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B&N Week 55: Firing Your Client

| January 10, 2012 | 6 Comments

It’s Tuesday once more! Don’t you all feel relieved? Weren’t you feeling the pressure? Just waiting and waiting until Tuesday rolled around once more, just itching to dive right back into it, right? That’s where I was. But it’s here now, so let’s do some wading! The water may be deep this week, and I don’t want anyone going out too far.

This week, I wanted to talk about something serious. Making comics is all great and everything, but it isn’t all fun, rainbows and unicorns. There are also some distasteful things that have to happen on occasion.

There will come a time when you may have to fire a client.

(Steven, I can’t ever see when I’d fire a client. What in the name of furry clowns are you talking about?)

Normally, I’d come at this a couple of ways, with both writers and artists, but I’m not going to go about it that way. Not this time. The reason why is simple: it all boils down to the same thing.

There will come a time when the money you make will not be worth the aggravation of working with a person or a client.

Examples. Everyone loves my examples, right? Let’s have some. For something different, we’ll do it from an artists’ perspective.

You’ve seen a post for a job, and decided to respond. It was a somewhat lengthy post, but the writer seemed like an okay type of person, so you decide to respond. You sent what was asked for, had some correspondence with the writer, and have won the gig.

Even though you’ve had correspondence with the writer, you haven’t really spoken about the job yet. It was more of a “getting to know you” type of deal, to see if you two could work together. Now, though, you’re talking about the job. You’ve already agreed to a page rate [which was lower than your regular rate, but you liked something of the concept, and besides, it’s been a little slow lately], but now it’s time to start getting into the details. Characters, setting, timeframe, stuff like that.

The writer wants you to sign a contract [remember those?]. What does the writer want? Everything. Everything has to be approved in stages, from character designs to thumbs to layouts to penciled pages. Yes, the writer wants the penciled pages, the originals. Crazy, right? That’s a dealbreaker for you, because you might be able to sell the pages at a later date. So you balk at that, and the writer gives in.

You start doing the work. Character designs, and the writer wants you to move a hairline here, place a mole there, make this one a girl, that one needs bigger boobs… It’s a task, and you haven’t even seen the script yet! When the script comes in, you start the work, finally, and you’re excited! You’re making comics!

Well, the thumbs aren’t what the writer thought they would be. The writer wants more detailed thumbs, and making them more detailed would slow you down. You add a little more detail so the writer can get a better picture of what’s going on. Finally, all the thumbs are approved after much aggravation on your part, and you’re getting the feeling that the pages aren’t going to be that simple.

It’s a space romp, and the writer wants you to draw the individual stars, and doesn’t want little X’s where things are going to be black. No, that would be too easy! The writer wants you to shade in all the black of space, and to make sure the stars are visible in the shading. For the cities, the writer wants detailed, intricate, alien backgrounds, and for the spaceships, levers and buttons and consoles and corrugated walkways. The writer wants all of this, and won’t be happy until it’s done the way they want it.

It’s slowing you down. You’re no longer working on the page, you’re slaving over it. The page rate you’re getting isn’t worth this. You talk to people, and they hear the horror story, and you’re trying to be a professional. You talk to the writer, telling them the things they want are slowing down the production of the comic. You try to renegotiate the contract, but the writer refuses, saying this is what you agreed to. You try to use reason, saying that the inker will take care of certain things, the colorist will take care of others, but the writer doesn’t want to hear it. They want it done their way.

You’ve done four pages, and it took you nine days to do them because of all the changes. Your usual pace is a page a day, so this is worse than a snail’s pace for you.

So you start to look at things. Because of the pace you have to work at, you’re making less per page because it is taking you more time to do the work. The writer is being unreasonable, but you have a contract that you want to honor. You could make more money flipping burgers than you would if you continue working on the project, so you tell the writer that you’re sorry, but that you cannot continue to work with them. Their many, obsessive changes have slowed the production to a crawl, and you’re not being compensated enough for it.

You’ve just fired your client.

In the indies, it takes an unusual set of circumstances in order for you to fire your client. It doesn’t happen often. Usually, you look for any other option before you lose out on the money, but there comes a time when you have no other choice but to stand up for yourself. Too many changes, too difficult to work with, not worth the stress: the return [money] of your investment [time] is not worth it.

Are there things you can do to head it off? Try to make sure that your time is decently compensated? The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is “it depends.”

It really depends on how forward thinking you are, and how much of a fight you’re willing to put up to get what you want.

For artists, you can incorporate a change rule into your regime. Call it something responsible, like three changes to a page. [If the changes are your fault, though, because you forgot to do/add something, this is NOT a change. This is you fixing a mistake. Don’t get these two concepts crossed.]

Writers, you have it somewhat different. Since yours is the skeleton that the entire book will hang off of, you have the more important task of making sure everything is right. While it may not be “easy” to write a good script, it doesn’t take as much time to do. [This is not the start of the artist/writer debate all over again.]

(Have you ever fired a client, Steven?)

Yup.

As an editor, if I only work on the script, I charge a set rate that gets you four passes on the script, and then I charge a significantly smaller rate per page per pass after that. I also explain my reasoning behind the changes, if I feel they need explaining, so that everyone is on the same page. Well, I was hired by a writer who has some talent. Note, I said “writer,” not “storyteller.” This writer studied a lot of the greats, and wanted to do a lot of things in their script that those greats do when he tells a story. It made for a very boring, uneven reading experience, and it wasn’t because the writer put a lot of words in their script, either. The story was just extremely slow to move.

The first pass had a LOT of red in it. The writer went back and incorporated some changes, and wanted to talk about others. Now, I’m open to dialogue. I’m not a “because I said so” kind of guy. However, I’m also not the type of guy who’s going to be browbeaten into seeing something your way, especially if I think you’re wrong. You’ve come to me because you want me to help you. That means you believe that I know better than you. In general, I will hold that to be true. And I don’t care what Great One did what and when they did it—if I say that it isn’t going to work and why it isn’t working, I’m not going to change my mind.

I went through some back and forth with the writer, and got through a couple of passes. The money I was making wasn’t worth the frustration I was feeling, so I fired the writer.

Now, there are consequences to firing your client.

Guilt. Is there anything you could have done differently? Was there something said or not said that could have changed the outcome? Guilt is a big one, and can weigh on you, especially after you’ve just fired your client. It may take a couple of days to get over if you’re not used to firing someone.

There’s also the feeling of failure. I don’t like to fail, and this feeling can persist longer than the guilt.

There’s also the harm done to a relationship. We’re all artists in our own way, and we have something to say. We believe that what we say will have impact on the world. This means we have large egos. We don’t like being told we’re wrong, we don’t like someone infringing upon our vision, even if our vision is really someone else’s and we’re just helping to bring it to life. Unless you and your client have become true friends, the relationship will be harmed with the firing. This can lead to something else.

Badmouthing. You fired your client, and now they’re badmouthing you to anyone who’ll listen. They’re changing the facts, they’re making themselves out to be the injured party, they’re doing everything in their power except accepting responsibility for their part in their firing. And it is costing you money. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, it is costing you money and sullying your reputation.

When it comes time to fire your client [it should happen once in every career], make sure all of your ducks are in a row, and make sure you have exhausted all of your options first. Do NOT be confrontational. Don’t drag it out. Just make a list of your reasons of why you’re taking the action you are, screw up your courage, and get on with it. Come at it from a calm place, because the other person is going to be heated. If you come at it from that same place of frustration, you’re just going to end up arguing, which isn’t something you want to do. Arguing helps no one. Just be calm in the face of their vitriol. Wait a little while before you reply if you need to.

Lastly, immerse yourself in something you enjoy. Read some comics. Watch a movie or a series or something. Get out of your head. Put it behind you. This will help the healing process, because firing someone hurts both parties.

So, when you have to fire someone, be strong. It will pass.

If you’ve been fired, stop. Just stop and think, but not about how you’ve been aggrieved, but about how you have aggrieved. Take the list of reasons [if given] and see it from the other person’s point of view. Try to see you as they see you. See if there’s anything you can do differently in the future.

My last point: all of this presupposes that both parties are reasonable and of decent character. As a public face, everyone will say they are reasonable, and they will spin things one way or another to make it seem so. However, in our heart of hearts, unless there is something seriously wrong with our mental capacity, we know when we’re being unreasonable. You may feel bad about it late at night or much after the situation has been resolved one way or another, but deep down, we know. We may proceed with being wrong anyway, but it is done with knowing.

The overwhelming bulk of people you will interact and partner with will be reasonable. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to fire them. It just means that you’re more than likely going to be interacting with a reasonable person. They’ll be upset, but they’ll be reasonable.

And that’s all I have this week. Your homework: think of scenarios in which YOU may be fired, and think about your reaction to it. Then flip it. If you wish, we can role-play in the comments.

See you in seven!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (6)

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  1. I’ve sadly been on the firing end of a comic relationship. My first too!

    My scenario though was fraught with issues from the beginning. I was somewhat ‘commissioned’ by a close friend to collaborate on a space adventure. I began the writing (while in university) and we both decided to take a break until our lives were more regular. Then it started up again. I was commissioned because the artist needed to branch out her style (typically manga based) and she was aware her creativity as a writer was flawed. I love to write and jumped at the opportunity. Our second pass seemed to go well. I gave her a very rough first draft script. She returned it asking for more detail. It went back more detailed, she drew some thumbs for 3 pages and it stopped.

    For two years.

    I am a very patient person when it comes to professional issues. So of course I waited and waited. Emailed, chatted on the phone. She was always excited to work together but never actually did anything. She instead launched three new projects (where she was writer/artist) that were all (and still are)half finished and failing. I was starting to see a trend and began to loose hope.
    Because of the personal nature of our professional relationship I stressed about ending the professional project. She was not only a close friend but now my brothers long term girlfriend (who have since bought a house together. Real estate means serious business)

    How did it end?
    Well. Very well, I am pleased to report. I called her, sent a brief email explaining the details I did not go into over the phone. She seemed almost relieved herself. Maybe she had been looking for a reason to fire me in the end, but it worked out and I have since gone back and fixed mistakes in the script that I’m sure she noticed but didn’t want to say perhaps to save the relationship.

    My lesson after the ramble?
    You’re right to hammer out a contract, to have a backbone to your arguments and disputes should you ever have them. Even if it is someone you already know. Most of my frustration was because no deadlines, no payment, no structure was set for the relationship. It was completely freeform and she had no structure (nor did I) on when, what, where and how it would all go down.
    The comic hasn’t happened yet, I’m sad to say. But it was a much-needed lesson in working with others.

    Firing people is never fun but good for sanity’s sake.

  2. Jules Rivera says:

    Yeah, I’ve been down this road before, on both the firing and the fired end. I’ve become very picky about which clients I choose to work with as a result. If I may offer a few pointers for the artist involved:

    1. ASK TO SEE A SCRIPT. I know you’re eager to get work, but ask to see the script up front. Is the script even done yet? I ran into quite the speed bump with a couple of writers recently where their script wasn’t done at all (not to something I would work to) and I would have to rewrite the damn thing for them. I am not okay with that. I am not being paid to be an editor. I am not being paid to write. I am paid to interpret a script and make a bunch of pretty pictures to go with that script. That is all. Also, you want to make sure that the story you’re working on isn’t complete crap. Your name on a terrible comic is not what you need to build your rep as an artist (unless the writer is paying you LOTS of money…and they never do).

    2. CHECK OUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH ARTISTS. I’ve killed a lot of my freelance work because I’ve worked with too many people who have no idea how to work with an artist. They’ll send something as simple as a logo or a spot illustration back for umpteen changes and the extra work is killing my flat fee. They’ll get emotional. They’ll try to work you for peanuts. If you’re working with a fledgling writer or team, be very wary. Novice project managers are the most likely to drive you nuts.

    Finally…

    3. PROTECT YOURSELF. Because no one else will. If you’re an artist, you are the hot girl in the night club. Everybody wants you and a lot of people are going to want to screw you (pardon the expression, but it’s the truth). Don’t let them. Stand by your hourly rate or page rate. Don’t do “favors” because you feel sorry for someone (I have…). If you want to protect yourself from constant changes, make sure you state how many changes you will make in your contract. Anything after those changes is charged at an hourly rate. That’s it. And anybody not willing to compromise that point wants something for free. Use your best judgment.

    End rant. Good luck, pencil monkeys.

  3. Conner MacDonald says:

    Big tip. Don’t fire someone, by simply dropping all contact with them, and hiring someone else… Not cool.

  4. Sarah says:

    Would being willing to compromise on your script, be a good way to proven yourself from being fired?

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