I received a very interesting question from a reader not too long ago, one that I think, sadly, has crossed the minds or lives of a number of writers. If you are facing insurmountable (or seemingly insurmountable) challenges in your life, how much do you tell your agent or editor? For example, what if you are going through a divorce and can’t muster up the ability to get out of bed, let alone meet a deadline? Or what if you are suddenly diagnosed with a disease like cancer that is possibly fatal, but also potentially curable, do you tell your agent or editor or quietly take care of yourself and your disease while working your best to meet deadlines?
I think the concern this reader had was whether telling could negatively affect your career. Would a publisher consider a new contract if they thought the author was battling a fatal illness? Would an agent want to continue representation if she didn’t think the author would be able to meet deadlines?
These are tough, tough questions and ones that there is no easy answer to. Life throws us curveballs, and how we hit them or even whether we swing is completely personal.
Ultimately, the decision to tell your agent and/or editor is going to be up to you and is going to be based on the relationship you have with that agent or editor. At the recent RWA RITA awards ceremony one author praised her editor, remarking that they were much more than business partners, but after 20 years of working together were truly friends. I would imagine in this case the editor knows a great deal about this author and her life. That author is lucky though. Few authors spend that many years with one editor, which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of finding an agent you truly feel can go the long haul with you.
How an incurable disease or missed deadlines affects future contracts is going to depend on the publisher, and how professionally the situation was handled. Did you eventually meet the deadlines by setting realistic goals for yourself in spite of the circumstances or did you never turn in the books? And . . . how are your numbers? Because that’s what it all comes down to, sales of your books. If sales are good you can be forgiven almost anything. If they’re not good, sickness or health probably won’t do you any good.
My advice . . . talk to your agent. Your agent is your best advocate in any situation, and if you are worried, your agent should be the one to help alleviate those fears and worries. When I mentioned that to the reader she came back with whether or not that was fair to her agent. She worried that it was putting her agent in a difficult position by asking her to lie. Well, guess what, folks, that is an agent’s job. Well, not lying exactly, but client-agent confidentiality. While I’ve never felt like I had to lie for an author (and that’s good, because I’m not good at lying), I do know that a great deal of what we talk about is confidential. Confidential from other clients, blog readers, and, yes, editors.
My feeling is that honesty is the best policy. If whatever is happening means you might miss a deadline, I think it’s best to be up front and honest, at least with your agent. After all, calling to say you need a deadline extension because of illness, death, divorce, or another crisis is going to be easier than calling to say you need an extension because you just do. If, however, you don’t want your editor told, talk to your agent about how to handle the situation and let your agent handle it. That’s the beauty of having an agent.