A Statement on Unfinished Projects

Over the years I have worked as a freelancer on a number of projects that will never see the light of day. I rarely talk about these things because, as a contract worker, they are not my stories to tell. Every single unfinished project I’ve worked on began in good faith, with the best of intentions. Sometimes the market changed, and by the time the project could reasonably see fruition the moment had passes. Several times there were health issues, physical or mental, among the principals that led to the project’s cancellation. A handful of times, the people in charge didn’t know what they didn’t know until they were in over their heads.

Unfinished projects are frustrating.

To be honest, though, there are things that I’ve worked on that I have no idea what happened to them. I way just the guy who wrote something for pay. I wasn’t the editor, the publisher, or the project manager. As much as it pains me, I can’t answer your questions about those unfinished projects because I don’t know any more than you do. Even if I did, sometimes I can’t answer because I’m still under a non-disclosure agreement, even when the project is officially dead.

I know that it’s frustrating when you, as a consumer, invest in something that never materializes. Whether that investment is financial, or emotional, or just a block of your valuable free time that you feel has been wasted, it stings. It’s easy to get angry, and in many cases that’s entirely justified. You should get pissed off when a promise was broken. Even when I’ve been paid, it’s annoying when something I worked on will never be seen. A few times I had pay-on-publication deals (protip: never accept a pay-on-publication deal) where I did a lot of work that you’ll never see and I’ll never be compensated for.

What I’m asking is for you to be kind.

If you’ve genuinely been defrauded, then by all means take whatever steps you can to get your money back. Inform people that you’ve had bad experiences with certain companies or individuals, when that’s the responsible thing to do. Try to fix the problem, rather than focusing on fixing the blame. But take a beat or ten before making personal attacks. You don’t need to destroy someone’s life over twenty, fifty, a hundred bucks you’ll never see again. It’s not worth it. Gather the facts, rather than making assumptions. Decide whether a book you were interested in being cancelled is really the hill you want to die on. In the grand scheme of things happening in your life and across the world, is it that important?


2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Fix the problem, not the blame is a good rule for, well, everything. It’s the reason air travel is as safe as it is. The core principle of air crash investigations is to find out what went wrong and how to ensure it’s less likely to happen again – even if the issue turns out to have been pilot error or someone else not doing what they ought to have done! They figure out how to make it harder for another pilot to make that error. That’s why they get unparallel cooperation from everyone involved in an incident – unlike most enquiries where everyone lawyers up and says as little as possible to avoid being the one who gets blamed. I’m teaching this to my students, to improve how problems in computer programming are dealt with!

  2. Partisanship and a lack of responsibility: it has to be the other side’s fault. It’a the flip side of subjective merit — if someone on our side has an idea, it’s a good idea. When someone on the other side has the same idea, it’s a bad idea.

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