive from the past participle form of “potare,” which is — wait for it — “potus.”

POTUS is, of course, also the abbreviation for President of the United States. The official presidential Twitter account is @POTUS.

Potion, poison, POTUS. Seems appropriate somehow, doesn’t it?

A Buckley alphabet

Ask an Overmind

Years ago, I did a series of blog posts called Ask an Overmind. I only did three posts before my attention turned elsewhere, and I’d totally forgotten about it till I rediscovered them this morning.

I’m bringin’ it back.

Dear Overmind,

I’m visiting family next weekend, and I’m afraid politics is going to come up. I don’t agree with them on anything, and I’d rather just avoid talking about it, but that’s easier said than done. How do I keep the conversation focused on less divisive topics?

Thanks in advance,
Nervous in Nevada






Hi Overmind,

I’m fifteen, and I’m getting really frustrated with my parents. I want to quit the baseball team to focus on my artwork, but they keep telling me I need to finish what I started. But I only joined the team to make them happy in the first place! And now I’m not sure they ever cared about baseball at all. So am I really supposed to spend months doing something that none of us wanted me to start?

I think the real problem is that my mom doesn’t appreciate my art. She thinks I should paint in a more realistic style. But what’s the point of that? If I want realism, I’ll take a photo. Art is supposed to say something, you know? But she thinks it’s “just a phase.”

I think if I could get Mom onboard, Dad would go along with it too. But they’re both way more interested in watching Max (my little brother) win trophies in the debate team. Maybe if I could win an art contest, they’d take notice of me. I don’t want it to be about the prizes, though, you know?

Please help! I’m really lost.

Longtime reader, first-time writer,
Miserable in Minneapolis




Feel free to write to the Overmind with questions of your own!

Hazards of Fatherhood

Babies are wonderful. Holding a baby is wonderful.

But listen up, ’cause I’m gonna drop a truth bomb: A baby will grab your nipple.

I’m not kidding about this. You’re holding a baby — perhaps even your own baby — and he will reach over and just grab your nipple as hard as he can. In related news: When your nipple gets grabbed by a baby, it hurts.

You might think a five-month-old baby is not very strong. How much damage can five tiny fingers really do? It turns out, though, that strength is relative. A baby cannot, perhaps, crush an aluminum can. But a nipple is not aluminum. It is much easier to crush than a Coke can, and it contains many more pain receptors.

Also, baby fingernails grow really fast, so even if they’re trimmed frequently, they’re like itty bitty daggers most of the time.

Also also, if you’re a dude (like me), it’s possible you don’t wear a bra (like me). It’s possible your top half is covered by nothing more than a thin cotton T-shirt, or in some cases, heaven help you, nothing at all.

A baby can sense when your defenses are weak.

And here’s the biggest thing. If an adult makes an unsolicited nipple grab, it is considered a serious faux pas, and also, under most circumstances, their fault. “Why did you grab and squeeze my nipple as hard as you could?” one might reasonably ask.

But if a baby grabs your nipple, it is considered your own fault for not guarding the nipple.

So, people. You have to be careful.

If you are considering having a baby, take this into consideration. And if you are considering holding someone else’s baby…

That is all.

About the new travel ban

You may have heard that Trump signed a new version of the travel ban executive order, which takes effect March 16 and cancels the previous version of the ban. Key differences include:

  • Iraq is removed from the list of banned countries.
  • Syria is no longer singled out for indefinite/permanent exclusion. It now gets the same temporary ban as the other countries on the list.
  • The part about giving preference to religious minorities (which Trump said was designed to prioritize Christians) is gone.
  • The ban doesn’t apply to green card holders.
  • The text includes a lot of extra (silly) justification for why the ban is necessary.
  • EDIT: As Brianna pointed out in the comments section, the order also cuts the annual refugee cap from 110,000 (under the Obama administration) to 50,000. Why do all these rules, supposedly aimed at keeping out terrorists, actually keep out victims of terrorists?

(News storyfull text of new orderexplanation of changes.)

The idea of categorically banning immigrants from certain countries, as a security measure, has never made any sense, because the statistical correlation between a person’s security risk and nationality is absurdly low. So the basic idea of the travel ban was dumb before, and it hasn’t gotten any less dumb.

But a lot of critics are already calling the new version unconstitutional, and that’s quite a different thing. The ACLU tweeted:

Newsflash: #MuslimBan2 is still religious discrimination, still unconstitutional. So we’re fighting it.

This seems like a tougher case to make. It certainly isn’t a Muslim ban in a literal sense, as it affects a small minority of Muslims, and there’s no longer any language that gives special treatment to any religious groups within those countries. It might be the first step toward a Muslim ban, or the closest they think they can legally get to a Muslim ban, but that’s different.

The old version was clearly (to me) unconstitutional for a number of reasons, but this new version seems to have changed those parts. The only way I can see this being unconstitutional now is that it has the intent to discriminate.

That seems a little shaky.

I certainly agree that religious discrimination seems like the intent. Trump explicitly said so, after all. And from what I understand, proving a (religious) discriminatory intent is indeed sufficient to prove discrimination in a First Amendment legal context. But the idea of asking a judge to determine the motivation in the President’s brain seems like an overreach. Surely it’s the law (or order) itself that matters, not the feelings of the people who created it — right?

Again, I think Travel Ban 2.0 is idiotic, and harmful, and should be removed. I’m just not sold (yet) on this “unconstitutional” thing.

Readers, any thoughts?


I am a mature adult