One of the things in the publishing industry that frustrates me the most is when people burn bridges with industry professionals. The most common form of this that I experience is the rude response to a rejection letter. I was the acquisitions editor for an indie publisher for several years, and far too many authors had the irritating habit of replying to rejections with taunting or insulting remarks. Some of the most common included them saying they’d be laughing at us from the top of the NYT Bestsellers list. (Hint: Guess whose names I’ve never seen on the NYT Bestsellers list?) Those folks typically couldn’t write out of a paper bag let alone make us regret passing them up.
This habit of venting your frustration or sorrow on the messenger isn’t okay. It burns bridges something fierce, and publishing is a small world. Burn enough of them and you will find yourself unable to be picked up. You’ll be toxic, and no one will work with you.
This kind of thing also covers editors, cover designers, typesetters, and other industry professionals. If you treat them well they will speak highly of you and think well of you. That’s a good thing. There are authors I’ve worked with that I remember fondly, and whom have gone on to do well for themselves. They’re wonderful people and skilled writers. They have moved on to other editors, other publishers, other stories, but I still remember them and know their names. That kind of networking can make or break you because if you develop a reputation that people like, that people want to work with, then you are going to find yourself in a better position to develop your book and sell it.
Another things I want to comment on is that you will burn bridges if you do not respond to a professional. If you are in that situation where you are rejecting an offer or contract then be upfront about it and honest. You can be tactful and polite, but you shouldn’t leave the publisher in limbo indefinitely. It’s a poor way of handling the situation. It’s unprofessional to make them chase you down to figure out what is happening so that they can move on. If you make them do that they aren’t going to be happy about it.
Finally, don’t badmouth people in public. While it may be tempting to talk trash about other professionals in public groups you never know who might be watching. If you need to vent or make fun of someone (or something that happened) then save it for closed doors. I had a client (whom I dropped like a hot iron) who continually posted work up for critique without taking my editing advice. Then, when the writer was critiqued by folks telling them to change things I had already told them to change, they blamed me. Once I discovered that was happening I dropped the contract. That person has developed a poor reputation after that incident.
When you choose to become a professional writer you are entering into a rather small world. A world where networking is going to make or break you, and a world where it is important to not destroy your bridges because you never know when you are going to wish you hadn’t. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t turn things down, or warn people of a genuine threat (if a company is truly taking advantage of authors, or if they are known for poor behavior), but you shouldn’t be so quick to set fire to places you will need to walk on in order to become successful.