Thursday, June 28, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly Part II: Oh My GOD! Who is this diva!? And how did I end up here?...

I'd like to start by giving a special thank you to everyone who responded so positively to my last post. You are all right, when you say that I should not have wasted my time with that impolite author, and that my time would have been better spent with someone who would be more receptive to help. Unfortunately, I don't always know how people will react. Though there are often signs of the evil ego monster within popping out with ready tentacles, sometimes people do surprise me. So I make the decision to give my time on a case by case basis, when I have something to say. Even if in the back of my mind I know that it may not go well, I can still sleep at night knowing that the author did not fail because I failed her. As a person in the business with some knowledge to share, I often feel like I have a duty to say something to nudge people in the right direction. Actually, I'm like this with everything... my family and friends can attest to my pesty opinionated ways. ;) Sometimes it's welcome, sometimes it isn't... and that the way it is.

Now to more Author's behaving badly. As I was writing the prior post, my mind kept going back to one of the first writers I ever worked with. She was friend who used to be semi famous at one point in her younger version, and she carried this sense of entitlement with her thereafter even though it is no longer, if ever, warranted. This friend is an author, whom I met years back when I was writing my first book. We shared manuscripts and helped each other out. When I started agenting, she was one of the first people to submit work to me. Knowing her work and being a friend, naturally I took her on right away.

She wanted me to represent (sell) a novel that I had not read yet. Now let me preface this by telling you that when I first started agenting, Chuck Sambucchino featured me on his Writer's Digest blog. Because of Chuck's introduction and other things that I was working on, I was quickly flooded with 200 queries per day for a while. It was a lot of work, and it was all so new. Needless to say, I was busy and overwhelmed. So when my friend submitted her 'new' manuscript to me, it took me a while to read it. When I say a while I mean a few weeks, which by any standards is not long at all. Sometimes it takes a year for us to get to a manuscript because of the crazy volume.

The day after I got the said manuscript, the client sent me a message asking if I'd had a chance to start reading the manuscript. I responded that I had not, and that it would probably be a few days. After a few days she called me to see what I thought of the manuscript. I apologized to her and explained that I had not had a chance to get started on it yet because of all of the submissions that I was going through and other things that I was working on. She was a bit put off by this, and reminded me that I had agreed to read it and had told her that I would read it in a few days. After patiently telling her that I would do my best, we ended the call.

A week later, I had started the manuscript but had not finished it yet. When I started reading it, to my surprise, the manuscript was sub par and just not ready for publishing. So I started making comments to the ms as I went along to try to help her fix it. Of course, this meant that the reading was going even slower than usual because I was now putting together a critique, if not editing her work. I was about half way through when I received her e-mail inquiring as to the status again. I did not respond right away because I was diligently making head way. When I responded I told her that the ms would need editing. She was not happy to say the least. Upon reading the e-mail she called my office and left a 'not so nice' message with my assistant, basically saying that I should have been done by now and why would she need editing when she herself helps others edit their work for a living!

Yikes! "Seriously?" I asked Alexis at the time, who said that the client was rude to her. I called her back right away and said, "What's going on? Why are you so upset?" I said a couple of things about Alexis' reaction to her attitude that she did not acknowledge at all and instead went right into telling me how to manage my time! She said that I should have been able to read the full manuscript in three seatings of about an hour each.

I took a deep breath and explained to her about all of the work that I was putting into her manuscript and that I had bypassed all of the submissions and other manuscripts in queue to be read so that I could speed up her process. I also explained that I wasn't speed reading her novel, that fantasy novel of this length (about 115K words) normally takes about 8 hours without the comments/edits.

The only part of her response worth repeating, so that you know how far she actually took this, is "Just remember Marisa, I'm the talent, and you're working for me..."

Oh My GOD! Who is this diva!? and how did I end up here?...

Well, if you know anything about me, by now I have smoke coming out of my ears. This time I didn't even bother with the deep cleansing breath. This time I just calmly said to her. "I completely understand how you feel now. And I want you to know that I have finished reading your manuscript." At hearing this was happily says, "Oh finally!"

Ignoring the comment and feeling more resolute I added, "So I have good news and bad news." Without giving her a chance to say anything I continued, "The book needs editing, but with the comments I made for you on the draft you should be able to fix it, and have a good book."

Still clueless that she'd behaved so poorly with me and my assistant, she says, "Great, that's all you needed to do." (What?!) "So what's the bad news?" Her complete lack of awareness and egocentrism gave me that little extra kick to not even buffer the blow for her. "I will not be representing this book or you as your agent," I finally said.

Believe it or not, she was shocked. Especially when I explained the reasons to her. In a nice way I told her that our personalities would not work well together and that I didn't appreciate her attitude toward my assistant, me, or her disregard for my time. I told her that my goal was to work with clients who understand the business and appreciate my efforts, skills, and opinion.

After this incident she has begged for me to read her work again, and to take her on as a client several times. Unfortunately, now I know her true colors and the bridge had burned to the ground. It's not going to happen.

What this person failed to understand is that, no matter who you are, your agent is your partner. She or he will help you, guide you, share information, and when your work is ready, sell it for you. In the mean time, the agent isn't really working for you. Yes, your agent is accountable for her actions, but it doesn't mean that you get to boss them around or make demands. If that were the case, you'd be paying us on an hourly basis for all of the hours spent on your work. But you're not. When we sell the book we both earn money. This is something that many people fail to understand. Shows like Entourage and others showing how movies stars treat their agents are very misleading. That isn't always the reality, especially in publishing.

 The moral of this lengthy story? In short, as my mother used to tell me, "always treat people the way you'd want to be treated". Appreciate their work, their time, their feelings. No one owes you anything, and you must earn what you get... and even then, it's no excuse to behave badly.

Happy behaving!

~Marisa