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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)