Nightmare Client - Please HELP!

Hello! I need help in handling a client from hell. She has been a problem since day one. Very nitpicky, condescending, passive aggressive, etc. She has already paid me and the deliverables have been sent, but she won’t go away. I keep getting nasty emails and texts criticizing my work. I formatted her ebook and paperback, and designed her cover. I even held her hand through the Amazon KDP self-publishing process because she is totally computer illiterate. I am the first to admit when I make a mistake, and I will always try to make it right, but all of her complaints and criticisms are ridiculous. She even tried to blame me for some content/proofing errors in the manuscript that SHE sent to me, which resulting in me having to make the edits after I had already laid out the book in InDesign. This took a full two days of extra work that I was not paid for. Now she’s pissed because she is unable to make additional edits to the formatted PDF! I explained multiple times that once the book is laid out, it’s basically written in stone.

That’s just one example of her unreasonable demands. She also claimed that the Table of Contents in her ebook misdirects. I tested it myself in multiple formats and on various devices and it works fine. She claimed she had to hire another designer to “fix” my mistakes, but I think she lied about that. She refuses to tell me what the problem was, and a colleague has confirmed that I formatted the TOC correctly.

There are over a dozen more false complaints like that one. This client has been nothing but a thorn in my side since I started working with her in early April. I have been bending over backwards trying to make her happy, but she just keeps hitting me with more BS.

Her latest complaint is that her paperback book cover proof is poor quality. First of all, she sent me a photo of the proof. I did a side-by-side comparison with the original file, and it looks great to me. Secondly, the image I delivered to her, which she accepted and paid me for, is very high resolution and print-ready, so even if there is a print quality issue it is not because the original image was bad. It could be a printer issue, and I have heard complaints about Amazon KDP’s print quality. But even looking at a low res photo of the cover, I think it turned out beautifully and I’m actually quite proud of it. So she’s either trying to get me to refund her money so she will have it for free or she is completely batty! Maybe a little of both!

How do I tell her she’s crazy without telling her she’s crazy (no matter how much I’d love to use those words. haha)? I mean, she has already paid me so I could just ignore her, but I don’t want to do that. And I doubt that would work, anyway. She’ll just keep harassing me. By the way, when I first spoke with her she told me that she can’t find a designer who will work with her and no one will return her calls. I should have refused to work with her right then and there. But I was stupid because I needed the money. Now I may have to refund her money just to get her to leave me alone, and I suspect this may have been her game from the start. I have already put so much time into this woman’s madness, so I’d prefer to keep the money I worked so hard for.

Does anyone have any advice on how to word my response in a diplomatic way that will make her leave me alone without having to give her a refund? Or is there a way I can offer her a refund on the condition that she must return the deliverables and agree to not use them?

First and foremost… do you have a contract? Does it specify the scope of the work and how much you’d be paid? If so, and she signed it, simply refer to the contract and honor what it says. If she doesn’t want to honor it, that’s on her. I’d call the job complete and paid for and kindly let her know that you will not work for her in the future. I would not refund her, as it would simply reinforce to her that she can b!tch and moan and get what she wants, and I highly doubt she’d be willing to return the files and agree to never use them.

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If she’s already paid you for the deliverables and if you think the problem is entirely with her, why are you considering refunding her money? Are you concerned that she might cause problems of some kind, like, possibly, taking you to court?

If it were me, I’d just send her a polite note (wouldn’t go into lots of detail). I wouldn’t admit to any kind of fault and would just say I was sorry that she wasn’t happy with the work, which was professionally done and met professional quality standards. You made multiple attempts to address her concerns that went far beyond the original agreement. In light of excessive and unreasonable requests, you’ve decided it’s best to terminate the business relationship. Wish her luck and be done with her.

If it’s any consolation, I’m dealing with a similar client right now. It’s a different set of problems, but just as aggravating. Running into the occasional crazy, incompetent, unreasonable, disorganized, unresponsive (add your adjective of choice) client is just part of the job.



This is the correct way of business handling. Are you afraid that you won’t get her business again? The suspense is killing me.

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Thank you! Yes, we do have a contract, but I wish I had added a clause that once the deliverables are accepted, there will be no more edits allowed without additional payment, or something to that effect. Live and learn.

Thank you!

I know. I’m probably worrying needlessly about this. I guess I’m afraid she will take me to court, or at least damage my reputation, or both. She’s fairly influential in my circles and could impact my ability to obtain future business. I don’t want to make an enemy of someone who could damage me financially if she holds a grudge. I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place and it might be worth a thousand bucks just to make this all go away.

Alrighty, I took all of your responses into consideration - thank you! - and came up with the following. What do you guys think? Is there anything you would add or take away?

Dear XXXX,

The book cover you purchased is a high quality, high resolution image that is suitable for printing. I compared your photo of the paperback proof with the original image that I delivered to you, and I saw no drastic differences in quality. See attached. [I will attached a side-by-side comparison image that I created]

I am sorry you are not happy with my work, which was professionally done according to our agreement, and meets professional quality standards. I think it would be best for us to terminate our professional relationship as of today and agree that we will not work together in the future. I wish you the best of luck in your writing and publishing endeavors.



Wish them success in their future endeavors. “Best of luck” sounds a little snarky.


Instead of “no drastic differences,” I might phrase it “no significant differences.”

In my contracts, I specify exactly what the deliverables are, which depending on the situation, might include revisions. Anything beyond that I specify a dollar per hour amount.


If you’ve already sent that note, that’s fine. If not, I’d tell her you’ll give her the files so she can work with them herself or take them to another designer. While the designer typically owns the files, this might be a way of lessening the sting she may feel from being told you don’t want to work with her. Plus, it might be an additional way to get the client out of your hair.

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Awesome, thanks! And I did change it to “no significant differences.”

GREAT idea Steve_O! Thanks!

I’d say if you provided a final print ready file that she’s reviewed and communicated with you (via email) through the design/production process, had time to edit, excepted and paid for, you’re done.

In regards to print quality, when a client chooses to source the print portion of a project, they’re on their own. You can’t be responsible for a print source she has chosen. Quality varies greatly.

We’re all working in the world of subjectivity. Occasionally, you run into the client that can’t be satisfied no matter what. I find they are usually first time or uneducated buyers.
I’m not sure I would offer her the working files, technically they are yours unless specified otherwise. Files can be altered and possibly complicate your position.

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JasD—You have received a lot of wise advice here, and the letter (with changes) is very good. I had a client once who wanted more than I had contracted for. I responded with, “Okay, since I have already fulfilled my part of the contract, I can give you three choices regarding changes … a one thousand dollar option, a five hundred dollar option, and a free option.” Please explain, he said. I replied, “The thousand dollar option is a one-time change done in two weeks. The $500 option is a one-time change done in one month.”

“What’s the free option?” he said . . .
“The free option?—Do it yourself.”
I never heard from the guy again (thank the Good Lord!)


Now that is awesome.

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