A Tip For Aspiring Writers: Don't Be A Dick

Sunday, January 17, 2010, 8:47 PM

There's a publishing industry fact that blogging agents and editors have been telling us all along, and in all my six months in print I have learned this to be true: Publishing is a very, very small business. Everybody knows each other. And everybody talks to each other. If a junior editorial assistant at Harper Collins knows that Famous Author X has gas problems, you can be sure that a senior editor at Random House knows it too.

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.

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Laura Hruska, Soho Press Editor-in-Chief

Monday, January 11, 2010, 6:41 PM

I first met Laura Hruska in March 2009 when I called into the Soho Press office, near Union Square in New York City, to discuss my debut novel which she had acquired for her respected independent press. She was a lady of senior years, and slight build, but had a fierce intelligence about her that burned so bright you couldn't fail to see it. She was also clearly a deeply passionate publisher, and I was sure from then on that I was in good hands at Soho. But then, I already knew that, seeing as everybody I mentioned Soho Press to, including my agent, told me Laura was one of the best in the business.

I met Laura for a second time, again at her office near Union Square, when I visited New York once more in October 2009, just as I was embarking on the US tour Soho had generously organised for me. This time I noticed Laura was a little frail, but still she had that diamond-bright presence that stood out in a room full of very bright people. I gave her a box of confectionery I'd bought from the chocolatier next door as a small thank you for the work she and everyone at Soho had done for me. It seems like a very, very small thank you now.

I learned today that Laura Hruska passed away on Saturday after a long illness. This news has deeply saddened me. My heart goes out to Laura's loved ones, and all those who worked with and respected her, both within Soho Press and throughout the wider publishing community. I owe Laura a huge debt of gratitude for giving my writing career such a great start in America, and I will be forever thankful. I feel honoured to have known her for the short time I did.

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