Monday, July 30, 2012

How Far Can You Go and Still Be Considered Professional?

I have a huge amount of respect for the traditional publishing industry. I have a huge amount of respect for (most of) the professionals within it. One day, I want to be one of them. But I also have a huge amount of respect for authors who choose to go it alone. That's why it bothers me when I see stuff like this on Twitter:

@NON-FIC-AUTHOR (Tweets that a Big Six publisher paid her an advance, but didn't publish her book, so she self-published instead).

@BIG-AGENT#1 (with mention to the author) So she's a thief?

@BIG-AGENT#2 (with mention to the author and the other agent) No, she's just an idiot.

Between them, those agents are followed by almost 25,000 people - mainly writers and those involved in the publishing industry.

When I first saw this it just felt wrong. I clicked on the original tweet's link to a blog article, thinking it must be one of those there but for the grace of God go I stories... But, not so much:

Without naming and shaming(!), the author relayed a very serious (and, yes, potentially biased) account of her interaction with a Big Six publisher's marketing team. I won't get into it, but suffice it to say, the fact that she got to keep the advance when the book didn't go to print would suggest she was legally entitled to do so. Which probably means that the publisher was the one who didn't fulfill the contract.

Whether I agree with the author's choices or not; whether those agents are impressed by the story or not; I'm really disappointed with how they chose to address it in a public forum.

Is this kind of interaction considered acceptable from "Professionals" within the traditional publishing industry?

What's really bothering me is the double-standard. Publishing professionals (by which I mean agents and editors who blog and tweet, etc) warn novice authors (like me) against making political, religious, or personal attacks online, all the time. It's considered supremely unprofessional. And rightly so: If called an agent an "idiot" or a "thief" on Twitter, I'd expect other agents to take a low view of it. It's disrespectful and self-aggrandizing.

Yet, as authors, we're supposed to overlook these comments when they come from reputable agents?

This isn't the first time I've seen agents name and shame independents on Twitter - though it is the most personal. And it doesn't sit right with me.

To me, a call to conduct oneself professionally shouldn't be restricted to interactions with those in the traditional publishing industry. I think it should be extended to everyone.

But that's just my unpublished, novice-author self talking. I'm no professional.

I guess what I'm feeling is that if that kind of talk is acceptable in traditional circles, do I really want to be part of them?

I'm interested to hear what you think about this, but before you comment, please let me be clear: I don't think ALL agents would do this, and I don't want to get into a traditional vs. self-publishing debate. Let's stick to the subject of the professionalism double-standard and how we as authors should handle it.

NOTE: I'm monitoring comments today because I want to make sure our conversation maintains the standards these people didn't.

Your Turn: What do you think about this kind of public naming and shaming? How does it affect your view of the industry? Or should it only impact our view of the individuals involved?


  1. I also think it's bullying to call people names like that. There's too much bullying in the world.

    1. Good point. I hadn't thought about it that way.

  2. Hmm, I think you've brought up an excellent point with an interesting anecdote, Aimee. No, I do not agree with the agents calling the author out in public. That is no different from the edict I've read from numerous agents, who suggest we stay mum--publicly--if an agent, editor, publisher, etc. burns us.

    I agree with that edict, btw. I think it IS exceedingly unprofessional to take that stuff to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now if you're hanging out in a forum used by writers, and a thread pops up asking for opinions on working with xyz, then by all means say you'd have concerns about working with them from past experiences. In fact, I'd say you might be obligated ethically to warn someone. However, I'd still stop short of name calling, etc.

    The example you've given is excessive and extreme, and should never have happened. The agents should be ashamed, and I wouldn't work with them. If another agent were to have called them privately and asked their opinion of the author, they could've voiced their feelings without any issue. Taking it to Twitter is wrong, and frankly, it would be unprofessional even if they hadn't named anyone specifically.

    Who wants to work with someone who badmouths authors, even generally speaking? Yes, we have our share of twits, jerks, crazies and the like, but so do they. And it's no more appropriate for them to publicly shame folks than it would be for us to do so.

    All that being said, I'd caution anyone from making generalizations like, "Agents think they're better than everyone else" or "This is why I hope big publishing fails". There are plenty of good agents, honest publishers, and the like out there.

    1. I think you're right, E.J. These kinds of personal thoughts are absolutely fine in a private setting. After all, we all blow off steam that way sometimes.

      And I heartily agree with the caution against generalizations. That's the only thing that made me consider not posting this: I was afraid it would be deemed a judgement of entire industry.

  3. Well, I don't actually think that there's anything substantial that can be done about any of that on any front. The only thing we can do is be the best we can be.

    1. Nothing we can do about the professionals, maybe, but I'd like to see authors getting together and agreeing to be a cut above this kind of stuff.

      The reality is, there are plenty of examples out there of writers using this kind of rhetoric against professionals. Maybe if we all agreed to encourage each other to caution, the professionals would feel compelled to do the same?

      Idealistic, I know...

    2. I think as long as "the professionals" have the power, they will not consider their actions. People in power rarely do. It's why we have so many scandals with politicians and why several of the big publishers are under investigation by the Dept of Justice.

  4. I agree that there seems to be a double standard sometimes. Like agents think they are all knowing in the conduct department and writers are just screwing up all over the place and no one can control them. I've seen both groups say rude things. It's a people behaving badly issue. Not a writers behaving badly issue.

    But on the other hand, agents are looking to rep writers and don't want to deal with the backlash of their potential client's terrible comments in the future, so I get that. It's a lot easier to apologize for your own comment than to explain your client's comment away.

    1. "It's a lot easier to apologize for your own comment than to explain your client's comment away."

      That is a VERY good point.

    2. Also this: "It's a people behaving badly issue. Not a writers behaving badly issue."

      Maybe you should have written the blog post! Ha!

    3. Ha ha ha! Mostly when agents talk about this, I think they're saying "watch out, if you aren't professional, I won't want to rep you even if you're book is great."

      But it goes both ways. There is one agent I will not be submitting to because of her unprofessional behavior. Sounds like there are two you will be skipping too, so they'll be missing out!

  5. Twitter makes it far to easy to become unprofessional. If the agents really wanted to have this conversation, they should have switched to a private chat or a phone call.

  6. I swear, sometimes the publishing industry is just way over my head. Once you're a professional, that's what you are, and that's how you should act. I think this whole scene is one of the reasons I'm not on Twitter. Too much to worry about. ;)

  7. That example is shocking. I agree wholeheartedly with you and the commenters who've said that professionalism goes both ways.

    I recently saw someone use Twitter to demand their money back from a copy editor who 'hadn't done the work', to which the editor replied that the work had been done, the client just hadn't wanted to accept it. Another conversation that should not have taken place in a public forum!

  8. The way I see it, these agents should have left it alone. The writer/author burried herself as it was by telling the whole world about what happened. If she had only thought before tweeting, she could have simiply gone on and self-published her book.

    I think it's become way too easy to press a few buttons and BLAMO our laundry is out there at the speed of a bullet.

    Double standard? Yes. Shaking a finger at others and acting as though you're above it all is wrong--esp. by "professionals".