Monday, March 23, 2009

Liking Your Clients' Work

I think one of the biggest fears/paranoias of authors is what happens next. I was recently asked how I handle a client’s next project if I don’t like it. Do I simply send it out anyway, do I throw the client to the curb and how does that project come about?

First things first. I like to stay in regular communication with my clients, and if all goes well I should rarely be surprised. In other words, my hope is that before my clients start any project we have a conversation about it. We talk about the idea, the execution, and the author’s vision as well as my own. If we both agree that it seems like a viable project, then she’ll move forward and start writing. And yes, there have been times, with some clients, that we’ve gone round after round in discussions about what happens next, not disagreeably, just trying to find the right fit.

But what happens if a client is hell-bent on a certain project that I’m just not as keen on or the project comes in and it isn’t at all what I envisioned. What do I do then? Well, you all know the answer to this by now. It depends.

It really depends on the client’s situation and what’s wrong with the book. Is the client published? Does she have an established career to consider and is the book just plain crap? No matter the case, I’m going to be as delicately honest as possible (at least I hope I’m delicate about it). My goal is to help my clients build careers, and sometimes that means saying things they don’t want to hear. If I think the book is salvageable I’ll definitely talk over revisions with the client. If not, the client and I, together, will come up with a plan on what to do next. Sometimes it’s the client who decides the project can’t be saved, and sometimes we are both amazed with what it ends up becoming.

If the author has not yet sold I have a little more leeway. I’m never going to send out a book I think is just terrible. This is my reputation we’re talking about, and my clients are depending on my reputation, but after some revisions and candid conversations, I may send out a book that a client thoroughly believes in even though I’m not sure. In these cases it’s usually less about it being a bad book or bad writing and more a disagreement on whether or not it will sell and, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t know, so it can’t hurt to try.

In terms of how long will I go, how many books will I “reject” before parting ways with a client, I don’t have a number. If a client is actively working on new projects and new ideas and I still believe she can do it, I’m willing to stick by her side. If for some reason I’ve learned that book one must have been some sort of anomaly and demons have taken over my client’s writing ability, I might, very kindly, suggest that maybe we’re no longer a good fit. Honestly though, I’ve never let a client go because I couldn’t sell her work. I have parted ways with clients because of a shift in writing—she might no longer be writing something I represent, or because, for whatever reason, there seems to be a loss of faith in the relationship.