How to Handle it When Things Go Wrong
If you’re a published author, you know the excitement that rang through me as I saw my final copyedited manuscript arrive in my inbox when it chimed “you’ve got mail.” I eagerly opened up the email from the acquisitions editor at the publishing house, ready to sign off on this final version so that my manuscript could be moved on to typesetting.
I’ve been through this process a few times before and expected that things would sail on as smoothly as they always had. I’d open the document, give it a quick read, and send it back with my approval.
If the walls could talk, they’d have a lot of unflattering things to say about what happened next.
As I began reading through the manuscript, I went into a full blown panic. I encountered error after error. Typographical errors, grammatical errors, you name it. But the knife through the heart was that the title was spelled incorrectly, over and over again.
When I hit page 11, I had to stop reading. I could barely dial the phone fast enough and when my agent answered, I’m sure he could hardly make out what I was trying to say.
Fortunately, we’ve been a team long enough for him to know that I’d have to let it all out before I could process what he’d have to say and I knew him well enough to ultimately listen to his expert advice.
And so began my learning on how to handle it when things go utterly, completely wrong in the editorial process. Here are my thoughts, in case this ever happens to you:
→ Vent to your agent. It’s much better to let out your feelings and disappointment to the person who gets paid to listen, rather than to share them in their raw state directly with the publishing house.
→ Be kind. Scratch that. Be extra kind. With emails being the primary form of communication between the author and the publishing house, a blunt and direct criticism can be easily overstated and make you sound really, really nasty (trust me on this one, I learned the hard way!). Draft your concerns using the positive, negative, positive method and always thank the publishing house for doing their best.
→ Assume there was a mistake. Instead of spouting off “This is horrible, your editor did a really bad job” address the issue by saying something like “I think I must have received an older copy of the manuscript back, can you double check?” and when they ask why, simply say “I noticed a few typos and errors that I am sure were not meant to be there.”
→ Remember the publishing house is on YOUR team. This can be difficult to remember, especially when you feel that you haven’t been given their best. Your team really wants your book to be as perfect as you do. It’s their baby (and investment) too!
→ Thank your agent. Most likely your agent will have to do some smoothing over (as my agent calls it), especially if you’ve come across in an unflattering way. He’ll make amends with the editor, come up with some excuse to cover your butt and work to keep your reputation in tact so that a publishing house will at least consider working with you again.
→ Be an advocate for your book. At the end of the day, if you’re still unsatisfied about how things are going, talk to your agent. Let he or she be the bad guy and help you and the publisher come to an agreement on how to move forward.
→ Know that all houses run differently. Every place has a different process and budget to work with, but in the end, they all want to deliver the best.
In the end, my book came out brilliantly and my reputation for being easy to work with stayed intact thanks to the wisdom my agent passed on.
Have you had an unexpected publishing experience? How did you handle it? Share your stories and tips in the comments.
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Michelle LaRowe is a client of Wordserve Literary and the author of the Nanny to the Rescue Parenting Series. Her next book, Working Mom’s 411 comes out in February. To learn more about Michelle visit http://www.michellelarowe.com/.