Be Nice to the assistants

As an agent's assistant, and the reader of all slush, can you do me a favor? Can you do a post about NOT calling agents? For some reason I've gotten way more calls lately, and it's driving me crazy. I'm about to start messing up the phone messages because of the pc screening...they try all these little tricks to get to my boss, who bites my head off if I let them through.

Also, as long as you're taking requests, can you do an "assistants are good people" post? I'm tired of authors trying to "get past" the assistant, and I wish they understood that my boss, at least, doesn't see a manuscript until I've read it and decided to pass it on to him. Trying to get right to him without going through me guarantees that I'll reject.

Don't call a literary agency for anything other than fact verification. Example "Is Miss Snark alive and well and taking written queries"; "is your mailing address still 666 Rue de La Snark"; "do you prefer a twenty dollar bill or two tens"?

Don't call to ask what kind of query they want.
Don't call to introduce yourself and let them know you've sent a query.
Don't call to ask why your query was rejected.

Don't call. Don't call. Don't call.

If you see some nitwit in the comment column say "I called and it worked out" DO NOT CALL.
You are not the exception to this rule.

And be nice to the person who answers the phone. In a busy agency that person is the one who'll see your work. If you are a condescending nitwit, you will be rejected with great pleasure.

There are lots of ways to shoot yourself in the font. At least let your writing be the reason someone says no.


Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

Is this from 'the rejecter' or is their some voodoo telepathy going on? The Rejecter has a v similar post on her blog today...

Adding to my to do list:
- become best friends with literary agent assistants
- brown nose to a celeb to endorse my book

Bina said...

There is only one time that you can and should call.

After they've offered to represent you.

In which case, if you call, you will be met with screams of delight and love, instead of horror and annoyance.

Cathy in AK said...

It's always always always a good idea to be nice to the person on the front lines of any business situation. Otherwise, the receptionist may "lose" you while you're on hold or the agent's assistant may "accidentally" let your submission slip into the recycle bin. And be sure it's genuine niceness. They can smell a phony from a mile away.

The Rejecter said...

I posted because I got the same request.

Dave said...

you all know that secretaries and janitors rule the world.
Without a secretary your memos wouldn't be typed, your rime card never kept, your phone never answered, etc...
And without a janitor, you be neck deep in your own trash.
So be nice to the little people.

swishman said...

When an agent's assistant emails me to request the partial or full, I always address my cover letter and envelope to HER attention, thanking HER, the assistant, for her time and consideration. I know she's important to the future of my manuscript!

writtenwyrdd said...

In one form or another, I was the front line for my boss for fifteen horrible years. I was also a personnel recruiter who had to deal with various prima donnas who assumed because I didn't have a Masters that I was stupid.

People, my personal experience is this: Be nice or you will regret it. Regret spelled with great sucking noises into the aether. Because even the best-intentioned assistants don't forget when they are 1. PATRONIZED; 2. talked down to; 3. treated like "the help"; or 4. treated like dog droppings. No one is God on this earth since the last 2000 years, or so I am told; so don't expect me to be as good as all that. I'm patently NOT. Heh. I'm just decent to my fellow man. If you are nasty enough to the secretary/admin assistant, you might discover the power of their position, and dislike it. (It's a good thing I don't do that sort of work any longer.)

Tommy said...

Don't forget, too, that today's assistants are tomorrow's agents. Burn your bridges now, and you're just asking for trouble.

Anonymous said...

Well, I work at a college rather than a lit agency, and I can tell you, being rude to the receptionist is the surest way to have a miserable time at school. I am the receptionist. And the faculty and students who come in 5 minutes before I need to leave (LA traffic is miserable, a 10 minute delay adds another 30 to my commute during rush hour) are also the ones who tend to get "lost" when on hold and other such "unluckiness" whereas those who respect my work hours, say 'hi' when they come in to the office, and thank me when I do an hour worth of copying for them are the ones who get that hour worth of copying to begin with (as opposed to me pointing at the xerox machine and saying "you know the passcode"). Not quite the same environment, certainly, but receptionists and assistants everywhere are cheering for the things that The Rejector and Miss Snark says in favor of us. All we ask for is manners, not special treatment (although we won't say 'no' to some special treatment if offered).

Anonymous said...

Having been Office Help myself on many occasions, I second (third? sixth?) the importance of being polite to those who answer the phone and make the coffee.

But it's much easier to do that when the agent's assistant does not misspell my name one way in the address block, and another way in the salutation.

Talentless said...

You are not the exception to this rule.

And be nice to the person who answers the phone.


kitty said...

Then there's this from Dystel & Goderich: common sense would dictate picking up the phone or dashing off a note to confirm receipt of one's material if one hadn't heard back in, say, a month or two.

McKoala said...

Just be nice to everyone if at all possible.

Unless he reverses into you in a car park (that would be a parking lot for you US folk) without looking. Then feel free to hop out and forget your manners. Especially when you say: 'Did you know that you reversed into me?' And he simply says: 'Yes'. Then forget your manners most doubly.

Ahhh, I feel better now.

My car doesn't.

Kim said...

In my former life, I was a secretary and you wouldn't believe how condescending and rude people could be because they assume you are too dumb to do anything other than answer phones. What they DIDN'T know what that I also doubled as a buyer. And the jerks always went to the bottom of the pile. Their messages got lost. Their orders were delayed. Childish? Absolutely. Worth it? You bet.

You never know who is at the other end of that line. Be nice to the receptionist because s/he can put you at the top of the pile, or lose you in the circular file. Not to mention that someday that stupid receptionist could be the one you want representing you. Ouch.

word ver - meiv - ahh.. short and sweet!

Anonymous said...

Thank you a million times for this post. As publisher's assistant for a small press, I am the one who has to field the phone calls from nitwits checking on the status of their submissions, or trying to pitch me over the phone (which is useless, because I CAN'T TELL IF YOU'RE A GOOD WRITER BY THE SOUND OF YOUR VOICE).

I get 900 pieces of slush a year. I read every single one, plus, I have to work on the books that we've already signed. You know, the ones we hope will make us some money.

I am not the secretary. I am the first line of defense for an overworked publisher. He trusts my opinion, and values my judgement. And the nitwits who undermine that, or don't respect that fact are rejected promptly. Because publishers don't have time for solipsism.

Don't call.
If you do call, be very nice to me.
But most of all, just write well. Nothing impresses me more than that.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

There are lots of ways to shoot yourself in the font.

If this was intentional, than it's one of the best quips I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

Something else to consider: publishers and their assistnts compare notes. If you treat an assistant like crap and the publisher like gold, (s)he finds out about it. And you will be treated accordingly. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

OK, I've got to tell you the story of the most gratifying thing ever to happen to me in my whole career. Possibly my whole life.

Once, on my way to work on a very hot day, I was queueing to buy a newspaper when an incredibly rude woman barged in front of me to pay for a bottle of water. I pointed out that there was a queue and she kind of snorted and shrugged but didn't apologise or anything and still went ahead with the bargeing in. (I'm British, by the way. The queue is sacred over here.)

So I go on into work, still seething about this utter bitch. At that point, I was editor of a small magazine. When I arrive, I'm reminded that I have a meeting first thing with an incredibly pushy PR who's been desperate for me to write about her crappy product. So I ask the receptionist to send her up and... you guessed it. She didn't recognise me at first, until I said, "Oh we've just met. In the cornershop."

That was five years ago, and it still makes me smile now. I'd bet money that she still remembers it too.

Anonymous said...

The same don't call rule obviously applies to the U.K. So I was more than surprised to stumble upon an agent who requests, "Telephone enquiries only." To stare in disbelief at these words, visit http://www.eunicemcmullen.co.uk, and click the contact page.

Anonymous said...

The town I live in has a lot of people with PhDs who drive cabs. No joke.

Treat everyone with the sort of professional respect and courtesy you would like to receive. Don't assume that anyone in any line of work is beneath you. If you are the kind of person who thinks that way, you are almost guaranteed to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous who holds the queue sacred, I loved your story. Can I steal it for my book?

~Nancy said...

I've been a secretary/administrative assistant/whatever for over 20 years, and I can't begin to tell you how many rude people have pissed me off (and not gotten to the boss, heh, heh).

The latest thing I do when someone tries to schmooze me with some crappy book or seminar or survey that my boss must desperately need is to tell them he's away from his desk. Or I put them into voicemail, where my boss will never hear about them. :-)

So, yes, be nice to the assistant, because the assistant has the power to give you access to the person you want or throw you into the bowels of Hell. Or something like that.


caren1701 said...

I second what swishman said! (OK, I've only had the opportunity to do that once so far, but once:once still = always.)

I'm a cubicle slave, and the salesguys who call just to say "How are you?" or to tell me a funny story once in a while instead of only "Do this for me now" -- when they call with work, it immediately moves to the top of my pile.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes.

The inimitable Michael Larsen, author of "HT Get a Literary Agent" (sold by his literary agency....) recommends the schmooze phone call to pitch your book and tell them you're sending a query...

That's strike two, Mr. Larsen. (He's also the guy who recommends sending a cute giftie with your query.)

Eric said...

Okay, I'll run against the grain.

As an executive assistant of eight years before climbing a bit higher I always considered the company and the CEO's bottom line before my pettiness. Were some people complete knobs to me? Why certainly. Did I want to move their requests for whatever to the end of the "to do, if ever" list? You betcha. But if they had something to bring to the table, regardless of their assholetry, I put my feelings aside and made them priority.

Also to be mentioned is the fact that some of the people who act the nicest turn out to be the complete bottomless holes of time wasters who offer nothing but trouble. They play sweet because they know that at the end of the day they really don't have any other leg to stand on.

Now give me my seven minutes back...I've got real money on line two.

Ryan Field said...

I always hire the meanest assistants I can find; they even hate each other. But they know how to handle nitwits. The meaner they are the more I pay them, too.

Anonymous said...

It was the same way in the hospitals I worked at. This is why I always cringe at the TV shows with the bitchy doctors that shout at everyone. I've seen plenty of ... non-help ... from the nurses, assistants, ward clerks, etc. that have to work with those sort. (there are plenty of ways to make life miserable for a doctor without in any way affecting patient care ...)

The Rejected Writer said...

While in university, I regularly made real, homemade cookies and delivered them to select admin assistants and the folks in the finance office. In the four years I was there, I never once was put off, none of my papers were lost, and I was never yelled at for showing up two minutes after closing, asking the finance folks to cash a check.

Pay it forward folks. It's as simple as that.

hanging by a thread in canada said...

I was a casting assistant for 8 years and my number one job requirement was to keep actors away from my boss. I was astounded at the number of times I was spoken to like I was voice mail. Not really there, just a thing the actor had to deal with before he/she could get to the real show.

The boss didn't want to know about someone unless I said he/she was worth a look. That was my job. I tackled it the same way an agent tackles finding a new author--I looked at the work. I went to plays, watched who was doing what and if an interesting face with a promising resume crossed my desk, I put them in the bank for a look-see.

If someone behaved like an asshole (and their numbers were legion) I didn't "lose" them, but they were easy to replace with actors who didn't distract from the work with their attitude.

Don't call and try to get to the boss. Wait a sensible length of time and talk to the admin. Ask her politely if she has any knowledge re your manuscript. The odds are pretty good, she's the only in the office who has heard of you.

Anonymous said...

When I was a reporter I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was able to nail more interviews and receive more leads than some of the more senior writers -- simply because I used good manners when making my contacts.

I did not use those manners to butter up the assitants who put me through to their CEOs. I was taught to treat everyone with equal respect. It's that simple.

That said, I'm rather disgusted by some of the posts from people who justify taking their pounds of flesh when confronted with rudeness.

You may see it as payback. But you are actually putting yourself on the level of the ignorant jackass who offended you in the first place. And that's never worth it, regardless of the fleeting rush it gives you.

PerpetualBeginner said...

An addendum to Eric.

Just because the assistant is too nice, or too professional to start "losing" your papers or moving you to the bottom of the pile, doesn't mean that being an asshole won't affect you.

a) In twelve years of various front-line work, I have never deliberately fouled up somebody for being rude. On the other hand, I can and do bust my butt far beyond the required for people who were courteous - hand deliveries, calling around town for two hours, etc. Not gonna happen for a twit or a jerk.

b) If my bosses caught somebody jerking me around, the response was invariably negative. When a client called and screamed at me for ten minutes because one of our people was late with a report, I did nothing. My boss on the other hand, walked in during the conversation, asked me who was on the phone, and then ditched him from our client list forthwith. (He was beyond rude, he was downright psychotic. I was very grateful he had no idea where I lived.)