Monday, July 17, 2006

Love Me or Hate Me

Just last week I finally sat down with the latest survey form for Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents (or whatever the full title of his book is), and while each year most of the questions remain the same, a few change. This year, the one that struck me the most asked this: "What do you think people like about you and dislike about you?"

What an interesting question, and I can think of so many answers—my husband dislikes my singing (although he's subjected to it constantly) and my seeming inability to clean anything. I suspect though that his love for my cooking, my organizational abilities, and my charming personality override his dislikes. I'm pretty sure though that's not what Jeff Herman was looking for.

So, in a business sense, what do people like and dislike about me and, more specifically, what do my clients like and dislike about me. I'm probably opening a can of worms here, and I can only imagine the comments that will pop up from those “anonymous” posters. But in my mind, what most people like and dislike about me are actually one and the same—my honesty and directness, no matter how painful.

If you've been following this blog at all you've probably noticed one thing: I don't hold back. I pull no punches and say it the way it is (at least the way I see it as it is). My day is busy, and unfortunately I don't have a lot of time to spend coddling my authors. I've been hired by them to negotiate contracts, find the right publisher for their books, take charge when an author isn't getting everything she should be, and help guide a career. When doing all of that I often need to be blunt. If you submit a book that I don't think is your best work, I'm going to tell you. I'm also going to tell you how I think it can be fixed (if I think it can), and I won't submit something that I think you can do better with. Part of guiding an author's career is seeing that she is nothing less than the best she can be. See, I'm like the literary Army.

I try to refrain from being downright nasty, and yes, I do couch my comments in kindness, but I'm a big believer that honesty is the best policy and that it doesn't do anyone any good for me to tell an author that her work is great when it's really crap. What I'm telling you isn't always what you want to hear, but hopefully you're not paying an agent to simply tell you what you want to hear—you can get your friends to do that.

—Jessica

8 comments:

L. Faye Hughes said...

Great post, Jessica!

Speaking personally, I'd rather have honesty from an agent, though that doesn't mean the truth doesn't hurt.

Christine Keach said...

Yes, this is a great post! I agree with L. Faye Hughes. Honesty is so important, even when it's not what you want to hear.

Bernita said...

Shouldn't be a cause for dislike - rather one for reverence.
There is too much bullshit out there.

The Queen-a Athena said...

Honesty is HARD, both for the one receiving and, I'm sure, for the one who has to deliver the message. But it's the only way to make the author-agent relationship work. Without honesty, there's no trust, and without trust, you're screwed. It may hurt in the short run - okay, it usually does :-) -- but it pays off many times over in the long haul.

Gina Black said...

I've always really liked your honesty and directness. (And nobody wants to hear me sing either...doesn't stop me...much < g >).

Kate Douglas said...

Maybe we could sing a duet! I bet between us we could clear a large sized hall in no time flat. You left out one of your qualities I think is most important in an agent, and one you've got in spades--tenacity. (think bulldog tenacious...) That's a terrific quality for an agent to have, so long as she's on your side!

Michele Lee said...

Okay, now you really are my dream agent. Or possibly my older sister... maybe, you are over 27 right? By at least minute?

Anonymous said...

I would love it so much to get a letter that tells me where i have gone wrong and how i can improve, rather than the dreaded form letter