“What should I look for in a professional relationship?”
I’m asked that question often, and my response is always that the first thing to look for is within. It is how you view the relationship.
Many will say your editor isn’t your friend. My experience says I’ve been friends with every editor with whom I’ve worked. I’ve been closer with some than with others, but friendships have formed.
Many will say your agent isn’t your friend. My experience says I’ve been friends with every agent with whom I’ve worked. Closer with some than with others, but friendships have formed.
A lot depends on both people involved, and a lot depends on the nature of the work.
In writing, we create something from nothing. If our partner shares our vision, we’re more apt to be closer. Because sharing that vision requires a meeting of the minds. This is, in my humble opinion, the number one reason to form this partnership–because you do share a vision and you believe, and the potential partner believes, that together you can make it manifest–and do so in a way that is above and beyond what either of you could do alone.
So the marriage partnership has a lot in common with marriage. You look for specific things in a professional partner just as you do in a life partner.
What are those things?
That varies person to person. But a rule of thumb on the top three in my book are:
1. Vision. You share a common vision on the work. The purpose, the reach, the projected result. You share a vision on strategy, on abilities (both individuals), on capabilities. You know what you wish to accomplish and agree on a realistic plan to accomplish it–and you agree that those goals are attainable. Together, you develop a joint vision that is compatible with personal goals, ambitions and desires. This, I believe, is singularly the most crucial of all considerations because it is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
2.You respect each other. Without respect for the other’s opinions, ideas, abilities and skills, no partnership can survive much less grow into something magnificent. If doubt or investment in the partnership exists, it undermines focus. Mutual effort is splintered and precious time and energy that could be used building momentum is wasted on worry about the absence of being totally in sync and/or focused on the goals. Respect granted and accepted means questions are asked and answered without upset. And you often extend faith in your partner and need their faith in you.
An example. I was writing a book that fell outside what was normal for me at the time. I had the utmost respect for my partner–in this case, my editor–who had expressed faith in me by agreeing to support me, tackling this project. It was an act of faith. A one-page overview–thumbnail sketch, really–was all she had to make this call. And she did.
I didn’t want to disappoint her. I wanted her to love that book as much as I did. And because she had taken that leap of faith, I wrote and doubted and wrote and doubted.
Three times during the writing, I phoned her and said, this isn’t going as planned. I love it but it’s different. Do you want to see it now? And three times she said “Quit worrying and just write the book. If you love it, I know it’ll work.”
So I worried and wrote the rest, but I did it knowing she had faith in the creator in me. That was an asset money can’t buy. I stretched the boundaries on that book in several ways, and I sent it in–and admittedly prayed she wouldn’t be disappointed, she’d love it as much as I did, and I kept sweaty palms until she read it. Thank God, she was fast. Less than two weeks later, she called all excited. She didn’t like the book, she LOVED the book.
Would I have dared to push those boundaries as far without that faith? I doubt it. That’s the value of the expression of mutual respect. (And the book did well, and won numerous awards, including a gold medal. So it did exactly what we’d hoped it would do. Whew!)
3.You communicate honestly and openly. Crucial to all relationships, but this absence in professional relationships can be destructive in ways that exceed the work and intrude on a broader scale. I’m not suggesting you raise hell or become an obnoxious diva, or that you tolerate that type misconduct from anyone else. I am saying there’s merit in frank discussion. Asbestos suits should never be required. Rhino hide might help. 🙂 If you keep in mind that in your professional relationships both of you are after the same thing, then the odds of yours being reduced to an adversarial relationship are far less likely. There are enough challenges without deliberately creating them. Open your mind and heart and hear and listen, knowing your goals and vision are mutual goals and your joint vision.
As I sit here, I think of more and more tips from the trenches on professional relationships. But with each of them, as I break them down and really look at them, they’re all covered in one of the above three things.
To have a good partner–and the author/agent or author/editor relationship is a partnership–you must be a good partner. That’s the bottom line. It’s not complex, it’s not difficult. Just seek a person with whom you share a vision, respect them, and keep the lines of communication open and honest.