Monday, March 15, 2010

Writers, Agents, Arrogance, and Entitlement

My literary agent (full disclosure: for my Ravenous Romance titles, she acts as my editor, not my agent) Lori Perkins runs a well-trafficked blog called Agent In The Middle. She is also the author of the bestselling how-to book THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GETTING AN AGENT (Writers Digest Books, 1999; still in print), which gives aspiring authors an industry insider's view on how literary agents work, and what they want in potential clients. I've read it, it's a great book. And it was one of the reasons I originally queried Ms. Perkins when I was seeking new literary representation.

Last week, my agent posted an entry called "Writers Behaving Badly" on her blog, in which she gave an example of a writer bugging the crap out of one of her junior agents by sending a long string of emails asking where his submission was in the agency review queue. That author went so far as to go over the junior agent's head and go to her boss (Lori Perkins) with a complaint that the junior agent was taking too long to review his submission. (Oh, so not cool).

My agent and her subordinates receive in excess of 30,000 queries from potential clients every year. So you can imagine it might take a while for them to respond to anyone. (If you got 30,000 pieces of unsolicited junk mail on top of all the other more urgent business and mail you have to deal with in daily life, I trust you would feel the same way.) It is also considered extremely bad professional form to bug the crap out of an agent who isn't even representing you yet. Without revealing the author's identity, my agent reposted some of the offending emails with thoughtful explanations as to why it is totally inappropriate behavior for a writer seeking an agent to engage in.

Most working writers I know (many of whom are unagented) would find this kind of information helpful. But on Ms. Perkins' own blog and on some message boards, hoards of aspiring authors (mostly unpublished and unagented, natch) are shrieking that Ms. Perkins somehow acted unprofessionally by making an example of one anonymous author's cringe-inducingly bad behavior. People are attacking Ms. Perkins on her blog and elsewhere, calling her "unprofessional," "rude," and all manner of other adjectives. Some are even questioning the legitimacy of her agency (this despite the fact that she's been in business for 22 years and has numerous New York Times bestsellers on her sales roster)

At this, I just have to throw up my hands in disbelief. I've been a professional working writer for almost 20 years now (I first started writing for pay while still in college), and in all that time, one thing I've learned---besides the fact that the publishing biz is cutthroat, harsh, and often as competitive as the Olympics----is that any time a top-level publishing professional with decades of experience gives advice, you should LISTEN. Not scream and moan and complain and call them all sorts of bad names. Not to mention whine and moan about why nobody wants to read your manuscript, or is taking too long to read your unsolicited agent query, yadayadayada.

Aspiring writers of all stripes, I have news for you. The world does not owe you something just because you wrote a manuscript. The world does not owe you shit. These days, anybody can sit down at a computer and bang out a manuscript. It doesn't mean that manuscript is publishable. (and 99.5% of the time, it isn't.) You are not entitled to attention, or money, or butt-kissing just because you've written something. Top agents and editors are bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands of unsolicited queries every week. You have LOTS of competition. Acting like an asshole isn't going to help you. Remember that, and plan your career accordingly.

Another thing that has been bugging me for the past year or so is the appalling lack of respect many authors (even published ones) have for their peers, especially in the romance genre. Many romance writers complain that despite the fact that the romance genre makes up almost 55% of all new book sales in English, romance authors get no respect from the public or the industry. And yet, I have witnessed (indeed, have been a victim of) terrible behavior among romance authors, including harrassment, petty backbiting, intimidation, and name-calling of new romance authors and some newer romance publishers, especially erotic romance. Not to mention flame wars on numerous romance blogs that have sometimes degenerated into threats of physical violence. (I'm serious; I've even received death threats) The kind of childish, petty behavior I've seen in the professional romance community is something I thought that most people outgrew by the time they were twelve years old. It was even enough for me to permanently withdraw my membership from the Romance Writers of America (where I was a member of their Published Authors Network).

Romance authors---if you want respect from the public and the publishing industry at large, first you must learn to respect one another. Acting like a bunch of drunken sorority sisters during Rush Week isn't helping the genre or its image.

That is all. Stepping down from my soapbox now.


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