When a Writing Gig Goes Bad

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Jane Graham. Jane lives with her family in West Michigan but dreams of motorhomes and mountains. She blogs about faith at Girl Meets Paper and about intentional parenting at Unofficial Homeschooler.

February had just gotten underway when my phone came alive with a former colleague’s call. While my daughter sat perched on an elevated salon chair having inches removed from her hair, I said “yes” to the idea of ghostwriting my second book.

Bad Writing Gig Photo
Photo credit: Victor1558 (Creative Commons)

In the weeks that followed, my client and I talked in a fair amount of detail about his manuscript. He sent me his first draft, asking for my feedback. After re-writing a portion as a trial, we settled on a contract and made things “official” by the end of March.

I was thrilled at the idea of an extra paycheck and let my imagination cozy up with every Crate & Barrel catalog that entered our home.

Prepare for the unexpected

Unbeknownst to me, this client began to wonder if he had rushed into our contract; perhaps Path A or Road B should have been more fully investigated, he reasoned.

I returned home from a spring vacation to an email declaring he intended to break our contract in favor of a new option.

Crate & Barrel suddenly became a distant memory and I was crushed. Not only had I been hoping for another publication but my family was counting on the money. The “Rojo Cabinet” would have to wait.

The author’s options

As I saw it, I had three choices in the matter aside from throwing things and crying like the victim of a high school break-up:

  • Insist on the contract. It was, after all, legally binding, though I suspected our working relationship would be seriously compromised.
  • Ask for a buy-out. Because we had a signed contract, it seemed reasonable to ask for a buy-out due to his breach. After all, I had made space in my work calendar for this project.
  • Walk away. I hated to consider this option because it made me feel as though I wasn’t a fighter — that this didn’t mean enough to me to insist on something. Worse, I didn’t want to be perceived as an easy target. But was it time to walk?

What I learned

Lost in a new world of unwanted legal dilemmas, I wrote a friend. He generously offered some advice that would bring me immense clarity, and eventually, peace:

  1. Be gracious. My friend reminded me to take the high road even if I’m feeling jipped this time around. Certainly extending grace would reveal my character and preserve my integrity. Even if I don’t reap the “rewards” now, eventually kindness wins. I read and re-read James 1:19 and told myself to be slow to speak. Slow to anger. I forced myself sit silently with emails until I was sure I could proceed with grace.
  2. Next time, provide a way out. The contract I signed (without the help of an agent) did not have a clause to govern this type of situation, so we were left to debate the situation without boundaries or an arbitrator. In retrospect I would have appreciated some language in the contract about those who suddenly opt for a lifeboat in the middle of a seemingly placid sea.
  3. Ascertain your values. I had to ask myself the question, “Is it worth it to you? Is this contract worth the fight?” You’re expending valuable emotional energy; is it over money or principle? It convicted me to look at the situation with fresh eyes.

As I write, this situation in still full of loose ends, but I’m okay with that. I feel that I was assertive, yet kind. Forthright, yet grace-giving.

Today I write in peaceful anonymity. There may not be another book this summer or a new cabinet in our living room, but my integrity is intact. And friends, that’s something you can’t buy in a catalog.

What have your own contract blunders or deals-gone-wrong taught you? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Victor1558 (Creative Commons)

By the way, I made an amendment to the You Are a Writer Contest. You can now enter with a blog post, tweet, status update, whatever announcing you are a writer. The contest ends on May 20, 2012. Enter here.