Guest Blogger: Michelle LaRowe Conover

How to Handle it When Things Go Wrong

If you’re a published author, you know the excitement that rang through me as I saw my final copyedited manuscript arrive in my inbox when it chimed “you’ve got mail.” I eagerly opened up the email from the acquisitions editor at the publishing house, ready to sign off on this final version so that my manuscript could be moved on to typesetting.

I’ve been through this process a few times before and expected that things would sail on as smoothly as they always had. I’d open the document, give it a quick read, and send it back with my approval.

If the walls could talk, they’d have a lot of unflattering things to say about what happened next.

As I began reading through the manuscript, I went into a full blown panic. I encountered error after error. Typographical errors, grammatical errors, you name it. But the knife through the heart was that the title was spelled incorrectly, over and over again.

When I hit page 11, I had to stop reading. I could barely dial the phone fast enough and when my agent answered, I’m sure he could hardly make out what I was trying to say.

Fortunately, we’ve been a team long enough for him to know that I’d have to let it all out before I could process what he’d have to say and I knew him well enough to ultimately listen to his expert advice.

And so began my learning on how to handle it when things go utterly, completely wrong in the editorial process. Here are my thoughts, in case this ever happens to you:

→ Vent to your agent. It’s much better to let out your feelings and disappointment to the person who gets paid to listen, rather than to share them in their raw state directly with the publishing house.

→ Be kind. Scratch that. Be extra kind. With emails being the primary form of communication between the author and the publishing house, a blunt and direct criticism can be easily overstated and make you sound really, really nasty (trust me on this one, I learned the hard way!). Draft your concerns using the positive, negative, positive method and always thank the publishing house for doing their best.

→ Assume there was a mistake. Instead of spouting off “This is horrible, your editor did a really bad job” address the issue by saying something like “I think I must have received an older copy of the manuscript back, can you double check?” and when they ask why, simply say “I noticed a few typos and errors that I am sure were not meant to be there.”

→ Remember the publishing house is on YOUR team. This can be difficult to remember, especially when you feel that you haven’t been given their best. Your team really wants your book to be as perfect as you do. It’s their baby (and investment) too!

→ Thank your agent. Most likely your agent will have to do some smoothing over (as my agent calls it), especially if you’ve come across in an unflattering way. He’ll make amends with the editor, come up with some excuse to cover your butt and work to keep your reputation in tact so that a publishing house will at least consider working with you again.

→ Be an advocate for your book. At the end of the day, if you’re still unsatisfied about how things are going, talk to your agent. Let he or she be the bad guy and help you and the publisher come to an agreement on how to move forward.

→ Know that all houses run differently. Every place has a different process and budget to work with, but in the end, they all want to deliver the best.

In the end, my book came out brilliantly and my reputation for being easy to work with stayed intact thanks to the wisdom my agent passed on.

Have you had an unexpected publishing experience? How did you handle it? Share your stories and tips in the comments.

Michelle LaRowe is a client of Wordserve Literary and the author of the Nanny to the Rescue Parenting Series. Her next book, Working Mom’s 411 comes out in February. To learn more about Michelle visit

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Lea Ann McCombs on December 10, 2008 at 3:42 PM

    >Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your experiences! It’s a good reminder that it’s never the wrong thing to be too tactful, no matter how steamed you may be at the moment.

  3. Avily Jerome on December 10, 2008 at 2:57 PM

    >Great advice, and great stories!

    Oh, the joys I have to look forward to! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing, everyone, and thank you Rachelle for having Michelle in!

  4. Pam Halter on December 10, 2008 at 1:36 PM

    >Great tips ~ thanks for sharing. While email is great, you can’t see facial expression or body language and your words can have the opposite effect.

    When my second picture book came out, I gaped in horror at the finished product. There were errors on the title page and a whole paragraph of missing text in the middle! It made the story a little disjointed and the pictures did not match the words. I called my editor right away, but there was nothing we could do.

    I learned to ask to see the galleys before they go to print.

  5. Kristi Holl on December 10, 2008 at 1:27 PM

    >Thanks for sharing your experience! A few years ago something similar happened to me. I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I vented in an unsent letter. I had also learned the hard way that my email responses when upset sound harsh–even when I think I am being the soul of kindness considering the ineptness on the other end! I was very glad I waited. Turns out there had been quite a family emergency with my editor, and he’d outsourced the work to a freelancer before leaving town. I would have hated to have added to his problems that week.
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  6. Laurie Pace on December 10, 2008 at 12:31 PM

    >Great point, flexibility. God teaches us that daily doesn’t He? Keep making that lemonade. Add some more sugar if you need to.

  7. bloggingexperiments on December 10, 2008 at 11:28 AM

    >This is a fabulous post! Thanks for the insight and honesty. Love your blog…am going to add it to my blogroll. 🙂

  8. lynnrush on December 10, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    >Great post! Wow, what a story. I’m unpubbed as of yet, but it’s great to read about these experiences in case I’m ever faced with them.

    I’ll check back to hear more stories and how they were handled.

    Great topic!

  9. Carrie Turansky on December 10, 2008 at 8:43 AM

    >Thanks Rachelle,
    These are great tips! I’ve had some challenging experiences with publishers and learned some lessons along the way.

    Once I was shown the cover art for my novel and it featured a young boy with blond hair. He was the main thing on the cover and looked very cute….but the boy in my story had brown hair and it was an important fact because he was supposed to look like his father who was a mystery for most of the book. I kept my cool and contacted my editor who told me it was too late to change the art work.

    But it wasn’t too late to change the story. We still had a final round of edits. So that’s what I did. I changed the facts in the novel to fit the cover. It worked out fine, and I received a lot of great mail about the book. Everyone loved that little boy.

    So keep your cool and try to think of creative ways to solve problems.