Client problem (incessant revision)--need advice?

Subject: Client problem (incessant revision)--need advice?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 11:33:26 -0400

Rebecca Sederberg wonders: <<Is there a way I can (tactfully) extricate
myself from a work project and collect the money
the client owes me? (He still owes me for about 40 hours of work.) Also,
what could I have done to keep this situation from escalating?>>

Does anyone but me find the fact that this author is writing about total
quality management deeply ironic? <g> There's always a way to get
satisfaction, provided you and your boss can negotiate an agreement with the
author. Based on the details you provided (see below), that might be tricky,
but it's desperately needed right now.

<<When I delivered my "final" edit to the client, he handed me a revised
copy of the book featuring new chapters and a general overhaul. A few days
later he gave me a *new* new version, which used only a small portion of my
earlier edit.>>

You didn't mention whether you're using revision tracking, but doing so
could at least make it easier to find out what he's done to the manuscript
each time. The process I'm familiar with (at various university presses) is
that the editor does not release the actual production copy of the
manuscript files to the author; the author receives a working copy for
annotation using revision tracking, and returns the file to the editor, but
it's the editor who decides whether and how to implement the author's
markup. That's the only practical way to exercise some control over what's
going on and over your deadlines.

<<We offered to introduce him to a more useful, standardized author/editor
work system, but he begged off, saying that he'd already been working on
this project for five years and this was the only way he could forsee
finishing it.>>

He's been working on it for 5 years because he has no clue about what he's
doing. Sorry to be blunt, but this approach is so typical that it deserves
its own name: maybe _revisionitis_? Time to dig in your heels and insist
that he follow something resembling standard practice; if not, you can
anticipate another 5 years of incessant revision and all the associated

<<Meetings with this client went as follows: He'd raise an issue. I'd offer
a recommendation. He'd ask my boss the SAME QUESTION. My boss would either
say, "Ask her; I don't know much about that," or else repeat exactly what I
had just said. If my boss wasn't present, the client would disregard any of
my comments save praise, and mostly wanted to talk about the powerful impact
his book would have.>>

Boy does that sound familiar. Bottom line: If your boss is willing to say
"ask her", insist on the authority (written if need be) to impose a process
and ask your boss to step aside and let you handle it. Part of the problem
here is obviously that the client feels he can override your
authority--because you have none. Get that authority, and use it, or give up
now and walk away.

<<I had given him my home phone so he could reach me, as he is not
Internet-saavy and I am only infrequently near a phone during the workday.>>

For future reference? This is a really bad idea. Give him your _work_
number, and schedule time to check your voice mail and respond. In the
meantime, the phone company offers "call blocking" services for a nominal
fee, and perhaps for free if you can prove he's stalking or harassing you.

<<He cornered me at work and wouldn't leave for *three hours*>>

There's no reason you have to accept that. Next time he shows up, simply
tell him you're on your way to a meeting (or whatever you're actually going
to be doing--no need to lie), tell him when you will be available, then walk
away and close the door behind you if need be. If he follows, pretend he's
invisible. Carry on with your work and conversations as if he's not in the
room; he'll eventually get frustrated and leave. If you're desperate, bring
a good book to work and walk into the women's washroom; if he follows you,
press charges, and if he doesn't stay in there for an hour or so until he
gives up and leaves. When you do schedule a meeting, be firm: if it's a
1-hour meeting, give him a 15-minute warning after 45 minutes, sum up what
you've achieved after 55 minutes, and spot on 60 minutes, show him the door
and walk away after scheduling the next meeting. He'll get a clue real soon.

<<To date I've done seven "final" edits and two redesigns of his book.>>

If you bill him for each edit and each redesign, he'll also get the message
real quickly. This also serves as a powerful tool for convincing him to
adopt a more standard (i.e., effective) revision process.

<<Whenever I try to resign from the project he talks at me until I back

Well, we both know who to blame for that, don't we? If you resign, then
resign. No appeals, no further contact. If you choose to stay, stay on your
own terms, not his.

<<This might be harrassment, but there's not much I can do; my boss and
everyone else I work with are intimidated by him.>>

Why is everyone intimidated? If he's physically or emotionally abusive, call
the police or the company's lawyer and get the problem resolved ***now***.
If it's not that bad, show him the door--or use the other tricks I've
suggested if he won't leave. He sounds like the kind of bully who simply
needs someone to stand up to him--repeatedly--until he figures out he's up
against someone stronger and backs down.

<<He would like me to continue to work for him. I don't care for the
long-distance gig, and he won't take no for an answer.>>

If you confront him and get him to back down and accept your proposed
working arrangement, there's no reason not to keep working with him; the
more he revises, the more money you make. If he reneges on the agreement
after you've given him your new address and agreed to try again, all you
need to do is mark his letters "return to sender". ONce the mailing costs
grow prohibitive, he'll eventually give up.

<<Would it be best to just forget about the check he owes me and chalk this
one up to a learning experience?>>

Never. Tell him the condition for your continuing to talk to him is that he
pay you immediately; when the cheque clears, you'll call him back. If he
won't do that, turn him over to a collection agency and end the relationship
once and for all. There are plenty of _good_ clients out there.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear


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