Monday, February 17, 2014

Surviving a broken relationship

As an author, the relationships you build with your agent and editors is crucial. It's always easier to work through a rough spot with someone you can consider a friend. On the same hand, these relationships are part of a business, your business, with you in the driver's seat. When you sign with an agent and/or an editor, the hope is that it's just the beginning of a long and profitable relationship. That doesn't always happen. Sometimes relationships can go south for all kinds of different reasons.
The end of that relationship can be earth-shattering and potentially devastating for your career, but it doesn't have to be. There are ways to protect yourself and your work now, even if you can't imagine a day that you would need to.


When you have conversations over the phone, in person or via social media it's easy for words to get mixed up or forgotten. A safe way to avoid this is to follow up all conversations with an email. Take a few quick minutes to jot down an email summarizing the discussion, planned action items and any established expectations. This gives both parties a chance to clarify any confusion and correct any misheard or misunderstood statements. It also gives you a starting point to draw from if there are issues that arise in the future.

Anyone can make a promise, but until it's in writing with two signatures on it, a promise won't get you very far. Anytime your agent or publisher agrees to handle anything that isn't already clearly established in a contract, always request a new contract or addendum. Even if the item sounds simple or a non-issue. It's easy to think of these business partners as friends (and they should be) and who doesn't do favors for their friends? But keep in mind, that you never know what the future holds. Your publisher could make a blunder and end up bankrupt. Your agency could shut down as a result of a death or retirement. No one hopes for bad things to happen, but they still do. Without a contract you have no recourse when your plans go sour.

If it smells fishy...call it fishy. If a professional you are working with is acting in a way that makes you uncomfortable, don't wait until you have a plate full of problems to talk about it. Keep in mind that the people on your team represent you. How they behave in the industry can and does reflect on you. If something doesn't feel right, bring it up to your agent or editor. There could be a simple explanation based on a part of the industry you aren't familiar with. But it could be an early warning sign that not everything is coming up roses.

When contracts and trust are breached, it's time to move on. To finally have an agent or get that first contract is what you've been working toward for years. Turning away from that can feel like walking away from the dream. But if it's not right, you won't be doing yourself any favors by sticking with what's not working. Relationships are important, but at the end of the day, this is a business. You need to make the call to protect your business, your brand, and your work.




I hope you never experience the sour end of a professional relationship. If you're lucky every contract you sign will be honored and you'll never have cause to doubt promises made. If you're not lucky, hopefully you'll follow these simple steps to protect yourself as a person and as an author.

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