Etiquette – hands in lap, napkin daintily applied to corners of the mouth

Agents and editors don’t mean to make mistakes. Really. We don’t wake up and think, “Whose life will I toy with today? Whose dreams can I crush this week?” It makes no sense to muck about causing trouble. Heck, I have a beagle who can do that with her eyes closed. The idea is to be the very best we can be.

But we’re human. Cow flatulence happens. So what is the proper way that you, the author, can deal with a muck up? Grace.

In this day and age, everyone has an instant audience for complaints via the internet:

“I hate my cover art!”
“They screwed up the editing on my book!”
“My agent isn’t doing diddley squat selling my book!”
“Why did my agent sell my book to that publisher?? I’m Random House material, dontcha know?”

And so it goes out into the cyber world for everyone to see. They end up as discussions on writers’ boards where sides are taken and, like gang warfare, shots are fired from both sides. The issues are thrown under a microscope and analyzed like mutating cells until the discussion finally dies out for want of another outrage elsewhere.

There are advantages to things being openly discussed, but I must question the wisdom of taking personal dissatisfaction to a public forum.

As an example of doing things right, I have great admiration for Jaclyn Dolamore’s handling of her cover art for Magic Under the Glass. Rather than lead the charge with torches held high and bloodlust wheezing in every breath, she kept her napkin daintily to her mouth. This is a classy woman who’s focused on her writing career – not the cover of a single book. If I could afford her, I’d so work with her.

Ya look kinda foolish

When a problem arises – and face it, they will arise – you must decide what is the smartest thing for you and your career.  Do you look your cover and run to your nearest writers’ board to complain, or do you put your napkin daintily to your mouth and remain circumspect? “No comment, thank you.” Do you speak with your editor to see if something can’t be changed?

Charging to a writers’ board or blog with your hair on fire makes you look like a bullet that’s been stuffed with too much gunpowder. Canyoubelievewhatiditostheyare???? you bleat in a fit of outrage. Of course, you’re hoping to garner lots of tea and sympathy, and you may very well get it.

But what does that outrage get you in the long run? First off, your publisher is going to see it/hear about it/get wind of it. Think that will make them feel all goosey lovey about you?

Or how about if, Cosmic Muffin forbid, your contract is canceled – for whatever reason. Yes, it hurts. But do you scream from the top of the mountain that your agent or editor is the most vile sack of yak spit, or do you daintily apply your napkin to the corners of your mouth because you are more concerned about looking like a loose cannon that editors and agents will avoid?

And think about it; does your agent or editor talk about you publicly when you screw up? No, because it’s un-pro-fess-ional.

It’s not that agents and editors are necessarily frightened of the bad press because everyone knows deals go south and mistakes happen. It’s YOU – your future – that you need to be concerned about. If an agent or editor happens to stumble across your posts, they may beat feet in the opposite direction.

Ardent defense

If you’re insanely happy with your agent of editor, it’s natural to want to come to their defense.

“Your editor wears Army boots and smells like elderberries.”
“Does not!”
“Does too. And what’s more, she picks her nose in public.”
“Does not!”
“Does to!”
“Well just you wait. When I’m a famous author, I’ll come back here and scream nyah, nyah! to you losers.”

Oh dear. This is just all kinds of embarrassing. Not only do you make yourself look foolish, but your ardent defense looks sock puppet-y.

It’s the newbies who do this sort of thing. They’re drunk-high on the idea of being represented or published, and they can’t stand the idea of seeing any kind of negative scrutiny – no matter how minor it may be. So they run in like a mama bear on crack and say some really ignorant things.

The fallout of ardent, blind defense goes something like this: “What kind of agent/editor would work with a brainless twit like that?”  The author has unintentionally made people wonder about the agent or editor’s intelligence of their choices. In short, they make themselves and their agents/editors look equally stupid. So that ardent defense becomes a serious backfire.

I know a few agents who forbid their clients to reply to any message boards or blog about any issues. The idea of keeping your hands in your lap and your napkin daintily applied to the corners of your mouth is this: your agent or editor is perfectly able to defend themselves if they feel the need for it. It is not your job to be their champion or their primary detractor. Let their reputations speak for themselves. They don’t need or want your help. If they do, they’re idiots.

Moral: If you’re unhappy, consider the impact you’ll have on your own career by voicing your displeasure in a public forum [and I’m not talking scams here].

If you’re deliriously happy, consider the impact you’ll have on your own career and the reputation of your agent or editor by giving the impression that you need to fight their battles. Both of these options often leave a jelly stain on one’s mouth. Hence, the dainty napkin.

Editorial Anonymous has a great post that relates to this.

9 Responses to Etiquette – hands in lap, napkin daintily applied to corners of the mouth

  1. Pelotard says:

    I might never get the image of ‘a mama bear on crack’ out of my head.

  2. Terry Odell says:

    Barry Eisler was a guest at Dear Author giving his side, with an open letter to his French publisher. Led to a LOT of discussion. http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2010/01/26/lets-give-them-something-to-talk-about/

  3. Pelo, the beagle provides special therapy for those who suffer my literary visual. Hope you like margaritas and Twinkies. It’s part of the therapy, I hear.

    Elizabeth, many thanks for tweeting my post.

    Terry, always great to have other insights. No doubt the bloggersphere is alive with Magic Under the Glass commentary.

  4. Voidwalker says:

    My Motto is “Worse things have happened to better people,” so if I really feel inclined to whine and moan, I typically thing of this phrase and it puts me in my place!

    P.S. Can the napkin be plaid or does it have to be solid color? Cuz if it’s plaid, I may not be able to follow this great advice. 😛

  5. Great points! I’m linking back to this one.

  6. Leda says:

    Has there been a rash of authors complaining publicly about their publishers/agents lately? I’m not well-read in the publishing blogroll.

  7. Leda: not a sudden rash, but more of a consistent aberration that does nothing but make them look less than professional.

  8. kat magendie says:

    Yes, the tongue feels so much better without our own footprints on it; great advice!

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