The Entitled Writer

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

We talk a lot about the kinds of writers we love to work with but when we agents get together the talk often turns to the writers we hate representing.

And there is always one standout– one writer we all cite as the writer we’d most hate to represent. The entitled writer.

This is a tough business and it takes a team to make a project work these days. It takes a hardworking writer who has a dreamstime_xs_34758070“servant attitude.” That’s a hard term to define. It doesn’t mean the writer is low man on the totem pole. Some of our greatest leaders of all time had a servant attitude. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.

So, on the other hand, what’s an entitled writer look like? Let me sketch a few pictures for you.

I’ve had calls from a secretary saying her boss wants to write a book but he’s too busy to write a proposal or to speak to agents. Um, yeah.

Or the letter I got recently from a writer who insists that his book is the greatest book ever written and if I don’t snap it up. . .

It’s the writer who refuses to edit, claiming his first draft was good enough. After all, what’s an editor for?

It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole department to do this.

It’s the wannabe writer who can’t be bothered to read publishing blogs, work on the craft, or attend conferences. He just calls an agent on the phone and says he plans to get his book published and wants to know how.

It’s the person with a story who comes up to an author at a signing and tells her that he has a great idea for a book. Can she write it? They can split the profits.

I could go on and on but I think you get a picture of the one writer I will not represent.

Have you met him? Let’s hear your pet peeves about those writers and wannabe writers who set your teeth on edge. (No names or specifics, of course.)

40 Responses

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  1. No pet peeves. I’m just grateful that there is a world in which people CAN feel entitled, and can be petty and vain and laughably egocentric.
    * It’s a form of innocence, and there is something precious here. A bubble of self-importance that, by some weird calculus, has an innate value, and I don’t want to burst it. I want to nurture it, and by God’s grace guide it into something functional, and perhaps holy.
    * Conceit and entitlement are the essence of frivolity…and we NEED this. We need the feathered bonnets and beribboned shoes of self-importance, because they provide a light that is childish, but also child-like…and thus is the Kingdom of Heaven.
    * My paradigm is simple – after this dreadful weekend, I would not want anyone to be me, to live my very serious and direct moments. Heck. I don’t want to be me. As Kara Tippetts once wrote, I want to argue the merits of agave, and not contemplate, if only for a moment, the primacy of Death.

    • I speak for a host of others, Andrew, when I say that we’re relieved to see your morning comment here and know you are still with us.
      * I agree that we need child-like spirits (“the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”). But we discovered, back when we were parents of a 2 year old and houseparents to a cottage of wayward adolescent boys, that what is cute in a toddler can be annoying in a teenager. And worse in a 40 year old.
      * A child jumps in with innocence and passion, pulling you along. Wendy’s wannabe writer whines from the sidelines. I used to tell my kids that whining is the fastest way to NOT get what they want.

      • Shirlee, thanks…I’m glad to still be here. Though I can understand how one might wish to be somewhere else!
        * Good points, that’s what is cute in an infant is definitely not in an adult. What I meant to say was that egotism and entitlement can, if robust, be a lot more more useful than the attitude of the ‘shrinking violet’ who is convinced that he doesn’t have either the skill or the destiny to succeed. The egotist may have the confidence and thick skin needed for a career – the nickname of Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific SF writer, WAS ‘Ego’. But the writer who does not believe in himself will sabotage his own efforts, and you pretty much can’t give a transfusion of confidence to someone who won’t accept it. Not even God can do that.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I hate to hear “dreadful weekend.” Glad it’s over.

  2. There was a time I’d consider myself the entitled writer – I had the perfect idea, the most polished craft (though I was clueless as to what this meant), the best time. I just had to sit and write and watch the accolades stream in.
    Two years on, I’m waiting. Waiting and saying, “Father, what would you have me do? Who do I need to know? What do I write?”
    While on the one hand, I am glad to wait for His time, there’s the longing to, hmm…
    As for pet peeves, they are aplenty on this side of the globe.

  3. David Todd says:

    Wendy: I think most of the short examples you gave speak more of the uneducated writer rather than of entitlement. I can see much of myself in my early days in what you wrote. When I had an idea for a novel, I sat down an wrote it, in fits and starts over two years. I didn’t first research the publishing industry, or check to see how long a novel that a publisher would be willing to publish would be. I didn’t know there were such things as writers conferences, or agents. I didn’t know what a writer would have to do in terms of self-promotion. I simply finished the book in a rush of creativity, then went back to read it and saw it needed editing, so I started on that. At the same time I started looking into how I might get it published. I learned about conferences, found out there was a medium-sized, Christian writers conference about four hours drive from my house, and went to it. That was certainly an eye-opener.
    .
    So, if you had met me at that first conference I went to, in 2003, you probably would have thought me an entitled writer. But I wasn’t; I was simply uneducated as to the process. And while one professional writer at that conference pretty much called me stupid for not realizing I would have to promote my own book (yes, it really happened), I shrugged that off and sought to learn something about the industry.
    .
    Maybe a lot of those entitled writers just need some education. I realize that’s not your job. I hope someone steps up to help them.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      You’re right. Uneducated fits well.

      • A lot of these can fit under the category of uneducated. However, would I be right in noting there’s a big difference between those who just don’t know, and those who refuse to learn because they think they already know what they need to?

        As a beginning writer myself, I would be afraid to claim that I know everything (and I doubt many experienced writers would make that mistake either), but I am more than willing to learn. All the better if I can find out through the advice and experience of others before I make the mistakes myself. I’m sure there will be plenty of mistakes for me to discover on my own!

        Still, a bit of research and a teachable spirit goes a long way toward avoiding many of the scenarios listed above.

    • Janet Fix says:

      David Todd — Yours is a response I feel very close to, quite passionate about. Yes, uneducated writer is more realistic than entitled writer, though from other viewpoints, they may seem much the same. But they are not. I’ve worked with both as a publisher and as an editor, and it’s a matter of respect, something you have to earn, that will allow the writer to open up, embrace the suggestions, and become fully committed to the team they have hired, to trust them. It is hard to be a newbie writer and start sticking your toe in the waters for the first time. They need an advocate, preferably unbiased and willing to see the author’s perspective and goals as much as their own.

  4. Dana McNeely says:

    Coming off a spate of Memorial Day movies, I’m inspired again by the stories of many heroic soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their service to our country. Some returned, triumphant but humble, others gave their lives. These exemplify the servant’s heart.

    But entitlement, yes, I know what you mean. I’ve encountered it more in the business world than the writing community. I was approached once by a person who wanted to share a story idea and it’s publication profits, and again by a loving daughter who wanted me to tell her father’s wartime story. In each case, there was a sentence or two of explanation and then a vague, “You will be able to flesh out the story.” Haha! I told them both, truthfully, that there was too much story there, unknown to me, and that they were the perfect person to write the story themselves. And I pointed them to writing blogs and groups.

    I’ve worked on some great teams though during my 22 years working at a large bank. When there is a new project, my teammates were quick to volunteer to take on various tasks. And if one of us ran into a challenge (there are no problems πŸ™‚ only challenges or issues) there is always someone willing to come alongside.

    I’m betting there is a similar team mentality in your agency and with the writers you represent.

  5. When I signed with Mary Keeley, my older brother changed his Facebook employment status to “Entourage for my sister”.
    That’s pretty much the extent of entitlement for me. That, and I get driven around in our car, but only because it’s a standard and I can barely get my minivan to go in reverse.
    It’s hard to feel entitled when I still have to do the laundry.
    But, I know someone who spent decades working on his novel and when I finally got a hold of it, it was after my mom had tried to read it. She took issue with the opening paragraph consisting *entirely* of a man opening one of those little restaurant creamers. Doesn’t the description of pouring cream from a teeny cup just scream “murder mystery set in Bangkok”?
    He let us all know that he spent many years with (pretentious) writing groups perfectly his work. My mom, one who rarely snarks, (I swear that on a stack of Dairy Milks) said “if that’s what all his snooty writer friends helped him with in ten years, then remind me to never read any of their stuff”.
    He acted like JK Rowling should open doors for him, and Charles Martin should taste his food for him, in case of envy poisoning.
    As my 14 year old would say “The dude is totally emo.”

  6. Jerusha Agen says:

    You were called by the person’s secretary because the wannabe writer was too busy? Wow. I’ve experienced one of those examples myself–being approached by people who want me to write their great story idea and offer to split the profits. Um, yeah. I haven’t yet taken anyone up on that offer. πŸ™‚ I pray that God will remind me that any blessing that comes my way, in publishing or elsewhere, is because of and through Him alone. The only thing I’m entitled to is His wrath and judgement. Praise the Lord that He bestows His mercy on me through Christ instead!

  7. I don’t think I’ve met this person yet. And I pray I’m not one. Usually when someone says something positive about my work, I’m stunned and so grateful. Recently, I had feedback on my second novel, encouraging me to adjust my first chapter some … I trust the feedback and agree, but I haven’t fully made the change yet … not because I don’t want to but because I don’t know where to start. This is a first rewrite for me, and I know I’ll get it, but I’m struggling to begin. I hope it gets easier with more experience. πŸ™‚

    • Shelli, there’s no way on earth you’re ‘that’ person! You’re God’s faithful and humble writing-handmaiden, and you are such an awesome channel of His Grace and Peace.
      * For what it may be worth, when I’ve made suggested changes and didn’t know where to begin, I got off the chair and onto my knees, and asked God to guide my hands. Then I just began, and let Him lead my mind and heart.

      • Andrew, you are so sweet. Thank you. And yes, yes … I’m begging for guidance. You know I am. I need to begin and trust Him through the hard stuff. And peace … how sweet. The other night, my daughter sat beside me during a movie, and she said, “Mama, when I sit by you, I just want to fall asleep.” Ha ha. I am glad I do that for her … but it made me think about peace. I want to be a channel of grace and peace.

      • Shelli, you are that channel. Whenever I read your words, here or on your blog, I feel that I have become a better person, and have come closer to God.

    • You are the LAST person to EVER act entitled!! It would just never happen.

  8. Anon says:

    Hi Wendy,
    I was just wondering about your comments on marketing.
    From what I understand, marketing is part of the publishers job description And also part of the reason why they can keep so much of the writers earnings. If a writer is expected to do most of the marketing for their book them selves, I think it’s probably better for them to self publish since they can keep most of the money that way.

    • Deb Kinnard says:

      This, 100%. Other than marketing and distribution, both of which most authors can’t personally handle, what does a modern-day publisher bring to the table? If we must take on marketing ourselves, we’d do better just to cut out both middlemen (agent and publisher) and take our work direct to reader. This is probably why so many in our market are doing just that.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Sorry to take so long to comment– I’m on vacation 😊 There is so much misunderstanding about this by authors. Your publishers work very hard to get you NEW readers. They reach them by placement in stores by advertising and by publicity. You desperately need this to GROW your loyal readership. Your job is to take care of YOUR READERS once you have them. They are your “flock.” They do not belong to the publisher and they will follow you throughout your career- from publisher to publisher. Your job is to keep communicating with them, keep your database religiously up to date.
      I don’t know where the adversarial relationship between some authors and publishers started. Each has his place and his distinct job. When author and publisher work together it’s a beautiful thing.

  9. Wendy, I see entitled people all the time at conferences and on-line.

    I was once accosted by a poet outside a place where I’d spoken. She asked me to read one of her poems. I made it clear I didn’t care for poetry, but she was sure I’d change my mind once I read hers. She shoved her notebook at me, and the poem was over three pages, handwritten, single-spaced. I scanned it and told her that it seemed fine to me, but she would be smarter to get someone who likes poetry to read it or to enter it in a contest to get better feedback.

    Some days I wish I could just swat people in the back of the head until they listen. Unfortunately, I write Christian, so that wouldn’t do much for my reputation.

  10. Steve Fey says:

    I continually wonder why the publishing world has yet to beat a path to my door! πŸ™‚

  11. SQ says:

    You say:
    “My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers.”
    If you really believe that, you don’t understand agency law and you will be lucky if, someday, someone doesn’t sue the pants off you for violating your fiduciary obligations.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I do believe I know my responsibility toward my clients and guess what? None of them have complained yet.
      I also have a responsibility to the publishers. They expect me to bring them wonderful projects– carefully curated. It’s a win-win. One of the reasons I sell so well for my clients is that the publishers know I have done the work to know what they want and I bring them great books.

      • Janet Fix says:

        And I’d love to be one of those publishers you work with, because I want to facilitate the growth of any given author as well. Just from reviewing many blog posts on this site, I think your heart and knowledge of the industry is all in the right place.

        BTW, I feel like the “sue the pants off you” comment by one of your readers above was a bit . . . mmm . . . extreme? My goodness.