Your Publisher Is Your New Best Friend. Not!

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Grant

All of our agents have slipped out of the office to spend the holidays with their families. We’ve picked from previous posts “The Best of” for your reading pleasure and pondering. Our office opens on January 5, 2015, and we’ll have new posts waiting for you then. In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

I’ve been thinking about an author’s relationship with his or her publisher recently, and it occurred to me that some of my clients have learned how to successfully maintain that relationship the hard way. So, to save some of you from those faux paus, lean in and listen (er, read) carefully.

Once a writer signs a publishing contract, everyone involved is dizzy with happiness. balloons and confettiThe editor, the marketing people, the sales reps, the author, and the agent are all like teenagers who have just met the dreamiest person–who is going on a date with them! The future looks positively, giddily full of  promise.

Because the writer feels (rightly so) affirmed in his or her writing ability and in the marketability of the project, everyone at the publishing house is like a new best friend to dream about the future with.

That perception is right…almost.

The folks at the publishing house are not your new best friends…they’re your new best colleagues.

So what does that mean? Here are five assumptions and behaviors to avoid since your publisher is not your new best friend.

1) Do not assume that what you say to one person stays with that person. (This is not Las Vegas.) Everyone at the publisher’s works daily with everyone else. Okay, that seems obvious, but think about the repercussions of, say, complaining to your editor that the person who wrote your back cover copy is lame-brained. Why, that  might be the individual the editor has lunch with almost every day. Hmm, your editor might not view you quite as favorably as she did a few minutes ago.

2) Do not deride any other books your publisher has chosen to produce. Okay, so you think some very-famous-but-can’t-write-his-way-out-of-a-paper-bag author shouldn’t have been given the chance to show off his lack of skills–let alone have a mega marketing budget. Here’s the thing: That author might well be providing the infusion of cash the publisher needs to be able to produce your book and to pay for employees’ salaries.

3) Do not confess that you don’t read any books in the genre or category you’re writing in. You have just proclaimed that you’re writing with blinders on. That you don’t even particularly like your genre. Especially if you admit this to your editor, red flags will start snapping in the wind for her. Oh-oh, you don’t know the “rules” for your genre; how can you produce the best manuscript? Just how much work will she have to do to pull you from the brink of disaster?

4) Do not assume your publishing house will understand that you missed your deadline because you received a bigger advance for another project after signing a contract with this house. This is not a “family affair”; you have acted unprofessionally.

5) Do not divulge that your party-laden weekend left you debilitated on Monday and unable to work. Sure, you noticed the person you’re talking to on the phone or writing an email to has an active social life on the weekends. But your job still requires you to be working on your edits. You accepted certain responsibilities when you signed the contract, and the publisher handed money over to you to further motivate you to do your work.

By the way, my clients haven’t fallen off of all these cliffs, but I have seen other authors do so. Even if some of these scenarios seem far-fetched, I assure you they are not.

Ultimately, remember this: You have entered into a professional relationship. And while writing is a highly personal experience and many people at the publishing house will learn lots about you as they work with you, every one of them will always protect the publishing house over you. Always.

What errors have you seen other writers commit in relating to publishing staff?

What behavior are you unsure whether it’s appropriate? How would you go about figuring out the answer?

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16 Responses

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  1. Hmmm, Janet, this post brings my mother’s oft repeated advice to mind: If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. And from Proverbs: Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise. James was right: Be quick to listen and slow to speak.

    Dear God, If/when I have a relationship with a publisher, don’t let me blabber on foolishly!

  2. I huge part of the problem many people have – and I assume it relates to their dealings with publishers – is the desire to share too much.

    Often it comes from a desire to please, to get along. Sometimes its source is a need for expressing “their truth”.

    Either way, it can be a bad idea. In Escape and Evasion training, one is taught to say as little as possible to putative captors – not only because sensitive information can be mined from one;s words, but also because interrogations are routinely recorded, and it does not take all that much skill to edit a string of unconnected sentences into an admission of war crimes.

    Name, rank, and serial number is, thankfully, passe…it got a lot of guys tortured to death for being ‘hard’. But the current protocol requires even more verbal vigilance.

    Verbal vigilance…not a bad idea, when communicating with a publisher.

  3. Janet, Each point you’ve made is a good one. I’d add one more–don’t think that the contract signed with a particular publisher signals a “till death do us part” relationship. Sort of like any other job–you have to produce (and in this case, production means sales).
    Best wishes for a merry and meaningful Christmas.

  4. Professionalism is key. There are no more closet-whispers, only roof-top shouts. Hmm, I seem to remember a Bible verse about something like that. Merry Christmas!

  5. Heather Melcher says:

    Thank you for all the great advice you all give in your posts. Your first point especially stood out for me because the relationships among people at a publishing house can be a huge benefit to authors. Most of the work I’ve had published fell in my lap because the first editor I worked with was pleased with the feature article I wrote and told other editors about me. What a wonderful surprise it was when I started receiving offers of paid writing projects in my inbox from editors I hadn’t even contacted. No writing assignment is ever too small. You never know where a well written article or other small assignment might take you.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Great tips and perfect timing.

  7. Traci Krites says:

    Some good advice to follow!!

  8. Jim Lupis says:

    Twenty years ago I signed my first contract, and I’m sure I’m guilty of some of those “behaviors”. Editors get a lot of abuse, but my editor was wonderful – and patient! She knew I was learning and helped me across the finish line.

    Did it hinder me from receiving another contract? I’m not sure. The Lord called me into ministry and only last year did I resume my writing.

    Janet, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone at Books and Such, and the entire B&S Blog Community, a Wonderful and Spirit-filled Christmas. Thank you for providing me an incredible learning experience. May the new year bring abundant blessings to all!

  9. don and rascal says:

    I never met a publisher I didn’t like.

    Of course . . . I’ve never met a publish.

  10. S.J. Francis says:

    Wonderful, insightful and so true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I have heard fellow writers basically “worship” the book publisher and consider them a “friend.” The book publisher is business colleague but nothing more. The author/publisher relationship is a business one. More writers need to realize that. Not so. Thanks for posting this.
    Regards,
    S.J. Francis

    • Dana King says:

      Exactly, S.J. You may have friendly relations with individuals at your publisher–and should, I hope–but your publisher is not your friend, best or otherwise. Your publisher has entered into an agreement with you because they think you can make them some money. Period. As soon as they no longer think that, you’ll be gone. Confide in your agent. At least she works for you.