Remember all those stories about great cantankerous authors way back when who were legendarily inebriated most of the time, were notoriously difficult to handle, got into fisticuffs, and were generally misanthropic to every human they encountered but people still published their books because they were wonderfully talented?
How many successful authors today do you know who fit that description?
Um. On second thought, don’t answer that. But now think of the huge number of bestselling and successful authors you know today (some of whom comment regularly on the blog) who are awesome, cool people who you would love to hang out with even if they weren’t also incredible writers.
I’m not sure what’s in the cultural waters, but I’m hearing from non-publishing people in the world of business that there’s a new trend afoot toward politeness, anger management, and a less rigid hierarchy — in other words, in business you can’t really be a jerk anymore. Managers are no longer allowed to mistreat their assistants, it’s essential to treat people with respect, contain tempers, work together, and generally avoid being a misanthrope. Stanford prof Richard Sutton chronicled the negative effective of assholes in the workplace with his appropriately titled book THE NO ASSHOLE RULE, and it’s been a bestseller. Jim Collins showed in GOOD TO GREAT that the best leaders are humble, not egotistical.
Now, with publishing you’re dealing with artists, who are not exactly known for an even temperament. And no doubt there’s much more tolerance for eccentricity in publishing than there would be in the rest of the business world. But even in publishing an author who is a joy to work with and has a dynamite, charming personality has a leg up over one who doesn’t. Allow me to venture a hypothesis on why this be so: I think this has a great deal to do with the role of the modern author.
Way back when in simpler times, the book was what mattered. The author may have had to do some events and readings, but for the most part an author’s engagement with the public was limited. Word of mouth and reviews drove sales. If a writer wrote a good book but was a pill to deal with, that was basically ok.
Not so much anymore.
Now, via TV, radio, the Internet, lots more travel, etc., the author is face to face with their readership more than ever before and is called upon to generate sales opportunities — this requires social skills. They are also more closely in touch with people within a publishing organization — also requiring social skills. And it helps when people want to work with an author because they’re an awesome, friendly, professional, hardworking author.
Is a publisher going to decline to publish a great book simply because the author is a jerk and a handful? Probably not. But when those difficult and nebulous decisions are being made in a publishing house, such as who gets what advertising and who is going to be the lead title and a great deal of complex factors are being weighed, put a great personality in the “pro” column for an author.
Thanks! Much clearer now.
Nathan Bransford says
No, I read women’s fiction and romantic suspense but I don’t really read romance romance, and thus don’t represent it — I wouldn’t really know what’s good.
Other Lisa says
Adaora A. says
Thanks! I always wondered if agents have ever read what they absolutely don’t represent.
There are so many romance romance imprints out there. Blaze, Harlequin, Harlequin Historical, etc.
Way back in 1968 (when the earth’s crust had just cooled and I was a girl), I happened to be on 5th avenue, near the Tishman Building, and walked by a tall, stunningly gorgeous man who was waiting to cross the street.
My first thought was, “Gee, he looks familiar,” and my second, after I got a few yards away, was, “Damn. That’s Sidney Poitier.”
By the time I turned around to gawk at him, he was completely surrounded by women wanting his autograph.
For the next fifteen minutes or so he smiled and chatted with these women and signed autographs and shook their hands without showing any impatience or irritation. And all I could think was, “Now that is class.”
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with writers and musicians at every level of achievement. Some of them are as gracious, decent, and classy as Sidney Poitier, and others are just jerks.
I wish I could say that it’s the famous folks who are terrific, while the novices are impossible, but that hasn’t been my experience.
What I have discovered is that decency and class have nothing to do with status or achievement. Decent people recognize the humanity in others, and understand the importance of respecting it, while jerks simply do not.
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
Actually, all of the authors I have met, whether famous or not, have been very gracious and kind. My favorite was Anne Mccaffrey, such a doll. My fav even though I don’t write Science Fiction. Her advice was perfect for all genres.
Betty Atkins Dominguez says
Gosh, I forgot to tell what Anne’s advice was.
Write what you love. And, polish, polish, polish.
I went from your blog about No Rhetorical Questions to this page. WTF? You throw one out there right off the bat. Come on Nathan, you may be smart & talented, but don’t be a hypocrite. Think man! Think before thou typest!
Nathan Bransford says
Last time I checked, this blog post isn’t a query letter.
Interesting post. I have been thinking about something similar, which is that many literary agents and editors I follow on social media come off as total jerks. They write things that seem very smug and self-satisfied, which is interesting, because publishing is not the most secure industry right now. I mean, I realize being an agent/editor must be very frustrating sometimes, but so is EVERY job. (And I don't post on Twitter about how stupid people are. I keep it to myself!)
That's one reason I like your blog. You always seem so upbeat and pleasant. Maybe that's why you are not an agent anymore. 😉