Do You Communicate Too Often with Your Publisher?

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Finding the right balance between communicating too often or not often enough with your publisher is a tightrope authors walk all the time. With varying degrees of success.

Over-Communicating

I’m in the middle of straightening out a publisher-author fracas because the publisher is just plain weary of hearing from the author. Every day, apparently, the author fires off new questions to ask marketing/publicity, when the next contract might be offered, how the last manuscript turned in was received, etc.

The publisher, weary of being barraged with emails, came to me and said, “We give up. We’ve tried to be responsive, but really, we can’t devote this amount of time to answering one author’s questions.”

Let Your Agent Be Your Guide

One of the great aspects of having an agent is that the publisher depends on the agent at such relationally-defining moments  to step in and sort through the mess. Because, trust me, the publisher and the author had very different views of how the communication misfired in this situation.

The sad truth is that some agents won’t try to sort through the tangle. He or she believes the agent’s job ends when the contract is signed. At our agency, we believe the agent’s job is never done. We want to oversee the author’s career, and that includes taking care of relational snafus.

What Can You Learn from My Client’s Mistake?

The publisher does not appreciate hearing from authors too often.

If an author sends a nonstop stream of e-mails, even if they’re to different people at the publishing house, that author soon becomes thought of as a problem.

The author is seen either as way too insecure (and needing too much reassurance) or way too pushy (and hoping that being pushy will result in more marketing/publicity or editorial feedback). But the publisher will hold an author at arm’s length in such instances. Neither party benefits from an arms’ length relationship.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you think you’re over-communicating, consult with your agent, or ask your editor if the in-house folks think they’re hearing too often from you. Let it be known that you want to be sensitive to how much communication should take place.

Manage the number of emails or phone calls.

If you have lots of issues to clarify, collect them over several days, put them in categories (marketing, publicity, editorial issues) and then send emails targeted to the best person for each category. Resist the impulse to fire off an email each time a question occurs to you.

Consult with your agent about ways to self-monitor the number of communications. Sometimes agent will suggest they be copied on all communications. If your agent thinks you’re over-the-top in how much you’re communicating or the urgent tone most of your missives convey, pull back.

Inadequate Communication

I have clients who err in the opposite direction. Out of fear of being “that” kind of author, they comply with everything the publishing staff propose: edits that are extreme; a title that doesn’t work; a cover that looks so much like your previous cover that even you can’t tell them apart, etc.

In that case, confess your timidity to your agent. Let her speak on your behalf. Your publisher isn’t trying to railroad you into complying with their opinions. They expect you to let them know when you have concerns. It is a partnership, after all.

Can you think of a time someone has over-communicated with you? (Like maybe your toddler…) How did you respond? What would have made the relationship work better at that point? How might that apply to an author’s relationship with her or his publisher?

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15 Responses

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  1. Over-communicating is a need for reassurance. When an author realizes that, she/he is fulfilling a Zulu proverb: “A fault confessed is half redressed.”

    • Janet Grant says:

      That’s such a good point, Andrew. Authors often are insecure–I guess it’s part of the creative gene. But especially for a debut author, lots of reassurances are a necessity, which those of us who have been in publishing forever forget.

  2. Carol Ashby says:

    Being regarded as a pest is never a good thing. Do you have general guideline numbers for how often most publishers would consider too often?

    • And, for that matter, how about agents? At what point do we go from, “I’m interested in your career,” to “You’re bugging me?”

    • Janet Grant says:

      I’d say unless someone at the publishing house initiates an email exchange, about once a week would be appropriate. But that’s just a general guidelines. When you and your publisher are putting together marketing plans, the communication naturally increases, with lots of back and forth.

  3. I’ve worked with someone who picks up the phone and calls every time she has a question–her need to know is the only priority she sees. I invoke the “do onto others” contact rule: I don’t like to derail a high priority project to deal with something less urgent. So I send emails that say, “when you have a minute” and “I need guidance on these questions before I finish [fill in the blank]. God’s advice–it works for emails too.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Excellent points, Shirlee. Emails that scream “pay attention to me now” are super annoying if the recipient doesn’t see it with the same urgency the writer does.

  4. With deaf family members who use ASL, one learns to lower the word count, and use the best possible phrasing, to get the point across. And there’s a tonne of acting going on.
    With 4 kids, I learned that my shoulders can only take so much poking before I went Ninja on whoever was doing the “Mom-mom-mom-mom?” on me with his/her index finer. I may have yelled “Get to the point, you’re hurting me!” once or twice. The shortest son is 5’11. And they’re all strong!
    And yet, I confess to being Wordy McBlatherton far too often. Yes, I’m working on that.
    Anytime I communicate with someone who intimidates me, I TRY to err on the side of “grown-up”,

  5. Hmmmm…yes toddlers do tent to over communicate don’t they. I once had a four-year-old whom I had placed in time out scream a lovely combo of expletives at me from the little chair he was sitting in. But it is our dog who over communicates with us. She sighs and whines and sigh-whines and plops her chin on the arm rest of the chair and stares at you with feeling. She wakes me up in the middle of the night wanting fresh water in her dish, or to go outside (not to pee) but to just stretch out on the driveway or to bark. She has even gotten me out of bed asking for an ice cube from the freezer when it is hot or because she thinks it is time for me to get up and write. She is definitely a princess. I can see how we do not want to be the princess writer!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Oh, yes, dogs can overcommunicate! Mine generally used his expressive face to make points, but his bark was piercingly loud. And no amount of correcting him seemed to make a difference. Not how a writer wants to be with anyone at the publishing house.

  6. NLB Horton says:

    I believe that the warmth and community within CBA/B&S muddies the line between business relationships and friendships. When DiAnn Mills mentored me in the Craftsman course, she said, “Remember, your agent is a professional, not a friend.” (I realize that you and she are friends, Janet. And Mary Keeley is my friend, and I look forward to getting to know Rachelle Gardner.) I’m constantly changing tack, assessing how much communication is appropriate with a diverse group of individuals who bring their own boundaries to the table. I remind myself that I am one of sixty authors my agent is working hard to represent, and constantly guard against losing that perspective and becoming self-absorbed about the importance of my work.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Norma, you make a good point when you mention what the other individual’s workload looks like. The same goes for an editor, who is working on three seasons of books at any given time. Or a marketer who is overseeing the marketing of hundreds of titles each publishing season. It helps to give perspective.

  7. Jerusha Agen says:

    Great advice, Janet! I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m hesitant to over-contact, so I tend not to say much, but I’ll pipe up pretty quickly over something I think is important, too. I love that a good agent can help navigate this sometimes tricky relationship with the publisher!

  8. I think to some degree I am the over-communicator–not so much with writing, but with other things like real estate. At some point you figure out that less is more and can save a lot of stress because sometimes issues work themselves out without any extra effort.

  9. Glad you brought up the 2nd type. I’m sure that’s me. Then, when there’s something that I really am not happy with, e.g., a book cover that is really substandard, I’m never sure how much to push it. Plus, I’d rather be writing!