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!



  1. Great post Marisa, I'm glad you're telling us these kind of things. Especially those of us still starting out, we need to understand what goes on at the other end of the equation when we submit Queries and MS's.

  2. I have, alas, heard stories like this so many times. I can -- somewhat -- understand that with true superstars -- a Stephen King or a J.K Rowling, who literally COULD just about publish their shopping list for a six-figure advance -- but so very often I hear it about authors who are ... not at that level. Ones who hit midlist, or who ONCE had a big hit but that was ten years ago, etc.

    An author has to recognize that the agent -- and the publisher/editor -- have their jobs to do as well, and that neither of them works for that one author exclusively. Yes, there are a few 500-pound gorillas for each one, but even the 500 pound gorilla can end up being a 2,000 pound pain in the ass, leading the publisher and/or agent to decide that the pain in the ass outweighs the strength of the gorilla's performance. And most of us aren's 500 pound gorillas; we're more 2 pound scrappy squirrels.

  3. When I worked in the mental health business, I once asked a psychiatrist to define catharsis. His answer, "A good emotional crap." Feel better now, Marisa? lol

    Seriously, your blog might be construed by some as a rant, a catharsis that leads to better health and productivity, but I see your comments differently. Aspiring authors must understand that writing is both an art AND a business. They don't have a choice in the matter. The agent and editor share the same goal as the writer--successful sales.

    If all three (agent, editor and writer) are on the same business page, that being, to offer a great book to the public, then cooperation, mutual respect and patience will produce success.

    I recently helped a young author on her manuscript. She asked, "Isn't it good enough for an agent to review?"

    I replied, "Your story is very good, but agents and acquisition editors look at 'very good' stories every day. They reject them. Why? Because 'very good' stories are a dime a dozen. Only great stories make the cut."

    She said, "I don't want to be rejected. I don't even want to waste the time of a literary agent, if my work is unlikely to make the cut. What does it need to elevate to that 'great' level?"

    This young lady will become successful because of her attitude. Openminded, highly motivated, and understanding the necessity to form a team with an agent and editor, she understands the publishing partnership . . . and she's a role model for those who expect to become successful authors.

    Thank you, Marisa, for taking your valuable time to educate writers. Very few agents would bother.

  4. Very amazing post, Marisa. I am amazed people actually act that way towards others, whether they are a business partner or friend in need. It is appalling to hear and see the terrible things others will say because they feel entitled or better than everyone else. In my opinion, being humble goes a long way and respect is the best practice to keep.

  5. Good manners and respect for others is missing from today's society. A culture of 'divas' or entitlement seems prevalent.

    Good response to the ex-client, Marisa. And here's hoping I never EVER get on your bad side :)

  6. Bravo, ma'am!! As you quite rightly said (but in different words), your agent doesn't work for you...she/he works WITH you. I think the (ex) friend in question is suffering from that well known emotional disorder Egotisticus Ginormicus. True colours, once shown, are impossible to hide. Very well handled. Your ears must have set off smoke detectors all over the office....

  7. This is a GREAT post. I loved to read about her change in reaction after you said you wouldn't represent her :) I would have LOVVEED to see her face at that time!

    The best part about this is that you took a professional approach to this, and even though (I bet) you got mad, you didn't (as I read) get crazy upset at her. That's an AMAZING thing to do. So thank you so much, and I loved reading this story :)

  8. Wow, and I thought the last guy was entitled :) Glad that you now have a roster of wonderful writers that can make up for these awful stories!

  9. I always thought the agent/author relationship was a collaboration, and probably the most important collaboration an author can have. But this seems to be the week of authors behaving badly in all respects.

    However, I would love to be around when the author you wrote about in this post gets HER first bad review on Amazon. I think that might be very entertaining :)

  10. Thank you for this post, Marisa. It's such a good reminder to us authors that the writing of a book is only part of the process, and not necessarily the hardest part. Beginning to wish you were *my* agent :)

  11. I was going to use the term "cathartic," but d s beat me to it.

  12. Thank you, Marisa for reminding authors everywhere that they need to be humble. I am new to this world, but I am learning that if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change! Positive, huh? I enjoy reading your posts and appreciate your advice. Humble. What an amazingly powerful word, huh? Wishing you were MY agent, too. Your client's are so lucky to have you on their team. Hmm..., wonder when 'fussy person' will realize she shot herself in the foot?

  13. Entitlement is a wall so difficult to break down, yet so easy to undermine. It is just unfortunate you had to get so dirty in doing so. I am *still* flabbergasted how so many think they deserve so much for so little. Keep up the good work.

  14. Marisa, you always give great insight on your posts as to how hectic your job is and how much you do for the authors you represent (me included). Great post! This is great "share" and "tweet" material.

  15. Some people just never understand. It's sad that people who ask for the help are so ungrateful.

  16. Marisa, I loved this. I'm in sales. I deal with this kind of thing all the time. I see my time as valuable. I bend over backwards all the time. Alot of it on faith in human goodness. That my efforts on their part will be appreciated and respected for what it is. An investment made in good will. So when I encounter someone like this I always find myself wondering who raised these kinds of people. I picture my mother appearing behind me and grabbing my ear if she ever heard me behave that way. Maybe our moms knew eachother, because I would have handled your diva author the same exact way. Kudos!

  17. Oh my goodness! I thought the writer in the previous post was terrible. It truly is sad when people feel entitled to things simply because they've had a tiny taste of success. Naturally, that type of attitude won't get her very far.

    Vonae Deyshawn

  18. I have seen the same attitude (though rarely) from writers in the same house. I have a contract with a small pub and since they are small...writers are expected to carry a lot of the marketing and publicity burden, and it's an unsaid expectation that writers help each other out...but there are some who just can't get the point of why they would take even a minute to give a shout out for a fellow author. You'd think you'd wait till you were the shiz before you treat everyone like they are the...insert four letter dirty word for crap here.

  19. This is a good post. I don't think people realise all you do or the hours it takes to do it. Authors can be precious to deal with which doesn't help. One thing I've learned is that people who don't have gratitude, don't change, nevertheless, it's a good lesson learned for the writer.

    I shouldn't be here. I know I should be rewriting ;) Bye!