How to Fire a Client

[This post addresses a situation that could happen, but we all hope doesn’t. Nonetheless, it happened to me once.  So in loose generalization, with all sorts of facts mixed up and twisted around, I’m going to address it.]

It’s the nature of ghostwriting. You enter into an Agreement with someone you barely know.

Oh, sure, you did your homework before you got started, looked into her background, studied her business, got a sense of who she was as a person. You talked to people who knew her, read up on the opinions of those who liked her and those who didn’t. You weighed the pros and cons to taking on this particular job. You knew the kind of business she ran wasn’t a popular one, but she was fighting for a good cause; standing up for the little guy; doing the right thing in a profession where there are plenty of people doing it the wrong way to take advantage of others.

You decided to take it on. It wasn’t a memoir, but a story that needed to be told. You were proud of the opportunity to take on a topic that would really matter in someone’s life. Maybe even save it.

That was three months ago.

In the last few weeks, your intensive research and in-depth conversations with her and her associates have led you to conclude, without a doubt, that the truth about her and her business is much worse than you thought it could be: She’s full of it. And in a big, nay huge, way. More so, because her business is about protecting the one’s who can’t adequately protect themselves, her and her business are actually worse than those she claims to be against. In good conscience, you can’t bring yourself to continue the project.

What do you do?

You have to fire your client.

Problem is: you’ve got a contract in place and there are only certain circumstances under which you can leave a project.

Is she paying on time?

You’d expect a client like this would be horrible about paying bills on time, but oddly that’s not the case. She doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong, so paying her bills, you included, isn’t an issue.

Is she doing something illegal?

Probably. Plenty of people seem to think so. You could dive into that fast-moving stream, get caught in the undercurrent while you meet with her, work for her, write good things about her, ask her probing questions that are no longer designed to reveal the truth for the purpose of writing her a marvelously good book. No, now, you’re the one hiding. You’re undercover looking for dirt. No thank you. Not going that path.

Can you get her to talk about the issues?

She says a lot, but never answers your questions about those topics. Most times she acts like she didn’t hear you correctly and you get a bunch of stuff about something you could care less about. Other times she just sits there, blankly, waiting for you to ask the questions you just asked her.

You’ve reached an impasse. What you need is a way to get out of your contract that doesn’t leave you in breach of your contract.

Get her to release you from the contract.

She has to be willing to sign something. She has to be the one to come up with the idea. That’s right. It’s the ole “Make them think it was their idea”.

But how, precisely, does one do that in this situation?

The answer turns out to be surprisingly simple: Find something in all the things you and she agree on – the purpose of the project, the desire to help the little guy, her stated motivation for running her business the way she does, those things – and raise the bar.

Ask her for information to support those things that you know she can’t possibly come up with. Raise the bar on your expectations. Raise the bar on your honesty with her. Raise the bar on all the moral actions she pretends to believe in. Raise the bar on the amount of proof you need to prove her case. Because looking good is so important to her, more than being good, she’ll promise those things, but won’t ever deliver.

She’ll put herself in breach by making it impossible for you to do your job.

But in all of this, you can’t do it like some formula you just follow and ta-da, she lets you off the hook. You have to mean it. You have to raise the bar because it’s the best thing for her. You have to see her as a child who somehow never grew up in these areas. You have to care about what happens to her. You have to be sincere.

Do that.

And in a very short time, she’ll tell you she’s putting the project on hold for now. She’ll get back to you later, perhaps. She’s got higher priorities right now. She’d be happy to sign something to that effect.

Well done, ghostwriter. You’re out of a job.

[Picture by: alancleaver_2000]