Working with Others—A Primer

Unless you’re a jack-of-all-trades type (and a master of all, too), chances are you will need to work with others on your path to success. Of course there’s the obvious ones: editors and publishers. But there’s others you may encounter with varying degrees of involvement, and you may possibly even employ: web designers and developers, graphic designers for layout and covers, illustrators and artists—the list is long. Here’s some tips to improve your working relationship with them.

Know Their Work Schedule
Many are freelancers and may have day jobs. Even if they work full time in their field, they may not work 9 to 5. That’s one of the perks of working for yourself—choosing your own hours. Find out when the person is available, and work out the best times to contact each other (and don’t be calling them at 8 in the morning if this isn’t organized ahead of time). Don’t forget, time zones can greatly influence this—freelancing through the net means people could be anywhere and work with you.

Work Out the Means of Contact
There’s email, phone calls, SMS, IM, Twitter, Facebook messages, Skype, and many more—all potential ways to get in contact with someone else. For me, I’m not generally fond of phone calls. They’re great for focused attention, and I’ll rely on them if the client seems unable to process long emails, but generally my preference is email (it can be detailed, thorough, there’s a written record of everything, and I can read or write at my convenience). I also don’t generally give out my cell phone. Others will have their own preferences. Of course, like the time of day, your input is important here, too. If they insist on working through Skype and you’re video shy, let them know—maybe it’s not the right fit.

Remember You’re Not the Only One
Very rarely will you be the only client the other person is working with. You have every right to expect people to stick to agreed-upon timelines, but it’s unrealistic to expect their full attention to be on you. Don’t message them several times a day, don’t micro-manage the project, and give them space to do their work (for you and others) and get back to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Be Respectful, and Be Direct
While politeness goes a long way, being direct is also important. If you are unhappy with how something is progressing, you need to raise those concerns at the first opportunity. During a website design, the designer should be showing you steps along the way—wireframes, color schemes, design concepts. Other work may have similar steps. You don’t have to be a jerk (there’s always ways of saying something nicer than others), but if you’re not communicating clearly you may leave too much room for misunderstandings.

Should a project get to the point that you need to walk away from it, realize there may be a kill-fee (where you owe something even if it’s not finished or usable). And even if not, come to a solution that works for both—if someone just spent a week of their time doing something for you, there should be some monetary exchange.

Come Prepared
There’s a lot of leg work you can do yourself before engaging someone else. Is the project something visual? If so, find pieces that represent what you’re looking for, and other examples of what you don’t want, and convey your thoughts on it all. This works for website design, book design, covers, illustrations—you name it. Take photos of physical goods (or buy a copy or two), bookmark sites, build Pinterest boards. Show this when you start working with someone else and see if they’re even comfortable with your goals—they may not be, and it’s best they walk away before getting involved.

Use Written Agreements, and Stick to Them
There should be a contract in place when work is being done and money is being exchanged. At a minimum, you should have an email with the project listed out, including deliverables, timelines, rights, and costs, and have an acknowledgement from both parties that it represents what is to be done.

My agreements always contain responsibilities for clients—these include quick turnaround times for feedback, getting sign-offs for work, and getting any assets in a timely manner. Without proper follow-through on my client’s end, I am unable to perform my job and delivery dates may well be missed. You should know what your responsibilities are to assist someone working for you, and do everything you can to take care of them properly.

There’s more posts to come in the future, but hopefully this works as a primer. You will need to work with others, and it can either be a rewarding or challenging experience—it’s at least partially up to you.

Against Professionalism

Behaving in a professional manner, for writers, is really quite easy. Professional behavior basically means writing publishable work, meeting deadlines, not plagiarizing, and not libeling anyone with one’s work. The problem with discussions of professional behavior is that this brief list really is pretty much it, and if one is not yet writing publishable work then none of the rest matters. Well, that’s no way to become a publishing guru, or to sell aspiring writers all sorts of goods and services! And so was born “professionalism” which is running especially rampant in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

Professionalism is a complex of supposedly mandatory and proscribed behaviors that makes a writer “professional” regardless of their ability to write interesting material. Recently, at a science fiction convention I met a former student of mine, and he was very concerned about…his blog. Which he does not have. He was told, however, that today professional writers must all blog, but that these blogs must not offer up controversial political opinions, or negative reviews of popular books, or “ruffle feathers.” Everything must be “politically correct” he believed—to use that famously meaningless term I try so hard to get my students to stop using. I’d told the class Ronald Sukenick’s famous dictum, Use your imagination, or someone else will use it for you over and over.  Maybe one day it’ll stick. So, what to blog about? he wondered. What does a professional blog look like, and how does it lead to publishing deals? I recommended that he concentrate on finishing his book first, and making sure it was as good as it could be.
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