Editor/Author relationships – following the Yellow Brick Road

I’ve been following a rather disturbing thread on a lit site where the author and editor are pitted against each other. In retaliation, the editor dumped the author and took her book OP. My mouth fell into my lap. The beagle, at her most hungover, wouldn’t act that immaturely. It made me very sad that an editor would exact his retribution on an author who has legit complaints rather than simply fixing the problem.

It’s a given that we all may experience a clash of personalities at some point in our careers. The question is how do we behave during those crises? Do we knee-jerk and launch public attacks, naming names, lobbing bombs, and severing limbs? Or do we pick up the phone and try to work things out?

In a perfect world, we’d be boogeying down the Yellow Brick Road where authors and editors exhibit exemplary behavior and everyone is kissy facey. The sun would shine, the birds would sing, and the crickets would chirp…or do whatever crickets do. Sadly, Google Map doesn’t list directions to the Yellow Brick Road, so it’s up to us to find it on our own.

Communication

As I’ve said before, communication is the lifeblood of this industry. The minute you see a problem, you need to contact the other person. Don’t let the frustration fester and wiggle its way under your skin. It’s imperative to be completely open and honest. If you sit and stew, your hair will fall out, you’ll grow bunions, and you’ll drool. Really.

What is the goal?

The main goal for any conflict resolution is finding a common ground upon which you can both agree to fix a problem. This increases the chance for success rather than ramping up a bad situation to the point of no return. If everyone keeps their goal plastered to their monitor, it would be much easier to stay focused on solving rather than resorting to silly things like immature retaliations and such.

Shooting from the hip

Sometimes the natural reaction is to impulsively shoot from the hip when feeling maligned. Your anger or frustration is at its zenith, so the first thing you want to do is blast away with both barrels.

If you’re the recipient of a hip-shooter, don’t take responsibility for their bad behavior by escalating things to the point where things go completely out of control.

And think about it; how easy do you think it is it to talk yourself down from that particular ledge? Do you really want to go there? By giving in to this urge, are you risking your reputation? Your credibility? This is a small industry where gossip is rife. When you blast away, it’s a guarantee that others will find out about it.

And really…what does impulsive emotion-filled vitriol accomplish?

Walk, don’t talk

My advice is the same as when the beagle wants to mix champagne and margaritas…”Don’t.” Instead of talking, go walking. Or hit the gym. Do something that takes you out of your immediate (D)Anger Zone. Once it’s out of your mouth (or fingers) it’s pretty hard to take it back. Avoid having to eat your words by taking yourself out of the situation until your cooler head prevails.  Once you return with a better frame of mind, you’ll be better able to communicate effectively.

Another way of “walking instead of talking” is to go ahead and write that nastygram email to the other person. Blast them a new orifice. Question their heritage. Compare their evolutionary progress to that of a warthog. But…DO NOT HIT THE SEND BUTTON. There’s a lot of therapeutic benefit to getting it down on cyber paper. Think of it as literary soul cleansing.

Edited to add:
Better yet, don’t write that nastygram in your email program. Do it in your word processing program. As my bud Lauren sez: “It’s way too easy to hit the Send button and impossible to get it back.” Gah!

– Thanks for watchin’ my six, Lauren!

Receptivity vs. being defensive

This whole Yellow Brick Road goes both ways. If you’re an author who is upset at your editor, you need to let them know exactly what the problem is and offer ideas on how to fix it. Conversely, if someone is calling you to complain, then it’s your job to be receptive to what the other party is saying. Going into “Defensive Mode” is akin to circling the wagons around your ego. Get over yourself. Your ego is not your friend.

Be a good listener

Egos have very stubby fingers who excel at sticking them in our ears and blocking out what’s being said. Egos also have very big mouths and they’re adept at drowning out all other conversations and telling us what we want to hear. In order to affect change, you gotta listen. Talking over someone isn’t listening…it’s reacting. Give your ego the day off. Heck, send it on permanent vacation.

A few years back I had an author who was extremely upset with his sales. Even though I felt there was shared responsibility for those lackluster sales,  I let him vent because our previous distributor screwed the pooch and didn’t get the title out to the stores in time, thus creating a logjam with backorders. What did it hurt me to listen to his frustrations? He was partially right. And even if he’d been 100% wrong, the main thing I wanted him to know was that I was doing everything within my power to rectify the situation.

I’m not sure the relationship will ever be jovial, but it’s cordial and respectful. Sales are through the roof with our new distributor, so what more can anyone ask for? If I had shot back at him, where would that have taken us? There is nothing worse than reaching a point of no return.

What if there isn’t any improvement?

And speaking of the reaching the point of no return, this is the absolute worst because it means that your best efforts failed.  This is depressing because there is little you can do if the other party isn’t willing to find some common ground. What do you do? Well, not much, really. It’s a matter of perspective and coping at this point. Zero results isn’t carte blanche to be a weener. Maintain your dignity and look at your options.

Years ago I had an author who was convinced I hated him because of his prior bad behavior with an independent editor. I assured him that whatever went on with someone else had nothing to do with me. As long as we maintained a good relationship, then he could have raced through Congress wearing nothing more than a banana peel, and I wouldn’t care.

But it didn’t matter. Any time I made suggestions, he was convinced I was picking on him because hated him.  Over a couple of years, he grew quite rude, to the point where he became was abusive. No matter how much I tried to talk him down from the ledge, while harboring thoughts of smacking him upside the head and telling him to grow up, I knew the toxicity forced us to that point of no return. I didn’t see any way out of it but to cut him loose. I’ll take a lot, but I won’t take abuse. No one should.

The End Game: so now what?

Ok, so you went walking instead of talking, you listened (or tried to), you were communicative – and nothing happened. There was no improvement. Now what? Well, you’ve reached what we call a Mexican standoff – probably un-PC to say these days, but screw it, it’s my blog.

The other person is standing in granite, so it’s up to you to decide the next move. Only you can decide the right move – stick it out, leave, sue, drink heavily, whatever. In my case, there was an instance about five years ago where I decided it was best to only communicate to the author via the agent. We would have no direct contact. It chaffed me like a wet bathing suit, but it was that or seriously consider dumping the book. No one wanted that, and this ended up being a perfect option.

My point with all this is to get it out there – not all relationships will be the Yellow Brick Road – and to offer some advice on how best to maintain your dignity in a difficult situation.

If you are the object of someone’s angst, then it’s your job to learn how to behave and act like a professional. Whether you’re an author who hasn’t met your rewrite deadline, you blasted a reviewer for their bad review, you show up at your author events drunk or stoned, or a publisher who sends out wrong tax forms, don’t pay royalties, or send books out to reviewers, you have only one thing to do: Grow Up.

Your relationship may not be the Yellow Brick Road, but it sure as heckfire doesn’t need to be The Road Paved Straight To Hell either.

8 Responses to Editor/Author relationships – following the Yellow Brick Road

  1. Donna says:

    I’m glad I have a super-fab editor. 🙂

  2. kimkircher says:

    It’s true that our truest selves emerge in difficult times. But it takes training to stay calm. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Lauren says:

    Excellent post, Lynn. I would only suggest amending this:

    Another way of “walking instead of talking” is to go ahead and write that nastygram email to the other person. Blast them a new orifice. Question their heritage. Compare their evolutionary progress to that of a warthog. But…DO NOT HIT THE SEND BUTTON. There’s a lot of therapeutic benefit to getting it down on cyber paper. Think of it as literary soul cleansing.

    Because it is SO easy to hit the Send button and because it is impossible to take it back I would suggest that any time you do this that you use a Word document rather than an e-mail. Don’t make it easy to hit the Disaster … er Send button. It’s easy to do, impossible to fix. Protect yourself first and last, then let loose.

  4. Good thinking, Lauren. Editing coming up.

  5. Very, very good advice.

    I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen too often because it sounds hideous.

    Does it make me an awful author to be thinking ‘I’m so glad it’s not me’ ?

  6. No, Ebony, it’s very rare, thankfully. Hasn’t happened to me in years. But I have friends who haven’t been as lucky.

    And no, you’re not awful for thinking this. I say the same thing every day!

  7. brightdog says:

    Oh yes. Been there, on both sides I fear. And when I have been in the wrong, I have learned to swallow my pride and go to that person and apologize SINCERELY.

    Wish I could say the same for others. There are a few authors whose behaviour (vis-a-vis their publishers or other authors in the community) has meant I not only never want to work with them again but I don’t even want to be in the same room with them.

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