Permission to Say No by Laurie Calkhoven

I’m a full-time writer, but like 95% of writers out there, I don’t make a living from my books. I write a lot of what I call “other people’s books.”  Some have my name on them. Some don’t. Some are fiction (contemporary, historical, fantasy, mystery). Some are nonfiction. I’ve learned something from most of the projects I’ve worked on and believe they’ve improved my craft in some way.

But the most valuable project I ever had was also the worst. I had written a mystery in a long-running middle grade series that both the publisher and the author of record were happy with, and I was asked to write another. I submitted an outline. It was approved. I wrote the book and sent it off.

Then the trouble started. I’m not sure what set the author-of-record off, but he sent a scathing letter, ripping apart plot elements he had approved in the outline and attacking my intelligence, my "paltry" vocabulary (I had used the word “stolen” in TWO chapter titles), and even my indentations (I had neglected to indent one paragraph, making me an inconsistent indenter). The letter was insulting and disrespectful and unfair.

As frustrating as that was, I am a professional and so I rewrote the book. The editor recognized the unfairness of it all and did the right thing by increasing my fee. The book was finally approved and I was finished, I thought, forever, with that horrible man and his series. And then I got an offer to write two more!?!

I needed the money. The recession had just hit and the income from these two books would have seen me through a good chunk of time. But I gave myself permission to say no. And it felt wonderful.  From then on, I’ve been clear about working with people who show me basic respect, appreciate my creative contribution, and pay me what I’m worth.

Giving myself that permission to say no was the best thing I’ve ever done as a writer.


  1. Good for you, Laurie! Sometimes it's difficult to say that important word. No one should be treated in such a fashion by a so-called "celebrity" in any field. It took courage to turn down a well paying job, but, hopefully, others have registered similar complaints and the responsible party will have to mend his ways...we can only hope!

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  3. An inconsistent indenter! Horrors! -- I'm so glad you saw the error of your ways and declined the chance to indent for him again.

  4. This is a courageous and empowering post, Laurie. Sometimes it's difficult to stand up for ourselves, but you show how to do it with grace.


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