Managing Expectations

I just had to send an e-mail I didn’t want to send.  And the reason I had to send that e-mail all comes down to the other person’s inability to manage my expectations.

So, with the first novel, it went through however many beta reads (at least four, perhaps more), and the feedback I got was useful.  The problem is, I think the novel was “good enough” that no one really tore it apart.  So, they wanted me to describe people earlier in the book or to clarify things here or there, but no one made any large editing recommendations.  The closest I came was one who said that the ending was too tidy.

But I need that book to be great not just good.  And I think the way to move it from good to great (no, I am not trying to steal a book title there), is to tear it apart.  I wrote a while back about how I was considering splitting it into two books because one plot line never intersects with the other two.

Before I decided to do that, however, I wanted to get it in the hands of someone professional to see what they thought.  And, yes, I know.  Many people think it’s not worth it to pay for edits like that.  They think you can get that kind of feedback from an agent or editor who almost wants the novel or maybe a really good beta.  But it wasn’t at the point to warrant that level of interest from agents or editors yet and my betas didn’t have an issue with it.

So I chose someone who seemed to have a good reputation in my genre and whose opinions on grammar issues seemed in line with mine.  I asked if they had any openings for editing work and was told they had an opening in January.  So, I paid the money and sent it off.

Now, partially, this next bit is my fault.  I didn’t ask for an ETA.  I was working on two other novels and just happy to know this one was moving forward in some way and wasn’t destined to die without further effort.

I waited until the first week of February and sent a follow-up e-mail asking when the edits might be done.  And was told the middle of February “unless more stuff” happened to delay this person further.  Well, it’s now a month after the first e-mail was sent and no longer February, and I had to send another follow-up e-mail.

I am currently not happy with this person.  And it isn’t actually because it’s taken them two months to do the edits.  It’s because they made it seem like it would take less time and then failed to communicate with me when they were delayed.  Twice.

So, here’s my advice on managing expectations.  I think it’s useful for any corporate environment you might find yourself in (and would’ve been nice in this situation as well).

1. At the very beginning, you as the person selling the product or providing the deliverable, say when you think the project can be completed. (“I should be able to finish this in four weeks.  Six at the latest.”)

2.  You base this assumption on what is realistic, not what is a best case scenario.  Always better to under promise and over deliver than over promise and under deliver.

3. When circumstances change such that you don’t think the original deadline is realistic, you communicate that change before you’re asked about it. (“Due to the recent apocalypse, I’m a bit behind schedule.  It’ll be another six weeks or so.”)

4. You continue to communicate, in advance, before you’re asked, any further changes to the schedule.  And you try to be as clear about the reasons for the delays as you can be. (“I didn’t realize you’d invented your own language when you wrote this novel.  It’s going to take me a bit longer to work through this.  Oh, and I’m doubling my rate.”)

5. If someone is paying you for work, you do not imply that the work they are paying you for is less important to you than everything else in your life or every other project. (Do not say, “I would’ve finished it last week but I just couldn’t move that three-day spa weekend and this week is the first good sun tanning week of the year and it’s really important for me to get my base tan in.  But maybe I’ll get to it next week.” Or, in a work environment, “I’d love to finish that project for you, Joe, but I have projects for Bob and Paul that really need to be done first.”)

If you do that second one, you better know for a fact that Joe is never going to get promoted above you.  Or isn’t close personal friends with someone who will.  Or agrees with you about how important Bob and Paul are.

So, that’s it.  Basically, you set clear expectations and you proactively communicate any changes in circumstances until you’ve delivered.

At this point, unfortunately, I think I’m going to be chalking my situation up as a life lesson instead of the writing lesson I wanted it to be.  Such is life.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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