Monday, August 18, 2008

are you a gifted enough author?

I was chatting with an editor friend from another company the other day when a certain issue came up. She sighed and told me about a colleague of hers who had a misunderstanding with one of his authors. "The author was mad at him, he found out, because he hadn't sent a an on-publication gift." Is an on-publication gift a requirement these days?

This hit a nerve for me because I had been thinking about gifts myself last week. I was thinking about the holidays, though. I realized that I only received one professional holiday gift last December, a Starbucks card from an agent. (I should mention that one author sent me a very nice gift at Valentine's Day, too, and another bought me a bottle of nice champagne for my birthday.) I received a number of cards from a number of agents, some of them very nice cards, indeed.

Being a baby editor and all, I don't have years of experience in receiving or giving gifts, so basically my behavior up until now has been modeled after the way I've seen my colleagues and bosses behave. Last year, I sent cards (rather dinky home-made ones, I'll confess) to my active authors and agents (active meaning the ones I had corresponded with in the last calendar year). I remember being vaguely sad that none of my authors had wanted to send me gifts, but since I didn't even think to send gifts to any of them, I don't suppose I had a right to be sad!

As for publication gifts, I've never given one. Following the model of my first boss ever, I always send a hot copy of the advance copies of a book to both the author and the agent, with a congratulations note. When a particular landmark thing happens (an author receives an award, or makes it onto a special list) Robert the Publisher sends a bottle of wine or champagne. When an author is in town, I take that author out, without fail, unless the author doesn't have time for some reason. But that's really it.

Am I negligent?

I don't think I am at all, I've decided. It is a personal industry, and we all work together in such a way that the lines of colleagues, friends, associates, and clients blend. But for most of us, there's not a huge amount of money falling out of trees. I look forward to lunch with an author, but I don't require a present from them (not that, you know, I turn down free presents), and I hope they feel the same way about me.

What about agents, though? Is their relationship with their authors the same as an editor's with hers? Alas, I'm not an agent and am not represented by one, so my judgment should hardly be taken as final, but my general opinion is yes, it's the same. Gifts are nice to celebrate things, but they shouldn't be considered a requirement. I think this is a three-way street: an author shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for her author or her agent, an agent shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for an author or an editor. These are things we should do if we WANT to. Gifts are just nice. Nice things to do. If they arrive, woohoo! A pleasant surprise.

Perhaps gifts become a little more "necessary" when there is a money situation. An author has just made the NYT bestseller list, and has thereby made their publishing company (or agent) a pile of money. Then it's nice to recognize them with a gift. (Just like RtP does.) But that becomes a slippery slope. Does that mean an author is obliged to buy a gift for her editor at holiday time because the editor secured a nice advance for her? My answer there is emphatically NO. I don't want any obligation gifts. I prefer love gifts. And since I love everyone but don't have enough money to give gifts to everyone, I can't give any gifts at all.

Besides, seriously, the nicest thing I think I, personally, can do for someone is take them out to lunch and show them how enthusiastic I am. Wouldn't an author or agent rather have a delightful selection of delicious foodstuffs than a smelly old bunch of flowers, anyway?

Apparently, though, there are some people who function under different protocols. Agents, historically, have been known to lavish gifts in both directions (editorial and authorial) at various points in the process. So perhaps some people have come to think these things are required, since they have heard too much about the gifts other people gave or received.

I maintain that gifts should be pleasant surprises, and that lunches are worth more. I stick by this. But I'd like to hear other opinions and experiences.

44 comments:

ilyakogan said...

My cousin is a divorce lawyer. He says that often people tell him the most ridiculous things as "reasons" for divorce. One guy said that his wife didn't like the color of his socks when they went out to celebrate their fifth anniversary.

When you dig deeper those things are the last straws in the long line of things that didn't work in the relationship.

What I'm implying is that there something bigger going on - the gift anger is just the tip of the iceberg.

Aerin said...

Hey Moonie -

I totally agree with the idea that gifts are not necessary.

Now, I myself am a prefer-flowers-to-lunch kind of gal, but if you (or any generic editor) asked me to lunch because YOU WERE THE EDITOR OF MY BOOK heck I'd do cartwheels all over - and I am not athletic.

Having said THAT - I think any gesture of appreciation/care/ is fantastic. I used to be one of those people who rushed to the store to return gifts I didn't like (yes, I've worked through the "why" in therapy), and while there are occasions I still do that, I've come to appreciate a gift no matter what it is or who it's with. I think as I've gotten older I appreciate more the "thought that counts" thing.

Bernita said...

I agree.
If it becomes an obligation, a form of tithe, a status thingie, the pleasure for both is gone.

Anonymous said...

I send my editor, her assistant, and my agent gifts at Christmastime. Nothing big, just a little 'thank you'.

In any business where there is a select group of individuals listed as 'clients', I do think it's necessary. I worked at a CPA firm for many years in a prior incarnation, and the clients that sent gifts at Christmastime? You can bet we remembered those accounts. They got higher priority, because we had an established 'relationship'.

Anonymous said...

I sent my agent, editors, and publicist flowers the day my book was published. It's simply a gesture to show how grateful I am for their support. Isn't that what a gift is, a gesture from the heart?

Precie said...

That's a fascinating twist on "gifting" in business relationships.

I must respectfully disagree with anonymous 9:26. Most other companies, I believe, have a limited gift policy...employees either aren't allowed to accept gifts from other companies/clients or are only allowed to accept token, non-cash gifts. If you look at each discrete unit of the publishing process (editor, agent, author) as a separate company, I absolutely think thoughtful holiday cards and notes of acknowledgement should be PLENTY.

Moreover, the editor-agent-author triad isn't equivalent. An author deals with the editor, assistant, agent, assistant...and perhaps some other industry contacts. Agent and editor relationships, I suspect, are multiplied exponentially. Should an agent be obligated to give token gifts to every contact (represented authors, active editor relationships...how many editors up the food chain?, marketers or newspaper contacts)?

I do agree it's a slippery topic. But then I never expect gifts.


This strikes me as akin to the growing trend toward "push presents" for mothers who've just given birth. (For the record, yes, my husband gave me a completely unexpected necklace when our Child was born...but I never felt entitled to such a gift. Having a Child together was gift enough. Just as I would think the published work is "gift" enough.)

JES said...

I think I'm kinda with Precie on this. Chronic professional/business gifting is a slippery-slope practice that tends to drain all the emotional weight out of the act of giving, and the pleasure out of the act of receiving.

If an editor or agent arranged to have the original artwork from my first book cover framed and shipped to me, especially if they don't select one of those garish Renaissance-ornate frames :), I think I'd just about fall over in gratitude. A lunch would be great, too -- or even a "Dutch-treat" dinner. I actually think those would be better if NOT tied to a specific event, because that sets up expectations for the next specific event, and so on.

Josephine Damian said...

Moonie, off topic, but have you read this book?

http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Rain-Tan-Twan-Eng/dp/1602860246/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219067398&sr=1-1

Or this one?

http://www.amazon.com/Mosquito-Roma-Tearne/dp/1933372575/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219069060&sr=1-2

Heard about both on NPR. Now on my TBR pile.

Kate Lord Brown said...

I think showing genuine appreciation is vital in any relationship - doesn't have to be flowers, lunch (amazing how many people forget just a simple thank you). That said, I can't wait to send half of Interflora to my agent and editor the day my book is finally published!

Susan said...

I don't expect gifts from editors, especially if the relationship is otherwise good.

I must admit to being hurt when my *husband* doesn't give me anything to help celebrate those milestones, but even then I don't say anything because I don't want to sound like a baby.

So I think either Ilya's right about there being something else going on ...or else the author is maybe a bit of princess.

moonrat said...

rar, JD!!! you are officially responsible for an Amazon episode!!!

Julie Weathers said...

Moonie, my husband (soon to be ex) had a tradition of dashing home at 7:30 on Christmas eve and running all over town to find an open store. Then, of course, there is the obligatory complaining about crowds, nothing on the shelves etc.

When a gift is an obligation it means nothing. Your handmade little cards would have meant more to me than the most expensive card in the Hallmark shop.

Having said that, I full well intend to gift my agent, editor and publisher. Notice how many people that makes? Three.

Now, how many clients does an agent, editor or publisher have? Common sense should dictate that would be a tremendous expense.

I would much rather an agent or editor take me out to lunch or tea or something and give me the most precious gift of all...their time.

In my opinion, that miffed author was acting like a spoiled child.

At Christmas time I used to buy boxes of cheap cards and write IOUs in them. IOU a chore of your choice, IOU a movie, IOU a trip to buffalo wallow to feed the ducks. The IOUs were always some of the most popular gifts. Perhaps my kids were just easy to please, but I prefer to think some people like personal time and gifts from the heart.

I feel sorry for the editor with the angry author. Who wants to put up with divas?

Natalie said...

I always think that food is the best gift anyone could give me. There's nothing like sharing conversation over a good meal. I'd take a lunch any day:)

That being said, gift should never be mandatory, then they don't mean anything but "I'm supposed to get you something, so here it is."

Ithaca said...

I think it's a bit tricky. I had an editor in the UK who was famous for sending authors flowers. I really just wanted them to get a typesetter who could use a professional-looking Greek font. If I have to spend a lot of time cleaning up after someone I'm just going to wonder why my editor was willing to throw money at a bouquet and not spend some paltry sum on the actual book. On the other hand, if the proofs come back and look fantastic I'd rather send everyone marks of appreciation at the time.

Slightly OT, but I would also be thrilled to set up an entertainment allowance for staff who have to stay late working on the book. When I worked in a Wall Street law firm we got to order in meals if we had to stay after 7, and we got a free taxi home after 11; it would be great to be able to set that up for support staff, though my last publishers were adamant that this was unacceptable. It was not at all clear to me that staff were getting paid overtime, so it would also be good to be able to offer some kind of bonus.

There are people who are unbelievably wonderful to work with; they shouldn't have to wait for Christmas to be acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

Um, people who expect gifts need to read the definition in the dictionary, don't you think? Gifts are voluntary, love gifts, as you say.

writtenwyrdd

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:26 again.

I totally understand that people disagree with me - people are people (I think that's a song!) but the bottom line is...people are also easily influenced. When I had my own client list, I was sincerely touched every time a client took the time out to send me a card or write me a praising email, or send me a gift. That basically told me 'Hey, I understand that you're human too and I appreciate working with you'.

You'd be surprised at how far a small gesture goes. I was certainly a lot more willing to go the extra mile for the client that I always loved chatting with and sent me gifts - because I felt she appreciated all the extra work I did on her behalf.

And no, presents should not be 'forced' but appreciation should always be part of the industry. And there are some people that are never quite appreciated enough.

(And most companies do have standard 'gift' procedures. For the 8 years that I've had a list of clientele, I don't think I've ever received anything larger than a Christmas box of fudge that got shared with the rest of the office. It truly is the thought that counts, not the dollar spent, and I'm sure Moonrat would agree.)

moonrat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moonrat said...

it's not, uh, like I can't be bought.

cf this post.

Precie said...

LOL!! I think there's a definite line between the personal and professional. ;)

cindy said...

wow, an editor giving the author a present? why? it's the editor that has been work her tail off to get the author's book published.

the thought never ever crossed my mind that i'd recieve gifts from my editor or agent? huh??

BUT the thought of giving has crossed my mind. in fact, i just emailed agent bill last week to ask what sort of things he liked. haha! (subtle, right?) but by the time he gets his present (in the new year--i'll pick things up in london), it won't be so fresh on his mind.

i'm also sending a gift of appreciation to the office of publisher (it's a small office) because i know at least 5 of them have read my novel and are helping some way or other to make this happen. and happen fantastically. and something to my editor, too. closer to the end of the year. shh! =)

i love giving presents. esp when they are unexpected!

cindy said...

ps. a nice restaurant meal trumps all presents!

Criss said...

Some people see gifts as love (read The Five Love Languages). To these people, you show appreciation by taking the time to go out and buy something. The gift of time is not "valuable" enough (can you tell I am not one of these people?)

I am not a fan of flowers, at all. They die. You are giving my a present I'm going to have to throw away in just a few days.

Personally, I would much prefer a lunch - your time and attention - to a bunch of flowers or a Starbucks gift card (which I do love). The lunch is your undivided attention; the flowers were probably ordered by an intern.

(Then again, I'm kind of a weirdo about presents... I feel guilty receiving them. If you took me out to lunch, we'd probably go to a place that was too fancy for me, too... yes, I have issues.)

andromeda romano-lax said...

Like Cindy and anonymous, I'm weighing in on the subject of gifts from the other direction -- author to editor or agent. When my novel was published, I sent flowers plus some shareable candies (so the whole office could try them). When I visited my agent, I brought her assistant a gourmet food present as well (assistants probably appreciate these things best of all). When my agent originally went to pitch my book, she warned me that I shouldn't expect any particular outcome, given that she "wasn't a magician." After she sold the book, I sent her a magic hat with a stuffed rabbit toy coming out of it, my way of confirming that she IS in fact a magician.

None of these things were obligations -- they were just fun to do. The writer's life is a lonely one, and by giving gifts (more than receiving them) one has the pleasure of picturing that NY or London office opening up one's special offerings. It's a nice antidote to feeling alone and cut off from the centers of publishing power.

The biggest gift my editor/agent gives me is a lot simpler: answering emails, reading my work. The basics. They have lots of authors besides me so I wouldn't want them feeling obligated to reciprocate.

Linda said...

I always like to send a nice card as a thank you, but in my day job, the gifting is quite intense. One year I received three Red Envelope boxes from industry clients for Christmas. It was pretty obnoxious, actually. Lucky me, I rarely need to send such presents, though I do gift the people who work with me, my staff and students.

If and when I get an agent and/or editor, I will give thanks from my heart. Small gifts - homemade raspberry jam or apricot pistrachio biscotti, glass and silver jewelry, a book of poetry, something crafted by myself or someone else. After all, how many tins of fennel powder or blown glass paperweights does a body need?

Peace, Linda

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Oh, Moonie, I agree. People too often expect something more out of others than they're willing to give from themselves. We're too much of a "stuff-oriented" society anyhow. I'd MUCH prefer quality time with someone than something I'd have to dust or one day throw away, though I do appreciate the thought and gesture. It's really all about the heart. If someone expects a gift and they're disappointed, then they're likely pretty self-serving and have too high of a sense of self-importance. Gratitude can flow in more ways than one.

That's my 5 cents worth of input.

moonrat said...

Andromeda: re: assistants probably appreciate the gifts the best: amen! Assistants are so often forgotten, and do so much work behind the scenes for no credit. On that note, don't underestimate the influence they can have if they like you! A littel somethin' somethin' for your editor or agent's assistant is a worthy investment indeed.

Anonymous said...

I always try to send gifts to my agent and my editor whenever something momentous happens. Sometimes I can't because of cash flow, because I'm now 100% reliant on the fiction and nonfiction, but I try. I *don't* expect my editors or agent to reciprocate because they're already kind of gifting me in my opinion by working for me, in a sense. And because they have multiple multiple clients--it's much easier for me to send out a single gift or two than for them to send out multiple gifts. When they do, it's a nice extra, but I don't think poorly of those who don't.

One of the great pleasures of my life was giving my agent a bottle of his favorite wine. Another was giving a gift to an editor of mine who was at the time a junior editor, with a cramped desk, because I knew it was probably the first she'd ever gotten. Another time I flew a publicist of mine out to a conference that was beyond the publisher's budget.

In short, I think authors should pamper their editors, their agents, their publicists, etc., as much as possible. Those are all very tough jobs and the people doing them really don't get enough praise. Mostly they get the short end of the stick when something goes wrong.

JeffV

Colleen_Katana said...

An author who gets upset about not getting a publication gift is HIGH MAINTENANCE.

I would consider getting published to be the gift. A congratulation note would be perfect and thoughtful...no gift would be necessary. But then again, I'm not all that into material objects. Except Jimmy Choos...would the gift be a pair of Jimmy Choos?1?!?

Chumplet said...

I'm too much of a newb to comment, but I'd gladly give any agent who represents me my firstborn. She does dishes.

ggwritespoetry said...

I'd give my editor my first born too, and my second, and my third, because none of them like doing dishes.
But seriously, I think gift giving shouldn't be expected, just very well recieved, if they do come our way. I agree that publication is gift enough.

Charles Gramlich said...

Well, it never would have occurred to me, either as an author or an agent.

Kelsey said...

When an editor takes an author to dinner does the publishing house pickup the tab? Or does the editor?

moonrat said...

Kelsey: it depends on the situation, but almost always the publishing house.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh, no way are gifts an obligation. I would never expect any of my editors to send me a gift (although those hardcovers were nice! Whoo! I'll take those anyday!) and I hope they aren't waiting for me to send them cards, because I'm not a card person.

I could see me sending them something for a milestone though. We work as a team and the celebration is ours together, certainly not just mine -- and I'd want to make sure they knew I felt that way.

But this obligation stuff is bull-pucky. Am I allowed to say that? Of course, ask me later, when my novels' release dates roll around and I've become a word-diva.

Eileen said...

I don't see sending presents as a part of my agent or editor's job so can't imagine expecting anything from them. I also don't see them responding to my calls as a gift, although of course timely responses are always appreciated. Communicating with me as their client/author is a part of their job. I have a business relationship with them, I have expectations, they have expectations.

I think there is a tendency to blur the line between personal and business- especially in the arts. No matter how many candy boxes you send if it doesn't make good business sense your publisher/editor will drop you. They aren't helping you with your book just to be nice. They are doing it because it is a product they want to sell.

Let me be clear- I adore both my agent and my editor. They've been great to work with and I appreciate all of the effort/time/energy they've put into our shared projects. I send them a small token at Christmas because I want to, I appreciate every note of encouragement they've sent.

The best gift I can give them is to meet my deadlines, avoid diva behavior, be open to feedback, return their calls in a timely way and follow up on requests.

Katherine said...

Business gifts are different from other gifts, and call for other considerations than gifts to other kinds of acquaintances.

Gifts to commemorate a major event in the history of the business relationship (I count a thank-you card as a "gift" here, for simplicity's sake) are great. As others have also mentioned, though, I'd rather expect the author to gift the editor and not the other way around.

These kinds of gifts can be lots of fun to choose and give, and because you've all been slaving over the same project, it's easy to be thoughtful. I have a book about Ireland I received as a gift at the end of a project. The project had nothing to do with Ireland, but an in-joke the project team had developed while working on it did. (You had to be there. Trust me.) It was a great gift and a great way to strengthen the business relationship at the same time.

Where I'm not so comfortable with gifts to business acquaintances is during (pause to put on asbestos suit) Christmas. I don't mean because of the "political correctness" issues, although they're there, of course. It's because by the time someone is old enough to belong to the publishing industry, they may have associations with Christmas that are very strongly negative. I have friends who deliberately go on vacations every Christmas and do everything in their power not to recognise it's even happening. They're not being Scroogey. They exchange gifts and give to charities at other times of the year. It's just that Christmas very solidly means pain and anguish to them, and not a whole lot to celebrate (on top of which, they're not practising Christians either. So it's a no go all the way.).

The Christmas lovers don't get it, and I don't think they ever will, but one sure way to be an insensitive clod is to give a Christmas gift to someone you're not 100% certain celebrates it. At best they'll be bemused. At worst they'll have to hide out in the nearest public washroom until they calm down.

So, IMHO: a little gift to note a business milestone: great idea, but it doesn't have to be big or elaborate. Christmas? Proceed with caution.

Ello said...

I am one MILLION percent behind you! Absolutely! Besides, as much as we want to give gifts, money is tight and a simple thanks or a card is really more than adequate, I think.

And besides, I would much rather have a nice meal and company!

D.J. Cappella said...

Gift giving is a slippery slope when money is involved. I do not think it is appropriate for an author to recieve or give gifts to an agent and publisher and vice versa upon publication, contract signing, or anything related to prepublication status. It would seem to me more along the lines of a bribe. As an aspiring author I would much rather have a hand written note, lunch, or even a phone call singing my praises.
Even when it comes to the big events, I find that once a gift has been given a precident has been started so it can be a slipper slope of expectation. Isnt it better to just not.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

It would never have occurred to me to expect a gift. Am I slow or what... (no, no don't answer that!)
I think one gives gifts because one wants to, feels moved to - not because it's some kind of prerequisite or standard. There has be real joy in both the giving and the accepting - if that's not there, what's the point?

homeinkabul said...

I'm back online after many months away and am looking forward to catching up with your blog

Charlie Stross said...

An author has just made the NYT bestseller list, and has thereby made their publishing company (or agent) a pile of money. Then it's nice to recognize them with a gift.

Like, oh, reminding them about the bestseller clause on their royalty agreement that kicked in about the same time they made the list (and earned out their advance)?

The whole gift-giving thing is totally fraught with potential for misunderstandings, malice, and slip-ups. On the other hand, kind words are often under-utilized (and you just reminded me to thank my marketing manager at $BIG_PUBLISHER for organizing a tour last month) ...

Di Francis said...

I like to send something at Christmas/holiday time. Mostly because I want my agent and editors to know I appreciate them. Sometimes it's just a card, but more and more I try for a little gift. That might just be chocolate. I don't get or expect things in return--well, okay, I always like a card, but I don't get snotty or upset when it doesn't happen. All too often I forget such things for family and close friends, so why should I hold others to a higher standard?

Kate Douglas said...

As an author, I don't expect gifts. Just keep those contracts coming! I much prefer giving small gifts when I can, but I never thought of receiving them. Both my agent and editor have taken me out for very nice meals when we get together, and that's pretty fantastic, but I don't see any reason for them to gift me for doing my job!

david-ripley said...

If you were my editor, I would buy you a guitar.