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What to Do Before Contacting Griefcom

by John E. Johnston III, Chairman, Griefcom

When you as a writer find yourself with a grievance against an editor, publisher, agent, or other writing-related business associate, the first step you need to take is to gather up your documentation relative to the work in question (see PROTECTING YOURSELF, OR HOW TO GENERALLY AVOID EVER NEEDING GRIEFCOM). The next step depends on whether you have an agent or not. If you do, and the problem is not with your agent, contact them and have them try to resolve it – after all, that’s part of what you are paying them for. If you don’t have an agent, then you need to start writing letters.

Whenever you write a letter in a potential grievance case, take care to be civil and be factual, and be aware that the letter may end up as public evidence in a court case. Never make any accusations that you cannot positively prove. State the facts of the matter, and your grievance, clearly and concisely. Quote your contract where relevant.

To whom do you write? When you have a grievance, your first target is whomever negotiated the contract with you. Write him a real old-fashioned letter, too, not an email, and register the letter with return receipt so he can’t deny receiving it. Now it may be that he has a perfectly valid explanation or excuse for you, or your letter may cause him to promptly resolve your grievance in your favor (or the check may have been sent to the wrong person or your last address, or it may even arrive the day after you mail your letter). But if the first letter doesn’t bring you any satisfaction, wait a reasonable amount of time and then check to see if the first recipient has a superior. If so, mail the superior a similar letter exactly the same way. Never lose your temper and never threaten; just stick to the facts and ask for what you have coming. If you haven’t reached an acceptable resolution by the time you have run out of superiors, or if your agent has tried and failed to get you relief, then it’s time to call on Griefcom, the hammer of SFWA.