A Tip For Aspiring Writers: Don't Be A Dick
Sunday, January 17, 2010, 8:47 PM
If you behave in such a way as to make a literary agent think you are rude, arrogant, stupid, or even mentally unstable, that reputation will spread and you will never shake it. In other words, if you act like a dick, people will treat you like a dick. The easy answer? Don't be a dick.
As some of you may have seen, there has been a furore in recent days as a Frustrated Writer publicly vented their spleen, decrying the role of the literary agent now and in the future. That was foolish enough, given that agents are treasured beyond all else by most published writers, me included. This particular Frustrated Writer took it a step further, though, by personally attacking a well-established and respected agent in a lengthy blog post. This was just a day or two after this same Frustrated Writer had a go at a blogging editor whom I consider a personal friend. Previously, this same frustrated writer had posted another thinly-veiled attack on another respected agent.
You see where this is going?
Frustrated Writer has now publicly attacked three well-liked and respected publishing professionals. Now, I don't imagine these three professionals are gossips, but they don't need to be. Several other professionals have weighed into the mosh pit in defence of their colleagues. Because their colleagues are well-liked and respected, those other professionals will be very pissed off on their behalf. And they will all talk about it to other colleagues, and so on and so on throughout the industry. What's more, they will all remember for a very long time.
So what do you think the chances are of Frustrated Writer even getting a sniff of an offer of representation or a contract? Approximately nil, I'd say. They could write a novel that combines all the commercial appeal of the Da Vinci Code with the artistic value of Crime and Punishment, and they would never sell it.
And it's not just because they offended some well-liked and respected publishing professionals. It's also because all publishing professionals choose the authors they want to work with based not just on the quality of writing, but on how that author behaves. If an author is rude, arrogant, stupid, and/or showing signs of mental instability on a public blog, it's a pretty safe bet they're going exhibit those traits in their working relationships too. And who wants to work with somebody like that?
Incidentally, I'm not going to post a link to Frustrated Writer's diatribes because (a) I don't want to fuel their attention-seeking fire, (b) I don't want Frustrated Writer following the trail back here and stinking up my blog with their hateful crap, and (c) there's a good chance you've already seen it.
Yesterday, I posted the following question on Twitter: Is there anything more pathetic than a bitter wannabe writer who blames the "gatekeepers" for their lack of publication?
It didn't stay up very long because my good friend Betsy pointed out that it could sound more than a little snotty coming from someone who's been as fortunate as I have over the last two years. And Betsy was absolutely right, it was a very glib comment, so I removed it. I've reposted it here because I want to expand on it a little.
I've been incredibly lucky in my writing career so far. I got my share of rejections, and I have one-and-three-quarter novels stored away that'll never see daylight. But I didn't struggle for years and years, manuscript after manuscript, rejection slip after rejection slip. I know some excellent writers who have. I also know some writers who have been published, by major houses no less, but have found themseles used, abused, chewed up and spat out again with their novels never having been given a fair chance. I even know some writers who blog publicly about those experiences, don't sugar-coat it, and point out the flaws in what everybody knows is a far-from-perfect industry. But they don't get personal, they don't indulge in bitter rants, and they don't come off as borderline psychotic fools by announcing that their work is simply too artistically challenging for bottom-line obsessed publishers.
In other words, they don't act like dicks. So that's my tip for all aspiring writers in 2010. As well as all the usual write lots, rewrite more, get critique, keep trying and so on and so on, that's my current top tip for success: Don't be a dick.