Saturday, April 28, 2007

Annoying Clients: Don't Be One.

We writers have websites, blogs, and message boards that warn us about the scam lit agents, for example, "Writer Beware". Do agents have the same sorts of blogs and message boards about some of the unpleasant writers who query them? Sort of "Agents Beware"?


We're browsing the same internet as you are, so no. The answer is no. Plus, it would be sort of rude of us to start branding people over the internet, if not downright immoral. No one's trying to scam us - it's not as if they don't have a manuscript when they say they do and then ask us to buy it sight-unseen (and we don't buy manuscripts anyway). As for query letters that are just plain obnoxious or annoying, those are instant rejects. End of story. Occasionally, in a shared office situation, one assistant will turn to the other and say, "Did you see this?" if everyone obviously got the same letter in the same mail bag that day. "Oh yeah, that was terrible." Laugh, move on.

There are annoying writers out there, but they're not scam artists, and sometimes, they're well-intentioned. If they're not clients and they're already acting annoying (calling a lot to check on their manuscript, etc), they don't become clients. There are essentially three kinds of clients that are annoying.

1. The bestseller who thinks too much of himself. This guy will call us to complain about how he didn't like the fruit on his party platter at the post-signing launch dinner for his third book. There's not much we can do, but this guy is usually the one who is responsible for 99% of the agent's income for the year, so we put up with him.

2. The client who doesn't know how to edit. Speaking for a moment as a writer myself, editing is really, really, really hard, so I don't blame anyone for this, but it often gets to the point of severe frustration. If this is the client's first book, we probably accepted the manuscript because we loved it but said, "It has a few flaws; do you agree to do some editing?" and the writer of course says yes, because they want to be a client. So we send them a list of issues - opener is slow, this thing doesn't make sense, character's name is spelled inconsistently, etc - and they do a host of things. They don't respond. They do respond, but change nothing. They respond and change everything, so that the manuscript looks nothing like the one we liked. Editing is tricky. You can do too much. If we get too frustrated, we may end up telling the would-be client we just can't sell their manuscript, because they can't seem to get it into enough shape to be sell-able (we leave out that last part). We've lost a lot of time, and time is money, so it's a bad situation all around.

There's also the real client, the one who's already sold a book with us, and the second or third book has serious problems that the first book didn't have. The first book they worked on for years; the second they wrote in about 6 months, and you can see the results. Said client doesn't understand why suddenly we're so critical of their work, and has the same editorial problems that writers go through. Solving problems in stories is hard, especially when the problems are structure-related or involve a major alteration of character or plot. Some writers aren't up to the task. They had one book in them, and we sold it already.

3. The client who doesn't understand deadlines. It may seem like we live in a nebulous world where we take our time getting back to you, but that's because we're rushing to meet real deadlines, ones set by publishers and editors by way of contract. We need those revisions, and we need them now. No, seriously, Penguin Putnam will not be happy if it's not on their desks by 9 am on Monday morning. They might even not pay you because of a breach of contract. Get out of that fucking restaurant, go home, finish your revisions, and send us a copy. What? You hand-wrote them?!? All right, overnight them. Yes, from England. Well, I don't care, find a post office that's open; maybe you shouldn't have put this off for 6 months! Or something like that. It's very stressful when it happens, usually because big money is involved. And there's no website to warn us about that.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's really frustrating reading this when you've sold over 20 books on your own, never complain, are great with revisions, never miss a deadline, want desperately to write and not have to keep wasting time selling - and can't seem to land an agent. (Well, I landed two, but one died and the other cut back on her client list to have a baby and dropped me.)
So - it's frustrating reading about 'annoying clients' when you believe you'd be a terrific client - and no one will give you a chance.

The Rejecter said...

You've published 20 books with a major publishing house and no one will be your agent?!?

Julie said...

Rejecter, there are many writers out there like anonymous...too many. My mentor is one of them. A multi-published, prolific writer who can't land an agent. And she's been talking to other successful writers who are saying the same thing: they can't land an agent.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

The Rejecter said...

I still want to hear Anonymous's precise definition of "sold over 20 books on your own."

I don't know many agents who wouldn't pick up the phone if someone queried and said, "I'm a published writer and I'm standing here with a 30K book contract with Simon and Schuster for book 21. Want to help me negotiate the contract?"

That's a free paycheck right there. The only reason said agent would say no is if the book was totally out of their area of interest. Then the writer could move on to the next agent, who did like the genre, and would have to be crazy to say no.

blogless_troll said...

I think anon meant over 20 copies... of his self-published memoir written from the POV of his lucky fountain pen.

Maria said...

I don't know about anonymous, but I do know of a writer who had a contract in hand with a small indie publisher (with a small advance offered). She contacted two agents, one of whom passed her to someone else...but the basic answer was, "too small a deal."

I thought that was sad. Isn't it possible that the next deal would be better??? Especially with an agent???

Kim Stagliano said...

Oh folks, keep the faith! I'm a nobody from nowhere and I got a terrific NY agent - with gen-yoo-ine sales with major houses and all the bells and whistles one hopes for in an agent for my first novel. It is possible. I keep pinching myself. Keep at it! :)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how anyone can get a book published without an agent. I've been doing this (trying to, that is) for more than 30 years and I don't know of ANY publisher who will read an unsolicited manuscript. The field, as I see it, is set up like this: a publisher doesn't want you unless you're represented by an agent, who doesn't want you unless you have literally knocked their socks off with the query letter to end all query letters, and if the query letter doesn't turn their crank, you're stuck out in the cold. You may have the next Catcher in the Rye resting comfortably in your filing cabinet for the rest of your life, but unless you nail the publishing world with that perfect query letter, you're just another rank amateur no one cares about.
Did I get it right?

Anonymous said...

The bestseller who thinks too much of himself. This guy will call us to complain about how he didn't like the fruit on his party platter at the post-signing launch dinner for his third book.

Sheesh. Who are these authors who get their publishers to throw "post-signing launch dinners" for them? I've had several books hit the NYT list and my publisher won't even spring for pizza.

KingM said...

...a publisher doesn't want you unless you're represented by an agent, who doesn't want you unless you have literally knocked their socks off with the query letter to end all query letters...

Ah, I see your problem. Agents get really, really angry when you literally knock their socks off. It's painful and it exposes their bunions for all to see.

Anonymous said...

If someone in any business is providing 99% of your income, you need to know what his favorite fruit, meat, bread, color, car, actor, computer game, ... is. Don't ya think!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think. I don't believe there is any excuse for that kind of behavior. I don't care how successful anyone is, no one has the right to act like a two year old - unless of course, you are a two year old. Even then, I'd leave you on the floor to kick and scream and get over yourself.