I remember the day I gave up gossip.
For me, it was part of my spiritual journey. Every time I saw gossip in a list with murder, adultery, stealing, and other vile practices, I felt smugly “safe” from all the other vices except that one–gossip.
When I say “gave up,” I mean that I made a conscious decision to be on the alert for, avoid listening to it, and avoid participating in gossip. How hard could that be? One of the perks of quitting my regular-paycheck job to work from home for far less income was the office gossip temptation disappeared.
I worked solo, the only one in the office. With a schedule that didn’t allow coffee klatches or chatting over the backyard fence or curly-corded phone conversations that consisted of gossipy stories and opinions strung together, my commitment to avoid gossip had the support of UNintentionality to accompany my intentional efforts.
Then along came social media, texting, and messaging.
It’s easy to understand how gossip–digitally or otherwise–affects relationships. Here’s in invitation to venture into what Writer Office Gossip looks like, and the effect it has within the writing world.
Let’s Talk About Contracts
Oh, it’s tempting.
- “What was your advance from the publisher? I’m not sure I’m being treated fairly.”
- “How much did the publisher invest in marketing for you? I think I was cheated.”
- “How many author copies were you given?”
It may sound like a chat about the industry. Or even informational. But it’s actually gossip…or akin to it.
If it relates to an author’s contract, it is–hang onto your eyeballs–proprietary information that typically BY CONTRACT cannot be shared with other authors, even authors published by the same house.
It may be about THE business but it’s not about YOUR business. That’s actually Writer Office Gossip.
The reasons advances vary, even within a publishing house and with two similar books are many…and shouldn’t affect you. The other author may have a higher or lower advance for the sake of both of you, hard as that might be to imagine. Pressure on the author with a higher advance is…in a word…higher. A higher advance doesn’t even always mean a higher value is placed on that author or the contracted book. It might relate to end of fiscal year concerns or past sales track record for one or the other.
Have you considered it may be due to a potential the publishing house hasn’t seen realized yet in another author, or marketing projections related to the subject matter. Your advance may be lower (or higher) because of other books contracted for that same season, year, or release date. The editor may have hopes that if the first book does well and earns out, the editor can convince the publishing team to agree to a two-book contract next time for that author.
But, It’s Not Fair
As an agent, we’ve even see advances increase due to the amount of research required for a nonfiction book. Or because the author’s affiliations mean bulk purchases are likely.
Also, a lower advance does not mean your agent is ineffective. Remember your mama saying, “I have my reasons”? Same.
Writer Office Gossip can’t help but be destructive. It feeds into the downward spiral of comparisons and false expectations. And if you’re the one with the higher advance or the heftier marketing budget, it can discourage others.
Did You Hear…?
- “Did you hear Author A had to have three extensions for her book deadline? I can’t imagine asking for such a thing!”
- “And did you hear that Agent/Editor/Publisher/Author So-and-So changed jobs? I wonder what’s wrong.”
- “Did you know my publisher had to postpone my release? Do you think they’re about to go under?”
- “The way I heard it, Author B isn’t writing for that publisher anymore because…”
Do you hear what I hear? The sound of writer office gossip.
One of the reasons agents exist is to wade through the swells and undercurrents (and okay, riptides) of the writing life on behalf of our authors. In the above scenarios and many more, a sea (see what I did there?) of explanations, reasons, and more-to-the-stories float under them all. Our concern can so easily morph into gossip, supposition, and speculation.
I Need to Vent
Need? Not as often as you’d think. And not to other authors or the public. It’s an expression of contention, not peace, a sign of upset and distress. When we air our grievances with others, we poison their air rather than cleanse our own. All that toxicity has to go somewhere. It doesn’t evaporate.
Ask anyone who’s been in the writing and publishing industry for some time. The enemy you make today will likely be your roommate at the conference next year. Or the author you complain about will become the acquisitions editor at the publishing house of your dreams. Or the freelance editor you disparage will step into a role where you now depend on their support.
Have you been disappointed? Treated unfairly? Overlooked? Underpaid? Cheated? Pirated? Ignored? Did someone receive the honor, contract, opportunity for which you longed?
Are you and God dealing with those emotions? Or are you Writer Office Gossiping about them?
Let’s end this challenge on a high note. Some who read this will never have considered that their complaints or discussing writerly problems were anything more than expressions of concern, cries for help, or “calls for prayer.” They intended no harm. Here’s a tidal wave of grace for them/us.
If you have a good, solid, kind but firm, grace-filled literary agent, he or she can help you wade through the questions about what you should do when the temptation to gossip is strong. The agent can sometimes offer the explanations you wouldn’t intuitively know, or offer a gentle reminder to let God handle it.
The world is supplying more than enough vitriol and even “well-intentioned” gossip. We’re word people. We can fill the atmosphere with the opposites of vitriol: sympathy, diplomacy, geniality, civility, kindness, politeness, graciousness, sweetness, courtesy, compassion, warmth, tenderness, tactfulness, softness, cordiality…
Let’s concern ourselves with applauding one another.
The career you save may be your own.