Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's Business

If there's one thing I've heard over and over, it's that publishing is a business.

Editors and agents are professionals, and we writers are exhorted to mirror their professionalism. Don't waste their valuable time; be respectful; be businesslike in all manner of communications; written, email, and telephone.

A professional relationship is based on an asymetry of skills: you can do something that I would like done and cannot do myself. Money is involved, though often not directly exchanged between professional and client (agents get their commissions from publishers' funds; car repairs are often paid by auto insurance, and so on.) Because the professionals have the specialized knowledge or skills, they have the advantage in the relationship. However in order to entice clients/customers to do business with them, a certain level of "people skill" is required. All other things being equal, it is without a doubt more pleasant (and often more profitable) to deal with a professional who is pleasant and personable (in addition to being skilled) than one who is imperious and condescending. (All other things aren't always equal, of course. A pit bull of a divorce attorney is often appreciated.)

But lo and behold, along comes Agent007. She likens the author/agent relationship to a marriage and acknowledgements to love letters. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure she's a wonderful agent, and her insights into the workings of the publishing houses from having been an editor are very interesting. And while befriending one's clients (as well as expressing a desire that the relationship will endure for the long term benefit of both parties) is all well and good, get real!

An agent is an agent. She can function in some capacities as friend, mentor, and confidante, but there are boundaries which are violated at one's peril. As it happens, I too am in a profession where I often become close to those who engage my services. And on occasion they end the relationship. I admit that when I was younger I let it affect me more than it does now. I have learned to respect boundaries between friendship and professionalism.

It's business! Remember?

I completely agree about the relationship between an agent and a writer. I always wondered what you would say if you were unhappy with your agent. Would it be 'you're fired' or 'I quit'?
If you wouldn't mind checking out my blog, it's woodchucus.blogspot.com Don't let the name fool you--it's about trying to find an agent
I'm not sure any of the agent bloggers are wonderful agents; I'm not even sure any of them actually ARE agents. They mostly seem to repeat the same stuff I've already learned--both inside publishing and out--some of which I think writers could probably learn from picking up writing/marketing/publishing guides (which usually vary in quality and which I'm generally not a big fan of). Can very anonymous posters be trusted very much? I'm too cynical to trust anyone, frankly. Blogs (including my own) are beginning to give me migraines.

I agree with you about the agent/author divide. I think agents and the artists they represent could and probably should be friends, but "lovers"? Their becoming anything more than friends would be a mistake in most cases, at least IMO, for what that's worth, which may not be much....
Hi Fran (and all).
I'm always surprised when people wonder "are you really an agent". What would be the point of saying so if one is not...particularly since I'm not getting clients off my blog?

I understand skepticism...god knows I practice it religiously. I just wonder why this profession brings out the doubters. I never wonder if someone really is a writer if they say they are.
In any case, even if the lovely Miss Snark isn't an agent, she's given me (and quite a few others, I suspect) invaluable advice is a witty manner. So, with that that in mind, who cares if she's really an agent or not? If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and gives advice like a duck, does it really matter if it's a chicken in a costume?
Hi, Miss Snark. I didn't mean to steer the conversation in another direction. I have a background in science; I tend to be a very skeptical person about everything.

Here's a scenario: a blogging writer with some publishing experience fakes being an agent, develops a following partly because she/he is supposedly an agent, then ultimately uses that blogging reputation and following to market an expose-type novel or nonfiction book about the publishing industry. Is that a realistic likely scenario? I don't know. Probably not. It's just a possibility to me--that's all. I've seen much stranger things in the world, especially in the web world.

Frankly, I'm burnt out. I'm addicted to writing; I've been trying hard to quit, but it hasn't been going too well. I really don't bother with the whole marketing/publishing shebang anymore. However, because I still can't seem to stay totally away from writing, I may comment about writing-related blogs and other stuff, I may comment about something I've learned so that some other writer might benefit, but my occasional commenting probably doesn't mean much, especially in the scheme of things.

Or, more simply: don't take some of my comments to heart. Not that I'm saying you have, just that you probably shouldn't.
Never think about quitting writing! That is completely absurd!!! I would give my right arm to write a book...always wanted to. yes, either a comedy, a childrens book, or fiction. Tons in my head just want to get out. You probably have the same problem.
Use your science background as well. True life Sci-Fi.
So what is an agent anyway? I'm new to all this stuff.
And as far as marketing, what would Oprah say? Girl, get that book out there! Or ask someone who may know...and take their advise.
Anonymous, I don't want to fill this blog with my personal stuff, so I responded to you at my blog:

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