When's it ok to trash talk?

Dear Miss Snark:

I know it's never okay to badmouth a publisher, but...is it ever okay?

Seriously. What if this is a legitimate complaint about unpaid royalties, or the "buy" link for an ebook not working for weeks on end? If you plan to complain in a professional manner, not "Publisher X stinks" posted all over your website and blog, but just saying that you've had problems with them, and these are the problems, and not everyone's experience might be that way but yours is?

What if the process to break a contract is rather confusing and involves copies of letters sent to people whose names are not given anywhere, but if you go public with your complaint there's a good chance they'll drop you?

What if you already have a different publisher? Does any of it matter?

Is it ever okay to voice real discontent? Or would I be a nitwit no matter what the situation is?

The key components are adjectives, and first person. If you are stating facts, you aren't badmouthing. Saying the publisher is a dirty rotten cheating scoundrel and anyone who does business with him/her/it deserves what they get is a far cry from "they didn't pay my royalties on the agreed upon schedule". Using your own experience to state facts is important. That means "and I've also heard" is not ok.

And yes, it's ENTIRELY ok to make facts known in a calm, businesslike manner. Sharp operators depend on people not hearing about their inadequacies until it's too late.

Badmouthing is emotion laden ranting along the lines of "they didn't do enough for me" or "they didn't ever want to talk to me on the phone". You don't know what they "wanted" you only know your calls weren't answered (and there are plenty of people who think I never answer the phone either since I insist they email me because they're such pains in the ass I want written records of all conversations).

You want to keep this to a minimum of course but you're not going to shoot yourself in the foot to discuss your experiences in a calm rational way. Leave the flaming coiffures to those of us with fire extinguishers at the ready.


ORION said...

But yanno. Professionalism and talking rationally to the people who can help solve the problem make more sense to me then running off at the mouth or blogging about your dissatisfaction.
"Please" , "thank you" and "Can we figure this out together?" go farther (I think).
I've heard the squeaky wheel gets grease but yanno sometimes they just replace the wheel...

Anonymous said...

Miss S, you are the rockinest. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Trust me, Orion. I've tried. When a company responds to your requests for clarifcation by telling you "everybody knows" what it means, and refusing to actually answer you, there is no "talking rationally".

I wouldn't have asked the question if I thought there was a way to fix things without going public. (Not to mention I feel a responsibility to let other new authors know to be careful with this particular publisher.)

Kanani said...

It'll come back and bite you in the ass.

Rather, assume the role as the diplomat, try to work things out or express your displeasure in a calm, professional way. You might even want a calm, articulate friend to accompany you to state your thoughts if you don't think you can hold it together.

If an agreement has not been reached and there is a contractual obligation that has not been met, you can decide whether or not you want to pursue legal action.

However, usually multiple letters written on your letterhead sent to all the players is usually enough to get things rolling. Letter are easy to send. Printing 20 is as easy as printing 1. Just make sure the tone of the letter is calm, points out the issues and your displeasure. But do not make threats of legal action unless you have the means to follow through. Lawsuits are no fun. They cost lots of money, and in the end, you might lose.

jamiehall said...

Real trash talk is only allowed when you are discussing publishers and/or agents who are actually scams. Publish America, vanity operations, fee-charging agents who never sell books, and so forth. Make totally sure that these operations are scams before complaining, though.

Not only do such entities deserve every bit of trash talking they receive, but the real publishing industry doesn't consider scam operations as part of itself, so that no legitimate publisher would get put off by you complaining loudly about a scam. They might think you were stupid for getting involved in a scam, but they won't think that you're a vindictive complainer. They'll know that your complaints were fully justified.

In fact, you are doing a service to the real publishing industry by distributing warnings about a scam.

If you're complaining about a legitimate publisher or agent, it is best to bring up your concerns directly with them and see if they can get solved at that level. If not, then some complaining is allowed, as long as it is polite and names specific, provable acts that happened to you. General sweeping statements are hard tp prove and are quite likely to make you look bad instead.

Be especially careful about complaining about slowness. The entire industry moves at a glacial speed, and it is thought that smart authors understand that.

Andrew said...

The bigger question to me is what good you intend to do by airing your grievances. How will it change things for the better if more people know about your problems with them?

Ryan Field said...

It's hard to remember one specific example about the time someone praised a publisher for something, but whenever someone trashes one you never forget it. It just doesn't look good.

Dave said...

I entered a business deal that collapsed and cost me lots of money - $$,$$$.$$ - that range of money.

When I speak of the man (who is dead) I merely say he committed fraud and the deal went bad. That is all I say. He signed my name to contracts, represented the company as solvent when it wasn't, then left me with the bankruptcy.

That's as emotional as I, you, me or anyone should get. State the facts and nothing else. You shouldn't say anything but the truth and leave it at that.

Most times I merely say "I had a bad business deal AND nothing else. It might be emotnionally satisfying to say more, but why? Would that change anything, I think not.

I'd rather behave like an adult than a child.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, there are times when an aspiring writer has asked me about my publishers (I'm not the original Anon. by the way), and I've desperately wanted to warn them that they're getting in with a nest of nasty wasps if they submit to a couple of small presses I've dealt with. More than one author has had the same problem I have--missing royalties, claims of massive returns that somehow outnumber the books printed, refusal to honor contracts...but audits cost a lot of money and are beyond most of our means.

So when you see a bright-eyed new writer saying, "Oh, they must be wonderful," you want to say "submit at your own peril"...because a lot of heartache has happened with at least two of these small presses (legit, but not very ethical apparently).

Anonymous said...

helLO. This is what your AGENT is for... sorting out disputes and grievances. If you don't have an agent you shouldn't have made a publishing deal. V dangerous. If you had a good publishing deal, you would have got an agent on the back of that.

jnr said...

use good judgement. make sure you go through at least three rounds of query/discussion of the problem (or allow at least three reasonable intervals for response time, if the publisher in question isn't answering your communications) before you take the matter outside. think like yourself, think like a publisher, and think like a lawyer before you climb out on a limb with word one.

you folks who advocate unconditional silence--consider this. the last time i aired laundry of this sort, the publisher in question turned out to owe literal millions of dollars to various parties ranging from dozens of freelancers to printers to corporate licensors, service providers, and other entities. they'd been robbing peter to pay paul (and spinning yarns to peter) as necessary--and deliberately--for some time.

shortly after their, umm...business model saw scrutiny, they filed for bankruptcy. they retained their BMWs. but months later, their freelancers wound up footing multi-hundred-dollar fedex bills...for the account the company had never paid.

being a freelancer is kind of like being a human being. someone who's policy includes abusing you is likely to extend the privilege to others.

don't leap to conclusions or actions. but don't be afraid to speak out on behalf of yourself and others, when that's appropriate.

good networking runs a lot of ways.

on an even more practical level--biting your tongue and biding your time may reduce your odds of actually getting paid, as per agreement. if you are going to have to wind up taking legal action, figure that out as soon as you can. sometimes assets run out before the lines do, if you know what i mean.

ORION said...

Anonymous -- please know I was referring to legitimate enterprises. When all else fails and you have no agent representing you or are dealing with a scam as others have said...well I agree -- all bets are off.

Elektra said...

helLO (this form of greeting is one of my biggest pet peeves, as it is both rude and obnoxious, but anyway...) Writers with small presses and epublishers rarely have agents, which means that they have to fend for themselves (with the help of the wonderful Snark, of course).

Anonymous said...

helLO. This is what your AGENT is for... sorting out disputes and grievances. If you don't have an agent you shouldn't have made a publishing deal. V dangerous. If you had a good publishing deal, you would have got an agent on the back of that.

What you wrote is incorrect.

I know many authors who have contracts with publishers such as Midnight Ink, Poisoned Pen Press and Harlequin--but they don't have agents.

In many cases, agents aren't interested in dealing with these reputable publishers because the advance is small. It's not an issue of a "good deal" or "bad deal."

Anonymous said...

Anon (helLO. This is what your AGENT is for):

(I'm Anon #3) My first contracts, I had no agent--small press doesn't attract agents. And my agent I have now can't really go in and muck with things since she wasn't an agent on record when the contracts were signed. The contracts weren't bad. The publisher is the one who refused to abide by them, and agent or not, an author has to be able to afford an audit in order to check out a company's books. That runs in the thousands.