Manners and Bad Poetry
April 19, 2007 | Written by admin
In my last post, I mentioned blogs and sites I like, and I even said I was bound to leave somebody off…so, of course, I left some people off. Brandilyn Collins runs a cool site for novelists called "Forensics and Faith," and my buddy Mary DeMuth runs her "RelevantBlog," which is good. Fortunately they were gracious about it and didn’t call me names. But they did ask for chocolate.
I also had somebody ask if I was going to begin posting poetry — for those not in the know, I’m one of those people who is poetry-immune. Every poet is basically trying to promulgate the same idea ("Look at me — I’m sensitive"), and though I can spot great prose, I have trouble spotting great poetry. That said, I can write some fantastically bad rhyming couplets, which is even better now that I’ve been informed by a poetry professor that rhyming couplets are definitely on the outs with the literatti. That means we need to have a really bad poetry contest. I’ll work on that. I might even award something to the winner…possibly an AUTOGRAPHED, FIRST EDITION copy of "The Y2K Family Survival Guide"!
Speaking of all this reminds me to mention that I like the fact people have been polite in their comments. We just seem to run into a lot of impolite types in this business. You know the type I’m talking about…
-First, there is the author who asks you what you think of her novel, says she really wants you to be honest…then acts offended if you’re not in love with it. I recently sent a very gentle rejection to someone, and her response was to come back and accuse me of being "a phony — just like all those other agents who rejected me." Oh. In other words, if you get rejected by a bunch of literary agents, they’re all wrong and you’re right. And my agreeing with them makes me a phony. Uh-huh. I’m sure she’s got a huge future in publishing.
-Second, there’s the weird guy who follows you around at a writing conference and acts too friendly. He always has a bad book idea, feels compelled to tell you about it every chance he gets, and doesn’t understand the concept of personal space. It’s like being chased by Dr. Weirdness and the Children of Doom.
-Third, there’s the person who acts like you’re her personal assistant. "Here’s my novel — do a review and tell me what you’d change." Um…I don’t represent you. You just sent this in cold. Where does it state that I have to respond to your request? The fact that you’re a writer and I’m an agent does not automatically mean that I owe you my time.
-Fourth is the guy who insists on a face-to-face meeting. Merely sending you his proposal is not enough. Why is it bad writers always think their work is going to improve if they can explain it? Do they plan to visit each buyer of their book in order to explain their concepts in person? A while back I had a guy call several times and ask for a meeting, eventually mentioning one of my favorite restaurants in town. I agreed…basically because I wanted to eat at the restraurant. At the end of the meal, after listening to what clearly was an unsalable idea, he says to me, "So…shall we split this?" Um…no, we shall not. You called me. You asked for the meeting. You asked me to invest my time in order to get my perspective on your work. This was your meeting. So it’s your responsibility to buy the food — and you shouldn’t have to be told.
There are others, but you get the picture. Politeness counts…which is an odd thought, coming from me, I suppose. I’ve certainly used up more than my share of being impolite. I’ll sometimes be too blunt in an assessment and hurt people’s feelings. I’m not doing that to intentionally would someone, but negative words can be hard to hear. I recently sent a cryptic email to a fellow agent who took it as a rebuke. I hadn’t meant it that way; I was simply offering my thoughts. Email can be a tricky thing at times.
One of the place where agents and publishers have to force themselves to be polite is during contract negotiations. I’m used to simply handling this stuff as business — I don’t get terribly emotional about it. There are notes to work through and discuss, so I go through them, point by point. If, for example, I think an author is getting treated unfairly by a publisher because of some contract clause, I’ll say, "This doesn’t work at all" or "No other publisher is asking for this." And it’ll be the truth. But I’ve noticed, particularly in CBA, some editors get personally hurt over negotiations — as though my criticizing something in their contract is an idictment of them personally. It’s dumb…but it happens. So I have to remind myself to be extra-nice, even though to me this is just a business discussion, not a reflection on anyone’s character.
Anyway, politeness still counts. The successful editors and agents and authors have, by and large, figured this out. So thanks for being nice to me. And for allowing me to rant about this stuff on occasion. I promise to write you a nice poem as my way of saying thanks.