One Leg at a Time

Early 2000s, a Big Five publisher bought an indie publisher.

I had a contract with the indie publisher. It was a large contract and I was less than a year into launching my business. I needed the work.

Unlike the indie publishing house, the Big Five publishing house had its own PR/Marketing team. It didn’t need me.

The contract was something I’d cobbled together when I launched my biz. (An opportunity popped up, I pivoted, and launched a company with little planning. A story for another day. . . .) It was void of language addressing the “what if’s.”

For example: What if my client cancelled the books in the contract?

Would I have the right to retain any of the fees, to cover the time I’d reserved to do the work?

Would I have to return any already paid fees?

I had to go to New York City to find out.

As was his way, Bob Danzig, my mentor of 20+ years (read “Thank You Bob Danzig“), opened his home and experiences to me the night before the meeting and then drove me to the train station the next morning.

I kept saying I was nervous.

Bob laughed. Actually, it was more of a chuckle. He did that a lot. I think it was something about the trajectory of his own life, of growing up in foster homes, experiencing hardships and seeing the true nature of people at an early age, and then becoming an office boy at The Albany Times-Union, then publisher of The Albany Times-Union two decades later, then CEO of the Hearst Newspaper Group and VP of the Hearst Corporation. He had met so many people along the way and had so many hardships at such a young age, that labels meant little to him. He didn’t equate greatness with a job title or location. He saw people for exactly what they were.

He smiled, and said, “Callie, they’re just like you. Pants go on one leg at a time.”

Of course I knew that. My father had been telling me that my entire life. They’re just people. They aren’t any better than you. They just happen to work in New York City.

Easier said than done.

I got wrapped up in the packaging.

Was I dressed okay? Did I look like a serious PR person, whatever that is? Or did I look country bumpkin? Was my hair okay? I don’t wear makeup, but maybe I should have?

And then I went into the meeting and it was fine.

The VP was a nice guy and honored the contract.

What was more important was that I knew my stuff.

Soon after, I hired a lawyer and had a contract developed.

One of the key clauses included?

Signing fees and cancellations.

There’s a non-returnable fee due on signing. This reserves time to do the upfront legwork. If the client cancels the project after signing, I don’t lose out on time spent.

If a client does cancel, there’s a clause related to prorated fees due up until the point of cancellation. This is similar to the doctor charging cancellation fees. If you cancel at a late date, I’m covered. I’m not left scrambling, trying to find work at the last minute to cover the loss of income.

I’m not offering legal advice here, but the cancellation clause is something I’ve mentioned to friends who work in other arenas. It’s saved me a number of times, when a last minute cancellation would have deep sixed my monthly inflow.

The other piece I’ve mentioned to friends is “one leg at a time.” New York City is a location, not a seal of approval. The staff at the Big Five publishers are the same. They’re just people.

What matters most is the work being done.

Posted in


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"


A Man At Arms is
on sale now!

Don't miss out on exclusive bonuses available to early buyers!


  1. Susan Settedcucato on September 7, 2018 at 6:12 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Callie. As I writer, I can easily forget about the business side of things. And you reminded me how easy it is to become intimidated, even by misconceptions.I learned from you today!

  2. Ken Robertson on September 7, 2018 at 6:25 am

    Thanks Callie, need to revisit my agreement templates and add a cancellation fee.
    Awesome advice!

  3. Joe Jansen on September 7, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Can I just quote this back to you?

    “An opportunity popped up, I pivoted, and launched a company with little planning. A story for another day…”

    I’ll read that one.

  4. Mia Sherwood Landau on September 7, 2018 at 6:57 am

    Super timely contract info for me, too, Callie! Once I was working a temp job in Manhattan. Getting off the elevator, I saw a star of Sesame Street (no, not a Muppet…) walking toward me. I froze. Such a famous guy to a mom of toddlers! Finally, I said hi and so did he. Gushing about it in the office, a co-worker said, “He’s just a guy like the rest of us.” The pants thing, and I never forgot it. Good reminder today.

  5. Mary Doyle on September 7, 2018 at 7:33 am

    My dad used to say the same thing – thanks for the reminder Callie!

  6. Evelyn Starr on September 7, 2018 at 8:15 am

    What a great story Callie. I’m so glad you were able to learn the cancellation clause lesson without it costing you more than a trip to New York. My cancellation clause lesson came 9 years into my business when a client asked for one in an agreement to protect him. A light bulb went off in my head and every agreement since then has included one for me.

    Another way to protect yourself is to get money upfront. Early on I switched to working on a project fee basis and instituted a company policy requiring a first half deposit to initiate the project. In addition to helping cash flow, that policy separates the waffling clients from those ready to engage.

Leave a Comment