Pet peeves, etc.

Every few months, I try to digest the things various clients have done that I wish they hadn’t.  I know many of our readers who, of course, are writers themselves and are seeking agents and editors, are interested in learning the etiquette of our business, so I thought I would throw out several things that tend to make us agents weepy or ragey:

When you make an appointment with your agent or your editor you should show up; more than once in recent weeks people who have confirmed appointments with us have not shown up and not called to say they weren’t coming (sometimes it was because the writer overslept or simply forgot).

Asking your agent to do all kinds of extra work for you and then saying you are going to use your lawyer to negotiate that particular movie or magazine contract.

Delivering a manuscript you haven’t previously checked carefully and thoroughly.

Being late with the delivery of your manuscript (sometimes way late) and assuming that your Publisher will grant you endless extensions.

Sending rude notes to your editor rather than first speaking to me so that I can run interference.

Finding everything that your editor throws out in terms of title, cover and copy wrong and not saying one positive thing.  (It isn’t smart to alienate your editor and your publisher especially before your book is published.)

Insisting that I submit your proposal to teeny tiny publishers and then being disappointed when the advance is almost non-existent.

Having unrealistic expectations in terms of the deal you are looking for and not sharing those expectations with me at the outset (so that I can clarify what is and isn’t possible).

Listening to the opinions of all of your friends and colleagues (many of whom are at odds about strategy and everything else).

Lying to me. If there is one thing I have zero tolerance for it is not telling the truth (unless you really, really don’t like my new shoes; I don’t need to know that).  This only happens once in any business relationship I have.

Needless to say, I don’t believe everything I have to say as an agent is correct but the bottom line is that I am here to provide advice and support and become frustrated when I am not used productively.

I wonder what your pet peeves are?  I am sure you have them and would be interested to hear.

16 Responses to Pet peeves, etc.

  1. Kendra says:

    I think my biggest pet peeve is inconsideration – and I think all the ones you list could be subsumed under that category. Except the lying – that is its own category. It’s difficult to believe that writers lucky enough to secure an agent would take advantage of the relationship in these ways. And for goodness sake, showing up on time for meetings is Consideration 101.

  2. LupLun says:

    An undertone of all this seems to be “I hate it when I have to do more work because someone else screwed up.” Which I totally get, having spent too much time in the white-collar world. Go easy on ’em, though, most of them don’t know what they’re doing…

  3. Teri Carter says:

    I want to say it’s hard to believe professional writers would act this way. Do they not know there are thousands of more ethical, agreeable, truth-telling folks just waiting to take their place??

    You overslept. Seriously? Dear lord. You lied to your agent? It seems to me your agent should be the one person you can be completely open and honest with to make sure the right progress is made. How does lying to your agent, your single best ally in this crazy business, help your cause?

  4. Yvonne says:

    This post says it all – love and agree with it!!!

  5. Catherine Whitney says:

    I loved this post, Jane. You know, we writers are ANNOYED always. Also ENTITLED. Our grievances flow easily. But I think your point about honesty and realism is very relevant. The bottom line is that you are on our side, even when others are not, and when we have that trust, life is simpler, if not always wonderful. For those of us who are lucky enough to have an agent who believes in us, in spite of everything, hope springs eternal. But it’s like a marriage. There are ups and downs, but trust is the glue. Thanks, by the way…

  6. WitLiz Today says:

    This is one of many reasons why I wouldn’t make a good agent. My status as a decent human agent would go south of the pole the first time I put my foot so far up a client’s ass for pulling shit like this, they would see daylight from both ends. Then, you’d hear their asses bounce down the avenue as I kicked them to the curb for lying, for ‘oversleeping’, for being grossly rude to an editor or an assistant, for missing a publishing deadline, or for whining and telling me what to do.

    Life is too short to put with this kind of appalling behavior. Which is why I have a lot of respect, (and sympathy) for the publishing industry. And for the entertainment industry as well, since the two professions closely parallel each other in terms of having to put up with people who don’t have the slightest clue that missing an audition or taping, or missing a deadline in publishing is like trying to outrun an avalanche.

    I have absolutely zero tolerance for lack of good manners and lack of gratitude! And I don’t care how emotionally troubled, physically ill, or mentally ill a writer or author might be. We were all born with the capacity to learn good manners and to be respectful of other people. Even if the learning doesn’t begin for some until adulthood, it’s never too late to learn good manners from bad.

    Probably the most successful literary agents are ones who are not me, ones who are able to handle their clients with a mixture of patience, compassion and wisdom, annnnd ones who are able to hold “Foot up the Ass” behavior modification seminars!

    Sounds like Dystal & Goderich Literary Management follows that pretty closely!

  7. Matt says:

    It’s hard to fathom that some folks simply can’t act in a consistently professional manner!

    Sure, we all have our bad days, but that kind of behavior is awful. To quote the great Dr. Henry Jones, Sr., “This is intolerable!”

    I would hope that those authors fortunate enough to find representation would treat said representation with a bit more respect. Everyone should be afforded common professional courtesy.

  8. This post just makes me even more thankful for my own agent. She’s so capable and professional–makes it easy to step back and trust her instincts.

  9. a says:

    Here’s a view from the other side. I notice that most comments so far agree with you, sometimes in shocked and prissy detail.

    Agents are parasites, and I mean this in the nicest possible way. If we did not write you would not be an agent. Writing is creating something out of nothing, day after day. Writers are like painters, surgeons, and other highly specialized people. They have to work constantly, to the exclusion of many other things possibly including balancing their checkbook.

    If I had a dime for every time someone in my day job says, “(Physicians) should be like everybody else, they should blah blah blah…” meaning “I go home and have my time free after my job and I will never kill someone at work, so everybody should be like me” I could quit my day job. When we hire someone new and they start that rant, I ask them how well they do surgery and they either eventually get it or they don’t. The ones who get it stay and do well. The ones who don’t get it leave.

    Jane, you have a good reputation, so I assume you understand writers, and are just blowing off steam. However, I see this kind of rant all the time and would ask you to please stop contributing to the push -em-toward-mediocrity cultural trend. Our parents, friends, co-workers and random people off the street are doing just fine in that area.

    To Jane’s readers, until you have had screaming nightmares for a week straight because you are working on a section of a manuscript that is psychologically difficult (and keep on working on it), just shut up about how you would never oversleep and miss a meeting. OK? It’s that kind of chatter that makes me want to move to Ireland, where professional artists don’t have to pay taxes.

  10. Chris Vaaler says:

    I don’t think there is an industry (and I’m including film and TV here) that has so much contempt for the people it depends on for its very existence.

  11. Celia says:

    Rudeness and inconsideration have no place in any relationship, whether it be personal or professional; whether you are the boss or the employee. If someone treated their agent like that, odds are that they treat other people in their lives like that as well. And I agree, the first time someone lied to me would be the last time.

  12. b says:

    I agree with A on this. His/her comment brings to light things I’ve recently seen. Publicists and agents alike go on their blogs and badmouth submissions, writers, the way a query letter was written and so forth.

    While everyone is entitled to their opinions and their own ways of handling their jobs, I feel mutual respect goes along way. No one, even if their name is removed from things, wants to be slammed publicly for simply wanting to further what they would like to do.

    Frustrations are a part of every job, how we deal with them is what sets us apart from others.

  13. pezibc says:

    1. I will grant you, 100%, your irritation regarding timeliness for meetings and such. If I am late – I am probably dead or dying and you should be worried. On the flip-side, my tolerance level for same is very, very low.

    2. If I ask for extra work, I expect you to be making me (and yourself) more money. It sounds more like you are screwing yourself on that one.

    3. If you do not think that my work is ready (or close) when presented – we have a whole series of problems to discuss.

    4. I am never late. Again, if am late I am dead or dying and you should be worrying about other things.

    5. & 6. – I do not send rude notes to my editor(s). In fact, I rarely talk by telephone, email, old-style mail, meet them directly, nor do I want to. What the f… am I paying you for?

    7. While I am not opposed to ‘small publishers’, I am only interested in how much money that you can make me. (And it had best be a lot more than I could make doing it myself. I don’t pretend to be an agent.)

    8. Expectations are getting more and more difficult to discuss. Publishing is more insane than ever and that’s a tough one for both of us.

    9. I am unlikely to lie to you. It’s just not worth it. But don’t expect trust from me that hasn’t been earned with blood. I’m watching y’all also.

    10. Productivity = $$$, and that cuts both ways. I’m a writer, businessman, and artist. Artist comes last (except for personal projects that ain’t going to make any money anyway).

    11. My frustrations – If you think that you can sell something, don’t waste my time. I only care about results. If it turns out that you can’t sell it, or that offers aren’t worth taking, then I’ll go another way. That may mean trashing it, and it may mean taking it another way. You’ll get a fair chance, but don’t f… me.

  14. Pet peeves… hmm…
    I don’t like agents sending “If you sent something before X date and had no reply, then we’re passing.” twitter messages.
    As in I *really* don’t like it.
    If there is a note on the website to say if you don’t hear within x amount of time, consider it a pass — fine. No problem.
    Mass rejections via Twitter? No thanks. Agent crossed off my “Would like to work with” list.
    If an agent wants me to treat them professionally, then I expect the same in return, you know?
    I’m sure some people find this acceptable. I don’t. I find it rude.
    Agents wouldn’t want me to query them via twitter, so why do the rejecting there?

  15. jurassicpork says:

    “Etiquette”? Gee, I always thought etiquette was reciprocal. But not if you’re a literary agent bloated with hubris.

    I always seeing these pet peeve lists from agents who honestly think they’re perfect and beyond criticism let alone reproach. Oh yes, please d tell me how much you hate even your own clients and your job in general. Well, here’s my list of pet peeves regarding literary agent.

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