There are people who put the work first, and there are people who put their egos first. I'll do anything for the first type, and I have no patience whatsoever with the second sort.
The Greeks say that it is better to learn war from friends than from enemies. This is because friends will train you very hard and get you ready for the real world. You may get banged up and sore. You may land on your butt and feel foolish, but they aren't really trying to kill you. They are trying to teach you some skills that you'll need in places filled with people who don't care about you, where you can get very badly hurt indeed. I had reason to think about that today.
That senior writer who submitted the political piece quit suddenly in a huff, claiming that we were repressing her. This left the whole staff in the lurch, as she well knew.
Her point in our last phone call was that we had to make "them" think. I worry when writers speak in such terms. What she really meant, of course, was that "they" the unlearned, needed to think like Her, the enlightened. I reminded this lady that our are readers are pretty darn thoughtful already. Our job is not to tell them what to think but to put information and questions before these folks and then let them make up their own minds.
She had done very good work for us before, so I spent two hours writing an email showing her how to include the very same information but make it:
1) A think piece which would invite people to consider the various arguments,
2) Something not so one sided, rant filled and political.
Our members are goodhearted, reasonable people. Many of them do not agree on this issue. I told her that she didn't need to change the essay if she did not want to, but that it would not work for our newsletter, which is a house organ for a non-profit group. (Our newsletter is a niche publication and it's main focus is to
offer information to our Earthwise members in an interesting fashion, and to nurture Pagan writing talent by featuring essays of note.) I then offered to give her contacts to other publishers who might use it. (Frankly, it was so unlike her, so overheated and badly written that anyone who got it was going to edit it, but that was their problem, not mine).
She then quit, without giving notice.
I waited a day to calm down, and then called. We spoke on the phone for an hour. She claimed that we was repressing her. I repeated that she could include the same info in a more subtle form and thus respect our readers and our format. She claimed to have all the gods and truth on her side. I asked why she was quitting so suddenly without giving us time to find a replacement. (Finding someone with her skill set took two months and training her took six). The (younger) woman answered that we did not understand how important this particular issue was to women everywhere. (???!!) ("OK, I thought, We can play More Feminist Than Thou, but it's just too easy for me, the old broad with the NOW membership and the time spent on the line protecting these very clinics, to win that one. So, now what?")
Well, I tried, but the rest of the conversation went nowhere fast. She just would not rework the piece and insisted that we were evil and wrong to even suggest it. So then, I wrote her a very frank letter. I quote part of it here in the hope that it might help other Pagan Editors and Writers (1)
In that letter, I noted that we would be unable to offer her a reference under the circumstances. That got her attention. We may be a very small fish but we are admired within our little pond. She wrote back and offered to stay another month or two. At that point, I fired her ass.
We don't need no stink'n Divas. I knew that if we relied on her again, that she would pull the same stunt the next time she got mad. I talked to several of the Senior Staff who felt the same way I did: Why trust her?
Snakemoon stepped into the breech and sent us another of her wonderful essays, so I wasn't stuck for content for that month. I could have let things stand. My schedule was packed at it was, but I somehow felt that I needed to show that what I was talking about with this essay really was possible. So, in the end, I rewrote the abortion essay (using only the links I had sent her originally on this issue, not her words) and posted it with the April newsletter as a piece titled No Easy Answers. I added in some more info to make it a global, not just a Western conversation. I wrote it in the format I had suggested; as think piece with questions and a bit of history for perspective, and sans the righteous preaching. It pulls absolutely no punches, offers no easy way out. How could it? There is none.
We got the newsletter out late. So it goes.
I then called a friend who plays with the big kids (she owns an independent publishing house and put outs four print magazines) and said "OK, what did I do wrong?" Her answer? "Why are you so upset? I fire writers and editors all the time. You spent way to much time on her." Hummm. Ok. Hard lesson, but I've learned it.
Even so, I don't regret the time I spent working with this writer on this issue or our other projects for FCE. I knew that one day, a "real" publisher who did not give a damn about her as a person was going to chew her to bits and possibly hurt her career. She wants to be a writer very badly, she works hard and she has both talent and vision. So with that in mind, I put on my teacher's hat and sent her one last email. I included a copy of the article I had written and point out that any competent writer could have used the same info in six different ways, and thus reach their audience better by not ranting. (Not nice, I know, but, hopefully, it was effective. This girl didn't need nice. She needed to learn how to better do her job). I told her that I hoped this episode would help her to work better with the next publisher, and ended by wishing her well. I meant that.
Like I said, we won't give her a recommendation, but we won't bad mouth her publicly, either. Just who she is, stays between the staff here, and the Council. At this point, anything I needed to say to her, I've said to her face.
As things stand, I'm about to move and then I'll be out of the country for some time. Others here are ready to try something different. So the newsletter has gone on hiatus ...and that feels right. I'll talk to the Council and staff when I get back, and we'll decide what to do about this. This comes as a difficult gift; the other writers and editors tell me that they, too, could use some time off. After all, we've been doing this work since 1999. So we'll rest, and then we'll see what's next.
If this ever happens again, I'll be less of a teacher and friendly colleague in the beginning, and more far more the hard nosed publisher. I just won't waste my time anymore on people who don't, won't, or can't put the work first.
Excerpt from Letter:
"I am sorry that you are so deeply unhappy that we could not publish your editorial and that you feel you have to resign so suddenly as a result. As I said to you this morning, sometimes the Publisher just has to make the difficult calls. As you know we did not reject the piece entirely or the information included in it. In fact, this is the sort of information we have offered our readers in the past, (italics mine) as it is something that effects them greatly. What we had issues with in this case was simply the tone.
I am sorry that you do not feel you could discuss a rewrite that would have worked better for this newsletter, however I do hope that, as someone who has not worked very much in community, you can learn to use your talent (and it is a very good talent indeed) to it's best effect and that your persuasive powers achieve their full force. It will not serve you to take up your toys in anger and move on every time you feel that you are not getting exactly what you want. I hope that next time you can discuss your concerns with your new colleagues openly, before you feel you need to make these grand and angry gestures.
We accept your resignation, with regret, and we wish you all the best. Normally, we would have done everything in our power to help you find a publication that met your needs and spoke to your current political passions. However, given the suddenness of your resignation and your complete unconcern for what this would do to an all volunteer team that had supported you both personally and professionally, we cannot offer you a recommendation.
Go well, stay well,
cc: FCE Council & Newsletter Staff