Did I Handle This Situation Correctly?

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First, I must say that subscribing to your newsletter has been one of the smarter moves I’ve made in my writing career, both as an on-staff writer/editor and now as a freelancer. I always find something interesting and insightful, as was your recent answer regarding Troublesome Interviewees.

I recently ran into a distressful writing situation and, while I feel I handled it the best way possible, I would welcome your thoughts. Perhaps this experience may help someone else.

I have “ghostwritten” several articles for a number of business clients. While there is always a level of “challenge” in writing these–mostly because of “executive egos”—I’ve been able to help several clients successfully place their stories in a variety of publications.

The last project I worked on, however, was a nightmare. One “co-author” (executive) would say use example X; the other “co-author” (executive) would say not to use example X. One said the story was “dry”; when I re-wrote it to be more “lively” the other “hated” the new version. I was getting caught in some kind of political crossfire; nonetheless I tried to maintain a respectful and responsive tone at all times.

After several frantic rewrites I called my “assignment editor” and told him what was happening. I emphasized that, while I appreciated how seriously the executives were taking the project, I needed to know exactly how the story was to be written. I felt it was imperative to get this consensus on-the-record because I didn’t want to create more frustration for them or myself. The editor agreed and suggested we all meet over lunch.

Suffice it to say the lunch never happened. Instead, I received a phone call from the editor who, sounding apologetic, said the article was being handed over to someone else to finish. I apologized, assured him I did my best to make it work and asked him to keep me in mind for the future, as I’ve done good work for him several times before. Realistically, I know that door is probably closed.

Angela, can you think of any other way I could have handled this better?

–Name not published on request

You handled it exactly the right way. If you hadn’t approached them and told them, in very professional terms, how ridiculous the situation was becoming, you’d still be running back and forth between those two.

In my opinion, after putting you through ridiculous experience and then terminating your services, you deserve payment in full.

When we publish a book where there are two or more authors, our policy is to only work with one author on the book. The “author contact” must then discuss everything directly with their partner(s). We also require everything be in writing (by email). This way, we don’t get caught doing our job over and over again while trying to please two different personalities. We did that once, learned a very hard lesson…and then instantly implemented the policy.

Putting one contractor (writer) between two sparring “bosses” is ridiculous and I’m appalled the publication treated you in this way. Being bluntly honest with the assignment editor was the best course of action in this situation. Had you allowed the situation to continue, your hourly rate, in the end, would have been extremely low.