Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The way of the world or the writer’s lot is (often) not a happy one

I’m going to talk directly to other writers here. That’s not to say that you can’t listen in if you’re not!

I guess I’m feeling cranky at the moment, or maybe just a little careworn, but I really feel I have to address an issue that’s endemic to the writing game.

I’m referring about rudeness.

Case in point: I have a friend in Scotland who really enjoys my writing (or at least professes to) and he has a longtime friend whose son works for one of the big UK publishers. “You really should sign this author up,” my friend tells the son (whom he also knows well). After all the usual stuff (“The publishing business is really hurting.” “We only look at agented manuscripts.” And so on), the son agrees to look at my latest published book (there goes the unagented bit).

I figured since I had the entree directly, I’d send the book, along with a covering letter, explaining a bit about me, about contacting my agent on the chance there was interest, commiserating about the state of publishing, and basically reassuring this gentleman that I knew quite well how things work.

Sending the book off to him cost me $36+, but I figured, what the heck, show him that I’m at least keen and have it couriered.

Four months go by without any response. I happened to be speaking to my Scottish friend last week, and he says, “Too bad my friend’s son didn’t like your novel.” I told him that’s the first I heard of it. “Oh, he told me he read about twenty pages and decided ‘not for the UK market’. Didn’t he contact you?”

I told him I hadn’t heard a peep, and added that was the way these things usually work.

My friend was outraged (he comes from the brewing industry) that a person who’s not even wet behind the ears anymore should be so incredibly rude. “I’m going to call him up and tell him what I think of his behavior! How long would it have taken to send you an email?”

I told him not to bother, that this is the way authors are generally treated in this business. Booksellers, agents, editors, publicists and the media all often behave the same.

“Well, it’s damned rude! That’s what I think!” my friend grumbled. “You wouldn’t dare do that in other businesses.”

I hung up the phone after thanking him for caring so much, and also how grateful I was that he’d gotten me the chance, despite how it all worked out.

An hour later, the conversation came back to me. You know what? He’s right. Why is it acceptable for people to be rude in the book business? Many call back when they say the will, silence after a book submission is often deafening for weeks if not months, and even bookstores who invite you in to sign have on occasion completely forgotten that you were coming — often at great distances. The excuse if you question it is, “I am so busy!” Well, I’m busy, too, probably more than they are. I currently have 3 jobs — and I know if I don’t call clients or possible clients when I say I will, they will go elsewhere.

If you did that in the music business, teaching or graphic design (fields in which I’ve worked for many years), you get your butt shown the door eventually. Certainly you’d hear about it from your boss.

Not in the book business.


Vicki Delany said...

Too, too true. Appropriate to what I moaned about a couple of weeks ago about people who come to an all day event or workshop and don't buy any books. It's like your time, as an author, is worth nothing.

Rick Blechta said...

The weird thing is that nearly everyone else in the book business seems to think we're a pain in the ass and a waste of space.

Hello? Aren't we the people without whom this little enterprise can't exist?

I wish I were making this up, but basically, it's true.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Hear, hear! These are rude and unacceptable business practices in any other profession. I keep wondering how to change this. Any ideas?

Rick Blechta said...

I guess it starts with us.

I won't be rude and will strictly follow good business relationship practices with you, if you'll do the same with me.

Pass it along — especially anyone "above" us.