Working with Others—A Primer

Unless you’re a jack-of-all-trades type (and a master of all, too), chances are you will need to work with others on your path to success. Of course there’s the obvious ones: editors and publishers. But there’s others you may encounter with varying degrees of involvement, and you may possibly even employ: web designers and developers, graphic designers for layout and covers, illustrators and artists—the list is long. Here’s some tips to improve your working relationship with them.

Know Their Work Schedule
Many are freelancers and may have day jobs. Even if they work full time in their field, they may not work 9 to 5. That’s one of the perks of working for yourself—choosing your own hours. Find out when the person is available, and work out the best times to contact each other (and don’t be calling them at 8 in the morning if this isn’t organized ahead of time). Don’t forget, time zones can greatly influence this—freelancing through the net means people could be anywhere and work with you.

Work Out the Means of Contact
There’s email, phone calls, SMS, IM, Twitter, Facebook messages, Skype, and many more—all potential ways to get in contact with someone else. For me, I’m not generally fond of phone calls. They’re great for focused attention, and I’ll rely on them if the client seems unable to process long emails, but generally my preference is email (it can be detailed, thorough, there’s a written record of everything, and I can read or write at my convenience). I also don’t generally give out my cell phone. Others will have their own preferences. Of course, like the time of day, your input is important here, too. If they insist on working through Skype and you’re video shy, let them know—maybe it’s not the right fit.

Remember You’re Not the Only One
Very rarely will you be the only client the other person is working with. You have every right to expect people to stick to agreed-upon timelines, but it’s unrealistic to expect their full attention to be on you. Don’t message them several times a day, don’t micro-manage the project, and give them space to do their work (for you and others) and get back to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Be Respectful, and Be Direct
While politeness goes a long way, being direct is also important. If you are unhappy with how something is progressing, you need to raise those concerns at the first opportunity. During a website design, the designer should be showing you steps along the way—wireframes, color schemes, design concepts. Other work may have similar steps. You don’t have to be a jerk (there’s always ways of saying something nicer than others), but if you’re not communicating clearly you may leave too much room for misunderstandings.

Should a project get to the point that you need to walk away from it, realize there may be a kill-fee (where you owe something even if it’s not finished or usable). And even if not, come to a solution that works for both—if someone just spent a week of their time doing something for you, there should be some monetary exchange.

Come Prepared
There’s a lot of leg work you can do yourself before engaging someone else. Is the project something visual? If so, find pieces that represent what you’re looking for, and other examples of what you don’t want, and convey your thoughts on it all. This works for website design, book design, covers, illustrations—you name it. Take photos of physical goods (or buy a copy or two), bookmark sites, build Pinterest boards. Show this when you start working with someone else and see if they’re even comfortable with your goals—they may not be, and it’s best they walk away before getting involved.

Use Written Agreements, and Stick to Them
There should be a contract in place when work is being done and money is being exchanged. At a minimum, you should have an email with the project listed out, including deliverables, timelines, rights, and costs, and have an acknowledgement from both parties that it represents what is to be done.

My agreements always contain responsibilities for clients—these include quick turnaround times for feedback, getting sign-offs for work, and getting any assets in a timely manner. Without proper follow-through on my client’s end, I am unable to perform my job and delivery dates may well be missed. You should know what your responsibilities are to assist someone working for you, and do everything you can to take care of them properly.

There’s more posts to come in the future, but hopefully this works as a primer. You will need to work with others, and it can either be a rewarding or challenging experience—it’s at least partially up to you.

The Fear Factor

Chris A. Jackson is the author of the multiple award-winning Scimitar Seas novels published by Dragon Moon Press, and the Pathfinder Tales, RPG tie-in novel, Pirate’s Honor, by Paizo Publishing.  His independently published novels have also won multiple awards, and his current series, the Weapon of Flesh trilogy, has earned a widening fan following in the US, UK and Germany.  His nautical fiction comes from 35 years of sea experience coupled with a vivid imagination of what lies beneath the waves, and his action scenes consistently earn high praise from readers and reviewers.  He is currently sailing and writing full time aboard his floating home, Mr. Mac, somewhere in the Caribbean.  For a look at his works of fiction, visit www.jaxbooks.com, and for a peek into his sailing lifestyle, have a look at www.sailmrmac.blogspot.com.


I’d like to talk about fear.

Not the fear you feel when you watch a scary movie, read a truly frightening book, or during a really good roller coaster ride, that healthy, thrilling fear, but a “Fear Culture” fear that is an oppressive, negative force.  Sometimes I feel that we (not just the SFF community but that’s what I see most) are working ourselves into a Fear Culture of our own.  For me, this is more than a “skin deep” fear, more than a “Maybe I shouldn’t have posted that on Twitter” fear, but a potentially career-paralyzing fear.

This came to the forefront of my mind when I recently participated in a panel discussion at Con Carolinas titled “Getting Over Yourself”, which should have been titled “Getting Over Your Fear.”  We dealt with a lot of fears on that panel.  Some people were so paralyzed by their fears of rejection or criticism that they could not force themselves to submit their work.  I think we helped some people to recognize and confront their fears, but, for me, the discussion brought out a whole new nest of them.  When I started considering my own work, coupled with the current feeling of the genre, and a number of reviews of other writers’ work that I had recently read, I started feeling a constriction, a new set of boundaries that restricted my work.

When I read a recent review that referred to a work (and I’m talking about a work of fiction, not an article, blog, or column) as sexist, and the review read as a condemnation not just of the characters or setting, but of the entire theme of the piece, and therefore the writer, it hit me like a freight train.  I know the author personally, and know that sexism isn’t even a part of that writer’s makeup, let alone part of his fiction.  It gave me nightmares.  With this and a few others reviews plaguing me, I started to second guess myself when it came to character and setting development, and it really began to impinge upon my creative process.  I started to worry that if I created a less than strong, capable, well-adjusted female character, or a villain who is of an ethnic group, or not heterosexual, or a setting in which sexism, misogyny, or bigotry are the norm, I’m opening myself up for a sucker punch from reviewers and critics.  You might think this is a silly fear, since not all people, and therefore not all characters, can be capable, strong, well-adjusted, or even “good”, but it in my own fledgling career, I did not want to get that label.

So, what did I do?  How did I face this fear?

I remembered that writers are not what, and especially who we write.  I am not my characters.  Good writers can, and should, create really bad people, and set them in really daunting environments.  If a character needs to be mal-adjusted, weak, paranoid, sexist, abusive, or downright evil, that is who that character must be.  If that character also happens to be female, male, black, white, Asian, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or not even human, that is what that character must be.  If the setting is one of bigotry, racism, and sexism, these are obstacles the protagonists need to overcome, either in society, in others, or in themselves.  In Pirate’s Honor, one of the point of view characters is not human, or even humanoid, and she and a human male character have an intimate relationship.  My fear on this one was to be accused of writing bestiality.  So far, no hits on the review boards, but there still could be.

My point is this: if I need to create a character who exhibits politically incorrect traits, I can without being labeled.  But one thing has to be clear in my mind when I’m creating characters: What can get you into trouble is not your characters, but how those characters’ qualities (good and bad) are portrayed.  The same premise goes for creating setting elements.  If the horrific prejudices of a slave-owning society are portrayed as obstacles, I’m okay.  If I portray slavery as “how things should be” I’m probably not.  If I create a bigoted character and portray them as “good” in their bigotry, I am making a statement.  If a character is a good guy (or girl) and happens to be bigoted in some way, and I portray that as a “bad” element of this “good” character, that can work.  We are, after all, none of us perfect, and creating faults, foibles, sins, and other dark elements to our “good” characters, makes them real.  I write real people in a fantasy world.  Real people are imperfect.  How I establish, portray, and deal with those imperfections, how the characters change and grow, is what makes them real.

So, be nice…but your characters needn’t be.  Don’t be afraid to make them real, dark and brooding, sinful and wicked, bigoted and sexist, but remember to portray those characteristics for what they are.

But I still have nightmares…

Maybe I shouldn’t have tweeted that…