In 2011, at age 29, I left my job as managing editor of a book publisher in New York.
My boyfriend, who was working as a trader, covered everything while I figured out my next step: the apartment, living expenses, healthcare. (A $50,000 publishing salary in New York doesn’t allow for much in savings.)
I ended up wasting a lot of time. I interviewed for jobs I didn’t want, studied for the GMAT halfheartedly, and built my first start-up in the children’s entertainment industry — which failed in five months.
By January 2013, our finances weren’t pretty. We didn’t have debt, but to stay afloat, I needed to start making $2,500 per month.
I decided to focus on an industry I knew well: book publishing. I thought, if self-publishing is the future, what will independent authors need? Marketing and editing. I didn’t know anything about marketing, but I knew everything about editing.
There was an opportunity in the space. Tons of freelance editors are available online, but only a small percentage of them have any real experience. Most authors pay thousands of dollars for an edit, only to end up unhappy with the results.
Through my old job, I was connected to some of the best editors in the industry, veterans who could actually make a difference to authors. NY Book Editors was going to give authors the same editing experience they could get from a Penguin Random House or any of the big publishers.
To work with the right editors, I needed to convince some of the most well-respected people in the industry to join a start-up they’d never heard of.
Every time I met an editor at a coffee shop, I expected them to laugh at the idea of freelancing for this dinky new website. These were established editors who had worked on the big books of our time, the NY Times bestsellers and award-winners. Why would they associate themselves with this new site?
To my surprise, virtually all the editors wanted to work with us. They weren’t strangers to freelancing — they freelanced occasionally for friends of agents or publishers. And that was the problem. Only authors with connections to the literary world had access to these editors.
NY Book Editors was proposing a more democratic approach. Through us, all authors could submit their work to the most sought-after editors. Editors would then decide which projects were the best fit.
For an editor, the greatest joy and the best results come from working on projects they love.
Once the editors were on board, finding authors became another issue.
Starting NY Book Editors cost about $80. I built the site, paid $20 per month to Squarespace for hosting, and took an SEO class for $60. Thanks to that class, I designed a map to get out of writer’s block, which went viral, got 46,000 notes on Tumblr, and helped clients find us.
Three months later, the site had a profit of $8,000. It was less than I’d earned in publishing, and I was working harder than ever before. The fact was, I didn’t know how to prioritize, what to focus on.
In the mad rush of those early days, I did the craziest thing you can imagine. I spent every dollar I’d earned on one course: Ramit Sethi’s $100,000 Summit, a two-day summit in New York which taught entrepreneurs how to set up and grow their business. We all know how to make a resume and apply for jobs, but how on earth do you grow a business? Figuring out how to find the right clients and deliver the most value to them required a practical education from someone who had done it.
NY Book Editors is now a business that runs smoothly by focusing on editing services which help authors progress. We have a network of experienced editors and copyeditors who freelance on projects they love.
Some of our authors have had six-figure publishing deals, two have received seven-figure movie deals, others go on to self-publish. All of our authors have one thing in common: They hold their books to a high standard.
It costs between $1,000 and $7,000 to get an edit, depending on the length of the book and the type of edit it needs. Only authors who have completed a draft of their manuscript are ready for an edit.
Our clients are professionals from diverse fields who know they have a book in them, from lawyers to real estate agents. Many of our clients wake up at 5 a.m., before their workday, to write for an hour or two. I’m in awe of them. They have busy schedules and they manage to write books in their spare time. We’ve had 215 clients, many of whom come back for another edit.
In 2015, NY Book Editors’ revenue is up to $55,000 per month.
I have a normal workweek — 40 hours. It’s surprising how much you can accomplish when you don’t have many meetings and office chats.
My role is to improve our systems, from how we communicate with clients to what kind of services we provide, to our marketing, publicity, affiliate partnerships, and I continue to meet with editors to seek out the leaders in the industry.
What’s different these days? I’m happier now, more at ease with myself, and confident. I can go to a restaurant and order without calculating the bill in advance. My boyfriend is also free to pursue his ideas. These days, I’m supporting him as he starts his own business.
The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to start a business is to stop thinking about yourself. Think about the person you’re trying to help, whether it’s an author, a dog owner, or an ACT student. Take the time to really understand their problems — then solve them. Not only will you end up with a healthy business, you’ll be blown away by the support and gratitude of your customers.
Natasa Lekic is the founder of NY Book Editors, a book editing service where authors are matched with experienced editors from the Big-5 publishers. Natasa believes every author has a unique story that can inform, inspire, and entertain readers. Follow her on Twitter@nybookeditors.