Sunday, March 14, 2010

Negotiator or Doormat?

For the past three years, I've been an owner-builder. Kind of like self-publishing a house! You have to take responsibility for everything, and the nice owner-builder certificate you get at the beginning means very little in practical terms. Along the way, I've had to educate myself about how a house gets built, step by step, and what order the steps need to come in. I've also had to learn about contracts, about the value of a handshake, about reliability, trust that tradespeople and "experts" know what they're doing (a scary thing sometimes, that can also be disastrous), and that, most of the time, the buck stops with me.

I've also had to learn over and over again that being problem-oriented only leads to sleepless nights, endless worry and stress. As soon as I've moved to a solution-oriented mindset, things have become a lot easier, for me at least. I've also realised that sometimes getting justifiably angry does help - just not all the time!
What does this have to do with writing? A lot more than you think. We all understand that first you write a novel, then you send it out and hope someone likes it enough, or thinks it will earn them enough money, to publish it. But beyond that, the business of being a professional writer is like the owner-builder experience.

* you have to educate yourself about the business of writing, but also about how publishing works. Why an editor can love your book but marketing says no, or wants certain changes. Why your book is on the shelf in the shop and not on the fancy display unit. Why it takes 12 months or more to publish a book, and what a publisher's schedule looks like.

* all along the way, you have to talk to people. These are usually people who want your book to sell as much as you do, so they're unlikely to deliberately be rude or make life hard for you. They are the ones who know about grammar, page design, cover design, marketing. No, they mightn't always be right, but the odds are that they know a lot more than you.

* if they are rude, consider the possibility that they are simply having a terrible day. If they constantly treat you with disdain or override every question or suggestion from you with contempt, then you have an issue to resolve. That's when you decide on how you will negotiate, because being a doormat will make you miserable. You may need help. If you have an agent, ask them first. Remember - you are not alone. Even a book on negotiation tactics will help.

* some people are a gateway, or an important link in the chain. You have to find a way to work with them. Or get around them. Or grit your teeth and work with them as best you can, while imagining dire punishments (yes, S, I'm still imagining pushing you off a cliff). Your ultimate revenge is for your book to sell well, and for you to take your next one to a different publisher.

Publishing is a business. Once you have accepted an offer, you need to move into business mode, if you haven't already. A quote and a handshake from a concreter worked fine for my house. For a book, you need a contract that gives you a good deal, and you need to educate yourself or get help before signing it. I know many people who shudder at the word product when talking about a book. We all know what a wonderful, amazing experience reading a book can give someone, and we hope it happens with the books we write. All along, what's kept me going with the house was an image I had in my mind of the experiences I would have in it when it was finished. But what got me through all the problems, large and small, that came with building was to constantly remind myself that I was in a business, dealing and negotiating with other business people, and I had to make it work for me. That was what stopped me from being a doormat.


Snail said...

Probably best not to push anyone off a cliff, unless the business you're in is Murder, Inc.

I'll bet looking at that view through the door for the first time was every bit as pleasing as the first glimpse of an advance copy.

Sherryl said...

The view does wonders for my inner calm.
But she does deserve a cliff, all the same. My revenge will have to be to advise people against their company - much saner and less likely to cause bodily harm perhaps.

Anonymous said...

I have been through the drama of building a house - and yes there are many people involved who I wished to push off a cliff or worse - slowly strangle - I hope my experience with publishing won't be as bad but I do see your point in the comparison.

Kristi Holl said...

Great comparison, Sherryl. Having watched you building the house from the get-go, it sounds very much like self-publishing would feel like! Love the view--and your intention to take the long view and get through the business stuff in order to enjoy the final "product." And you will!

Sherryl said...

Just as well there are lots of good hair dye products to cover up all the grey hairs that come with these projects!