March 18, 2008
Good News, Bad News
When Chris got the report back about the manuscript, he knew it wouldn’t be good news for the author. While there was much to commend, the end result was that the whole manuscript would have to be rewritten. It had simply been done from the wrong perspective and wouldn’t work for the intended audience. And it wasn’t just one report that came to this conclusion. It was three.
So as the editor, Chris knew what he had to do. He called the author and asked if they could meet and talk about the reports. A time and date were set. When they got together, Chris was able to smile warmly and genuinely express what he appreciated and then deliver the no doubt unwelcome news that a large amount of work yet remained. He closed with appreciation again for the author’s hard work already.
The editor was following a principle I heard many years ago that applies well beyond the realm of editing: The worse the news, the more personal the communication should be; the better the news, the more permanent the communication should be.
So if you’ve got bad news to deliver, do it in person or (if that is not possible) on the phone. If it is good news, do it in e-mail or (preferably and if time allows) a handwritten note.
The message of good news offered in writing allows the receiver to reread it and come back to the compliment, word of praise, comment of thanks or report of good results more than once. It has a lasting, tangible quality that makes it feel more permanent. If it is spoken, it can easily fade from memory. Certainly we often want to--and it is appropriate to--get good news to people quickly, and in person is often best for that. But following that up with a note is a good idea.
With bad news, it is tempting to fire off an e-mail or letter and not have to face the unhappy recipient so directly. That may help you not feel so bad, but it won’t help the person you are contacting. With the personal touch, people are more likely to be responsive to what you have to say. At the least, one hopes they will feel they were treated with some respect.
The personal meeting between Chris and the author made all the difference. Certainly, that was not what the author wanted to hear. But because it was delivered in a personal, human way, the message was palatable. Work on revising the book began very soon.