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 “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 is a 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.)
There’s one writer this literary agent will never represent. Click to Tweet
What’s the one attitude that completely turns a literary agent off? Click to Tweet
Photo Credit: © Phill Burrows | Dreamstime.com – Entitlement Photo
I struggle with the person who insists God showed her that I should help her write a book that will change the world–for free, of course. I fight the urge to say, “Wonderful! God told me He wants you to be my free maid for a year!”
I love that comeback. 😉
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Bahahaha! Well said!
You’ve met the entitled writer!
Not nearly as many as you have, Wendy!
I appreciate your amazing servant attitude. You’ve taught me so much.
Janet Ann Collins
Next time do say it!
To this point, I don’t think I’ve met that person; but I’m sure I will.
When the girls were little and always wanting to go “first” … I’d paraphrase the Scripture and say, “If you ‘wannabe’ first, you have to be last.” I think I might have rewarded the one who offered to go last just a time or two … but even though they didn’t completely understand, they began sharing “first” more and saw that “last” wasn’t so bad! 🙂
And a shout to Andrew … Happy Veteran’s Day!
Yes! Thank you for your service, Andrew.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
And when you do meet that person? I can hear you being incredibly gracious. Firm, but gracious.
Firm? I’ve learned to be! Early in my career, I managed to entangle myself in unneeded projects, then had to bow out for my sanity’s sake. Disappointing and negative for everyone involved. So I realized the best response was to ask God to make it crystal clear (an angel holding a placard would work) if He truly wanted me to do this. After a few days, I told the would-be author as kindly as possible that my time and energy were limited, I did not share her vision, and I should stay on the path God already had shown me.
Shelli, I agree with Jennifer. You always give us an excellent example graciousness. ❀
What a good lesson for your little girls. One of our First World problems is catering to our children which can end up foisting a generation of entitlement on the world.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I am always rattled by the writer who is so concerned about promoting their own books that they don’t really see me when they say “hi” at a conference. They see someone to talk about their books with, and that is all. I don’t want to become that. And I’m wondering where the balance is between promotion and that shark attack persona.
Kristen, I love your phrase, “shark attack persona” and hope never to exhibit it…ouch! ❀
I hadn’t thought of that person but yes, I recognize him/ her.
I haven’t run into much in the way of entitlement among writers, aside from the occasional person who’s ready to recite an unrequested synopsis if I look remotely conscious.
But I have seen some other versions.
When I was in the academic field, I ran into two kinds of entitlement; one led to success, one often to failure.
When I was a grad student (about 15 years older than most), I saw a definite stratification in my ‘colleagues’; there were the tradesmen, who would show up in the lab every day dressed to work on their research.
And there were the princes, who would ape their faculty advisors, wearing soft clothes (even to the jackets with the patches on the elbows), and occasionally look into the lab to see how the staff was doing with their research (which the would eventually deign to write up). Then they would retire to Cafe Roma, the campus version of Starbucks.
In my field, and in the time period in which I worked, the princes got preferential treatment in terms of support to find the best teaching jobs. The tradesmen were left to fend for themselves, with minimal help.
I think it was something of a ‘culture’ thing; the faculty saw themselves in those who would try to imitate them, and felt more kindly disposed to these individuals. And it was thus perpetuated.
When I did teach, I ran into the fatal entitlement of some students who felt that there really was a ‘royal road to learning’; my job was to package everything easily so they could enjoy the College Experience. I did my best with these people, but some just would not accept the hard work needed to succeed. And some of them would eventually have made excellent engineers; they loved the ‘big picture’ of the profession, but lacked the maturity to attend to the routine work.
There was a sub-group that had an interesting intellectual entitlement – they were convinced that simplicity is elegance is truth, and just could not believe that sometimes you needed three pages (or more) of differential calculus to come up with an approximate solution to a problem.
They were kind of like the pre-Keplerian astronomers who felt that since the circle was a ‘perfect’ shape, all planetary orbits had to be circular. These dudes invented epicyclical obits, in which planets moved in little circles riding along circular orbits, which matched their theory to observation. They got it down to an art and tied the idea to actual planetary movement quite well. Pity it was all wrong.
Just occurred to me that the ‘simplicity is truth’ dudes may have soulmates in the writing world…”the first draft is the most spontaneous, and therefore the most perfect expression of the writer’s art”.
Wish I could have sat in your classroom, Andrew. (Engineering kind of has that Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction-y feel doesn’t it? ;))
On another note, THANK YOU for serving our country. God bless you always!
Cindy, thank you so much!
Engineering is indeed homespun and heartfelt. I often likened it to plowing a field for the first time. Sometimes, you just have to get out from behind the plow and move the rocks.
Yes, there is definitely a correlation.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Pre-Keplerians, right? I mean, what’s up with that?
No seriously, I have no clue what they is. Other than they’re “pre”.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was the guy who figured out that planets move in elliptical orbits.
Epicyclic orbital theory could account reasonably well for observed motion, but Kepler did not see a mechanism by which these ‘constructed’ paths could exist.
It was huge at the time, because the Church felt that only perfection could exist in the heavens, and that only perfect circles could be permitted. Kepler risked being tried for heresy.
It’s interesting, in that the issue does speak to the definitions of ‘perfection’ that we impose upon the Almighty, and is perhaps another variety of entitlement –
“This is how WE define the world to work, and WE are anointed to speak for God.”
One might imagine that God, differing from Queen Victoria, is indeed amused.
Andrew, my eyes are crossing.
I always thought it was rare it is for a scientist or an engineer to also be a writer– a creative. Am I wrong? I know my fiction client, Camy Tang/Camille Eliott, is a Stanford grad microbiologist but I always thought she was an anomaly.
My daughter is a college instructor and the stories she tells of the entitled student. . .
It was certainly not uncommon in the past for engineers and scientists o be writers as well – Nevil Shute and Arthur Clarke were engineers, and I believe Issac Asimov was a physicist. Michael Crichton was, of course, a doctor, which I guess counts.
I believe that Vonnegut and Dostoyevsky were also trained as engineers. Mikhail Bulgakov was a doctor.
The speciation of technical training, and the reduction of general education requirements, has probably made this more rare, and that is a pity, because many of the current crop of technical professionals have an almost institutional aversion to ‘cultural stuff’. Even when I went to school, there was some of this prejudice. I had a hard time getting approval to take creative writing classes.
It’s a pity, because writing both fosters and enhances the place of engineers and scientists in society. Technology should be integrated into culture, and should not become its driver.
Churchill warned us of the possibility of a new Dark Age, illuminated by the lights of perverted science; and science, unfettered by humanity, can easily turn down that road.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I used to suffer from “Hello? I’m here!” syndrome. Then I had children. Just ask my closest friends. Oy, do they have stories! But kids have a tendency to shove one off her throne. As do the previously mentioned friends.
I recently spent a week with my BFF, who’s an accomplished photographer. Believe me, NOTHING makes me as humble as when the person who knows me better than anyone (other than my husband) is Photoshopping my double chin out of the otherwise excellent “sitting on the beach with the wind in my hair” photo of me.
It’s very hard to be thinking of myself as a famous author when she flips back and forth between the “healthy double chin” and the “nope, no chin on this one” shots, making very loud bullfrog noises. Go ahead, ponder that a while. Just visualize that bullfrog chin going in and out…and her saying “Heeeey, this is a great author head shot!”
I cannot stand entitlement. Can. Not. Stand. It. There’s a kid we know in town who’s a very good little hockey player, but didn’t make any of the elite teams because his parents believe he’s All That. They’ve ruined his future because every coach in town refuses to deal with them. It’s very sad, because the kid is good. But like I said, the parents ruined everything.
And if I’m ever tempted to carry on as if I saved historical fiction, I’m fairly certain my agent would sit me down and talk sense into me. And that would be AFTER my best friend posted the original photos of Bullfrog Woman.
You’re not saving it.
You’re rebooting it.
We do need those who keep us humble. I’m blessed by coming from a family of seven kids– nothing keeps one as humble as siblings. Plus I have great friends and colleagues who are not afraid to offer a gentle course correction in love.
I haven’t met many of these writers in person, but I’ve run into a few of them online. As someone else mentioned, that writer/author who only wants to connect with me to advertise to me, or to ask me to read their book for other purposes (I’ve had this happen on LInkedIn).
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Hey, nice to see you again, (insert name here)! So, (insert name here), would you like to do a blog exchange?
Yeah, and the person who wants my ‘help’ but can’t quite remember my name gets shown the door in short order.
Actually, not. Because I’ve done that myself. I have to try to help.
besides, my name’s a pain to pronounce.
Exactly Jennifer and Andrew!
Jeanne, I’ve had this happen on LinkedIn too. I prefer Bloggerville and Facebook. ❀
You are so right, Jeanne. We have no right to ask for help until we’ve banked some “capital” with that person.
Wendy, I cringe–CRINGE–when I think of some of the scenarios agents face.
As a writer, I will never take for granted my journey thus far or in the future. It’s just not in my nature to feel entitled. I was raised with the attitude “God first, others second, me last.”
I love making people smile and lighting up their day–it blesses me to bless others. I pray others see a servant’s heart in me.
And our B & S agents are wonderful examples for us to model.
Thank you for letting us see Christ in you.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
“As a writer, I will never take for granted my journey thus far or in the future.”
And yes, our B&S agents are wonderful examples.
Cynthia, I also cringe when I see the attitude of agents toward writers– a whole different form of entitlement. I give this wonderful community the right to call me on attitude if I show the very traits I’m highlighting today. Friends do that for friends.
Wendy, I know I don’t want to be a writer who is so self-absorbed that she doesn’t recognize social media is about being social. I’ve had a Christian (not Christ-like)author spam me on Twitter and yet not even like or comment on any of my links. I’m not buying her book.
Then I met another writer through a lovely blogger friend’s post, and she followed me back even though she’s an award winning journalist (and I’m just me). When I heard her interviewed on CBC I was smitten by her gracious personality and immediately bought her book. She mentioned in the interview that her agent wanted her to include something in the memoir that she preferred to leave out. But she trusted her agent and followed the advice. This lovely author shows the fruits of the Spirit better than many.
I pray that I will not bring shame to the faith whether I am part of a publishing team or not.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac ❀
You wrote: “I know I don’t want to be a writer who is so self-absorbed that she doesn’t recognize social media is about being social.”
Andrew, I have no problem with the last half of your surname, but is the first half “Boo-Deck” phonetically?
Boo-deck is, from what I understand, the actual Czech pronunciation, yes.
Americans tend to fine Byu-deck a bit more comfortable.
But it isn’t my original name; the original is Mongolian and does not rest easily on the Western tongue.
Well, FINE. I’ll go somewhere else, then.
Best comment of the day.
The one thing this kind of writer does not do is keep up with the times. The world of publishing is changing and hopefully you don’t get as many of these as they can now self-publish…oh no that would be too much like hard work. Loved the post thanks Kath.
I had someone whom, after hearing the news that I’ve recently sold my debut novel to Scholastic, approached me saying she had a great idea for a book and asked me to write it so we could split the profit… The thing is, she would’ve been so much easier to refuse if she weren’t a friend 🙁
Donna Clark Goodrich
I met one writer who had five typos on the first page. She wrote a letter to the editor that said, “I know this needs retyping but I don’t have the money to do it. If you buy the book and give me an advance, I’ll have it retyped.”
Thankfully, Wendy, most of the writers I know–including here at Between the Lines–are more likely to think “it’s not good enough” rather than “this is the greatest book ever” (let’s reserve that award for the Bible).
I don’t want to be self-absorbed. It’s a challenge to be self-promoting, but it will take some of that to market my work. When the time comes, I hope I can do it with grace.
Add my voice to the chorus of thank-yous, Andrew. Your name rests easily on God’s tongue, and that is the one that counts.
I had a woman approach me who wanted me to (ghost) write her autobiography. She said to me “What I was thinking is you could fly out to my house and spend a few days observing how I live so you can get an idea of who I am and what I stand for.” I was already nervous, but when she explained that the trip would be on my penny– you know, for the opportunity to observe her– I quietly backed away.
Marion Faith Laird
Sounds like one of those people who think we all make money like Stephen King, Erin! 😮 😀
Thanks for your entry. I tend to agree with some of the other comments that many writers are on the other end – the “I’m not good enough” sentiment, so we approach people from a more humble stance. At least in my experience. I have, however, seen a lot more cases of the entitled agent or editor though. You know, the ones who answer your call, email, or greeting call with “You’ve got 3 seconds to tell me why I should take your manuscript.”, or the one who says “Have you EVER submitted anything before?” in a condescending tone while they’re multi-tasking with something else. Good agents know that it’s already so incredibly hard for writers to make the pitch in the first place, especially newbies like me, so they reply in a more pleasant tone and may even crack a joke or two to soften the energy a bit. Even if the writing is really bad, good agents hold back on the attitude and will even offer some solid constructive suggestions in a way that sends the novice writer away feeling not defeated, but encouraged and even inspired. I realize it’s hard to be pleasant and genuinely nice when agents & editors get so many pitches day in & day out, and they don’t pay you to be nice, but weren’t we all newbies at one time in some way?
I have had several people tell me they want to write a book but don’t have any idea where to start. They want me to mentor them and share everything I have learned with them. Of course that would be cramming 14 years into about 6 hours…but that is all it would really take to get them on the New York Times best seller list. Everything hinges on me helping show them the ropes.
I let them know I would be glad to help within my expertise. I give this blog, Blogging Bistro, Steve Laube and Michael Hyatt websites as a starter for valuable resources. I also let them know that when they have a manuscript ready to submit to a conference or contest they can send it to me to look over.
That is usually the last I hear from them. Obviously, I don’t understand how busy they are.
don and rascal
My pet Peavey, a grey hound, ran away last week. We looked and looked for hours. When we got home, my pet Peavey was standing in front of the refrigerator looking for a snack. It’s the 4th time in two weeks he’s done that.
Critique groups are good for bringing a writer to reality and cutting out the entitled attitude. I meet people at conferences and places who have the entitled attitude, and remind them that God called me too and already has plans for what I’m supposed to write.
Since I have co-authored I am pitched ideas that they are sure I’d want to co-author on their great idea. I’ve learned that for the persistent ones it helps to respond that I generally want to see book sales of a perspective co-author’s other books to be over 100.000 copies sold.
I’m not too crazy about the inflexible writer that thinks they know everything about writing. “Their writing is perfect and needs no editing. No agent understands them because they’re too difficult, above the agent’s understanding and other writers are too stupid to understand.”
How about those that say they got a great idea for a book when you mention you wrote one, but when you ask them what they wrote, they tell you that they haven’t.
Great post, Wendy. I have witnessed some of these scenarios myself, and I’m a fellow writer! I can only imagine what an agent must face.
It’s a lot of work to get a successful book all the way through the publishing and marketing process. We should be grateful for every team member that helps us along that journey.
Sadly, the writer type I’ve run into the most is the one that thinks that just because they WANT to be published that they are entitled to it without putting in the time or hard work. There is nothing that drives me crazier than hearing someone talk about how long they’ve slaved away at this writing gig and how hard the business is… and then I learn they started writing their first book eighteen months ago! When they don’t immediately get an agent or a book contract, this type writes off industry professionals as morons.
I try to be encouraging to new writers, but considering I’ve been at this for seventeen years and only got published in the last two, I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who isn’t willing to put in the time and hard work. (In fact, I’m really grateful that my WANTING to be published didn’t equate to GETTING published. I cringe at the thought of anything I wrote 15 years ago being immortalized in print!)
I can think of one NYT-bestselling author you obviously don’t represent. She’s been pontificating on Amazon and Facebook about how she’s big enough that she doesn’t need editing, that her book is perfect when she types “The End”.
Even if they were perfect, that’s not a good message to be sending prospective authors, as it will give them an entitlement mentality.
The reviews of her latest don’t exactly back up “perfect”, saying the first 40% is unnecessary backstory and info dumps. Not that she’ll listen, as her other hobbyhorse is reviewers who don’t understand her brilliance.
Fair enough. These sound like poor writer traits.
Moral Exercise: Is a writer who does have a major bestseller series(ie JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown) justified in acting entitled?
(Not accusing these writers of being entitled, I was only using them as examples for this question)