Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

failure-in-communication

It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication, assumption and expectation.

But I Assumed

Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and try to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know and alternatively make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I learn something new nearly every single day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.

But even  worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that “assumed anger” prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.

Much of our business comes down to relationships and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.

Why Don’t You Answer?

I once had a client terminate their relationship with our agency because I did not answer their e-mails fast enough or had ignored them entirely. I was bewildered by this and tracked down the problem. My records showed a consistent pattern of answering everything the same day or shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the author’s e-mail server was intercepting 40% of my e-mails, declaring them spam, and not delivering them (they weren’t even sent to the client’s spam folder!). Unfortunately the author’s trust in me had been broken (due to technological error) and we went our separate ways.

This taught me a good lesson about expectations when it comes to e-mail in particular. Make sure you have an early conversation with your agent or editor or publicist to set out reasonable times for replies. And if that timing goes too long find out if the e-mail was ever received.

It is ironic that we used to make jokes about the Postal Service losing mail. Now it is more likely that a server doesn’t deliver or receive an email. A couple weeks ago a client told me they found an email in their “draft” folder that they thought they had sent to me and had been wondering why I had not yet replied.

Silence is Molten

When someone doesn’t reply and days roll by without an answer the tendency is to start thinking the worst. “They have bad news.” “They hate me.” “My career is over.” “Steve thinks I’m annoying.” “My publisher is going to cancel my contract.” “They have discovered that I really don’t know how to write.” None of which are true. But you feel the need to fill in the silence with some answer. And eventually the answer turns volcanic, at least in our minds. Out of that comes discontent, rage, and the rants begin.

Your Style

Every person has their own preference in communicating. I have one client who does not use e-mail, prefers a fax or a phone call. Another does not ever want to talk on the phone, e-mail only. Another says, “E-mail me before you call so I can drive close enough to the local cell tower so my phone can get a signal, I don’t have any bars in my house.” We try our best to accommodate each client’s unique communication styles. But we aren’t always perfect.

Grace is the Solution

Give each other the benefit of the doubt. E-mail can sound stern and unyielding, even angry, in tone. So before assuming (see #1 above) grant a measure of grace. The ease of e-mail makes it simple to fire off something without adding a couple filters.

It may be that your editor or agent were called into a meeting for the day. Your agent may be traveling. The editor may have twenty fires to put out before they go home for the day, none of which they had anticipated when the got to work that morning. Give that editor or agent another day before lighting the fuse.

Oh, and if you want to rant to your agent about your editor, make sure you double, no triple, check the “To” line before you click SEND. The auto-complete function in your email system can be trouble if you are not careful…trust me.

What other barriers to communication have you found?

And look for Karen and Tamela’s blogs this week as each are on the theme of communication.

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My Hat Collection

As an agent, I wear many hats and I love them all!

Miner’s Hat:
Worn while picking through slush pile submissions.

Tiara:
Worn in celebration of gem discovery in the form of your marketable manuscript.

Gold Crown:
In celebration of signing you to be a new client.

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It’s A Brave New World

I’ve been in publishing for lo, these many years (over 30), so you’d think the work would be pretty much second nature for me. No so! In fact, just this last week I did something completely new!

I edited a book, in four days, using Skype and Dropbox.

The amazing thing about this isn’t that the author and I got the book done so quickly, but that it was SO MUCH FUN! We parked on Skype for hours, so that if I had questions as I edited a chapter, I could just ask him, and if he had questions about the editing, he could just ask me. It was like being in the same room together, but without the expense or stress of travel. And I discovered that doing the edit this way gave me a fresher understanding of what the author wanted to say. It also enabled us to do a bit of arm wrestling when we disagreed on something, but to do so with humor and kindness. When you deal with issues over the phone or in email, you always run the risk of misunderstanding because folks can’t see your expressions or body language, or hear the tone of your voice. With Skype, those risks were gone, so we handled a couple of sensitive issues without frustration or misunderstanding.

And that, my friends, is a miracle!

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The Perfect Christian Woman … According to Christian Publishing

This lady…

Lives a Purpose Driven Life and
Knows the Power of a Praying Wife.

She practices Five Love Languages and
Will not be Left Behind.

She spent 90 Minutes in Heaven
And is convinced that Heaven is for Real.

She is both Captivating and Radical
Because she Kissed Dating Goodbye and
Has developed a Mary Heart in a Martha World.

She wears Blue Like Jazz and keeps The Shack spotless
While making a Case for Christ.

She secured Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and
Appreciates a man who is Wild at Heart and More Than a Carpenter.

But ultimately the Christian Publisher is most attracted to and admires the perfect Christian woman because she is…
Amish.

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The Unhelpful Rejection Letter

Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.

Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.

Lead Me On

When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!

I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.

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News You Can Use – Mar. 6, 2012

Your Average Facebook Post Only Reaches 12% of Your Friends – Exposing yet another challenge to the world of marketing, either through traditional means or through social media.

New French Law Seizes Digital Rights – “Any book published in France–which would include translated foreign-language books–that went out of print in France–not necessarily elsewhere–before 2001, can be scanned into a database.” And then be made available without compensation.

It Has Come to This in Hollywood – GCB. Fire up the TiVo for that one… Good grief.

From Idea to Store Shelf – I love these kind of stories. Shows the incredible “curation” it takes for a good idea to become great and then what it takes to bring it to market. There are many parallels to the writing and publishing industry here.

Give it Five Minutes, Then React to an Idea – A good reason why appointments at a conference are 15 minutes long.

Free Mac Tools That Make Writing Easier – Agree or disagree? What tools do you use? And if you are on a PC, what do you use?

Anatomy of a Successful Press Release – Try writing one for your own book. Discover that is ain’t easy.

Eight Basic Don’ts for the Beginning Novelist – Steve Moore provides some great stuff. Good reminders for those who think they know this already.

This is a very clever ad for the British newspaper, “The Guardian.”
Click to view “The Three Little Pigs.”

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What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

One of our readers asked this via the green “Ask us a question” button.

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

Many times have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation (happened just last week). Of course this will get an agent’s attention immediately. But there are caveats:

a)      Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal (see the Preditors & Editors warnings).

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