Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Not okay.

A couple of weeks ago, some members of my company attended a book fair. We set up a modest booth and hand-sold a bunch of copies of various books to well-meaning and genuinely interested attendees. All in all, an excellent day. Except.

It was not a coincidence, I've learned, that all the other editors were super-busy that day and unable to lend a hand. Alas people always came up to the booth and asked to speak to an editor--and I was the only one there. They had this great project, you see, and it was perfect for our house because of this particular book they saw on our table, and would I just give them my business card so they could pop me their proposal?

This is the thing about that. I (and, I assume, every other possible editor) cringes at the whole encounter. Naturally, even if the book rocked, I would remember that someone pitched it to me off my business hours in a way that seemed like it was taking advantage of my goodwill by coming to the bookfair to represent my company.

Also, and I apologize in advance for saying this, but it's true--to me there is always a vaguely sleazy feeling about being sidled up to directly by an unagented author. An agent contributes SO much to the publishing process and to making sure a book is in good shape, and the idea of working without an agent (ie, directly with an author with no one to fall back on in times of crisis) is really daunting. Furthermore, when I meet an author who doesn't have an agent, I can't help but wonder why they have been unable to secure an agent. The idea of having to waste my really, really precious time (not because I'm so special, just because I have SO many commitments to the people who I'm actually already working with! and because editors these days are really in up over their necks with what they are expected to achieve in a year) on something that no agent was willing to consider. The implication is that the raw material itself isn't workable--after all, most agents pride themselves in polishing.

I know this isn't true for all unagented authors, but I do want you to know my thought process as an editor. Even if you rock and are the best writer ever, I can't help but lump you in with all the crazies and delusionals who send me unagented stuff everyday.

So anyway, I think I got about 11 proposals over the course of the book fair. (I also--different story--got "talked to" by an author whose proposal I had rejected back in May, via his agent--apparently he had stalked me to the fair to give me a piece of his mind; that was a little scary, I'm not gonna lie.)

One of these unagented proposals was from a woman who was proposing a mystery series. At first, she told me she had an agent, but she was submitting herself. I replied that I only accepted agented submissions through agents, as a show of good faith that everyone was onboard, but I told her she should feel free to have her agent contact me. Well, she admitted, she was actually represented by a law firm, and they didn't have any publishing experience, so it was better if she submitted herself.


Cringing, I told her to feel free to send it in. She felt the need to linger at our table for a long time, telling me about the mystery, how it was the beginning of a series, how she envisioned it in Harlequin-style format, how she was writing a companion musical and could enclose the music recording with each copy of the book.

I answered that I didn't really like mystery and don't acquire it, that we only do hardcover originals and do not publish in the mass market format, and that multimedia packages were something we'd certainly never do, so it sounds like we're probably not a good fit for her proposal, but if she'd really like to she can feel free to submit anyway, just as long as she knew the caveats.

Predictably she submitted. Predictably, the writing was very poor and the story very trite. I decided not to contact her (my rejection MO is to wait for someone to follow up with me--thus avoiding awkward conversations unless the submitter actually cares enough about their project to follow up).

The author followed up yesterday. I wrote a peaceful rejection in which I described the issues (again): the format was wrong, I don't acquire mystery, we are not interested in her proposed multimedia venture. I wished her the best of luck in finding a house that was a better fit. (I refrained from telling her why I didn't like her writing because under a certain level I don't feel the submitter deserves this kind of attention--and often, under a certain level, I don't think the submitter can TAKE it if you do tell them.)

This morning, she wrote back. Thanks for your consideration, she said. Please suggest other editors at other houses that would be more appropriate.

I can't tell you how annoyed I was to get this email. SO annoyed. I. Ugh. Even just retyping it here makes my stomach turn over. How bad does she want this book published? Does she even know what publishing is? What does she think I do all day, sit around and help slush authors give business to other houses?

An overreaction? Maybe. But please consider my position here. I found it both distateful and offensive.

I considered ignoring her entirely but then I realized she would just keep writing.

I wrote back a rather curt one-line in which I suggested she secure the services of an agent who could help her target the right editors at the right houses.

Perhaps rather predictably, she wrote back to me and asked me to give her the names and contact information for agents who would be good for her.

I wrote back another one-liner in which I said that unfortunately this research is highly personal and she needed to determine what was right for herself. I wished her the very best of luck.

Have I lost touch with reality? In all probability, she was a perfectly nice lady and didn't mean me to take her entire onslaught as personally as I did. But it is really frustrating when people get so starry-eyed about their own project that they think it's acceptable to behave like this. After all, you wouldn't waltz into Goldman-Sachs and ask one of the traders to put together a suggested investment portfolio for you free of charge, would you?



Conduit said...

This is such a difficult juggling act. We are constantly told to network, network, network, gather friends, make connections. But clearly there is a line between networking and stalking.

If I were at a conference or convention and found myself with an editor or agent I would probably gather the nerve to pitch them in as friendly and casual a way as possible. Although I can understand if the target of the pitch felt awkward about it, I think it would be foolish to pass up an opportunity. Maybe the pitcher needs to do it in such a way that the pitchee doesn't feel like they're being pitched so much as being engaged in friendly conversation. How you'd manage that, I haven't a baldy notion (local phrase for you, there!).

Where the lady in question went wrong, obviously, is not sensing where the line was. As for constant requests for more names ... I have to admit I'd have limited patience with that, and you probably showed great restraint. It's a pet peeve of mine when people are perfectly capable of doing something for themselves yet impose on others. That's just plain lazy.

Precie said...

Ah, the primary reason for form rejection letters.

I wouldn't survive as an agent or editor...I probably would have snapped upon receiving the "Can you give me the names of other editors there?" question. The follow-up asking for agent info would probably having me spouting non-stop profanity for a long, long, long time.

Precie said...

Oh...networking. Thanks for the reminder, conduit! I'd like to think that, if I were in such a situation, I would make conversation but not actually pitch. If I were at a conference, I'd be happy to buy my dream agent a drink. But I feel actually pitching an agent or editor at a vulnerable (i.e., unscheduled, non-appt, downtime, etc.) moment would be terribly rude.

I think I'd only actually pitch a project if, during the conversation, the agent or editor specifically asked me if I had any active projects, anything I was currently querying, etc.

Unless the editor or agent were to make that initial invitation to pitch during a casual conversation, I'd talk about anything and everything EXCEPT my pitch.

At least I'd like to think so.

Jill Myles said...

She felt the need to linger at our table for a long time, telling me about the mystery, how it was the beginning of a series, how she envisioned it in Harlequin-style format, how she was writing a companion musical and could enclose the music recording with each copy of the book.

This is when you should have ran screaming.

I mean, seriously?

There is a very large portion of the want-to-be-published population that will never get published because of an inability to 1) Realize the rules apply to them and 2) Realize that their writing is not perfect.

And what they don't realize is that half the time, the shmucks that get the writing contracts (like moi) are simply able to grasp those two rules and apply them.

I totally agree with your post - I am constantly amazed at how much work my agent does on her side with contracts and promoting her authors and heck, keeping her ear to the ground. I think it's one of those things that you have to 'see to believe' though.

As far as authors coming up to you at conferences? Unfortunately, a lot of writers are fed the line that they SHOULD introduce themselves to editors and 'make that personal connection'. Mind you, I'd feel like a total dirtbag if I tried to do it.

Heck, I feel like a dirtbag commenting on your blog regularly, and I don't even know what you acquire. *g*

moonrat said...

thanks for this, Jill:

There is a very large portion of the want-to-be-published population that will never get published because of an inability to 1) Realize the rules apply to them and 2) Realize that their writing is not perfect.

those were the thoughts i was TRYING to put my tired thumb on.

moonrat said...

awwww (she says belatedly)--there are no dirtbags here!!! it's the anonymous internet!! we're an open forum to help one another, right?

David L. McAfee said...

Sheesh. The lady you talk about in this post is more clueless than I am.

The Anti-Wife said...

She crossed the line, but you allowed her to because you didn't stick to your guns and refuse to deal with her unless she had an agent. You caved! Consider this a lesson for the future. Don't allow yourself to be browbeaten into something you don't want. Look at how much time and energy has been wasted because of this.

cyn said...

ugh! i'm sorry you have to put up with stuff like that MR. the last woman, wtf, do your own research. you were very nice not to just /ignore after the first email.

i'm not good with schmmozing, i think it's gross. i will try and chat during the major writing conference--because that is what it is for, networking. anywhere else i think is inappropirate. UNLESS an editor/agent asks me first.

Ello said...

I think you were very nice and very professional. Part of me feels bad for her but the other part is like what are you 8 years old? For Christ's sake go do the research like everyone else!!!

You did the right thing - I doubt I would have responded half as nicely.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

You did the right thing, and I also think you did the right thing to relent and let her submit, and then reject her via email. The thing is, people who will accost you at conferences won't take no for an answer.

Saying yes and then rejecting later gets you out of the immediate problem of rejecting in person.

And that author who tracked you down to berate you for rejecting his manuscript? I think he's worse than the clueless lady.

Church Lady said...

I'm with Ello. I'm literally spending hours researching agents and their likes/dislikes to target and personalize my queries. Hours. I'm not kidding. So for some schmo to waltz up to an editor and expect special treatment infuriates me from a writer's point of view. And if I were an editor in your shoes, I'd be doubly pissed.
A musical? You should've asked her to sing it! :-)

wheelmaker said...

sounds like the woman needs to read Miss Snark!

Anonymous said...

I think I might be the lady that you speak of... or at least, I have been courting an editor in a similar fashion. I apologize. I just think that musicals, books and things of that sort go toward so well.

Bernita said...

Oh geeze.
What everyone said, especially Jill.

Precie said...

Dear anonymous,

Frequently books and musicals do complement each other. "Wicked" is what pops to mind most readily at the moment. And "Les Miserables" is one of my favorite musicals of all time.

BUT, and I mean this kindly, there are appropriate channels and processes in the publishing industry. And there are "wrong" ways to present a manuscript and additional project ideas.

As ello and church lady have said, it's important to know at least the basics about how these processes work when you decide to pursue a project like this. There are plenty of resources available, especially online.

Colorado Writer said...

Yikes. I would block her email address. She sounds like a train wreck.

I signed with an agent in July, so when I attended the big SCBWI conference in LA, I felt very relieved. I could stand around and talk to people like Arthur Levine without giving him the vibe that I am a crazy stalker with a manuscript in my bag.

It was my first time at the rodeo, so I did a lot more listening than talking. I never once told anyone about my books. And they DID NOT ask.

I did witness the desperation of some writers. There were rambling pitches at the oddest moments.

I watched as those classy editors cringed and backed away from the crazies. One writer cornered a specific editor right after his presentation, while he was STILL on the stage, and asked him WHY he had rejected her work. She even cried!

It was quite painful.

I also noticed that after I landed an agent, I had lots more people asking me how to go about getting one. My answer is:

Jill Myles said...

Les Miserables was a novel for about a hundred years before it was made into a musical.

Wicked was a moderately successful novel for several years before it became a musical. After the musical, Wicked sold a bajillion more copies.

The only tie-together ahead of time that I can think of for what you are trying to achieve, Anonymous, is House of Leaves. The author of that is the brother of Poe, an alternative singer. She wrote several songs about his book on her album that released at the same time.


Neither one was packaged together. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen. And if you pitch them together, again, unfortunately, it shows a lack of knowledge about the industry. They're great products individually, but together it won't make book magic happen.

It MIGHT happen - you might be a musical/writing genius. But you are making the odds SOOOO much harder on yourself if you package the two together.

And really, the odds are terrifically hard as it is.

David L. McAfee said...

Anonymous was serious?

I thought s/he was just kidding.

My sarcast-O-meter must be off today.

Cheryl said...

It's true she didn't follow the rules. But most new writers really don't know the rules. Or that there ARE rules. I'm sure in a few years she'll be thinking back on this and cringing.

But I can see how it sucks for you too, Moonrat.

So, I feel sorry for both of you.