September 6, 2007
Some years ago we promised an author that if he signed his book contract with us that we would advertise the book in several key magazines. So he signed the contract, completed the manuscript and sent it in. It was a strong piece, and we were happy to publish it. However, we also discovered that it did not come to us very well targeted for the particular audiences of the magazines in which we had promised to advertise the book. As we discussed the audience for his book and possible revisions with the author, he was not inclined to make any significant changes.
So, what should we do? Should we just scrap the advertising plans since they would largely be a waste of money? Should we go ahead as planned? Should we try to negotiate with the author alternate marketing plans that would better fit the book actually written than the one we thought we were going to get?
Publishers face these kinds of dilemmas all the time. It is not uncommon for a different book to be written than the one imagined by the publisher. That's why proposals and sample chapters are so important in negotiations before a contract is signed--to make sure author and publisher are envisioning the same book. But even when there is good agreement on these preliminary summaries, a book can take on a life of its own and go a direction neither author nor publisher quite imagined. Or, perhaps, even though author and publisher were looking at the same proposal, they simply imagined different books and never communicated those differences to each other.
What can also happen is that the author thinks he or she has fulfilled the vision for the book but the publisher does not. And that's about where we landed with our author. He didn't see the difference between what he wrote and what we thought he was going to write. So in his mind, there was no reason not to proceed with the planned advertising.
What did we do? We chose to do the advertising as previously agreed. One of the main reasons was that we consider keeping promises, keeping our word, to be a very high value. It is part of our integrity as a publisher. Sure, if we can negotiate a change, we will do that. But if not, we do what we said we would do.
Sometimes ethical decisions in business are clear and sometimes they are ambiguous. There are areas of gray that can creep into almost any situation that can make it hard to decide what to do. As I wrote previously integrity and honesty are virtues to be valued for their own sake. They come about as close as you can get to the core of who a person or an organization is, and need to be held on to tightly--even if it hurts.