Having been in the publishing industry for more than ten years, I’ve come across and worked with many people. Some have said things to me that I could never in a thousand years come up with in fiction. A common one, though, is that I am ‘just the writer’. I’ve learnt to laugh when people say this. However, if you are someone who doesn’t want to join the legions of terrible clients that writers have to work with (and sometimes work for), here are five things you should never say or do to a writer.

1. Don’t treat writers as though they’re dumb

“Are you OK?” I asked the man seated across from me. We had agreed to meet for coffee. He looked preoccupied and I was concerned for his welfare.
He took a deep breath and said, “I’m OK now. I’ve come back to my equibilirium.”
I struggled to keep a straight face because I knew he meant ‘equilibrium’, but didn’t point it out so as not to offend. There was only so much I could take, though.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but can you tell me what that word means?”
His widened his eyes. “You mean, equibilirium? Shouldn’t you know? You’re a writer, isn’t it?” When I shook my head, he continued with, “Equibilirium is when you have supply on the one hand and demand on the other. When you put them together, you get equibilirium.”
I bit my lip because I was about to burst out laughing.
“Some writer you are,” he said.
I smiled and left him alone to pay the bill.

Not only did this man not know the correct word or how to use it, he then insulted me by implying that because I’m a writer, I should know every word in the dictionary. Don’t ever underestimate the writer’s intelligence, just because he chooses to be a writer.

A writer is never 'Just a writer'
A writer is never ‘Just a writer’. Heard the saying, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’?

2. Do not pit one writer against another

One morning, I received a phone call from a man who wanted ‘help’ with his book. I knew immediately that ‘help’ was code for, “I want you to do all the work, but I won’t pay you.” Still, I listened to him say that the writer who had prepared his manuscript for him ‘hadn’t put a few things in’. When I said that since I knew this writer, I would discuss this with her and see how we could make the manuscript better, he became flustered. The call soon ended and we’ve never spoken since. It was all the confirmation I needed that he was trying to pit the other writer against me and see what kind of ‘bargain’ he could come up with. Even with the vast world-wide web, we writers are a small and tight-knit community. We often know each other and if we don’t, we will know ‘someone who knows’ and it’s just one email to enquire about potential clients.

3. When a writer has already given you a discount, don’t ask for more

Writers, like all other professionals, have their schedule of fees with discounts offered for various sorts of people. For instance, if I know that the group I’m writing material for is a non-profit organisation, I might consider giving them a considerable discount on my fees. It’s awful when a client (who happens to be driving the latest BMW) says, “I know I’m not in that organisation and I know you’ve given me a 20% discount, but, why can’t you give me the same discount as that non-profit organisation?”

4. Don’t expect your writer to do everything

Here’s something I hear on a regular basis: “We don’t need an editor. You’re the writer. You can also edit.” In any organisation, chances are there will be external auditors who ensure that everything is in order within the organisation. I’ve never heard of an external auditor doubling up as the bookkeeper within the organisation. Likewise, an editor is crucial to any written project. A good editor will give you honest and constructive feedback which will be of benefit to your book and make it better. Cut corners by refusing the services of an editor and you will risk a bad quality book being published.

5. Do not bring sex, religion or politics into the negotiations for a book project

Instead of my fee to write a speech for the guest speaker at a fund-raising event, I was asked to accept a ‘table’ at the event, the idea being that I could invite nine friends and none of us would have to pay for a ticket. The cost of this ‘table’ was 1/10 my fee. As a bonus, I was told I could network with some rich politicians and, he actually said, “You never know, Aneeta, you may find your dream man there.” There’s an old saying that you should never discuss sex, politics or religion in polite company. Similarly, don’t offer a writer something grotesque instead of the fee he has named. Do this and risk the writer being impolite … in writing.

As we writers share our ‘disaster’ stories with each other, we find that the common denominator among them all is this: respect, or lack thereof. We’re not shown any respect because we are ‘just the writer’. The fact of the matter is that if you respect us, we will respect you. Treat us as ‘just the writer’, though, and we will treat you as ‘just the client’. And if you don’t understand how harmful it is when a writer treats you as ‘just the client’, you’re in serious trouble.


Aneeta Sundararaj is the creator of a popular website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com). One of the stories, ‘Negotiations’ is featured in a series of eBooks, ‘Stranger than Fiction’ (https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/12162). In this story, she fictionalises a hilarious account between her and a potential client when they negotiated the fee for a writing project that, mercifully, never came to be.

(24 March 2014)

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