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 performance or effort does not meet your expectations, conflict can occur.

Over the years I’ve seen more conflict than you can imagine…or 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 anger 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?
This happens a lot. What you may think is egregious is actually 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 it can be that particular editor is 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.

2) Can this be fixed? And how fast?
Sometimes an error is such that it 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.

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. And that goes back to the anger I mentioned in the above paragraph. If you have a relationship then the speed bumps can be handled with little distress.

4) How Can I Express My Displeasure?
My advice is rather simplistic. Don’t press the “Send” button on your angry e-mail 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. That agent is your “safe place.” Your agent will likely move you to the next question below…to give perspective.

5) How Bad is it Really?
Sometimes it it 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), and I constantly play Collections Agent instead of Literary Agent.

Fortunately the situation is not as earth shattering as it may appear at first. Most issues can be handled with a 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. In my days as an editor I had one author question whether or not I was a Christian because he didn’t like the design of his book cover. I know of a couple 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 handle with aplomb by the author in concert with their agent. Things can be worked out. Maybe not to a 100% satisfaction, but at least to a point of acceptance.



7 Responses to When the Gloves Come Off

  1. Avatar
    Jason M. Karampatsos October 27, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    Steve, well said. It is helpful to be reminded that some things we feel are best not said out loud; when they are said out loud they should be said to the right person, at the right time, and with the right heart. As a pastor and marriage counselor I have seen some marriages torn apart because couples spoke in anger to friends and family too soon or in too much detail. It is important for married couples to have safe people to turn to, and it is a helpful reminder that our agent ought to be that safe place to professionally turn to.

    I might also add that turning to God in prayer when we are angry can save us a great deal of pain, heartache and regret.

  2. Avatar
    Bobbi Junior October 27, 2014 at 5:13 am #

    I’m in the midst of this right now – a publisher who’s designed a cover that does not represent the content of the book, but instead represents a good marketing scheme that will disappoint readers who are looking for what the subtitle suggests, but isn’t there.

    I’d sure appreciate ideas of how to tackle this while changes can still be made. I don’t feel we’ve had a comfortable relationship, but we’ve been civil and respectful. This book won a contest and that’s why it’s being published, so no agent is involved. Just me and my first time publishing experience. Help!

  3. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins October 27, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    Steve, are you sure you’re not talking about preschool? Some of those author responses you mention seem pretty immature. And aren’t Christians supposed to act like – well, Christians?

  4. Avatar
    Dee Kincade October 27, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Thanks Steve,

    I’m in the final edit of my first book, a Christian fantasy, before I send it to the professional editors. Since I’m at the point of looking for an agent and hopefully, soon after that, a publisher, I appreciate your advice. I’m happy to hear that I will have some say, even though I will also have to pick my battles carefully. Your blog post helped me understand the inner workings of traditional publishing world.

    Thanks for your insight,

    Dee Kincade

  5. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka October 27, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Thanks for the reminder, Steve. First and foremost, I hear the need for grace woven throughout this post. That and good communication. When we, the authors, remember that the editors and other employees at publishing houses want a good product as much as we do, hopefully this can temper those initial emotions we feel when something doesn’t go the way we think it should.

    It’s always good to handle conflict with thought-out words rather than spewed out words. Relationship is important in this business, and in living our lives out as Christians.

    Thanks for the perspective check!

  6. Avatar
    Judith Robl October 27, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    If one knows the parameters up front, it can minimize the trauma of some of the things that can go wrong.

    And it helps if we remember that the purpose of our efforts is to broadcast the word and love of God.

    Taking a deep breath and refraining from knee-jerk reaction are good advice.

    And as Jeanne Takenaka said, grace is a wonderful commodity to use in these instances.

    Thanks for a great post.

  7. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan October 27, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Steve, I can understand the first three types of errors and believe I could navigate them. But I would have trouble dealing with delays on getting paid. When money is due, it should be quickly paid, without the need for an agent to become a bill collector, (which is another great reason to have an agent!)

    Thanks for an enlightening post.

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