Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently I noted an agent crowing on Facebook about a major concession a publisher had given. That agent named the publisher and the concession. As I read the FB entry, I asked myself,
What did the agent gain?
What did the agent lose?
- Felt good to let the world know a significant victory had been won.
- Looked good to writers.
- Highlighted to the world a concession the publisher didn’t want to make, thus embarrassing the publisher before industry colleagues.
- Taught that publisher–and all other publishers reading the post–that making concessions is costly. It’s better to stand your ground.
- Made it less likely agents, including the agent trumpeting the triumph, will ever get that concession again.
Let that be a lesson to all of us. Whether you’re a newbie writer, an established author, an agent or a publisher, discretion is an important part of doing good business.
What’s that mean for a writer looking for that first publishing opportunity? Don’t whine in public. Regardless how many times your manuscript has been rejected, don’t highlight your rejection. Instead, present yourself as enthusiastic about future possibilities and passionate about your message. I’m not suggesting you fake how you feel, but you need to go deep inside yourself and find what motivates you to keep going. That’s what you write about on social media and talk about in public. Being discrete about your hurts presents you in a winning way to publishing industry tuned into social media.
For the established author, blows can come at regular intervals–a new cover you dislike, an overly-zealous editor who hacked up your manuscript; a publisher who has lost faith in your ability to gain momentum in your sales. But those are private agonies, not for public consumption. What do you gain by weeping and gnashing your teeth with fellow writers online? You might feel better for the moment, but long-term you’ve painted yourself as an author who isn’t doing well. And that’s not a way you want to be thought of. You want your colleagues to view you as someone who’s doing all right, whose future is bright–because that’s what you hope will be the case when your next book releases. I reiterate: This isn’t about lying; it’s about either remaining silent regarding the ways you feel assailed or talking about other issues, like an upcoming project, that you are genuinely excited about. Discretion is the better part of valor. Who said it was easy?
And for we agents, well, we know lots of proprietary information. Just imagine the number of royalty statements that cross my desk after representing clients since 1996 and having about 250 clients currently repped by our agency. What an insight as to what’s happening in lots of writing careers and what’s going on behind closed doors at publishing houses. And we haven’t even begun to talk about what each publisher’s contract looks like compared to other publishers’, what imaginative venues a publisher is exploring as a new retail outlet, or what concessions our agency has have worked hard to win for our clients.
Authors also know lots of insider information about other writers’ careers and details about how their publishing houses do business.
What are three reasons to keep business secrets (including how well–or poorly–your career is doing)?
- It’s the honorable thing to do. You’ve been entrusted with information that can affect others’ professional lives. You need to use discernment in what you tell. Often, when we do tell something that we shouldn’t, we’re motivated by wanting to look important. But a lack of discretion actually has the opposite affect; we are diminished in the eyes of others.
- It creates a win-win situation. Keeping a confidence builds trust, and greater trust results in better communication. It’s hard to see a downside to being discrete.
- It’s an investment in your future. As you gain a reputation of being trustworthy, you’ll have access to information that would never be available otherwise. And you’ll develop relationships in which you can be forthright and know that the details you’re disclosing are safe with the other person who has proven him or herself to be discrete.
What lack of discretion have you seen either online or in person? How do you decide who is safe to be forthright with and who is dangerous?