Etiquette or the lack thereof in today’s publishing world

Since the beginning of the new year, I have observed some pretty unprofessional behavior in our business and it troubles me.  With all of the back and forth about publishing being in real economic trouble, I would think that, more than ever, we would want to work together, publishers, authors and agents  to help it survive and thrive.

I have noted this lack of good publishing etiquette in both my clients (one behaved in an especially unprofessional way when his project didn’t achieve the attention and advance offer he believed it deserved) but most especially I have witnessed it on the publishing side.

Just the other week, I had sent out a proposal I have very solid hopes for to an editor who had not only requested it but who had insisted, when her assistant editor had requested it before her, that I send it to her instead. A few days later when I called to follow up she proceeded to turn the project down saying that the people who had read it (she quite obviously hadn’t) didn’t think it was the kind of book she envisioned.  I was stunned.  Here she demands that I send the material to her rather than someone else on her staff who had asked for it and then she doesn’t even read it?  What is going on?

Authors work very, very hard on their proposals. It is true that some proposals are better than others, but I personally know that each and every one of our clients puts a great deal of time and thought into what s/he sends out into the market place; the least an editor can do is read and thoughtfully consider it.

Then there are those editors who request proposals and then never, ever respond.  We call, we send e-mails and yet it is just like throwing the material in the trash bin.  This kind of thoughtless behavior seems to be increasing as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with one of the old timers in our business:  a retired editor, who had discovered some of the best books and writers of the last 45 to 50 years.   She wondered where all of the camaraderie between publishers and authors of her day had gone.  I had to agree with her that much of it seems to have gone the way of manual typewriters.

I fear that if this kind of behavior isn’t reversed, out business really will be in trouble.  This is something that can be fixed, with attention and better communication.  It is my sincere hope that both authors and most especially editors and publishers will sit up and pay attention to a problem that is relatively easy to solve…before it is too late.

Your thoughts, of course, are always welcome.

9 Responses to Etiquette or the lack thereof in today’s publishing world

  1. Caitie F says:

    If what you say is true, it is very sad. I have always thought the relationship is very important. If there is no mutual respect and a sense of working together, how can anything get done? I don’t enjoy working with people who are hostile to me, and I am sure authors, editors, and agents all agree!

    I wouldn’t say it is all on the editors side though, I am sure there are agents that act that way also. I hear and read many stories of agents acting that way towards writers that query them, when a writer has just been professional and kind.

    Hopefully it is a phase.

  2. Michael G-G says:

    Thank you for this, Jane. Good manners and a pleasant disposition may, in TV land, be boring–but in my book they can’t be beat.

    From the writer’s perspective: “Comforting” may not be the right word to describe the fact that agents get ignored too. “Enlightening?”

    From all I have read recently, on blogs and elsewhere, it appears that for traditional publishing “the center cannot hold” much longer. I don’t know if we’ve reached the tipping point yet, but everyone seems to be talking about the “potential in digital publishing.” Writers in the trenches are getting restive. Agents are realigning. Publishing company CEOs are talking about “irrevocable changes,” and “e-publishing” being the wave of the future.

    It’s a great time to be alive (and polite.)

  3. I would hope, in the case of the editor who rejected the material without even reading it, that you’d be able to send the proposal to the assistant editor instead, but I get the feeling this publishing house would have a policy against that. :-\

    It’s very sad if these examples become the status quo.

  4. LupLun says:

    Hmm. Well, I’m not a publishing insider by any stretch, but my assumption would be that they don’t feel they have to be polite. The recession put a lot of people out of work, and many of them decided to try and make a living writing. This means three things: A) a lot of less-talented-than-they-think authors trying the patience of editors, make it harder and harder to please them, B) more work to do to meet their quotas (which you always have, even if it’s the arbitrary number in your own head,) and C) they can easily reject even a good book, since there’s plenty more where that came from.

    Cynical, I know, but there it is.

  5. Dara says:

    Unfortunately that seems to be the prevailing attitude in nearly every part of business. It’s like professionalism disappeared. I don’t really understand it.

    Of course that’s not to say that everyone is like that–obviously that isn’t true–but it’s always nice to see when there are people out there who truly show they care for their clients and want the best for them. Thanks for posting this. Hopefully it will change…

  6. Kelly Klem says:

    …-our-…sorry…my eye goes right to them…it’s the literal gene.

    I am SO fortunate to work for a yarn company (freelance) that is particularly cognizant of this dynamic with their writers. As a creative person (sensitive to the point of wimping out if you look at me wrong)their handling of me which is not coddling but simply POLITE allows me to creative with confidence. Also, because of this – I am able to take their criticism in a more wholesome way that does not involve digging holes to hide in. Being civil with the people you work with promotes TRUST – an imperative for productivity.

  7. Kelly Klem says:

    …to be creative…

  8. Alex Patterson says:

    People on board a sinking ship always fight over the last seat on the lifeboat.

  9. Draven Ames says:

    This is spot on. During an interview with Robert Walker, he told me that this is the biggest thing that has to change. He went off about how agents treat writers like dirt and claimed they had no business wanting to micromanage a writer. He said they would tell him that TV and radio doesn’t sell books, while turning around and using those tools for the higher sellers. He had a lot of opinions, some wrong and some right – I’m sure.

    There seems to be a disconnect from the real world everywhere. With that, we have these kinds of things. People are considered weird if they drop off their book in person. Was it like that thirty years ago?

    On the other side, looking over this site, it seems like your company has a lot going for them. For being so professional, you all seem fun. That is a good thing.

    Draven Ames

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