Communication

When the Gloves Come Off

Fist Slams Table in Anger

The publishing experience is rarely done in isolation. This means working with other people. And if their performances or efforts do not meet your expectations, conflict can occur.

Over the years I’ve seen more conflict than you can imagine–of all types and variety. But the majority of issues boil down to four areas:

  1. Editorial
  2. Production (cover design?)
  3. Marketing and publicity
  4. Getting paid

The issues can range from an editor changing the name of your main character to horrific cover designs to absent support for a book launch to delayed income.

When (not if) something like this happens, it is critical to know how to respond. This is where a good agent can be of great help. Your tendency is to become angry and vent … on your publisher. (Please read my previous post “Never Burn a Bridge.”) While the anger may get results, it can also destroy any relationship you may have developed.

Questions to Ask When Upset with Your Publisher

(1) Is this normal?
Does this happen a lot? What you may think is terrible and horrible is actually normal standard procedure. Especially with getting paid. Each publisher has different payment procedures and policies. Your agent should be familiar with the differences. Some houses won’t pay any money on acceptance until after all editing is done and the book is sent to typesetting. Others may pay faster.

With editorial conflict, that particular editor may be known for certain things they like or don’t like. We can help you put that conflict in context. Some editors have a light hand; some have a much heavier hand in their approach. Neither is right or wrong; they are simply different.

An advantage of an agent is that we work with nearly everyone in the industry and see the road maps for each of them.

(2) Can this be fixed? And how fast?
Sometimes an error cannot be fixed. For example, a printed book is missing pages, which is a printer error not a publisher error; but you can’t recall all the books already shipped and sold. Usually something like that is an isolated error.

Or what if there are typos in your published book? Recently this happened to a client with an enormous number of errors discovered. The ebook was fixed within days. The printed book had already shipped, but everyone in customer service was alert to any complaints. The second printing takes care of the errors.

I remember one case where an author’s book was published with the author’s name misspelled on the front cover. It was correct on the spine, back cover, interior page, etc. But on the front cover? (Ouch.)

More often the issues can be addressed in short order. Maybe not according to your schedule, but maybe sooner than later.

One thing to remember is that yours may not be the only fire that publisher is putting out that day.

(3) Should this be fixed?
With cover-design disagreements, it may come down to personal taste and nothing more. You simply may despise the color orange because that was the color of your walls in high school and you don’t want to be reminded of high school. Unfortunately, that can be a weak reason to force a change when everyone at the publishing company is enthusiastic over the cover design. This type of disagreement can be handled, if handled right. If you have developed a good relationship with the publisher, then the speed bumps can be handled on a more collegial basis.

(4) How Can I Express My Displeasure?
My advice is rather simplistic. Don’t press the “Send” button on your angry email for at least 24 hours. If you must shout and scream, do so with your agent only. Not your author friends, not your editor, not your local critique partners, but only with your agent. (Please, oh please, not on social media.) That agent is your “safe place.” Your agent will likely move you to the next question below to give perspective.

This goes to that impulse to show your anger immediately. Frequently, all anger does is create a defensive posture by the recipient. Once that wall goes up, it becomes harder to hear each other.

I know of a case where the author took their dissatisfaction to their personal Facebook page. A page that was not public. What they forgot is that reader’s can copy and paste. Their specific displeasure with a named editor was circulated quickly and landed on the editor’s desk. Who then called me.

(5) How Bad Is It Really?
Sometimes it is pretty bad. I’ve seen some absolutely awful covers. I’ve seen editorial notes that are head-scratching at best, scream-worthy at worst. I’ve seen publishers do some bonehead things with a book launch. (But to be fair, they get it right most of the time, depending on their budget restrictions.) I have also seen some bonehead things that authors have done. No one can claim inerrancy in this life.

We agents constantly play collections agents instead of literary agents, tracking down missing payments or slow ones. However, I dare say that 50% of the time when the question of “where is my check” arises, the money shows up in 24-48 hours. The impatience clock just ticked a little faster than it needed to!

Fortunately, most situations are not as earth-shattering as it may appear at first. Issues can be handled with quality communication. Remember, there are real people on the other side of the equation. I’ve seen editors brought to tears by the vitriol of an author. I’ve listened to authors express severe depression because of a situation. In my days as an editor, I had an author question whether or not I was a Christian because he didn’t like the design of his book cover. I know of cases where authors tried to get an editor fired because of their disagreement over the work done by that editor.

I wish I had the space to give a half dozen examples of how things of an egregious nature were handled with grace by the author in concert with their agent and publisher. Things can be worked out. Maybe not to a 100% satisfaction, but at least to a point of acceptance.

[An earlier version of this post ran in October 2014.]

Leave a Comment

Misunderstanding the Written Word

Back on June 8, I wrote “Barriers to Effective Communication,” attempting to look at some things that get in the way in relationships, business, and writing. I’ve continued to reflect on this topic, particularly with regard to the written word. Not only in books and articles, but also in our …

Read More

Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

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.

Read More

How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

by Steve Laube

I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have over 150 clients on our roster.

Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

Read More

Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

Read More

Why I Left My (Insurance) Agent

The number-one complaint I hear from authors about their agents is that they don’t communicate with them. My understanding of this was renewed when I was on the side of needing an insurance agent to respond to me. I needed an adjustment to my policy that will mean I’ll pay …

Read More

Creative Boundaries

Creative people usually don’t like being told what to create or what not to create. Similarly, explorers and researchers don’t like being told, “Don’t look there,” or “Explore over here.” By nature, they follow their training and instincts from place to place and thought to thought. As a writer, while …

Read More

Your Money is Your Business or Keep a Lid on How Much Money You Make

How much should author friends reveal to each other about contracts or other business dealings when they have business with the same publisher?

I think it is a huge mistake to reveal the amount of your advances to other authors. This is similar to finding out the salary of the co-worker in the office cubicle next to yours. When I was a retail store manager we had major problems when salaries were revealed, a near fist-fight between two people who had been friends.

Money is viewed as a measure of worth; i.e. a measure of the worthiness of your work.

Read More

Markets are Different Than You Think

Last week I addressed the issue of trying to be too specific or too general in identifying a reader-market and the need to continually address new generations. Today, let’s discuss the culture in the United States and the Christian writer. Here are some unavoidable things to keep in mind as …

Read More