Mending Fences with Your Publisher

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Recently I’ve concentrated on writing about an author’s relationship with his publishing house. We’ve examined a few of the ways the publisher-author relationship can go askew. It’s not that anyone intended that to occur; it’s just that life looks very different from inside the publishing house and outside the publishing house.

As someone who has worked within publishing houses for more than a decade, I understand the dynamics of what happens when an author: oversteps boundaries (read more here); doesn’t believe in boundaries; or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, believes being silent despite disappointment makes the relationship work (not!) (read more here).

What should you do if you find you’ve not realized where the boundaries were?

Mending Fences: Own Up to Your Part

First, being honest with everyone involved should go a long way toward clearing the air. Once a relationship develops problems, it’s weird how everyone offended closes up (or discusses the problem among themselves but not with the offender). So giving people permission to admit you’ve been driving them crazy is a good first step.

Of course, you have to be ready not to be defensive when they agree that, yes, you have been a pain to deal with.

Mending Fences: Explain What Went Wrong for You

Second, talk about how the relationship went wrong for you. There really are two sides to this story (at least two sides; lots of people are involved in publishing your book). It’s good for staff at the publishing house to think about how the inciting incident(s) looked from your side of the fence.

Mending Fences: Make a Plan

Third, come up with a plan to resolve the problem. Just acknowledging that all did not go well is not the same as finding a solution. That solution needs to be dreamed up with the publishing personnel, the author, and the agent. Once the plan is agreed to, then the agent can oversee its implementation and that the plan is followed up on.

In many ways, your relationship with your publisher is like any other relationship. Apply good relational principles, and you’re likely to come out looking better than ever to your publisher.

Have you or someone you know had communication problems with his or her publisher? How were they resolved? Or were they swept under the carpet? What ultimately happened?

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16 Responses

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  1. I worked with a wise medical director. We waded through patients’ complaints about their doctors, doctors’ complaints about the hospital staff and nurses’ complaints about doctors. He often reminded me to not rush to judgment until “you’ve heard AT LEAST two sides of the story.”
    * His advice applies to authors and publishers too. Thanks for the agent-eye view, Janet (blessed are the peacemakers).
    *

  2. Well, my publisher (now defunct) sort of didn’t pay royalties…does that count?
    * I didn’t pursue it, because the sales were not high enough to be a financial make-or-break, and, having just gone through a lawsuit against a former employer, I didn’t really want to spend more time in law offices. More to the point, whatever I recovered would not have been worth the adversarial stance I would have had to assume. Life’s too short.
    * The situation did work in my favour; the unpaid royalties meant that when I had to go through bankruptcy, “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” was not considered an asset that should be sold. When the company folded I got the rights back, and perhaps one day I will be well enough to make the mods to the cover that are the prerequisite for getting it launched again (and I do have a most gracious offer of help for that!).
    * I do believe that when one throws the toys out of the pram, so to speak, a mea culpa is required…but it does not follow and nor should it be expected that there will come a quid pro quo. Absolution is not a given byproduct of apology, and sometimes one must, like Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, play the man and accept the flames.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Andrew, leave it to you to see the blessing in the failure to be paid your royalties! One of my signature expressions when we were having problems at work was “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony somewhere.” You’re probably the best pony spotter I’ve ever known.

    • Andrew, I so appreciate your perspective. And your closing statements are so true. When we’ve messed up in relationships, we need to own it and do our best to make things right . . . Regardless of whether we recieve absolution or a more negative result.

      • Jeanne, thank you so much!
        * I think it also may be important to keep in mind that when a relationship, either professional or personal, does survive severe damage, it won’t be the same. As Omar khayyam so famously said,
        “The moving finger writes,
        and having writ, moves on.
        Nor all your piety nor your wit
        can move it back to cancel half a line,
        nor your tears wash out a word of it.”

  3. Hmmm…this is good advice for a lot of areas of life. Thanks, Janet!

  4. Renee Garrick says:

    I’ve read (can’t put my finger on the source at the moment) that, in dealing with a business associate, when you really blow it but follow up the mistake with an apology and a way to make it right, you actually create a better impression than if all had gone well from the beginning. This happened once with my husband’s IT business . . . and in the end, he received a thank you note from his more-loyal-than-ever client. The key? Open communication; taking responsibility for your part and reaching out to repair the damage.

  5. Janet, I always appreciate the wisdom you share. Open, honest communication is a must if a relationship is going to be successful. There will be times when we make mistakes. It’s best to own them and do our best to make them right.
    *I like that you include a step for making a plan so that things can go more smoothly I. He author-publisher relationship after apologies have been made. Creating a successful foundation for a long-term relationship with their publisherseems the wise thing to do for authors

  6. Mending fences through identifying and acting on these relationship dynamics extends WELL beyond just the publisher/author relationship. The wisdom you have presented can be applied to just about any interpersonal exchange.

  7. I think it may also be important, when our actions disgrace us, to continue to live with…grace.
    * Imagine Peter, when he heard the cry of the rooster as a sentence handed down by a judge, of his denial of the Lord. No doubt he wanted to run far from that place, to outrace his shame by fleetness of foot.
    * Shame, however, is a swamp, and we can only reach dry land by slow and sodden steps…and we don’t get to ditch the burdens and responsibilities we were carrying. Peter was important to the other apostles; he couldn’t just leave because he didn’t want to face them.
    * We know the story now, and how it ended, how Jesus asked thim three times, “Lovest thou Me?” But Peter couldn’t know. He could only work his way through the ruins he’d made, step by bleeding step, because he knew that whatever happened, perseverance is its own brand of redemption.

  8. Excellent post, Janet. I once found myself typing an urgent message to my publisher while my kids were doing their homework, supper was cooking on the stove and about to boil over, and the doorbell was ringing…all at the same time! When I went back and read my sent message, I realized my tone and word choice weren’t as well thought out as they typically would be. A simple follow-up message to explain the heart of my words cleared the air and let my publisher know I wasn’t trying to be difficult.

    We’re all human, and sometimes messages can be mistyped or misconstrued, especially when written versus verbal. I’m a conflict-phobe, so I’d rather acknowledge my part upfront than let the misunderstanding drag on forever. 🙂

  9. Carrie Padgett says:

    Good words for dealing other issues in life too! Thank you, Janet.

  10. Janet, reading throughout your post, I kept thinking how this applies to all relationships. I don’t know why saying “I’m sorry” is so hard. But when my girls were little, I determined right away that I’d always admit when I was in the wrong. Because if things went wrong, as a relationship player, I guarantee I had a hand in it. Even if you don’t know what you did wrong, you can at least say you’re sorry that things went wrong, and you’d like to discover what you did and work at not letting that happen again. It doesn’t make you weak … I believe it makes you admired. And it makes you stronger and more knowledgeable for the road ahead.

  11. Jerusha Agen says:

    Great advice, Janet. You’re right, this sounds like applicable advice for any relationship that has hit a rough patch. It’s helpful to think of publishing as involving an actual relationship, where you have to be careful not to injure and be ready to mend the fences if you do. Thanks!

  12. Kathleen says:

    Excellent article, Janet.