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Editors Don’t Go Under Busses

I had a bit of a coaching conversation with someone who wrote for the website where I manage content. He seemed like a super cool person. (Always a plus.) And as soon as his article went up, he started responding to the commenters. (Awesome!) And then he threw me under the bus. (#$%@.)

He didn’t mean to. But that’s the thing. I don’t think most writers mean to, but they/we do it anyway. We’re so excited about our work and how it’s received, and at the first sign of something even remotely approaching a criticism, we spout off things like:

  • Don’t ask me, I didn’t choose that picture.
  • The editor changed my title.
  • The publisher marketed it wrong.
  • That’s not what I wrote. I don’t know how that happened.
  • I think that got messed up in publishing somehow.

So there’s this story-cloud of distancing and excuses you can whip up – and then there’s reality. And reality falls in one of two categories:

  1. You messed up.
  2. The editor/publisher messed up.

And guess what? Either way, you don’t complain. If you messed up, you need to own it. That’s all there is to say about that. If you’re not someone who can own your stuff, then you’ll be mighty hard to work with no matter the industry.

But you might be inclined to argue that you have a right to complain if the situation falls under category number two. And you might have some myserious “right” to – the editor/publisher/agent might have made a real mistake – but you still really shouldn’t ever publicly (or even socially) complain. And here’s why:

  1. Editors are people too.
  2. Publishing is a small, tiny, tiny, small world.
  3. You might like to keep working.

The other day someone signed up for my Internet writing class. Turns out I met him some half a dozen years ago at the gym I managed in Los Angeles, and then just recently he met one of the writers for Breaking Muscle…while in Thailand. How random is that?

It’s pretty random. And yet, it happened.

The publishing world is highly active on the Internet. Twitter is ROBUST with editors, agents, writers, and publishers. Do you think if you are unhappy with an article, book, or eBook, and you grouse about it on Twitter that someone won’t notice? Does it make sense to brag to your publisher about your reach on Facebook and then use it to complain about said publisher’s treatment of your work?

Do you think maybe, just maybe someone might worry about working with you if they see you complaining about your current and/or previous business relationships all over the web?

So let’s look over those three reasons not to complain on social media again.

  1. Editors are people too. – Give space for human beings to make human mistakes. Send your editor/publisher/agent a message and be respectful and mature about the situation.
  2. Publishing is a small, tiny, tiny, small world. – Big brother, big sister, Uncle George, and Cousin Suzie are all noticing what you said about Editor Joe.
  3. You might like to keep working. – Nobody wants to join Editor Joe under that bus. It’s nasty under there.

And then of course on top of all that is the nebulous AREA NUMBER FOUR. You know, the part where your editor/publisher/agent didn’t actually mess up at all, but you’re trying to cover your own a$$ so you just dump it all on them. How’s that for a big “thank you for getting me published and making my stuff better,” huh? You might not have realized it came across that way. But typically when we protect ourselves in a reactive, defensive state, we take someone else down in the process. Don’t do that.

So, to recap:

  • Editors notice.
  • Agents notice.
  • Publishers notice.
  • None of those people go under busses.
  • If you mess up, own it.

So what do you do when things go awry and you really think it’s not your fault?

If “they” messed up, send them a love letter and ask them if it’s fixable. If it’s not fixable, then go buy yourself something nice with the cash you took in exchange.*

*If you didn’t earn cash, then relish the exposure you earned because apparently you thought it was worth it.

Schoolbus photo by Nsyrbus (Own Work, By [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Becca Borawski Jenkins
Writer & Editor
Becca Borawski Jenkins is an editor, writer, and writing coach. She is currently the Managing Editor at both The Whole Life Challenge and StrongFirst. She specializes in building authority and readership through high-quality content. She also coaches private clients, does developmental editing for non-fiction book projects, and ghostwrites for a variety of story-telling projects she can’t tell you anything about (but that are super, super fun).
Published inCareer Advice
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