As I read agents’ blogs, tweets and Facebook comments, I’ve been wondering if we’re a bunch of prima donnas. You might have noticed that we’ll often utter such directions as:
Don’t call me, don’t write me, but here are the 2,500 directions to follow in contacting me.
I can’t abide it when a writer commits this error.
If you think _________ will convince me to rep you, well, I’m a shark so I won’t be taking that bait.
Agent Prima Donnas and Their Clients
We’re not just snippy with people we don’t know, either. We’re in the habit of regularly rolling our eyes about certain behavior from our clients.
It occurred to me that it might be enlightening for you to see how sometimes our clients’ behavior drives us mad and makes us look like prima donnas.
I want to start out by saying I love working with my clients. They’re a great group of writers, who are laboring away at this creative venture, which seems to require a more dynamic set of skills with each wave of change on an already roiling sea. It takes real guts to stay a writer. I’m proud of them for keeping on course, applying their considerable talents to touching others’ lives, and remaining steadfast even when they’re hit by bad news. But sometimes, I just can’t imagine what a certain client was thinking…
The Patient Client
This story took place a few years ago, but I still can vividly recall the details that brought out the prima donna in me.
One of my clients had been a saint in her patience. A publisher offered a contract and sent the contract to me nine months ago. I responded with some pretty aggressive changes I wanted to negotiate. Yet, that contract hadn’t moved forward. No amount of phone calls, demanding emails, or moving up the publishing house organizational chart budged the contract negotiations.
Then, I finally received a response to my suggested contract changes. (I had shopped the project elsewhere meantime since this wasn’t looking promising, but I hadn’t landed it with a new publisher yet.) I emailed my client to announce that we were actually moving forward…but she didn’t receive my email.
The Impatient Client
And her patience wore out. She rifled off an email to the editor in essence saying, “How long do you think I’ll wait? I’m beyond frustrated. Cough up the contract. Oh, and I’m attending a conference where you’ll be on the faculty. Wanna meet me and explain to me about the delay in person?”
The editor responded that the delay in moving the contract forward was mostly her fault, and yes, she would meet with my client at the conference–and she copied me on the communication, something my client hadn’t thought to do.
Off the Negotiating Cliff I Go
As I read the interchange between the two, I knew my client had committed a faux pas. She had taken business matters into her own hands and complained to the editor. What did it gain my client? She felt better for saying what she thought. What did she lose? My control of the situation.
I had just gone back to the publisher and dug in harder on an issue the publisher didn’t want to change in the contract. Now I had a rogue client to deal with.
My client’s job is to not even acknowledge negotiations are going on (or not going on). She gave up our higher ground just when I was pressing in on a very important aspect of the contract. In essence, she tossed me off the negotiating cliff. Oh, thanks. I didn’t want this to be too easy. My response to my client probably had the scent of prima donna about it.
When a Client Turns into Her Own Enemy
Not only was I distressed at what my client had said in her email, but I also was miffed that my client didn’t copy me on her important communication with the editor. I don’t need to be involved in every little communication between the editor and my client, but I do need to be aware that my client has decided to issue a complaint.
Sometimes an agent’s client is the agent’s worst enemy, making it hard for the agent to take care of the client. If your agent can’t move the negotiations forward, you won’t be able to either.
Principle #1 to learn: Never fire off an emotional email to an editor (or anyone else at a publishing house). If you want to whine, complain or utter expletives, do it with your agent. I understand how frustrating publishing can be. I’ve been a writer, I’ve been an editor, and now I’ve been an agent for almost 25 years. I grasp how utterly helpless, angry, and at wit’s end an author can feel. Your agent is a safe place to let off steam. Anyone connected to the publishing house is an unsafe place–that person has a vested interest with the publisher, not with you.
Include Your Agent
Principle #2: Include your agent in conversations of consequence. In this situation, the editor might develop a strong dislike for my client before they even have a chance to form a working relationship. If my client had mentioned to me that she was going to write such an email, I would have told her not to. If she missed that first stop sign and barreled into the intersection but took me along for the ride (by cc-ing me), I could have joined the conversation and tried to control the damage.
The bottom line in this situation: I was upset not just because my client’s actions made my job harder; I was overwrought because my client made the situation worse for herself. Now, if that’s a prima donna response, just call me Queen of Donnas.
Now it’s your turn:
What other types of communications should you include an agent in? If you don’t have an agent, what conversations do you wish you had someone to undertake on your behalf?
Why do literary agents act like prima donnas? Click to tweet.
What causes a literary agent to have a snit fit? Click to tweet.