Tip of the Week April 5, 2007

I was working under a deadline yesterday and missed posting my tip. Here goes. And it's a doozy.

Tip of the Week: If you're going to talk badly about someone behind their back, you'd better make sure they aren't a member of the list you are posting on.

I love when my tips are relevant in all sorts of facets of life. Flaming people online (posting hateful things) isn't anything new, but when you do it about people in your professional life you're just asking for trouble.

Here's the situation. An author with a story accepted in an upcoming anthology showed some concerns over a portion of his/her contract, specifically the handling of subrights. Author asked if his/her attorney could call Boss to discuss the contract. Boss said yes and waited for the call. Since the attorney was apparently out of town, Boss figured it would be a few days before this issue arose again. She was wrong. Author had taken the liberty on a writing group board of posting part of the contract with various negative comments and then solicited opinions of the (I think it was 2 sentences) quoted out of context. Now, I dare anyone to take any two sentences in any legal document and have them still sound flattering. I tried this with a CBAY contract. It couldn't be done. Even simple sentences like "The work shall be tentatively titled _____" sounds awful when put in legalese. Needless to say, the excerpt elicited negative comments some of which called into question the publisher's integrity.

Boss, who is a member of this list, got to read every single one of these posts. She got to see exactly what Author thought, in a way I'm sure Author never intended boss to know. Boss also got to see a very interesting side of Author. So did I.

There are so many problems with what Author did. He/She
  1. Posted parts of a confidential contract in a public forum. Never publish part of your contract online.
  2. Acted unprofessional. Having your lawyer talk to the publisher's representative is professional. Venting you spleen to close friends is professional. Venting your spleen to relative strangers in a public forum is not.
  3. Acted prematurely. The contract was still up for negotiation. Boss had already offered to make some concessions. However, posting that kind of thing during the negotiation phase will only sour the whole process.
  4. Was just plain stupid. I mean, really. Not even bothering to check the public member list to see who's going to be getting this? Even if Boss hadn't been a member, I could have been, or any of our staff, or any of our authors. How exactly did Author think this was going to be kept a secret?

So I beg all of you to keep this in mind when you get upset. We all do, and some times we do rash things. However, always try to keep things professional.

And if someone does tell Author about it, or if it Author stumbles upon it, good. I will happily discuss this with him/her over the privacy of email. I won't discuss the contract itself because that is best left to lawyers. I will happily discuss "the incident."

Oh, and for those of you who were in Mistletoe Madness or Summer Shorts, yes it was the exact same contract.


Anonymous said...

It's a small world, isn't it?

PJ Hoover said...

How about never get in the habit of talking bad about anyone. Because all that is is a habit. And a bad one at that.

Jim D said...

I know our listserv automatically sends a reminder the first of every month to remind everyone that "flaming" is not allowed. In fact it has been updated within the last year to say that private correspondense (as in with an editor) should not be quoted without permission. Now you're saying to yourself "WOW! Somebody actually reads those reminders." No. I'm the listserv administrator...I write the revisions to the reminder as needed.

The Buried Editor said...

I don't think the author in question probably thought of it as flaming, so I doubt this person even thought twice about their post. It was though, and some lists might have taken the thread down.

And I didn't post this cautionary tale as revenge or to embarrass anyone. I just figured that if one author could make a mistake like this, anyone could. I wanted to put this kind of things in people's mind as we merrily go about typing our lives away into our public blogs. It's the same reason why I refer to most of my coworkers and all of my family by titles and not names.

When it came to selecting an anecdote, I, sadly, had several to choose from. I selected this one because it was on my mind.

Lillian said...


Yes, this has happened before. Different people. Different circumstances.

People don't realize editor and agent types (some of whom are also writers) hang out on message boards and list servs. And if they don't...their friends do.