We all cringe when we hear the words “being fired, and being fired does truly feel like “getting the ax.” Though this could be urban legend, the term “being fired” comes from very early human history. If a village no longer wanted a certain person to be part of the group? They torched their hut, “firing them.”
Slightly less brutal than a pink slip.
I’d love to say I’ve never been fired, but I have. A few times. And it sucked pretty much every time. As I get older, in retrospect, I realize my being fired was probably a good decision on the part of the organizations who let me go, and not nearly as personal as it felt at the time.
Part of that “pruning thing” we discussed.
But we are writers. Why do we need to talk about firing people?
Namely, because I mentioned firing people in yesterday’s post and someone privately messaged and asked I address the topic. I like to believe I’m here to make you laugh and learn, but sometimes we need to talk about the un-fun stuff, too. Dead weight can keep us from reaching our career goals, so here goes….
We ARE the Business
Writers are entrepreneurs, and no matter which publishing path we choose to take, we will (if we are smart) have to hire people to help us succeed. Doing everything ourselves and micromanaging and controlling is a formula for burnout and frustration. Learning to hire and fire well is a critical skill and one we will always be honing.
Firing will never be fun or pleasant unless we happen to be sadists (which I assume most of us are not).
Writers need web designers, cover artists, literary agents, personal assistants, formatters, accountants, publishers (especially for the indie authors), and even sometimes attorneys. These are just a handful of the types of people we as writers might employ.
If these individuals do their jobs well, we can rest assured that we can focus on what we do best…writing books. Yet, if we have “employees” who are dead weight or troublemakers, it can kill our creativity and triple our workload.
Confrontation isn’t All Bad
Confrontation isn’t fun. Most of us avoid it at all costs. Yet, confrontation is critical to healthy relationships (including work relationships).
There have been times in my past I feel I was unjustly fired.
I once worked for a technology firm as an admin. Originally there were two of us, but the other left for another job. For months, I did her work and mine while the company searched for her replacement. I was continually told how valuable I was and how appreciated, so imagine my surprise when one day I was being walked out the door.
To this day, I don’t know what I was doing wrong. I was getting mixed messages and was never confronted. Clearly I was doing or not doing something that was hindering progress, but I didn’t know what or how to correct.
This means if someone isn’t working out (too many delays, not delivering, not performing), we need to lovingly confront first and offer an outline for how to change. Be clear. Don’t hint. People can’t fix what they don’t know about and it’s poor leadership to expect others to read our minds.
When to Fire
So when do we fire? I believe in the Three Strikes and You’re Out. If by the third time we’ve talked, things aren’t changing, then it’s time to part ways. Web people who don’t do perform, agents who don’t return e-mails, or editors who are taking too long need to go or it creates major problems that will take our valuable time to repair.
Why We Fire
When it comes to business, I am definitely a work in progress. Much of this I’ve learned from the experience of (for the first time) being on the other side of the operation. I also tend to be about as ruthless as a rose petal, but I’m learning to toughen up.
When it comes to running a business (like WANA International) not firing those who need to go hurts others in my organization. It sends a message I don’t care about those in my operation and that we don’t have standards for performance. It drags the company down.
As an individual author-entrpeneur, not firing can affect our career, our health and our intimate relationships. Endure the stress of an agent who doesn’t return e-mails for months at a time and you’ll understand. We need functional web sites to do our jobs well. Not having a web site, a bad web site or an ineffective web site hinders our performance and growth.
Who to Fire
Here is a list to help guide you in deciding when to confront and perhaps, eventually fire:
This person only sees problems and never solutions. This kind of negativity will adversely affect you and your organization. We are who we hang around and if we are around someone who only sees problems and obstacles, we can catch that like a virus.
People in our employ should always be able to come to us with what they see are potential problems. Open communication is vital. Many of the improvements we’ve made over the last year were because brave WANAs could come to me and say, “Hey, Kristen. This really needs to be fixed.”
But if all this person is doing is nitpicking and whining? Time to go.
People should do more than take up space, especially if we are paying them. I’ve had people who were hired to assist at certain events who just didn’t bother to show and never called to tell why. This placed me in a terrible and embarrassing position of explaining where this person was.
It negatively impacted how others saw ME as a professional. It also hurt my company and those depending on me because I didn’t have time to fill the position and this wasted precious time and energy. It also hurt my health because I was trying to do the job of two people and that just meant I did my job really poorly and wore myself out.
In fact, on one occasion, I was so exhausted and scattered from doing two people’s work, that I ended up whacked in the head with a trunk lid that gave me a nasty gash, a concussion and a near-miss to the ER before the main conference even began. Needless to say, I was not at my best that week.
Thousands of dollars in conference, hotel, travel went to waste because, without help, I was unable to mine the investment as I’d planned.
The Uncommitted can KILL a business.
If we hire someone to do a job then realize they over promised and are out of their depth? Not our job to wait for them to learn what they were hired to do.
When we originally hired web designers for the WANA International site, it required a complicated shopping cart system to handle what WANA wanted to offer. The designer (though a lovely person) just did not possess the skill to design something so complicated. Me “being nice” cost us four months of delays.
Sometimes the person might be talented and capable of doing the job, but too many personal crises are getting in the way, rendering the person inept. “Letting someone go” doesn’t have to be permanent. It can go with an understanding that the person is eligible for rehire at a later point when life has calmed down.
Sometimes, firing really isn’t personal. The person/company just might not be a good fit for the job. This often happens with agents. They could be a fabulous agent for other works, but be terrible when it comes to our books (or genre).
My cover designer is fabulous. In the beginning, though, he kept insisting on using a cover model for the cyborg because it was easier and maybe even prettier since I am no Vogue fashion model. I gently and firmly said, “I want to be on the cover. I don’t care how it happens, but make it so or I will hire someone who can.” And he made it so and that’s why he’s a keeper and I send him all the business I can.
But sometimes, we get a rebel who just won’t listen to instructions.
When we hire someone for a job, we need to be clear what we want. On the other side, that person needs to listen. When you instruct a web designer to fix a shopping cart and “under no certain circumstances touch the look of the web site”, and they ignore you and change it to what they like?
It’s our business, not theirs. You have a right to expect what you pay for.
The Seed of Discontent
This one, I feel, is the most critical, especially if you are running a larger organization (I.e. an indie press). Some people love drama and back-biting. They stir trouble often because, as long as there is drama, it masquerades that the person really a) is slacking off and not doing his/her job or b) is incompetent.
Seeds of Discontent are often also Complainers. They fracture solidarity and undermine morale. They create distrust and paralyze decision-making and thus need to go.
How to Fire
Promptly, privately and professionally. I’ve learned this the hard way (like a lot of stuff). I’ve worked with people I knew needed to go. Instead of acting, I whined, complained and groused while the situation grew steadily worse.
NOT a recommended action plan.
When we don’t fire, we think we are being kind to the other person, when in fact, we’re being selfish. We are putting off our own discomfort. We don’t want to be “the bad guy.” Maybe we’re prideful and don’t want to admit we made a mistake in choosing the person for the position.
Perhaps, we are afraid or uncertain. We have no clue how to fill that vacuum when the person leaves so we endure the bad instead of embracing the possibility of great.
We Can Hurt Others By NOT Firing Them
In retrospect, I am happy I was fired from those jobs of my youth. I hated working in admin and was terrible at sales. If I hadn’t been let go, would I have ever found my calling? Would I have ever had to face the character flaws that were holding me back? Firing is major pruning. It hurts, but sometimes great things blossom.
I hope this has been helpful for you. I know I am still learning by leaps and bounds and not always doing things perfectly. As writers, we can be enamored with having an agent, or we feel committed to the editor, but in the end, we are the only captains of our fate. If we hit the rocks, the blame is on us.
What are your thoughts? Have you had to fire someone, maybe an agent? What did you learn? Have you been fired from a job then later realized it was a blessing in disguise?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.
Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.
I will announce July’s winner tomorrow.