3 Ways to Burn a Bridge

From BookDaily.com, posted November 11, 2015:

3 Lessons Learned From Author Collaboration Fails #AuthorTips

In a prior post, I talked about collaborating with other authors, and how it’s important that we support each other, sharing resources and mentoring each other. The world of publishing is competitive, but when you help other authors succeed, new opportunities develop for you too. Even if you and another author are vying for the same readers, there are ways to work together and build an audience. A fellow author is not your enemy. However, if you burn a bridge, you can turn that person into one.

Since my post about collaboration, authors have shared stories with me about how they’ve worked with other authors, and how this has helped them find new readers and new venues to share their work. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard stories about relationships gone sour, and I believe that’s worth talking about. Here are three life lessons garnered from these conversations.

Keep promises. Authors are sometimes asked to assist other authors with things like reviewing a book or providing a blurb for a cover. Providing a book blurb can be a great opportunity to build a relationship with another author and get exposure for your book too. If the author’s book sells well, you get free advertising because your name and book are listed right there on the cover for readers to see. If they liked the book you blurbed, they might add yours to their reading list as well.

It’s important to remember that authors need blurbs well before a book is published—there are deadlines that must be met, or your blurb won’t make the cover. Recognize that the author took a risk in asking for a blurb, so don’t miss the deadline and make the author chase you down to ask for the blurb again, after you agreed to provide one. Not keeping that promise may not be enough to ruin a relationship with the other author, but it will make that person feel awkward about approaching you in the future. If you continue to break promises, you’re establishing a pattern of behavior that can impede your ability to collaborate with other authors. People talk, so it’s important to keep your word and not gain a reputation for being unreliable. If you say you’ll do something for another author, do it.

What if you didn’t like the book and don’t feel comfortable providing a blurb? In that case, you’ve got to be honest and speak up quickly, so the author can approach someone else for a blurb. There’s a risk of burning a bridge by declining to blurb, but you can’t endorse a book that is not well-written. You won’t be doing yourself or the other author any favors. Recommending a poorly written book reflects badly on your own judgement and skill as a writer. I believe it’s better to communicate my concerns about a book before it’s published, giving the author a chance to address them. If they do, then I might be comfortable providing a blurb. If I’m not honest, and the book is published as is, I’m setting the author up to be ridiculed by reviewers. I would rather someone be honest with me and help me make my work stronger, than leave me vulnerable to criticism.

Respect boundaries. I’ve recently heard a few horror stories about authors inserting themselves into situations for the sake of self-promotion. In one situation, the offending author was sharing a table with another author. When the author was approached by a reader and was in the middle of her sales pitch, the offending author inserted himself into the conversation. He interrupted, promoting his own book by saying, “If you find that interesting, you’ll love my book.” Apparently this occurred several times, throughout the event. Yikes. You can bet those two won’t be sharing a table again. Rather than interrupting another author, the offending author could have offered praise for the fellow author’s book, helping sell it by sharing what he enjoyed about it. The other author likely would have returned the favor.

In another situation, several authors agreed to collaborate on an event at a bookstore. The offending author contacted one of them and invited herself to join them, assuming she’d be welcome to read from her own book at the event. This created an awkward situation for the author she’d contacted, who then had to tell her no, and explain that the event wasn’t long enough to support that many authors, and the reason the authors were collaborating was they were from the same genre and their books shared common themes. The offending author’s book didn’t fit. It also created a difficult situation for the bookseller, who had agreed to sell and promote the other authors’ books. Instead, the offending author could have said, “Hey, I heard about your event. What can I do to help spread the word about it? And, if you’re interested, I’d love to partner with you on a future event like this.”

Why am I sharing these stories? Because even though most of the authors I’ve worked with are wonderful and would never behave this way, this does happen. Perhaps the offending authors in these situations aren’t arrogant, but simply did not realize how narcissistic and desperate their behavior made them appear.

Show gratitude. Other authors owe you nothing. They don’t have to be kind to you or generous with their time and resources. And yet, most of the authors I’ve worked with have been gracious and helpful, answering countless questions and offering invitations to collaborate or promote my work. I appreciate that, and I’m inspired by it. I try to make it a point to communicate my thanks often, and to help other authors when I can. Showing gratitude is good practice as a human being, and good for business too. It builds relationships rather than tearing them down. Failing to show gratitude is a good way to build resentment.

Authors are human, and we make mistakes (just ask our editors). If you have burned a bridge, gratitude, respect, and reliability can go a long way toward mending it.

Have you experienced a failed author relationship? What did you learn?

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2012

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