Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How Important Is Your Book, or, Top Ten Ways to Blow a Book Deal #4

Forgive me if this post comes off a little bitter. Part of me feels that my afternoon as been squandered. In order to make my time have been well spent, therefore, I must take a few moments to use it as a moralizing tale for everyone on the internet.

Today, I went out to lunch with a prospective author whose proposal I was thinking really seriously about (his agent came too). The proposal as I had received it wasn't quite right for me, but I had some clear-cut editorial suggestions that I had run by the agent, who thought they were very interesting and that we might all be very happy going forward together.

About 3/4 of the way through the meal, after we had discussed my ideas for development--the author seemed to get really excited about them, and all signs were good--he asked what my boss, Robert the Publisher, had thought of his sample chapters--about 200 pages of material on his original concept. I was honest with him.

"Robert hasn't read the sample," I admitted. "But obviously I've read it and I've discussed the concept of the book and my vision with him and my colleagues. That's why we're so excited about it."

"Oh, well make sure you have him read it right away," the author told me. "We shouldn't talk any further until I hear his thoughts about it. I'd really like his specific guidance about the manuscript and how he thinks he'd like me to develop it."

I was silent for a moment, thinking about how to reply. "Of course I've made the sample available to Robert," I told the author. "But he has piles and piles of reading to do and since it's not a final sample anyway I can't guarantee I can convince him to prioritize it. I'm also worried that if we commit to not moving forward until he's read it that you will probably never hear from me again," I said truthfully.

"Just run it by him," the author told me. "I know it will be up his ally. It's really his type of book. I think he'll get it in a way you might not be able to."

Let me step back here to say that what the author knows about Robert the Publisher is as follows: 1) he's a man, 2) he's more important than me. That's the sum total. From this, the author must have extrapolated what "up Robert's ally" and "Robert's type of book" were. Which is just plain psychic!

The agent and I exchanged glances at this point, and the agent piped up, "I was actually the one who suggested lunch today, [Author's Name], so that you could meet Moonrat. She's a very proactive and creative editor, which you can tell from the ideas she put together for us."

"I'm very glad you did suggest lunch," the author said. "It's been very interesting. Next time, when we have more time, we should have lunch up by you so that Robert can join us."

The message to me was pretty clear--he felt he was too high-profile to be working with someone as junior as I am. He deserved someone more important.

To be honest and objective about this, I cannot fault him for his thought process--it's true in certain (many) cases that the more important the agent/editor you're working with, the more attention your book ends up getting. The trouble, of course, with the most important people is that they have no time for anyone (time and importance are inversely proportional). People at Robert's level rarely edit anything at all, and certainly don't have time to even read every single book published under their aegis (that, hopefully, is what your editor is doing).

So it's a toss-up: work with someone really important who won't have any developmental time for you, or work with one of the working editors who is hoping to make your book something fantastic to enhance their career. I'm not going to be a pig about this: I see the clear arguments for either (if I were an author, which way would I pick? I'm not even sure I can answer). HOWEVER. The fact is, in my mind, regardless of what the author thought about my position, it was really pretty rude of him to make himself that clear to me.

After all, I had taken out the time to take him out to lunch and to provide thoughtful feedback on his proposal. Feedback, incidentally, that his very classy agent had thought worthwhile. Robert had been involved in none of that; Robert, in fact, has so many things to keep track of and think about that he will not waste any brain space on an unacquired project until he has the input of the editorial board AND it looks like we're reasonably close to closing in. Did this author honestly think that I would be really happy about championing his book to Robert when he didn't respect me that much and saw himself working better with someone far more important than I am?

I don't want you to think I am overly judgmental. There were several other things that happened and were said during the lunch to make me realize that our working personalities were not going to be compatible, which I won't go into here. But this one conversation point was the one that upset me the most.

It actually reminds me vividly of something I witnessed during my earliest days in the industry. I was a lowly unpaid intern at a literary agency where one of the agents in particular has a kind of celebrity status. My "boss" was Charlene, a junior agent who became a dear friend. I worked very closely with her for about a year, over the course of which she was originating a number of projects as well as coordinating all the administrative aspects of the agency--big job.

Charlene had plucked one proposal out of the slush pile (through which she actually dug at the end of each day, often until 9 at night when the agents had gone home). The author had an original idea but needed some work on the execution. Charlene sent her a detailed editorial letter, and the author worked on it for awhile before sending edits back. The manuscript, when it came back, still had some issues that took some heavy going through, and Charlene worked away on it (and everything else) for about two weeks before the problem came along.

The author, who from corresponding with Charlene now knew the agency's email format, decided to send an email to "Charlene's boss," the very famous agent I mentioned earlier. The email said that the author had done all this hard work on the proposal, but two weeks had passed and Charlene hadn't responded with further feedback or a plan about submitting the project to editors yet. It was clear to the author that Charlene wasn't as dedicated to proactive agenting as it might be hoped, and the author thought she'd probably be in better hands with her boss, the famous agent.

Needless to say, that was the end of that book deal. I put the author's materials through the shredder myself. But Charlene was heartbroken--she had put a lot of energy and thought into working up feedback for the author. That is time straight down the drain when you realize that the person you are working with does not respect you. But my question--what was that author thinking? That colleagues in one company happily backstab each other for clients? That her book is so very extraordinary that people would be willing to erode working relationships to compete for it? That seems to me like a pretty extraordinary assumption for anyone to make in any case. And yet. This is far from an isolated incident.

Of course every author wants the best for their book. Like I said, I wouldn't blame anyone for secretly hoping that they could work with a more important editor than I am. I don't even blame that crazy lady for wanting to work with a more important agent than Charlene. But two quick notes about this:

1) It's important to hedge your bets. What is actually better for you? What is your best case scenario? Really, really, totally objectively, in your situation with your book, are you better off with the less famous person who has the time to work with you? Are you as great as you think you are, that you can afford to blow that person off for someone more important? Was that more junior person just a foot in the door for you into the publishing industry, or was that person your actual door into the publishing industry? Different people are in different positions. Try to be really honest with yourself about your project and platform and, like I said, hedge your bets.

2) It is UNFORGIVABLE to ever tell someone (or their boss) that you're too important to be working with them, or to imply the same. I'm sorry. Even if it's true. Those are bridges burned. I feel like I shouldn't even have to say that here, but clearly this is something that actually does happen, and not infrequently.

Publishing is a funny industry, since there is so much (fairly artificial) prestige attached to so many facets of the business. Meanwhile, it's also a creative industry, in which everyone involved, from author to agent to editor to cover designer to marketer, has invested energy and intellectual capital. Everything is subjective and not easily quantified with dollar signs, which means we measure our successes on softer, less tangible indexes. Pride and egos, therefore, are at stake in a way they are not elsewhere. We all should tread with a light step.


cindy said...

oooh, moonie! *hugs* i am FURIOUS for you! seriously, i wonder what the agent thinks of the client now. who does this person think he is to belittle people like that?

ESPECIALLY when you've taken the time to give him such helpful editorial suggestions. i'm so glad he showed his true colors. it's like getting married, better to see it's a terrible match before you send out the invites.

his loss. that's for sure.

Julie Weathers said...

Ouch. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I absolutely detest this attitude. I've been through it a few times and it's disgusting.

I'm not close to the query stage yet. Thank heavens since the query and I are still snarling at each other. If I disappear for a while, you will know the query won. Send a rescue team.

However, when I am procrastinating, I mean researching, I study agents. There are some differing opinions on selecting agents to approach. Go for the top dogs with the clout or the ones still building.

It seems to me, the top dogs aren't going to have a lot of time for little ol' me. I become number 649 on their list of priorities. Sort of like dating the most popular guy in school.

Now, someone like Charlene who believes in me? Yep, there is a match made in heaven. I like to think I'm fairly low maintenance, but I'm also realistic. I know I am still learning the craft. Someone who is willing to extend that kind of time and effort is stuck with me until she moves, leaves no forwarding address and puts a restraining order on my manuscripts.

Ok, I'm not quite that obsessive, but I would definitely stick with someone like that as long as they wished to keep trying. Hopefully, I would be able to repay their efforts manifold with success for both of us.

As for your experience, I think you should look at it as a blessing. Better to find out the guy is an a$$ now than before you expended more effort on him.

On the other hand, I can't help but wonder what kind of conversation the agent had with this nitwit later. Wonder if he still has an agent.

Merry Monteleone said...

Ow, ow, ow... I hate stupid people, and I really don't care how brilliant the author's writing might be, you're better off not working with someone with that kind of attitude.

I'm sorry moonie, I really am. But take heart knowing that for every nitwit of that caliber out there, there are at least 100 writers who would be thrilled to work with you - and grateful for all of your time and energy devoted to their projects.

H. L. Dyer said...

Good grief.


I'm sorry that happened to you. But not as sorry as that author will be in the long run. Or, more likely, the short run when his agent gives him what for.

I swear it's an epidemic. People are just so disrespectful. Everywhere. To everyone.

I'm a hospitalist pediatrician. I have, on more than one occasion gone to update a parent on their child's serious illness only to have them hold up their hand, squint at my nametag, and call me by my first name. "I need you to come back later. I'm on a call."

Let's hope karma bites them all in the backside. *nods*

Conduit said...

Wow, that was quite a rant. And justified.

I'm in the very fortunate position of having what could be described as a celebrity agent, but as his is a boutique agency, I've had the best of both worlds: big agent clout, but with personal attention. Every interaction, even through a few crises, has been a pleasure. But throughout, I've been aware of the other people dedicating their time to me - including my agent's very nice assistant, and my UK co-agent, and I've made sure to acknowledge their help. I'm aware of the need to treat everyone in the chain with respect because I will inevitably meet them further down the line, and my attitude to them will directly affect their attitude to me, but also quite simply it's a matter of common manners. Why be a dick to someone who's trying to help you? It doesn't make sense.

Jill Myles said...

Ouch. If I were you I'd be totally hurt (and more than a little pissed off).

Unfortunately for all the humble people in this business, there's occasionally some asshole that just makes you shake your head.

I'm sorry you had to lunch with him. ;)

ChrisEldin said...

This kind of behavior is inexcusable. He was rude and unprofessional.

Thanks for sharing this experience. It's a reminder that it's more than just writing--publishing is truly a people-oriented business. If you don't have good people skills, you're not going to get very far.

Brian said...

"There were several other things that happened and were said during the lunch to make me realize that our working personalities were not going to be compatible..."

(puts on swami hat)

I'm going to guess that one of these things was the author saying, "How soon can you get my book on Oprah? It's right up her alley."

My condolences. Eerily enough, I've been dealing with a similar situation at work lately. The gist is an author who, for all the wrong reasons, has become unhappy with the one on one attention I give them so they're now in regular communication with the VP of the company, asking the VP to step in because they clearly have a better idea than I do of what to do.

Big. Mistake.

Julie Weathers said...

Stuart, you really are in an enviable position. Your agent is the perfect combination. Of course, I think there is also a valid reason you are partnered with him.

Your attitude is exactly what it should be.

When I was in real estate, I specialized in new construction. Funny how other Realtors always wondered why my houses got so much attention from the subcontractors over theirs. The secret? Treat everyone, even the cleaning ladies, like you want to be treated.

Julie Weathers said...

Brian, I don't normally pay any attention to avatars, but I have to make a confession. I sincerely hope we meet someday at a conference or something. Your picture makes me giggle. It reminds me of Zach Recht, PLAGUE OF THE DEAD, and his silly pictures and he makes me laugh, also.

cindy said...

i have come back like six times since reading this post initially and i'm STILL furious for you! grrrr!!

Julie Weathers said...

"i have come back like six times since reading this post initially and i'm STILL furious for you! grrrr!!"

Yep, I seriously don't know how Moonie sat through that lunch. The first ignorant comment would have had me excusing myself.

"I'm also worried that if we commit to not moving forward until he's read it that you will probably never hear from me again," I said truthfully."

I don't know, this is just such a civil reply for such rude behavior, and he was still too ignorant to shut up.

I don't really plan on having lunch with agents or editors and I act courteously, I hope. I've just been advised I should not be allowed in public without adult supervision due to, you know, sounding like Loretta Lynn on tranquilizers.

Amber said...

It doesn't matter what industry you are in - this is unacceptable. Period.

Some people just don't know the meaning of the word "RESPECT".

Cakespy said...

Oooh, that gets my goat (is that even appropriate here? I think it is but I am notorious for mis-using phrases). I think that he really made an ass out of himself--so disrespectful, especially when--and this is apparent to me even as a separate party reading about it--you had established your professionalism and know-how by this point. Grr.

Walter said...

Ha! Brilliant post. Why ARE there so many people out there who just don't seem to have a clue?
People get invaluable advice from seasoned professionals and they just toss it aside, intent on pursuing their own (normally foolish) hunches and endangering any chance they actually had.
But there it is - that enormous and un-bridgeable divide between those with sensitivity and tact and those without it.

Maria said...

Okay, I'll bite. What was the book about and what drew you to it?

Anonymous said...

dump him. what a jerk. good for you for recognizing it and not catering to that. seriously let the guy and his ego go elsewhere. and you're not being judgmental. at all.

Charles Gramlich said...

The fact that that author was rude trumps the fact that he was stupid. Unbelievable. I could never imagine being either that rude or that dumb.

Bernita said...

What. A. Couthless. Idiot.

JES said...

every author wants the best for their book

That's the nub of the problem, isn't it? Trouble is, many -- I'm inclined to say most -- authors have no clue how to move their books along the necessary pathways to "the best." The only part of the route to success which they control is the part beginning at "Once upon a time" and concluding with "The End." Having done at that much, they imagine this achievement qualifies them to direct everyone else's work.

This author was nuts. No matter how good or promising his material, he's one author I'd absolutely steer towards a vanity press.

What a rotten experience from what should have been such a lovely opportunity, Moonie. (An opportunity maybe for all three of you if you count the agent. Or all four of you if you count Robert [laughing].) May be a good time to re-watch the Christian-the-lion video. :)

Linda said...


Well-deserved rant.

Lunch, however, was not a waste of time. It was actually your best use of time because you found out you DO NOT and CANNOT work with this individual.

And what an idiot. What I would give to sit across the table from someone as caring and compassionate about publishing as you. What we ALL would give.

Peace, Linda

Precie said...

At least we can gain valuable advice from your experience...although I have to assume that anyone who reads your blog already knows how to be a respectful professional.

Where's Miss Snark's clue gun when you need it? (I don't have red stillettos to stomp on stupid author...but I think Cindy might have some new gold ones that would work.)

Sorry about your lunch meeting. I hope karma rewards you for dealing with him so patiently and honestly.

Jill Myles said...

Not only do I feel sorry for Moonrat, but I honestly feel sorry for this guy's agent.

Agents work REALLY hard to cultivate relationships with editors, and it must have been embarrassing for her that her author would make such a tool of himself.

Poor editor. Poor agent.

That's probably the last client she brings on an editor lunch for a while. ;)

A Canadian Publishing Girl said...

Wow, that is horrible (and unfortunately unsurprising) story. I wish that authors, especially the ones with really great manuscripts, would take the time and energy to really figure out how the book world works before trying to springboard from people who will return their calls ("Oh, s/he must not be very important...") to those the average person can't get a hold of (using the junior agent's email to figure out the company format is particularly detestable). Publishing is a very, very, very social industry, and people are careful not to step on each other's toes too much, especially in the same house or agency. Why is that such a surprise to careerist authors? If you make yourself unpleasant to work with before you're famous and bankable, authors, you're going to go nowhere.

Conspicuous Chick said...

The ignorance and arrogance of folks astounds me on a daily basis. Of course, it is these same people who will sit around and wonder why they're book isn't published or why their agent/editor won't return their calls/emails, or why no one is marketing their book.

I agree with multiple other commenters as well; I'm sure the agent was terribly embarrassed.

Think Lending Your Sister Your Favorite Shoes Was Tough? I'm Giving Mine A Kidney

mlh said...

OMG! I can't believe clients would blow their chances this way.

C'mon people! Now is the time to invent a machine that will slap a person in the head and say, "WTF! Are you nuts?", whenever such stupid crap is about to be uttered from their mouth.

Josephine Damian said...

Why don't writers ask, up front, what kind of changes are expected of them BEFORE they commit to any relationship, editor or agent?

I think that's the much bigger question. Either a writer can live with the changes (regardless of how high up or "low" the person is on the food chain), or they can't.

Recently a blog friend announced he'd gotten a book deal. A week later, he announced the deal fell through - there were things in the contract he could not live with - IMO, he did the right thing, recognized BEFORE he committed that he and the publisher just weren't on the same page.

You save yourself a lot of time and trouble in this industry by being up front and asking questions FIRST instead of going all goofy and giddy when an agent offers representation, or presents them with a book contract.

Anonymous said...

Better to find out now than later. This clod will be the author from hell if he ever gets published. Cut bait and good riddance to him, I say. The one thing you can take away from this is finding out early on he's an ass. If you can pick your clients, surely you want to work with those who are a pleasure to work with. This guy obviously is not for you. Deep six him and halleluah to that. Bless it and move on.

Anonymous said...

There are individuals who, for reasons I cannot comprehend, manage to shoot themselves in the foot time and time again. Your story of the writer and Charlene strikes me as such. They seem to develop an opinion of themselves and their work that they are so special and talented that they deserve, no, they demand they be handled by the top dog of whatever. These are people whose egos have apparently performed lobotomies on their common decency. Good riddance to them.

pjd said...

I learned long, long ago that the best way to be successful is to treat the people who do the actual work with the utmost respect. I am amazed when I hear people say things like, "Oh, she's just the admin." The best and most successful managers make decisions based largely on the input from the people working for them. Instead of saying, "Get out of way," this author should have said, "Thank you for helping me."

His loss.

Kate H said...

I totally sympathize with your rant. The first virtue a writer needs to learn--even before patience--is humility. Without humility we're worthless.

That said, reading this long post in white type on a black background was really hard on my eyes. Could you possibly consider changing your color scheme?

Clair Dickson said...

If publishing is anything like the other places I've lurked about, then the people who can make or break you are the "low" employees, like secretarys and other assitants.

I've heard that in some schools, when they are considering hiring a substitute full time will ask the secretary about them.

I'm just hoping this guy doesn't get published. The world doesn't need another jerk rising to the top.

Kristan said...


I'm just sorry you had to experience this kind of unpleasantness to write it... :\

freddie said...

Ouch is right. What a clod. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. You can bet his agent gave him what for after the lunch.

Getting an agent and publisher takes similar people skills as finding a job, I would think. You gotta wonder if this guy was ever in the job force.

Edittorrent said...

Has the agent called you to try to make nice yet? I mean, he has to understand that this deal is over, but is he making any attempt to heal the breach? That's what I'd be watching for now.


John Klima said...

Another thing that people often don't think about, junior people become senior people. You step on people now, what happens when you "need" that person ten years from now?

Perhaps this writer won't be publishing in ten years, but it's possible.

Great post. Reminds me of my days as a editorial ass.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for sharing, moonrat! That is truly unforgiveable, to treat someone like a doormat on which they can wipe their feet. Even if you are a lowly junior editor, if you are the one they are sent, then you are the one they had better deal with if they wish to get a book sold.

Anonymous said...

That author was unexcusably rude, and I can see why you wouldn't want to work with him. However, I think there are drawbacks to working with junior editors, which I recently discovered. With a contract in hand, I had a wonderful, smart, hard-working very junior editor who helped me through several revisions. We were both new at the genre, and feeling our way. At that point, she had to "show the ms. to the other editors." They saw many flaws that reflected both our inexperience, and I was back to revising again, redoing stuff that I had changed at her request. The end result will be just fine, but I felt that her lack of experience made my job a little harder, and I wonder if the book will be ok.

Ello said...


Doesn't he know that no one is more important than Moonrat?!!


ggwritespoetry said...

I think people act like this (total arses) because they have actually gotten away with it too long. I see it every day. People who use others as stepping stones, and then, discard them when they think they no longer need them because they are above them. I HATE HATE HATE this attitude. What happened to professionalism, and respect, and common courtesy. ARGGG.... let me at him, let me at him!
Don't give this person another thought Moonie, he/she is not worth your effort. Move on to someone else who will definitely appreciate you more.
God Bless You.

L.E Modesitt, Jr. said...

There's another significant point accompanying what you've written. Not every author appeals to every editor. In fact, some very successful authors had to have their work go to a number of editors before they found one who "fit." Burning bridges with an editor who likes or is willing to give your work a try may well burn the only bridge you'll ever have.

Cameron said...

He obviously doesn’t know the universal secret to a happy and successful life.
“In all things, at all times, don’t be a dick”.

Chumplet said...

I'm so sorry you went through such an experience. That author doesn't appreciate a helpful and insightful professional when he sees one.

He probably treats his family with the same disrespect.

Paula Helm Murray said...

That is so horrid. If I ever have even a chance of getting a book that far, I'd take any advice an editor gives and act on it. After all, they're far closer to what is selling than just about any writer.

but the I learned some of my writing in Journalism, and an editor is a valuable asset to the writer. They can save you from looking like a dumbass.

But some people cannot be saved from their own ego.

Charlie Stross said...

Chipping in late ...

I think the problem goes beyond personality issues (although this guy was clearly going out of his way to be an irritating idiot). A lot of newbie writers lack insight into how publishing works, and have unrealistic expectations -- it's this toxic combination of ignorance and optimism that causes them to act inappropriately.

I know for sure that when I first started submitting manuscripts I had no idea how the publishing industry worked, or what precisely agents and editors did (beyond the general "sell books" and "edit books"). It took experience, luck, and a stint working as a freelance journalist before I got a handle on how publishing workflow is organized and how that feeds into the way folks do business -- and what they require from me, as a writer, in the way of inputs. (And then it took finding the right agent -- and listening to her advice -- to start selling books, but that's another story.)

From the outside the publishing business is almost uniquely opaque to a hopeful writer. Nobody would have designed an industry like this; when I try describing the process of publishing a book to an outsider their first reaction is usually amused disbelief. And a corollary of this is the conviction that there must be shortcuts through the maze, secret handshakes that will get them past the gatekeepers, if only they can figure them out ...

s.w. vaughn said...

Hey - found this post through Janet Reid's blog, and I simply had to say . . . wow. You are a better person than I, to even attempt understanding and sympathizing with such an ignorant, self-important clod.

Good on you. I think this post shows you're going to get much further in life than the unfortunate author you lunched with. And you certainly don't have any need to apologize for your outrage - it's more than justified in this case.

(Here, I always thought empathy was a rather common trait among writers - but apparently, this person is unable to put himself in another's shoes. He must write non-fiction. :-)

Colleen_Katana said...

Wow. Just....wow. People are ridiculous. I'm losing faith in humans.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

WOW, Moonie!! It takes some TOUGH skin in this business. I hope you know that your value doesn't ride on such a pompous person. Sorry your time was wasted, but in a way it wasn't for your readers. You have given us an insight from your end that is invaluable. Thanks for being so giving in sooo many ways.

Have a wonderful, restful July 4th!!

Christa said...

Moonrat - my sympathies. First and foremost, never take this stuff personally. You cannot control what close-minded people choose to believe.

On the upside, yes there is an upside to this (I'm a 'glass half-full' type person). The issue isn't you. And unfortunately, it isn't just the publishing industry.

I've seen this and experienced this myself in both my personal life and in the business world (I work in telecommunications).

The one time it happened in my personal life, my husband and I were visiting places for an in-ground pool. I had done the research on what I wanted and was asking the salesman questions. Each time I asked, he'd look at me as I spoke, then turn and answer to my husband only. The fourth time he did this, I looked at my husband who immediately said "I'll take the kids around the show room." The man looked confused as my husband walked away, but finally noticed me. I asked several very pointed questions to which he seemed surprised that I understood. I thanked him and said we'd take our business elsewhere.

I don't know if it was just chauvinism that plagued this guy, or if he simply thought the husband was the one making the decision. Regardless, it still bothers me that people can be so blatently biased in the face of someone who obviously knows what they're talking about.

BeshterBooks said...

I have actually had this same, exact situation happen in the HR world. I'm the staffing/hiring assistant for my company, and while it's a fairly junior position, I've been working at this company, in different spots, for nearly nine years. I know it, and the people here know me. But because I'm a junior member of the HR time, (as I only just graduated from school), often I do get candidates who try to leap over me to get that position rather than go strictly through me.

The problem with this, and I see it in your example, is that it sends so many bad signals to people you are trying so hard to impress. It tells the hiring manager that you are over-eager and unwilling to respect the established threads of communication so that you will get noticed. It also shows that you are inconsiderate of peoples time or the attention others give you. And it means you don't listen to instructions.

I know for some eager authors, (or potential candidates), that they worry they have been forgotten, and if they just get a hold of the RIGHT people, they will get the notice they so richly deserve. And many people don't understand that it doesn't work like that at all. If you work with the junior person, chances are you leave a much better impression, and if that junior person really thinks you are something special, they will keep your name out there.

Sorry this person was such a jerk.

Patti said...

it's when those jerks succeed that make me crazy. or crazier...

Merry Monteleone said...


It might've been chauvenism, but I have to say, he might have been purposely addressing your husband to not insult him.

When I was in college, I waited tables at night. I learned really fast that when I waited on a couple, I had to had to address the girl, practically excluding her boyfriend and not looking him in the eye. If I was as friendly to the guy, I never got a tip and the girl would usually get rude... if I primarily talked to the girl, it always went smoothly. If you follow the odds in sales, you know that some people inherintly think that when someone of the opposite sex is talking to them, there's a sexual attraction... never mind the fact that it's their their job to talk to you.

I'm not saying that's what happened in this case - but it might be... I knew waiters that did the same thing, address the male only.

Deborah Blake said...

OMG! As Robin Williams said in a Shakespeare spoof many years ago, "A--holes do vex me."

Clearly neither of the folks you talked about had done their homework about the publishing industry. Yeesh.

Take ME out to lunch, I'm begging you. I promise I'll listen to all your advice. Twice. And give you chocolate.

An author

PS--I got here from Nathan B's site...I can tell I'll have to add another blog to my "must read" pile.

Anonymous said...

You get more credit than I would have for "moron patience quotient".

In a previous life, I was VP of an electronics development company. We had to sign a contract with a Japanese company. At the lunch table, they refused to allow me to read the contract even though I was giving the final analysis and recommendation.

To his credit, the president of our company scanned the document, then passed it on to me saying "I don't sign anything without her approval." They invited him to breakfast without me the following day! We never signed a contract with them because they refused to deal with a woman.

As they say, perception is reality. Too bad his perception of the quality of your service, dedication and expertise was so warped.

I would take the person with enthusiasm and dedication to their job any day.........great qualities that make for a successful project in the long run.

He's the big looser.

Kara said...

Hi Moonrat,

I have to admit that I laughed my way through this post - because it sounded sooo familiar but in my case the shoe is on the 'other' foot.

You see I, in many instances, am the 'important' person in my field (not publishing). However because I am (a) young (under 30) and (b) female many people have previously assumed that I am the 'important' person's PA. I lost count of the number of times that I walked into meetings with people who didn't know me who either (a) ignored me, (b) told me how they like their coffee or (c) hit on me.

At first it infuriated me. Then I started enjoying it because I believe you can tell a person's true character by the way they treat people who they perceive as being 'lower' on the foodchain than themselves so it gave me some great insight.

Plus it was so much fun watching them squirm when they found out who I was and worked out pretty quickly that their chances of getting whatever it was that they wanted had just plummeted to unrecoverable levels!

And, to echo Moonrat, as the person higher up in the foodchain I will never ever hire or chose to work with someone who treats any of my staff badly. What do they think? That I make decisions in a total vacuum and don't consult the people who have actually done a lot of the hard work before it has even gotten to me?


JDuncan said...

I am curious if these 'not infrequent' authors who do this sort of thing are generaly published already or if it's unpub'd folks who are just as guilty. As a writer still trying to sell a first book, this kind of behavior just seems incomprehensible. It boggles the mind. The only thing I can think of is that these folks just really have no clue how things in publishing work. I'd think if they did they would be doing about anything short of kissing your feet to make things work. And if it turns out said agent/editor is into that sort of thing, then kissing feet too. Seriously though, it only takes a bit of research to begin to understand what sort of lottery game you are playing to get published (celebrities, sports stars, etc. aside). It often does not even matter how good the book is or how good you think it is. There are so many factors stacked against you getting published, that you cannot afford to blow off opportunities presented to you.


Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...


You know, I'd love to say I'm stunned or speechless, but unfortunately, I can too easily imagine this scenario.

I'd love to take yahoos like this out behind the woodshed and give them a little what's what because seriously, they give hardworking writers who do take editorial suggestions seriously a bad name. Working with an editor is a partnership-- a back and forth. Now, admittedly, not all editorial suggestions offered are going to be right for the story. I've walked away from possible deals because an editorial suggestion offered was so far off base with respect to the story, that I knew the editor and I would be at crossroads for the entire project if we kept going forward. (And this was already after I'd taken suggestions during two rounds of revisions on the proposal without benefit of a deal-- so it wasn't me being a diva. It just wasn't right.)

But never would I have considered bypassing that editor to go to someone higher up. That's just bad form. And tacky.

Good rant and I feel for you.

Alex Flinn said...

Great post! Glad you rejected that snotty author. And, the thing is, you never know. I've had author friends who've had books acquired by "famous editors" who then left the house, orphaning their books. I also have a friend whose first book was acquired by a young associate editor -- who is now VP and publisher of her house and still publishes my friend.

Kim Lionetti said...

This story just disgusts me and sounds all too familiar at the same time. I certainly encountered the same treatment in my days as a young editor.

As an agent now, all I can do is wince. I can imagine being in the same situation and just assuming that my author has some common sense. Never bite the hand that's feeding you.

Really we should all just feel sorry for this author and his ignorance. Not only did he lose out on a book deal, but on the opportunity to work with an editor who was clearly enthusiastic and willing to help him do the necessary work to make his book realize its potential. In the long run, that can be much more valuable than the offer itself.

Anonymous said...

Creeps is creeps.
amyg koss

Janette Rallison said...

My first thought while reading this was, "And this author got lunch?" I didn't even meet my editor face to face until I'd publilshed three books. My second thought was, "Wow, the publishing business is way more like high school than I could have ever anticipated."

Shalanna said...

I'm so sorry that your feelings were hurt and that you were disrespected. Everyone else has made every possible comment about how unprofessional that jerk was, so I'll just say that in some work situations I have had the same sort of thing said to me, and it really upset me and stuck with me. You're not overreacting. I worked as a software engineer for years, and then I went into software testing because I was burned out--but I discovered that EVERYONE felt as if it were OK to thump the software test personnel on the head. We got no respect, even though we had the same education and credentials as software developers, and people used to order us to sign off on tests that had failed (saying that they'd succeeded), which would be highly unethical and even against the LAW (when you're working for a defense contractor, at least, that's fraud.) Then they'd go over our heads to our bosses and THEIR bosses to complain that we were "incompetent" and "uncooperative." It was a real eye-opener about how people feel entitled to just say AWFUL things to others they consider "beneath them" *snort* or "not the boss." But Grandma always said, "What goes around, comes around." Rise above it and just laugh at that author, who was obviously born in a barn.

That poor embarrassed agent. He/she should have taken ME on as a client instead. Then everyone would've had home-baked cookies all the time instead of insults, and all would be happiness!

Julie Weathers said...

"Why don't writers ask, up front, what kind of changes are expected of them BEFORE they commit to any relationship, editor or agent?

I think that's the much bigger question. Either a writer can live with the changes (regardless of how high up or "low" the person is on the food chain), or they can't."

I don't think this is the problem.

"About 3/4 of the way through the meal, after we had discussed my ideas for development--the author seemed to get really excited about them, and all signs were good--he asked what my boss, Robert the Publisher, had thought of his sample chapters--about 200 pages of material on his original concept. I was honest with him."

Basically, he just thought he was too important to be dealing with the hired help. More power to him, it just leaves more space for others.

qugrainne.com said...

Isn't it amazing, just how boorish people can be? It's embarassing, sitting next to them! My grandfather would not have been so kind: "Whatsa matter, did the fellah have his head up his..... ahem?"
Not only did this 'author' lose a fine editor, he probably lost his fine agent, too.
Do you think he learned his lesson? Let's don't hold our breath.

Ruth said...

Oh, this makes me mad. I'm so far off even submitting a novel at this stage, but if someone actually took that much time and effort to read over my book, I can't imagine being so disrespectful and ungrateful! On the upside, I imagine that author will remain unpublished for quite a while (or forever) if that's his attitude.

Your story about Charlene makes me pretty mad, too....

P.A. Brown said...

I would much rather have an agent or editor who will work with me to produce the best book I can, rather than be on a big list with a 'superagent' who barely has enough time to sell my book, let alone help make it better. Sure I have as much ego as the next guy, but that will take a back seat to my work any day.

Mags said...

I've got lunch on me, a yap with a zipper on it, and 95,000 words of someone else's angst up for grabs, Moonrat.

And a nice cannoli for dessert. Sometimes a nice cannoli is just the thing.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of an author who was highly offended because I asked her to fact-check some scientific info in her fiction manuscript. Turned out her science was faulty, whereupon she told me it didn't matter, and I declined the ms.

The irony is that she used my suggestions to fix what was wrong, then sold the ms to a competitor.

All I can say is that such writers are compounding their karma debt to pay someday!

Julie Weathers said...

"Reminds me of an author who was highly offended because I asked her to fact-check some scientific info in her fiction manuscript. Turned out her science was faulty, whereupon she told me it didn't matter, and I declined the ms."

Oh my, that is rich.

Yeah, that attitude would impress me. On the plus side, the manuscript went to someone else, but so did the author.

Sort of like the big debate a while back about accuracy in fiction. Surprising how many rallied under the banner, "It's fiction, it doesn't matter if it's accurate."

Guy Stewart said...

I came to your website through Nathan Bransford and will now "favorite" it based on this entry. You come across so honestly and clearly that I'll be reading your advice from now on.

And as an author who's only got a book and some odds and ends published, I say: Always be prepared with a "kick me" post it note to pat on the offending author's back once their condescending attitude becomes apparent.

Roblimo said...

I've written three (published) books, and I don't care whether my work is read by a publishing VP or an editorial intern, as long as the advance and royalty terms are okay and the checks come on time.

Mary said...

The author was incredibly rude, and so focused on the person not there that he couldn’t appreciate the positive situation he was actually in.

I work in fashion. At a factory I once visited to organise the production of samples, the head technician said to the factory manager, "I am not having that little girl telling ME what to do.” Ugh... arrogance!

charles said...

For those of us DYING to be given the chance to be very nice to an agent or editor - pick me, pick me!

John Elder Robison said...

While I sympathize with you . . . the behavior you describe is kind of a slap in the face . . . it happens in every industry.

In addition to being a writer, I also own an automobile business. And many's the time someone has listened to our manager and said, "Yes, Sweetie, that's fine but I want to talk to the Big Boss. He'll understand." At which point, if I am there, I generally throw them out because I am busy and have no time for their b***l.

The only difference you get when placing this story in the context of book publishing is that we are (hopefully) more sensitive and expressive because we are supposed to be creative and artistic.

If I were you, I'd still be annoyed. But it happens at all levels. Over at my publisher, I am sure people talk to the Publisher of Crown and say, "That's fine, but what does Jenny(the President) think?"

And people talk to Jenny and say, "Fine, but what does the President (of Random House) say?"

And when they get to the President's Suite, it's "Fine, but are you sure the supervisory board in Germany will agree?"

This same general insult or whatever you want to call it goes on at every single level, all the way up the food chain, where it dissipates into speculation about what the shareholders will think. And sometimes they rise up, and throw you out too.


Ithaca said...

It is UNFORGIVABLE to ever tell someone (or their boss) that you're too important to be working with them, or to imply the same.

I agree that this author was rude. Only thing is, an author who is seeing a book into print often has no choice but to appeal to someone higher up - not because the author is too important to deal with the person s/he is currently dealing with, but because...

Look. Let's say you're an author and by some miracle people actually WANT to work with you. You have a conference call with a lawyer, a real hot shot, who says he'll take care of all your problems. You have power lunches with various power agents; you raise specific concerns; why, those specific concerns are the very things that agency specialises in addressing! You talk to publishers (publishers, not editors), who are passionate about the book; you raise a couple of concerns (because you're trying to finish other books and can't give this project unlimited time), and are assured that you can have anything you want. Great. You sign on the dotted line. Then you're passed on to people lower down the totem pole, and you try to cash these cheques.

You try to get action on the points specifically promised by the hot shot. There's just one tiny problem. The hot shot forgot to pass this on to the staff. Who are CERTAINLY not going to do something on YOUR say-so. In fact, even if your contract spells out in no uncertain terms the special deal that was agreed, they're not going to do it on the CONTRACT'S say-so. The only person with any clout in this situation is their boss.

Now in theory, of course, if you're just asking for implementation of things the boss actually promised, it shouldn't be offensive to go to the boss for confirmation. Also, it shouldn't be offensive to expect people to comply with the, um, terms of your contract. Well, YOU may think you're being reasonable - you've gone out of your way to be nice to the people you dealt with, they flatly refused to deliver on what you were promised, what else can you do? But there is absolutely no guarantee that the intern, the assistant, the associate, the copy-editor and so on and so on and so on will not be grossly offended because you didn't accept whatever they happened to feel like doing; no guarantee whatsoever that they will not sabotage the book out of vindictiveness.

The tragic irony of it all is, when you had your conference call or your power lunch or whatever it was that got you in this mess in the first place, the things you were trying to put in place were, precisely, protection against the runaround. You didn't want a big advance; what you wanted was to protect the time you needed to finish your other books. And all the hot shots said that would be no problem, no problem at all.

(Again, I don't dispute that the author you dealt with was rude.)

How Publishing Really Works said...

Lord. I read this; I cringed. I cringed a bit more. Gah.

To respond to ithica, who explained how frustrating publishing can sometimes be: if I were ever put in that situation I'd make sure I told my agent, and left her to deal with the problem. That's one of the reasons we have agents: to buffer* the relationship between the writer and the editor, so that conversations between those two parties can concentrate on getting the book better, rather than on nitpicking the finer points of the deal.

I'll blog about this tomorrow. If I can stop cringing long enough to type.

*I typed "bugger" there, instead of "buffer", first time round. Thank god I try to review my work, or this post could have had a completely different slant.


Anonymous said...

Clueless people are everywhere, in every business.
I've had this same experience in my work (pr).
Idiots don't get the concept that their opportunity lies with the newest staff member, not the boss (unless you are Madonna or similar).
They also don't realize people in the same industry talk. Gossip. And that their reputation as idiots goes far.

storyknife said...

I write from beneath my desk, which is where this post drove me. I wish I could say I can't believe the author behaved that badly, but alas, I do.

Talk about burning bridges. When the agent comes to downsize their list, what author's name will pop up first? Will the editor ever again consider another submission from the author, write he ever so well? And at bottom, this was just bad manners, something you simply can't afford in publishing. It's too small a world.

pari noskin taichert said...

It always staggers me when I read something like this.

There are so many egotistical morons out there.

Long before I became an author, I worked in public relations. One of the earliest lessons I learned was that sincere courtesy, kindness and gratitude go further in business and life than just about anything else.

thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Nicola Slade said...

Good grief, what an idiot that man was. I treat my agent as a deity and editors as something even more important.And lunch? I get coffee and a biscuit if I'm lucky!


Nicola Slade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Anytime you want to take me out to lunch to talk about my book, I am so there.

How Publishing Really Works said...

Yes, Jeff. Right behind me.



Heather B. Moore said...

Thanks for this! I get the same type of reponse at book signings when people say--You're a woman! You're so young! (I write under a pen name, but my picture is on the author page). Then they stare at me, trying to decide if they should take me seriously or not.

Anonymous said...

Let me suggest a reframe, please.

From out here in the field the way it looks is, agents are more important than authors and editors are more important than agents. This author may be an idiot, but you were the one with the power, and importance is about power. The most powerful person is the most important person. The agent recognized that, which is why she (or is it he?) deferred to you. I think if you look at it from that perspective (which strikes me as the most realistic one) you will feel much better about the interaction. You were obviously dealing with someone who has no idea in the world how this universe works. That does not diminish you in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

I'm sadly shaking my head. All I can do is pass on Granny wisdoms
1. what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' 2. Beating idiots does nothing to make them more sensitive or intelligent.
3. Share with friends and then bless the idiot and move on.

pabrown said...

Another question: was this so very self-important author published or was this his first book? If he was a multi-book author his behavior might have been a BIT more understandable (still not acceptable) but if he's unpublished then he's an idiot. I'd sell my eye teeth to have an editorial assistant give me so much attention.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite. Who is this guy's agent? Didn't he vet his guy before lunch or were you suppose to? After lunch, did you blackball this agent? Why not? As you can see, I don't blame the writer--I blame his agent. Why? Because I'm an agent and I vet my writers before I rep them.

Kate Lord Brown said...

OMG the ego has landed ... bravo for the professional way you handled this idiot. I think writers at any stage of their career have a responsibility to act in a similarly professional way. Humility is everything - we are lucky to be working in the best profession in the world and should be grateful for any help along the way.