Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nowadays Love Is a Matter of Chance, Matrimony a Matter of Money, and Divorce a Matter of Course

A while back a publisher offered $500K+ for a deal. They had treated me like the scum of the earth when they published my first book, so I was not wildly keen. Everyone told me, yes, but the reason they treated you like the scum of the earth is that you had no agent. If you have an agent it won't be like that, they will have nice manners, you will get paid, it will be completely different. I hired an agent.

What happened was, the agent and agency staff immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started treating me like the scum of the earth. The agent did haul ass into negotiations, yes, but neither the agent nor anyone else at the agency would do anything I actually asked them to do, and meanwhile, bizarrely, my editor seemed to think that having a power lunch with my agent constituted being nice to me. He could still stand me up for meetings we had arranged, because he had been nice to my agent.

At the time I hadn't spent much time online, knew nothing about nice deals, very nice deals, major deals, whatever. I had assumed that the deal must just be a crap deal. $500K+ seemed like a lot of money to me, but that was just my ignorance. The reason everyone was treating me like a piece of shit was that, by publishing standards, a deal for upwards of half a million dollars was crap. Much later, obviously, I found Publshers Marketplace and discovered that, um, K? Not only was this not a crap deal, this was, by publishing standards, the top deal for which they bother to have a category.

So what I wonder, obviously, is what a writer has to do not to be treated like a piece of shit. If a major deal is not enough, what does it take? Does an agent want a million-dollar deal to treat the client with professional courtesy? Two million? Three million? It would be nice to know.
I'm sorry you've had this experience. It's not the experience everyone has, but it's not a total anomaly, either.

The bottom line is: first, get an agent who will treat you the way you want to be treated. This is accomplished by (a) talking to the agent enough to get a sense of what kind of person the agent is and (b) asking for present clients of that agent who would be willing to talk to you about how they've been treated.

Bear in mind that the agent you have described is no doubt a terrific fit for some authors. What counts as "treating me like shit" to you is not the same for other people. Likewise, the agent who would be the right fit for you would be a bad fit for other authors. So when you talk to a prospective agent's other authors, ask specific questions that will give you a sense of how the agent will respond to the situations / issues that mean the most to you.

Once you have a good agent who is on the same page with you, that agent will be able to match you not only with publishing houses which will appreciate your work, but with specific editors who will treat you nicely.

It should be said that you may not be able to find an editor who (1) loves your work (2) treats you nicely and (3) can pay you that much money. Two out of three is as much as you can reasonably hope for.

If you get three out of three, keep your mouth shut about it; you'll only make other authors hate your guts.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

For a $500k deal you can bend me over and slap my butt repeatedly with the worst sludge of the slush pile. I promise not to complain!

PurpleClover said...

Honestly getting two out of three or just getting C) makes me want to hate their guts. :P

That's just my jealousy talking but still...who gives a rats patootie how someone treats you if they are getting the job done and not changing your manuscript to the point it's unrecognizable as your own? Is that seriously your only complain is that they won't have lunch with you?

I don't understand people's needs to be @$$-kissed all the time. To me this person sounds like a griper which would explain why the editor doesn't want lunch with them. And this person didn't think 500k was a good deal? WTH?

Anonymous said...

Is this person for real? Something about the profane, ranting tone and the utterly Kafkaesque take on things here makes me wonder if he/she might be mentally ill. I mean, EVERYONE treats him like crap, NOBODY will help him, and it's all a big rotten fix involving millions and millions of dollars? Wow. But I smell some crazy here.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Ok, a little oil for the waters:

We all know that some authors are a bit cuckoo, and without knowing anything about this person, I suppose there's that chance.

But I have met more than one perfectly sane and very talented author who has had this complaint, because there are editors and agents who are not very nice to the people they work with.

Heather said...

To be fair, if they haven't done their research, and all they knew of publishing was what you hear on the news (about $multi-million$ deals), you might think $500k was on the small side of things.

But, seriously, I would take $500k for a bad communicator. ahahaha

Well, I guess it's easy to say that when you don't have to deal with the fallout.

Laurel said...

I don't really see any instances of being "treated like shit" here. People have to cancel meetings on occasion. That's the only think I see that has been mentioned. This person got paid, right? The book was published? I'm confused.

Some people are just impossible to please.

Anonymous said...

It IS hard to sympathize. Second book, $500K, and still not satisfied? But this person does mention wanting to get paid as one of their issues. That's a big issue.

And even for $500K, you can NOT bend me over and slap my butt repeatedly with anything. Life is too short. When people aren't nice to me, it makes me feel bad.

The negative and complaining tone reminds me of people I've known who were depressed. The "I thought an agent would help, and then the agent was mean, too" reminds me of someone I know who's a doormat. If everyone can sense that mistreating you has no consequences -- lots of people feel free to dish out their worst.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear God, to be so green as to not know that a 500k deal is even good and still manage to snag one. Wow.

The thing about agents, though, is when they want your work they promise you all sorts of things and act very nice and attentive. It isn't until after you've signed with them that they don't read your new work, don't return your emails, don't give a crap about following up on submissions, talk to you like you're an idiot, etc..

I'm also reluctant to see the advantage in asking prospective agent's clients "how they are" because the truth is agents don't treat all their clients the same. Writers that haven't yet sold can get treated pretty bad compared to their "star" authors.

It's tough out there, but to be honest, lots, and by lots I mean, mostly ALL writers get treated by crap all the time. It's hard to respect others in the business when you feel they don't respect you. If I was pulling in 500k book deals I'd expect respect.

Anonymous said...

EA said this: "...Once you have a good agent who is on the same page with you, that agent will be able to match you not only with publishing houses which will appreciate your work, but with specific editors who will treat you nicely..."

Not to dispute your point -- in theory, this is exactly how it should work in publishing. But it often doesn't. Most agents don't care about editors "treating you nicely." They just want the book sold. Compatibility isn't even a consideration.

Jo said...

My understanding is that agents often come in two flavors- hand-holders and deal makers. When I first started I wanted a hand-holder but have since realized I have my mother and writer friends for that. Sign me up for the deal maker!
I am surprised that the poster did not know or think that 500k was a big deal until he/she researched it.

Anonymous said...

OK, EA's point about relationships and not standing for terrible treatment is certainly a valid one.

But the more I read this person's story, the less it makes sense. The $500K was for this person's second book with this publisher, yes? But after having had one book published already, he simply assumes that $500K is a "crap deal," despite the fact that it would have been more money than what he got for the first book. Which, presumably, must have had some kind of success (in terms of sales, or at least good reviews) in order for the publisher to offer 500K on the next book (because no agent is THAT good). Did he just have no idea how his writing career was doing at all?

I don't buy this. If this person's work/career was worth enough to land six-figure deals, he wouldn't be this oblivious.

kriswaldherr said...

Belated April Fool's joke, right? The author didn't realize that 500K is a major deal—and it's his second book?

Anonymous said...

It's possible, I guess, that a relative newbie mightn't realize what an enormous advance this is - lots of my non-publishing friends assume that everyone involved in the book world (authors, agents, editors) is rolling in cash. Ha! But if all you hear of publishing is news of crazy multi-million-dollar advances to celebrities, I guess this view is understandable...

But still, I agree with the others that something about the tone here makes me suspicious. The bitter anger. The swearing. The repeated bad experiences -- not just one person, but seemingly EVERY PERSON this author has dealt with, rubbed him/her the wrong way. Surely we've all known people who believe that everyone they encounter is out to get them and/or stupider than them (often both)?

The vagueness gets me most of all.
By "treat me like shit", do you mean your editor/agent made important decisions without consulting you, changed your text without asking, robbed you blind, called you an idiot to your face, was unreachable for weeks at a time? Or do you mean they didn't kow-tow sufficiently, didn't answer emails within fifteen minutes, were occasionally not available to meet with you or take your calls? Most likely somewhere in between, I guess... but something about the bolshie, self-righteous tone of the question does make this person sound like he/she might be... well, difficult.

Colorado Writer said...

Wow.

Anonymous said...

If I had to deal with such a thickheaded person, I probably would treat them like crap too.

HELLO. 500K. Who cares how your publisher treats you? You can BUY friends with that kind of money. You need to get your priorities straight my wayward friend. I would much rather have 500K and a bitchy editor&agent combo, than a 15K deal with a super sweet duo.

If you really dislike your agent, then get a new one, but it sound like they are doing an A1 job.

Anonymous said...

I'd wager it was a first of April prank...

Del

Kathleen Dante said...

$500K to an agentless newbie author? O.o!

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

christine tripp said...

Who cares how your publisher treats you? You can BUY friends with that kind of money.

Loved that Anon:)
In fact, I would go another step further and say, I dont' NEED friends with that kind of money!
How about I just trade places with you (though obviously you are FAR more talented then I to get that kind of offer... I'm paying no attention to that minor detail) and you take my $2500 advance for illustrating the 3rd in a series of trade pic books that should take at least a year to complete but took just less then 3 months!
No, not taking it, darn!

Anonymous said...

I'm an experienced author (more than 15 books) who's been "treated like shit" by a number of editors and a couple of agents, so I'm inclined to believe every word she said.

I can think of a number of scenarios in which her naivete would have led to misunderstanding. So what?

An author worth an advance of $500K should be treated with respect. She doesn't deserve this kind of piling on either.

I think I'd take the $500K, then fire my agent. There are a lot of bad agents out there and she can do better.