Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't Be Difficult

I know this subject can get...sensitive, so I'm going to try and keep it simple: Don't be a difficult author. 

Now, I'm not saying you can't have opinions. I'm not saying you have to agree with your editor/agent/designer/marketer all of the time. I'm also not saying you are forbidden from voicing your opinions. All I'm saying is you really, really don't want to be labeled as "difficult to work with." 

The fact is, if you are looking to be traditionally published either by the "big six" or a small press, you have to relinquish a substantial amount of control over your creative work. When you sell a novel (heck, even from when you sign with an agent), from there on out your book becomes a collaboration. And collaborating doesn't mean you get your way all the time. It means you work together, that sometimes you have to put aside your "vision" and accept that maybe your agent/editor/designer/marketer knows better. It requires trusting that you're in good hands.

If you want to do it all yourself—and that is totally fine and cool if you do—then I would look into self-publishing. That's the awesome thing about that route: you do have complete control over every step. Some people do really great with that (I am definitely not one of them, but admire those who have that skill set.).

For the most part, I think writers know this, but then I hear stories about "difficult authors" from publishers and how hard it is to deal with them. With smaller publishers, I have actually heard that it makes a big impact on whether or not they buy another book from that author. They have smaller lists and work very close with their authors (some small presses only have a handful of employees, after all), and if that author is always hard to deal with...yeah, sometimes it makes more sense for the small publisher to move on.

Again, that doesn't mean you have to be happy with everything your publisher does, but when you do have worries be professional. State your concerns without being accusatory. Be polite. Ask questions before you jump to conclusions. And remember that those you work with are on your side. They believe in your story and are doing their best to make it into an amazing book. Gratitude always goes a long way.


  1. Good advice! I once listened to a Barnes and Noble interview with Ken Follett (at least I think it was him); he said that he welcomed editors' input, because he said that it would make his work better. I couldn't help marveling at the fact that even a successful author is still willing to accept feedback from other people, rather than just assuming that his success means that all his subsequent work is perfect.

  2. Great advice. And, at the same time, as we've also seen in some rather public meltdowns this week, don't be difficult with your readers, either.

  3. Well said!

    I think, in general, we all know someone who's a difficult person by character. And I wonder if going into a creative venture, like writing, might even magnify that personality trait.

  4. Wonderful post! I've been on both sides of the editor-author collaboration, and your post is spot-on from both viewpoints.

  5. So ... I haven't been here in a while, but your background looks super pixelated ... is it new?

    Anyway, otherwise, your point is so valid. I've worked in a few creative mediums, but still not as many as I would have liked, and yet I already know your point is universal. If you want to achieve success, you have to have talent, but it's often not enough. Combine it with professionalism, and you're off to a good start.

  6. Girl, preach it! Having experienced the misery of working with a few difficult authors at a publishing house, I applaud your advice. I wish more authors were like you.

  7. I think most of the problems must be coming from naive and unrealistic people. Anyone who's truly worked - in the arts or just a regular job - knows you have to play the game and get along. Or maybe it's just arrogance. But there's always a better writer out there. Agents/editors should dump the nasties and sign the nice ones!