Communication

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 rage descend on someone in the publishing company–you may end up burning a bridge. And that person whom you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

True Story

A salesman got into a verbal altercation with the buyer for a major chain. The salesman stormed out and called his boss, asking to be taken off the account so he would never have to talk to that buyer again. A month later the salesman’s company hired that buyer as the salesman’s new boss. (Yikes!)

A, B, C, D, & E (and beyond)

The following scenario is based on a true story. An author was so frustrated with her editor she wrote a scathing letter to the publisher (A), dressing down the entire editorial staff. The next year that editor moved to a different publisher (B); and when that author’s proposal was presented at a meeting, the editor relayed to the publishing team (B) the volatility of that writer.

Soon the writer was with a new publisher (C) because she was so mad with her previous publisher. Everything was great … until something set the writer off. She again melted down, and with a scorched earth method set every relationship on fire and watched it burn. A year later the marketing manager at this publisher (C) moved to a new opportunity at another publisher (D). And shortly thereafter the editor (C) became an editorial director at yet another publisher (E).

You see the pattern? There are technically five publishers that were burned by this author, two by action, three by proxy. Each bridge fell into the river. And guess what, this writer is now mad at her publisher (C) but is having trouble finding a new home.

This author burned bridge after bridge to the point of being left on an island without a publisher and this person’s reputation had spread.

A Last Example

When working as an editor, I had an agent call me on the phone and berate me and our company for about five minutes. Most of the monologue was done by shouting. The agent concluded their rant by demanding to talk to our vice president. So I called the VP with a warning and transferred the call.

I later asked how the call went. My VP said everything was all peaches and cream, so why did I need to issue a warning? It became obvious that this agent just wanted to get past me to talk to “someone important,” i.e., a real decision-maker. Suffice it to say, I knew something about that agent that stuck with me, especially after I was promoted and became a “real decision-maker.”

(Don’t ask who I have been talking about; it is irrelevant. I’ve been in the industry for nearly 40 years and have seen a lot of things happen over a long period of time.)

What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?

1. Talk to your agent.  Your agent’s inbox or phone line should be a safe place to vent. Do not vent to your critique group, to your writing friends, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on your blog. (I know of a case in publishing where someone vented on Facebook, and a few days later that person was fired from their job.) Talk to someone you can trust. You might actually be wrong in your frustration and don’t know that what you are experiencing is supposed to happen that way. Every agent will concur that a big part of our job is helping our clients measure their frustration in a professional manner.

[I’ve spoken to authors who did not have an agent, and things had gone wrong with their publishers–things that could have been easily prevented with a good contract or a solid relationship with the company. These authors now want an agent to come in and fix things. Often it is too late. So, at the risk of sounding self-serving, this is one really good reason to have an agent from the beginning.]

2. Own the anger, but don’t let it control you. It is foolish to deny that you are frustrated. But letting emotion control your actions is not a good idea.

3. Write out your thoughts, and send them to your agent in an email–but only if you can trust the agent not to forward it to anyone. Better yet, call your agent and read it over the phone. You are a writer! Use your gift to express your thoughts. Sometimes that is enough, and you will never have to hit the “send” button. What I have done on occasion is ask the client to write the “angry letter” but send it to me and only me. Many times I can edit the tone and the words and put the language in “publisher’s speak,” so everyone’s situation is respected and frustration is expressed firmly but without anger.

4. Beware of bitterness or distrust. I read so many blogs from authors, both Christian and in the general market, who love to tell their tales of woe and then conclude that all publishers and editors are evil (and agents are devil-spawn).

Remember that people make mistakes. And sometimes businesses make business decisions that affect you negatively. I understand. I’ve been fired from a job with no warning before; I understand. But it can only become worse if you let that pain fester inside like an infection. Your craft will suffer, and your calling as a writer will be stunted.

5. Remember Colossians 3:12-13 where Paul wrote: “Put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

By the Way …

I said never burn a bridge. But I didn’t say you can’t light one on fire. There are times when you need to make a stand for what is right or point out an error. The way you communicate that information determines whether or not that bridge can still be used the next morning.

FYI:
I wrote an earlier version of this article eight years ago, and it has been viewed by nearly 3,000 readers. It still holds true. I encourage you to bookmark this as an article that will serve you well in our publishing community.

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