This week I had the shocking experience of having someone Not. Like. My. Work.
I say shocking because I’ve been fortunate. Over about 18 years of running my own business, I’ve been able to submit a first draft of my assignments that’s pretty close to what’s required. There may be a bit of back and forth over some wording, but generally, the client is pleased with what I hand in. I’ve received comments like this from happy customers:
- “You did a good job of capturing the essence of our discussion and the message we were looking to convey.”
- “I am impressed at how you can take a 20-minute conversation and turn it into an understandable article.”
- “I can basically provide you with details for a story and you just run with it.”
- “I am impressed with your skills of listening, selecting the most important information and putting it all together.”
So it was a good reminder to me to stay humble when an article I submitted last week did not fly. The VP who has to approve it did not like it, so I am rewriting it this week. His communications person (who did like the article, fortunately) and I have discussed the areas he flagged as a problem, and one key change that will solve much of them is a new lead sentence/introduction.
What I have learned:
- This reinforces the importance of one of the tactics I use to turn in a close-to-final first draft. That is, to interview key people involved in the topic I am covering, and ask “what do you want employees to take away from reading this article?” I had asked the VP for 10 minutes to talk about his perspective, but he did not have time.
- I could have sent a few questions by e-mail, just to confirm the sensitive areas he wanted to avoid or key areas he wanted to highlight.
- Recognizing that the VP had a new boss, I should have asked about a recent meeting he attended and whether he had commented on the project I was to write about.
I’m starting a new week properly chastened.
If people, regardless of their level, don’t make time for you, that’s when you need to go back to the person who assigned the story and ask for their help or at very least let them know you’ve hit a roadblock. It isn’t weak, and it isn’t squealing.
As you know, what most editors worth their salt look for is honesty and openness in the stories their writers submit. And if a VP or anyone else sits in the way of that, you need to get your client involved.
..why did the VP not like it? Was it inaccurate, or was it too honest?
Sue, thanks for your support! We all realized the VP’s elusiveness was part of the problem, and that’s why I say it was fortunate the communications person liked it. I (half) joked with her, “That’s what he gets for not seeing me.” I’ll tell you offline what his problems were.
Shocking indeed. But you learned from it. And shared your story. Thank you, Sue.
I would not take this at all personally if I were you, Sue. In fact, I’ve been you in this situation before. When you can’t work with the person who has approval over the final product, it’s always a bit of a guessing game as to what will please that person. I always expect trouble when I have to work with a committee, even a committee of two. There can be private, personal, hidden, political reasons why a “superior” doesn’t approve work that a subordinate authorized. Reasons that have nothing to do with you. It’s a total pain, but does not reflect badly on you.
I had a situation once where someone took over marketing communications & had no choice but to work on an existing project with the designer and me. This person vented resentment at the arrangement by not liking anything that either one of us did, despite the fact that we followed overly precise directions.
Another time, I had to edit a 13-page article that had been translated from French, and I felt it was so overwritten that I could get it down to two pages. When I suggested that to my contact, he said no, all the material had to be kept, but to go ahead & write the summary anyway, & they would pay for it. But his supervisor would surely want the complete version. I wrote both, and as you might guess, the boss wanted the short version. My contact had written the long version so of course he was emotionally attached to all of it.
Rejection is often actually nothing to do with you, or the quality of your work.
Gloria, thanks for sharing your stories! You are right, there are often hidden reasons why our work doesn’t get approved. You do need to have a thick skin, and not take it personally.
Update: Just got back my revision, with a few minor changes. The VP and another reviewer “are very happy with the story,” according to the communications person, who added, “Great job, Sue.” Phew!