Thursday, 10 July 2008

How To Make Sure You Will Never Be Published (Part I)

Publishing doesn’t have technology at its heart: it has people. No matter what new printing and distribution methods and models emerge, publishing can only flourish while writers, editors and agents excel at their jobs.

When any one of those three fail to behave responsibly or sensibly, publishing suffers.

I’ve seen very few instances where editors or agents acted like idiots in public. Writers, on the other hand, seem to do so every other day* (and before you judge me as too harsh remember that I’m a writer too, and am responsible for more than my share of foolishness).

Yesterday, I read a story at Editorial Ass which made me cringe. The editor liked a writer’s proposal but felt it needed a little tweaking before she’d be able to sign him up. She discussed the changes that she’d like to see with the writer’s agent, and the agent saw no problem with them: so the editor offered to take the writer and his agent out to lunch, in order to discuss more fully the tweaks required.

Everything went swimmingly until, towards the end of lunch, the writer demanded to deal with someone who he perceived as being more important than the editor before him. Never mind that the editor had seen something that she liked in his work, and had been prepared to spend time working with him to get it good enough to sign up: he wanted someone more senior, and that was that.

The lunch was brought to a swift conclusion and the writer lost any possibility of a deal with that editor, or the publishing house that she worked for.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, agent Janet Reid got to hear about it and also blogged on the subject.

Agents don’t just exist to make deals: they advise their clients on the best way to proceed in all sorts of ways. If the author concerned had quietly asked his agent for advice before speaking out, he might still have a book deal on the table and an editor who was keen to spend the time to make his book the best that it could be.

(*I did find several examples of writerly venting to link to for this piece but felt that that would be too cruel. I must be mellowing as I age.)


Anonymous said...

Very valid post but unfortunately the links didn't work - or is it just me?

I am also a writer (my novel, Hope against Hope is published next year by Myrmidon) and I have done some very daft things in my time too. But you soon learn . . .

Unless you're a mega best-selling writer who earns huge amounts of money for your publisher and agent, then it is always wise to quietly discuss any problems you might be experiencing but to step back and let the professionals do what they do best. They know their job better than you do.

I am sick and tired of wannabes banging on about how important they are, that without them publishers and agents are nothing. What they conveniently forgot is that there are far more wannabe writers out there than there are agents or publishers' editors. If they decide you're too much hassle to deal with and therefore drop you, there's only one person who's going to suffer - and it won't be the editor or agent. There's plenty more writers queuing up behind you.

Jane Smith said...

Ah, Sally. What was it I said about me and writerly foolishness?

I've fixed the links and hope you'll have another go at them because the story is just so cringingly awful.

Congratulations on your book deal, by the way. Me and My Big Mouth (link on front page) wrote recently that your publisher is one to watch: "consistently interesting" was the phrase I think he used, so I'll very much look forward to seeing your book.


Luc2 said...

I have to say, Jane, I think the title of your post is a bit misleading. The guy had an agent who accompanied him, for crying out loud!

I've had my fair amount of clients starting saying the wrong thing, and a kick against the shin is often all it takes to remedy that. The agent didn't prep his client properly for the meeting and didn't react adequately at lunch. Two mistakes, IMO.

The second thing I learned at my job was that your clients are your worst enemies. And I found this to be very true. It seems to be the same for agents.

And congrats on your deal, Sally! Waiting another year for it to come out, that's a bittersweet agony/ecstasy experience.

Jane Smith said...

Luc, you're right: it's not the best title I've ever come up with. Do feel free to suggest a better alternative and if I like it, I'll happily edit it in.

Your post implies that you were once an agent: where did you work? Just curious.


Anonymous said...

How about, 'How to make sure you will never be published. Part One'?
I say 'part one' because I'm sure you'll find more horrors with which to entertain us.

Luc2 said...

Hah, I like Sally's title. I'm sure there are many stories. Another suggestion: "Write as much as you can, talk less."

No, never been in the industry. I'm just a prepublished writer. I'm in the legal business. No lawyer jokes, please. :(

Jane Smith said...

There. The title is now fixed, so Luc can be happy and Sally can smirk and say I owe everything to her. Thanks, both, for your suggestions!

Reb said...

I would give a year of my life to have the opportunity to have lunch with an editor and talk about ways to make my story better, clearer, cleaner, WHATEVER! Good luck is wasted on those who are too stupid to appreciate it.