Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Attitude Matters

During lunch with an editor, not surprisingly the economic slump came up. Editors are losing their jobs, while others are making decisions on which authors they are able to offer new contracts to and which they are not. What we discussed was no surprise to us, but might be to many authors: an author’s attitude can matter in some cases. In other words, being a pain in the ass can bite you in the ass.

The first thing publishers look at when cutting their lists (and therefore making decisions about which authors will be returning and which will not receive contracts again), are numbers. Of course the authors with the best sales track records are going to stay, but what about those authors who are neck and neck? How do you make the decision when you suddenly come up with, say, the last ten authors, five of whom you can offer contracts to, but five of whom you no longer have room for? Their numbers are all relatively the same, they sell well, not fantastically, but steadily. The decision is going to come down to attitude. The authors you like, the ones that don’t cause trouble, or give you daily headaches, the ones who turn in relatively clean manuscripts and don’t call screaming simply because they hate the color pink and you used pink on the cover, those are the authors most likely to get the next contract.

Does that mean you need to sit on your hands and keep your mouth shut? Absolutely not. I have a fabulous relationship with a number of editors and a number of contracts people within publishing houses, and you know what? I can be a real pain in the butt. The trick is to be painlessly painful. In other words, to understand that you aren’t always going to get what you want and to face problems professionally and kindly. If you’re unhappy with your cover, you should let your editor know, but you should also let her know why and reasonably discuss solutions if there are any. Better yet, you should let your agent do the dirty work so you always look like a gem.

In publishing, like in any business, the way you approach things can make a difference in the long run. How many of you have walked out of a store or away from a professional simply because you didn’t like the person’s attitude? I know I’ve refused to work with all sorts of people just for that reason. Why should publishing be any different? Again, if you are a royal pain, but bringing the big money, they know they're stuck with you, but if you are at the same level as a whole heck of a lot of nicer people, you better watch your back.

Jessica

30 comments:

linda said...

Well this doesn't really surprise me. It sounds like most jobs really, there's always a standard of professionalism that must be adhered to. In these economic times it seems almost a miracle if you can sell a book, or keep a publisher. Being a level headed business person should be a standard we all live by, though it's good to be reminded of it every once in a while.

Parker Haynes said...

Thanks for this excellent reminder, and not just as it relates to the publishing industry. Ones attitude plays an important role in our every moment, whether dealing with other people or just with yourself and your approach to that chain of moments we call life.

Anonymous said...

I'm always wondering about these out-of-control authors. Agent blogs talk about them as if they run rampant, but I've been in the biz for five years and have yet to meet a single one.

Most authors I know are respectful, professional and extremely deferential to editors and agents.

Kimber An said...

Ah, respect, it's a beautiful thing.

Mark Terry said...

Nice post. Yes, I agree. In my freelance writing business it's 100% true and I live by it and it works.

I had a multi-book contract with a publisher and got booted about halfway through. There were undoubtedly a number of reasons for it--sluggish sales being the primary one, I suspect. I don't think I was a pain in the ass at all and I know I turned in clean copy, but nonetheless, I was probably too public about my problems with the publisher.

Last night I got a two-book contract offer from a publisher. I may very well have issues with them, but lesson learned, on the surface, everything is rosy. Nothing negative's going public.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Very good point, Jessica. Thank you.

Lady Glamis said...

Ah, I have to agree! Professionalism is everything! Even in everyday matters, it can help draw people to you instead of away from you.

Anonymous said...

You touched on it, but didn't emphasize this point: the same may goes for agents who are pains in the butt and whose authors are equal in all respects to authors whose agents are a pleasure to work with. All things being equal, a publisher may very well tilt to the agent they like. It's a tag-team situation, don't you think?

Suzette Saxton said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Attitude IS everything - in every walk of life.

Anonymous said...

Anyone in business should be professional. Publisher's, agents, and authors are similiar to movie stars, their agent, and film directors, at some point the star may end up being more famous than the director, and will not necessarily need them anymore to stay in busines. In the beginning, it's not so. It's something for the agents and publishers need to remember also.

petal603 said...

Good blog, this is something I try to get through to my children. It's not just doing the job; it's how you do the job. Attitude does matter and willingness to compromise, which I think is hard for some writers, is essential. Thanks for the reminder.

Robena Grant said...

Congratulations on the contract, Mark! That's really great.

A professional attitude can go a long way in creating a decent working relationship. You often don't know your editor or agent on a personal level, communication can be handled by email and phone, you don't even have to meet. You probably only see your lawyer once every few years, accountant maybe once a year, your dentist twice, your doctor for a yearly physical, etc. But you give them respect. When they say something you are unsure of and you have questions you frame them nicely. You don't send an email saying WTF?

This industry is quite small and with blogs and websites and chat rooms, word gets around quickly and everyone wants to put in their two cents worth. Your words can be roasted and toasted and served up to you for tomorrow's breakfast.

What I dislike is the kissing up in public and the bad mouthing in private. AND that can happen from both sides. I know words get back and can be worse than the initial comments made because everything is so public and "instant" in our world today, and always, always, the initial comment is embellished.

My mother says, "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all." That to me is a bit passive, so I choose to respect the other persons time, space, energy, input, and I trust that they are doing the job the way we discussed. If it proves otherwise, then the gloves come on, but they're silk gloves.

Dara said...

I'm not surprised, but in fact rather relieved. Professionalism DOES matter, even though some people seem to think that it doesn't. Even on frustrating days (and I get MANY of them here at work, as I'm sure every person has also experienced) I have to still show a good attitude.

Someone had touched on it in an earlier comment, but is it based solely on the author or the author and agent?

Angela said...

Sounds like common sense to me, but it's funny how some folks forget courtesy when there's a bit of success on the table. Never forget where you came from, never forget those who helped you get there and never take anyone (or the job they do) for granted.

Painlessly painful. LOL, I like that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 8:28 -- I honestly don't see authors going out of their way to be difficult.

The interesting thing I've found it that no one ever tells the author how the business works. They have no guidelines. They don't realize lots of authors don't like their covers or don't get a choice about their covers because no one, not the agent or the editor, ever bothers to TELL THEM.

Then they complain about a cover or a font used or a title change or etc... etc... and are labeled "difficult" when in reality, no one has prepared them for the fact that this is how publishing works sometimes.

For instance: When I got my (one) book published, my then agent said the editor would send me a note with some "minor changes."

When I got the Editorial Letter, I was stunned that it was 6 pages, single spaced: I had to add a character, change a subplot, change the ending, etc...

Writers for the most part aren't difficult, they are bewildered. BIG difference.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Trust me, I can tell the difference between a bewildered author and one who is difficult. When an author calls an editor and uses the F-word repeatedly, tracks down the editor's home phone number to call in the middle of the night, or yells instead of discusses civilly the author is being difficult. When the author is upset because of misinformation or feels the need to discuss professionally why the cover is wrong, or she doesn't agree with the edits she is smart and professional. Heck, an author who asks for a change in editor isn't necessarily even being difficult.

As for the question about agents and professionalism. I think attitude matters on all sides. If you get to choose between two agents or two editors and one has a better attitude you're going to choose that one. I also know that editors will be more reluctant to work with certain agents, contracts can be slower to agents who are a pain, etc. Will an author lose out because of an agent when it comes down to choosing between two? I haven't seen or heard it happen first hand, but that doesn't mean it hasn't.


--jhf

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to hear that. I have been really worried about asking for changes, and about asking questions that seem to bring up a lot of controversy on your blog.

The fact that you brought up the agent pain, brings up yesterdays blog for me. The guy who had several offers and seemed to really want to give you a shot, I'm just curious, to him you may have been the better agent, because you are easier to work with-don't you think you should have let him choose whether or not you were his agent instead of bowing out?

Signed,
Just curious and sad that things seem to be so far out of an authors control.

Anonymous said...

Great points! I just hope this isn't yet another warning to writers to "put up and shut up"...while it's perfectly acceptable for an editor or agent to behave badly since they tend to hold the cards.

Worse, we may never know how our agents or editors act when we're so far out of the picture--esp since we're often the last to know anything about changes, etc.
I'm sure unhappy writers would have a better attitude if we were kept informed and in the loop at all times. Thanks for the interesting post!

Janet said...

What, you mean I don't get an automatic pass to be a diva? Sheesh, what's the point in writing then?

-Ann said...

Great reminder to be on your best behaviour at all times. I was shocked when I got my first 'grown-up job' because I knew that I'd beaten out a guy with a Masters and several years experience.

They downgraded the position to entry-level and hired me because the other guy was a jerk in the interview.

Chris Redding said...

I've tried to teach my kids that you should respect yourself and respect others. Those two things will carry you thru life.
I think it would carry lots of people through the publishing industry.
cmr

Chris Redding said...

Oh and my quote in my year book is apt.
"Don't step on anyone on the way up, they are the ones to catch you on the way down."

blooker said...

I'm usually very nice to anyone responsibe for sending cash my way.

richard said...

I would love it if an editor even knew my name.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I'm so glad I'm nice. At least, I think I am...

Professionalism makes sense in all aspects of life, not just in the publishing world. Your chances for success are greater when you apply the golden rule.

Annie said...

cowabunga

Anonymous said...

I don't get ulcers, I give them. If you've got a problem with that you can put it where the sun don't shine!

Millennium Housewife said...

A lesson in life, not just publishing! If you don't like something, send your kids in until they give in...MH

Kate Barsotti said...

Thanks for the advice in this post. I have found writer's conferences very helpful, precisely because I can learn about the publishing industry before I wade into it...and make a serious blunder.

Here's another thought: a lot of people are now posting their frustrations on Facebook and Twitter. That stuff can follow you. If you wouldn't say it in public, don't say it on the 'net.

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