2.14.2006

Second Chances

Say you once had a very promising writer, a writer you thought would go places one day. You got on very well with the author; you were friends. ( I never mistake representation for friendship) You sold that writer's first books to a major publisher for big advances. However, the books did not sell as well as everyone hoped, and the writer had a hard time getting said publisher to accept fourth novel, also because she would not accept your wise advice. The writer went into a funk and wrote you a rather rude and ungrateful letter, firing you.

After a year, the writer writes back, saying she has a red face, a sincere apology, and a peace offering. She admits you were right all along, and tries to explain her reaction at the time. She has written a great new novel, a highly commercial one, and that is her peace offering. She tells you that you are the most wonderful agent in the world, that you are her first (and only) choice for this new novel, and she asks for a second chance.

Would you give her that second chance? Would you forgive?


No.
You know what happens when the next problem arises? The same thing. People hardly ever change. They want to think they have, but they don't.

I get enough crap from the amateurs in the slush pile. I don't need clients who act like spoiled brats. Someone else can take them on.

It's one thing to not take advice and fire an agent. That happens left and "write". The trick is to not do it with a "rude and ungrateful letter".

I've fired clients, I've been fired. It's never fun but it happens. I've never regretted not taking anyone back, no matter how well they sold later, if they were snots in their dealings with me.
No matter what, no matter what, keep your conduct businesslike. No matter the provocation, not matter how well justified you may feel.

And, when you end up looking for another agent, I also don't say "she was a snot" to anyone who asks. All agents know people part ways for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to poison your future relationships for spite. I might want to..but I'll vent on the blog instead of to your new agent over drinks.

On the other hand, Miss Snark is an unforgiving cold hearted bitch. It certainly won't hurt you to write to your agent and say "you were right, I was wrong, let's go make some more money together" but don't be surprised, and don't be offended if she writes back "not quite right for my list".

25 comments:

doc-t said...

But miss snark... Is it not possible that this new novel, in which the writer has supposedly taken your advice, is actually good?

Could it not be a great business opportunity?

Yes she's been a real... um.. so and so... but would you not at least LOOK at the new novel?

Would it not suck pond water to watch her novel become a #1 best seller for another agent because she took YOUR advice?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, it doesn't matter a bit if the novel is good. She'd still have to deal with that author, and life is too short to put up with stress from snotty authors. It's just not worth it. So what if someone else sells it? Peace of mind, and the time to work with a better behaved author is worth it.

Anonymous said...

I'm self-employed and once had a client that paid well and could supply a steady stream of business. But it still wasn't enough to deal with his obnoxiousness daily for months at a time. I'd rather eat ramen noodles and peanut butter until I found the next client. I know where Miss Snark is coming from.

Anonymous said...

"People hardly ever change. They want to think they have, but they don't."

Funny! I agree, but... isn't most fiction about this very thing? In every novel, part of the drama is a character's "inner change" in response to some experience. Or is this only true in more literary fiction?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Doc-t, forgiveness does not negate accountability. I can forgive a train wreck but I'm not going to lay on the track and wait for the next one, even though there is an inkling of a chance the train is carrying gold bullion.

Cornelia Read said...

"isn't most fiction about this very thing? In every novel, part of the drama is a character's "inner change" in response to some experience."

And that is why it is called "fiction."

Plus, I agree with Miss Snark--even if the person's new novel were to become a global bestseller, in fact ESPECIALLY if this person's book #4 were to do so, said ex-client sounds like someone who would then be even MORE of a raving snotty bitch, oozing with entitlement and attitude.

When someone feels that courtesy is a burden, a facade of obsequoisness only to be assumed when one is forced to grovel, one tends to be a big fat butthead the moment one thinks one has the upper hand. Just ask anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant.

Plus, as Saki so eloquently put it:

"There are certain fixed rules that one observes for
one's own comfort. For instance, never be flippantly
rude to any inoffensive, grey-bearded stranger that
you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden."

archer said...

But what if you weren't just friends? What if it went over the line? Way over the line? So far over the line that if you were at a ball game and it were the ball someone in the stands would get a broken nose? What if he were married to an important political figure? What if he might, just might steer you his spouse's sure-to-make-back-its-eight-million-advance memoir? What if he looked just like George Clooney?

You know?

crabkitty said...

Regarding people changing...All fiction, both genre and literary, is about telling a story. IMHO, when people are Forced to change during the course of a story, it becomes that much richer. The thing about change in fiction is that for it to be believable it has to be a result of some very serious and traumatic event(s). People don't suddenly wake up one day and say, "Oh, hey. I've been a mean-spirited self-absorbed idiot. I'll be nice from here on out." This is true in both fiction and real life. You (or a character) may see where you were wrong in the past but that doesn't mean either will act different in the future. For real internal change to occur there has to be some real internal pain.

If I were an agent that receieved the requery, I'd believe that the author had seen the light. I wouldn't believe that it wouldn't happen again.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Miss Snark. I've had rude former clients from my business come crawling back, promising to change.

I even took two of them back. Both ended up worse than they were before we parted ways. So now, I don't take back any clients who treated me rudely. And I sleep a lot better at night.

I've also taken back a couple of the former clients who treated me well, and those relationships continue to thrive.

Miss Snark absolutely made the right call.

Bernita said...

I agree with Miss Snark, and also highly approve of her professional refusal to spread the word on a difficult writer to collegues.
Some people think an explanation equals excuse, and they can go merrily on their way thinking all they have to do is say "I was a bitch, I had a migrane/issues. I'm sorry. Everything hunky now, right?"

Anonymous said...

I'd give her another chance. I think she was reacting to an extremely stressful situation, and I think she probably learned a lesson from this experience.

God knows, this business is stressful. Authors know that the grass isn't greener once you're published.

It's more about what you learn, I think, in this business, than about change. All of us keep learning every single day and with that hopefully we don't make the same mistakes.

Eileen said...

I believe people can change. I'm a counsellor- they kick us out of the professional parties if we don't believe that. However, change isn't easy which is why people like me get paid- to help. If you piss someone off, even when you are sorry they don't have to give you a second shot. It pays to take a deep breath and sleep on it before sending a nasty letter or making a nasty call.

The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

No matter how upset you feel, how much you think it's the other person's fault, how deeply, greviously hurt you are, it always pays to be professional.

Of course, after reading the link about rejection letters, I'm wondering if some folks just can't recognize professionalism.

The Prodigal Writer said...

Hello,
I am the writer of the original question. It's funny how everyone jumped to the conclusion that I'm a snotty bitch, and permanently obnoxious! No, it's not that way at all. I'm in fact very easy going, and we got along very well for many years till then, with never a cross word.
What happened is in fact a very long story, and I can't tell you the details here; yet every single writer I've ever spoken to understands exactly where I was coming from. Though most said I was taking a risk in firing the agent, without exception they told me I was courageous.
Let's put it this way: from the point of view of the publishing BUSINESS my agent was right. In PRINCIPLE, though, I was right. In a nutshell, it was a question of accepting a contract for work I did not believe in. I said no; and that was a wrong BUSINESS decision, and that's what my agent told me.
No, I did not yell at her, call her names, or anything of that sort.
The "rude" letter was not rude in the sense of snotty, but rude in that I told her very firmly that I could not, under any circumstances, never ever, bow to the publishers wishes, and why. Probably proud is a better word than rude; or stubborn, or brusque; uncompromising.

I've learned a great lesson over the past year; taking the risk I did in refusing a lucrative contract means I'm a far stronger writer. The result is the work I now have to offer. I do think it's my best.
I try to grow and change and learn from life's lessons, and this whole thing was all a part of my own learning curve. And it certainly will never happen again.
Yes, I may have overreacted at the time - but I am only human.
I've queried other agents and had requests for the material - but I shall wait for her response, as she's my first choice. Maybe she'll say no, as Miss Snark would, and I'll just have to accept that. Maybe it's time for me to move on, too. The very act of apologizing has done me good. I believe everything happens for a reason, this too.

Bernita said...

Is it fair to say we "jumped to conclusions?"
We based our opinions on the facts as offered and described - including the term "rude.".
Miss Snark is correct then, should the same issue arise in the future, you would act on principle, again?

Kristy said...

Prodigal, I'd be very interested to know the end to the story. Will you let us know?

Reggie said...

Miss Snark would rather have peace of mind than a piece of the action. Good for her.

I'm not a literary agent, but now I'm jealous. In the corporate world we would smile and take it - water off a duck's back.

"Do I want to look at the photos of your naked girlfriend straddling your Harley? Yes, she is lovely."

"You want to sign the contracts over lunch at a strip club? Yes, they are amazing, definately an art form."

"No, I wasn't the least offended when you called me the anti-Christ yesterday. Now if you'll just sign on that line.."

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Reggie must have worked at the end of my hallway.

Amra Pajalic said...

Prodigal writer-what an interesting dilemma. Accepting a contract for work you didn't believe in or walking away. I admire the courage you had in walking away and I appreciate you posting this for all of us to have the inside story.

I don't know all of the circumstances but I wonder if one of the problems that exacerbated this situation was the fact that agent and writer were in a sense friends and this made it more difficult to be objective on both sides.

It brings me back to the discussion that occurred from a post on Pub Rants about what's more important when choosing an agent. Personal attention and someone who loves your book, or a big agent who might be impersonal but has the clout.

So through your story we can scratch the surface of what can happen with personal attention that might develop into something resembling friendship and how it could muddle the waters.

Not having an agent yet all this is theoretical but as I will be approaching agents later in the year it just adds another layer to the discussion.

I'd love to hear the resolution to the story and good luck with your current project.

Feisty said...

Reggie: LOL LOL. Thanks for the laugh. No such thing as "bad business" in the corporate world?

prodigal writer said...

I'll certainly let you know the end of the story. For the time being I thought I'd let you know a few more details through an analogy.
Say you were gay, and your gayness was very important to your identity. It cropped up in all your first novels, but in your fourth it became a central issue, and this book was the dearest to your heart. But your agent told you that gayness as a central theme was unsaleable; she told you that "aquisitions editors were homophobic", and you should do as your editor said and make your main characters straight; a huge rewrite was necessary.
That, in effect, was my situation at the time, and I felt I had to stand up to that "homophobia" (again, that's just an analogy. Gayness was NOT the issue.)
Yes, I would do it again, every time. Not one single regret, in spite of the huge financial price I had to pay.

Perhaps my reaction was unprofessional, but heck, who wants to be a robot? It's going through things like this that makes me alive; making tough choices that help me grow and understand my own humanity, and that of my characters. For certain, one day a character of mine will have a similar dilemma, and I'll know how to handle it.
I would always choose a warm and personal - but good - agent from a smallish agency over an impersonal one from a big agency. I like the human touch.
And yes, with my new work I've been able to remain true to my so-called "gayness" and yet give the novel a very strong commercial hook which, I think, those acquisition editors will love. Following the analogy, it might just be a Brokeback Mountain !!! (I wish!)

Reggie: You're wrong, it wasn't like that, not at all. In the ethical issue at stake my agent agreed with me completely. She just didn't think it was saleable.

Reggie said...

Prodigal,

My post wasn't a judgement on you or how you handled your situation. It was a salute to those, like Miss Snark, who have control over who they choose to work with. Most of us aren't so fortunate.

Lady M said...

There are times when every single one of us makes a mistake or a decision that we become unhappy with the results.

I believe that some things are worth fighting for, however, there is also a line that must not be crossed, should you wish to continue business practices.

I would be very honest with the person and perhaps try to find an alternative solution:

They want a rewrite - you feel it is central to the character identity. They want you to change it, you don't want to budge.

Now, who is sitting in slump?

If it is you, and you truly wish for the agent to be the agent you work with - then you must choose what is more important. The agent, the agent's counsel - or your choices.

If you take out the agents critique and you slam the agent for trying to help you it is akin to biting the hand that feeds you.

That same hand will not wish to feed you again, for fear of being bitten again.

What have you to offer this "hand" in order to prove that you will not bite again?

Perhaps you could call the person - as you said you were "friends" and talk to them - without talking about your book unless he/she/they ask? See how your footing stands with them.

Maybe you hurt their feelings - and feelings are a funny thing. It may be something they can get over - and perhaps something they cannot.

I would try - certainly. Especially if you trust this person to do their best by you.

But at the same time, I would be prepared to politely accept a "NO, THANK YOU" from them without rebuttal.

I wish you well, and I do hope that you will get your book published - and I hope you mend your fences with your agent/friend, whether he/she/they ever represent you again.

Kudos to Snark - about the professional qualities. For someone who touts themselves as an aggressive female dog in spiked heels - you certainly are becoming quite an endearing character.

Brady Westwater said...

On this issue Miss Snark is totally, completely wrong - unless, of course, she is totally, completely... right.

The problem is there was not enough information given for any of us to determine who is right.

To begin with, back in the distnat past - somewhere between my cowboy daysand my civic muckraker days - I represented clients as a agent - albeit not as a literary agent.

And I several times fired very lucrative clients who did not do what I felt needed to be done to best sell their work. But if a client I had fired came back and said they realized they were wrong, I would welcome them back, no matter more strained our parting might have been.

The one critical piece of missing infomation, though, is...other than disagreeing with the necessary rewrites.... how was the relationship?

If it was otherwise good, I see no reason to not take the client back. But if there were other problems - no amount of money is worth dealing with someone you can not trust or whom you can no work with.

prodigal writer said...

Thanks for your coments, lady m, you were pretty much right on. I just wanted to say that up to that point I was extremely amenable. I worked with my editor on three novels and there were few editing suggestions I did NOT accept - she was an excellent editor. In this case, though, the change wanted was something fundamental, which I could not do and keep my integrity. I guess I could have handled it better at the time; but there's something about working without an agent and the security of a contract which, I found, vastly improved my work. So it was all for the best. Whatever she decides, that's fine with me.