Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Bitter Truth: It’s best to play nice

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 25•14

play nice EinsteinPlay Nice….

Because if you don’t, the sad truth is that it will come back to bite you.

 I’m no Miss Manners, nor a saint, never will be, never aspire to be. I’m opinionated, I interrupt, I procrastinate, and I complain too much. This is just a small sample of my maladies.  So we can all agree that sainthood is not in my future….However, I believe in the power of good karma and believe in avoiding bad juju. Send good into the world, receive good back. Dump bad into the world, well, do so at your own peril. And it’s just easier to be good.

 If you read this blog you know that I’m self-employed. This means I’m always juggling a bunch of projects. I teach, coordinate three writing conferences, write, and work as a developmental editor. A few weeks ago I fell behind because I took time off over Spring Break. So the following week my to-do list was extra long, the email correspondence daunting, a clock was ticking, and my office was its usual cluttered mess. When you’re self-employed you always feel pressured and there are never enough hours to accomplish what needs to get done. Or at least that’s my experience.

 I was happy when I finished an editing project (I had three in the works) and sent it off to a client. Which is when things got strange. The client was not able to read the Track Changes comments on her manuscript. Now, most of us would assume that there was a compatibility issue or some such problem if the editing marks weren’t coming through correctly. This client decided that I had not completed the work and started barraging me with accusations and rude remarks, and threatening that she was never going to hire me again. That last one was a welcome threat. What likely happened is that she didn’t know how to open up the Track Changes function on her computer and we were using two different Word programs.

This went on for four or five days. I answered most of her increasingly bizarre emails and sent multiple versions of the manuscript in different formats, and managed to not be rude in return. And, true to form, complained to my man. When I sent her yet another version of her manuscript, it came with some unsolicited advice: The publishing world is a tough place, especially for authors who haven’t broken in yet. The next time you run into technical glitches handle them with professionalism because in this business you need to make friends, not enemies. We’re done.

 The first thing any editor or agent wants to know about you is whether you’re sane and easy to work with. The. First. Thing. So play nice and NEVER send wacky emails.

warning sign


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  1. Annemarie says:

    Excellent advice! I actually just met Track Changes and am still fussing with it; we’re in that awkward early state of friendship.

    Another good piece of advice: Say you get a group email, and one part of that is so astonishingly wacky that you simply must discuss it with a member of the group, at your sarcastic best. Be very careful not to hit “reply to all.”

    • jessicap says:

      Ah Track Changes….the stories I can tell. But if it’s not working, it usually means you need to turn it on. And we’ve all made email faux pas, right? Reply to all has been one of my mistakes also….have a lovely weekend AnneMarie

  2. Lisa Romeo says:

    Jessica, I could have written this post, that’s how close it hews to my own work life. I had the exact client experience once re: track changes not showing up, and him complaining I hadn’t done the editing. (Let’s think about that for a minute – who would be so stupid as to try to return an unmarked-up work and claim it has been edited/commented on?) I was thinking it was a guy thing – him having to be right and me wrong, but in retrospect, just a bad karma kind of person. I agree with you, always make nice, whether you are the writer, editor, client, whatever. Good luck on future jobs!

    • jessicap says:

      Yes, because it makes so much sense to send an empty document, right? No this was an older woman who also claimed I’d promised a ‘line by line’ edit. About 6 times. Never used that term, instead told her I’d be using the Track Changes function. Sheesh.
      Here’s to sweet, talented clients and good days at the computer.

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