For many writers, becoming a published author is a dream come true. The journey often includes years of persistence, slogging through disappointment and overcoming the discouragement of rejection. Seeing their name on a book cover is the ultimate score, an achievement that sends the heart soaring.
While there are many benefits to this passion, there are also pitfalls. One of the most dangerous is putting the passion to be published ahead of practical professionalism and well thought out business strategies. Writers often stumble into this pitfall early in their careers, right after that first contract or offer for representation because “it is a dream come true.” Writers may fear losing a contract if they ask too many questions or make too many demands. Sometimes writers fail to speak up because they are afraid of looking foolish or appearing ignorant about the publishing industry. On occasion, writers may compromise their personal integrity to make sure that dream remains reality.
In all of these situations, authors “make nice” because they are desperate to make their dream come true.
When authors become passive, when they blindly follow editor or agent recommendations (especially when their gut is telling them something different), when they accept decisions they feel uncomfortable with or when they become unable to make decisions, they are jeopardizing their future and their career.
What might this look in real life?
Author Susie Smith* writes spicy contemporary romance. While there are detailed love scenes in her books, it was important to Susie that she be able to market her books to a PG audience. When Susie’s publisher chose a cover that showed the hero’s hand under the heroine’s shirt, Susie felt it was too provocative. The publisher did not want to change the cover, but Susie felt strongly enough that she was willing to pull the book if the cover art wasn’t modified. Had Susie “made nice,” she would have accepted her publisher’s recommendation for the cover art.
Multi-published Jane Doe* had been working with her agent for months, trying to develop a single title concept that would appeal to a New York publishing house. Each proposal Jane and her agent submitted was turned down because it was close but not quit what the publisher was looking for. Jane had a story idea she really, really liked and wanted to pursue, but her agent disagreed. Had Jane “made nice,” she would have dropped the idea and worked up another concept with her agent.
So what eventually happened to these two authors?
Susie Smith expressed her concerns to her publisher and asked what their options were. The publisher provided Susie with access to a cover art database, and Susie selected three alternative images, one of which they both agreed upon as replacement cover art.
When Jane Doe had occasion to speak directly with the acquiring editor and the editor asked if she had any other material, Jane told her about the story idea that Jane’s agent didn’t feel was worth pursuing. The editor loved it and ultimately offered Jane a contract.
It is important to recognize that not “making nice” can carry significant risks. Contracts can be lost, relationships can be compromised, financial loss can be incurred and reputations can be damaged. However, there are actions authors can take to minimize the potential fall-out of not ‘making nice”:
At all times, maintain a professional attitude. Be polite, courteous and respectful.
Communicate your needs, concerns and boundaries in a constructive manner, and be willing to listen to the needs, concerns and boundaries of others involved in the situation.
Offer 3-4 potential solutions to a problem situation.
Trust your instincts.
Acknowledge your actions and decisions in an assertive, honest manner.
Ask for time to consider a situation before committing to a final decision.
While “making nice” is not usually in the best interest of an author’s career, it is always in an author’s best interest to be fair, open minded and professional.
*Actual events but names have been changed.
MARIA CONNOR has worked as a freelance writer, journalist and author in print and digital media for more than 10 years. Her professional experience also encompasses marketing, book promotion and social media management. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and holds memberships in numerous specialty and regional chapters, including the Golden Network (2011 Golden Heart Finalist), Kiss of Death, San Diego RWA, Outreach International Romance Writers, First Coast Romance Writers, Contemporary Romance Writers and Passionate Ink. She has been active in the romance fiction community for more than 15 years, volunteering at both the national and local level. Additional information about Maria can be found at www.sexysassyromance.com and www.myauthorconcierge.com.