Money and Respect

I took this during our photography class break last night at Santa Fe Community College. I love living here because everywhere you look, it’s lovely.

There’s been bruhaha the last couple of weeks over tussles between agents and writers. This is mainly turning up on blogs and the comments to them. This guy gives a good summary of recent events. I’ve never read his blog before and I don’t know him. I don’t really like his tone and attitude, but the links are all there. It’s also a good insight into how some writers are feeling about agents these days. What’s most notable is Michelle Wolfson’s response in the comments.

Michelle is an agent I chat with from time to time on Twitter. She’s amusing and provides intelligent insight to the business. Plus, she doesn’t really handle the kind of thing I write these days, so I can chat with her without feeling like I’m, well, kissing up.

At any rate, Michelle was annoyed about all this on Twitter yesterday and asked where this feeling is coming from, that all these writers think agents don’t respect them.

I told her I think it’s part of an overall trend.

Sure, we can look at social media, the intimacy of the publishing world and other familiarities that breed this closeness. Writers have to believe we’ve written the most fabulous book in the world, or we’d never finish writing it, much less withstand the grueling process of trying to get it published. Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with us on that conviction. When a decision is made based on whether it will make money, and the rejection is handed down, people feel hurt.

When people feel hurt, they lose all sense of humor and perspective. We all know this.

But that’s not my point.

I’m seeing this kind of thing all over. Something about the economic downturn has created an environment where people are wanting everyone to know just how hard their jobs are. One flight attendant I used to follow, both on her blog and on Twitter, finally turned me off because she kept posting about how little respect flight attendants receive, how difficult their jobs are and how much money they don’t make.

I can see, to a point, wanting people to have a realistic view of your profession, that it’s not riches and glamor, but after that point, it gets tiresome. We all struggle with difficulties in our jobs. That’s why they pay us to do them: because we wouldn’t put up with the grief otherwise. I don’t know many people who say that they get paid plenty enough. It’s human nature to dream about what you could do with more money.

It’s also human nature to complain when you don’t have everything you want.

I’m not sure what the ranting does for people, except maybe provide a vent. It reminds me of bitch sessions I’ve heard where people try to top each other with how badly their spouse behaves. People say they’re fighting for respect, but really what they want is validation and admiration. These writers complain that they don’t like agents who don’t show respect for writers. I think what they don’t like is agents who don’t think their book is the Next Big Thing.

It’s notable that the writers who are represented by agents don’t seem to they’re so awful. And no, I really don’t believe it’s because they’re cowed into silence.

So many people now looking at writers like Stephenie Meyer and thinking it should be them. Silly stories and easy money. We all want that job. More, a lot of people feel entitled to it.

The trouble is, none of us are really entitled to anything at all. And all the blog posts and tweets in the world won’t change that.

10 Replies to “Money and Respect”

  1. First: I love my agent. She's smart, tenacious and dedicated. Second: Respect is a two way street, and if anyone happened to miss the memo, it has to be earned. The folks complaining about the lack of respect they get might ought to be looking in the mirror and asking themselves how they're contributing to the problem. Otherwise, you're left with that damning definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results. Is it obvious by my glaring lack of sympathy that I've put my back out?

  2. I don't have an agent at the moment (liked the one I did have, though) and I'm not really looking for one right now, so I've ignored the agent/writer bru-ha-ha (I tend to do that. Ignore things).

    But I think you've nailed the larger social trend. People with jobs are working twice as hard as they did a few years ago, resent it and don't feel respected from employers or customers, those without want a job, and think, "quit whining." No one is in a giving/understanding mood. You see this not only between agents/writers, but I think employers/employees/perspective employees.

    As for writers, I think the greater issue is a general lack of social respect for what we do. Artistic endeavors aren't really respected in this country, and finding success at it is viewed as a bit of a cheat. For the most part, no one but other artists see the hours of work that go into creating a perfect paragraph, a sublime guitar rif, or a brushstroke that breathes on its own. In an era where Snooki can get a contract not because of talent but because the publisher knows the money will follow it's hard to keep faith–or perspective–and so people bitch.

    But I have little sympathy for public venting or personal attacks. And it's not just between agents and authors. I've seen writers rip another one to shreds out of spite and jealousy. I've watched successful writers treat newbies as if they were rivals and contenders for the throne. It's painful to watch.

    I think it goes back to confidence (or lack, thereof) in our own abilities that determines how we treat others and how much public venting we do. And this industry really can knock our confidence out cold on some days.

  3. Jeffe, you've made so many great points. I respect the work agents and editors do. I love to read, but do I think I could read 40 manuscripts a week and choose one I think will become a bestseller? Ha! No, no, no. Okay, maybe I wouldn't mind trying it one week, but I couldn't do it full-time. These are people who are trying their best and we as writers can only let them do their jobs.

    It's so easy to point the finger at an agent and say, "They're a meanie, don't submit to them!" but in the end, it's your perception that needs to change. Agents are not out to get you any more than hurricanes have a mind of their own and target one area because they just don't like the food there. When I check out the agent/editor predator lists, it's because I want to know: is this a legitimate agency or publishing house, do they have a successful business. I don't want to know what their favorite color is and whether they stamp smiley faces on every rejection they send out. This is business, not personal (even though it's very personal to a writer to get a rejection).

    No one owes anyone anything in this world. You have to earn it. If you want respect from agents, you hone and perfect your craft and keep submitting until you finally land one. Give the agents a break. You're not the only author submitting to them. If they sent out a personalized rejection every single time, they'd never have time to read manuscripts and broker deals.

  4. Wow – such long and thoughtful comments. You all are so insightful. I have nothing to add, these are such great points

  5. For me the idea of targeting agents because they don't like your work is ludicrous. I have read books in the past that were I the agent would never have been published.

    Reading like any thing is else is subjective based on likes and dislikes. Part of the bigger problem is we live in a world where the grass is always greener on the other side. There is way more to getting published than just a good manuscript.

    But we live a super-sized, instant gratification society and the idea of really having to work for anything is a thing of the past. Jeffe, when did that happen? When did we deem ourselves worthy just because?

    Also, social media is a great tool for meeting and cyber stalking but it can also open you up a little too much. I don't follow agents that I would be interested in representing my work because I don't want to know about their personal lives before a relationship is built. Maybe I am doing it backward, and if so, okay I can live with it. But what most writers forget is if you are lucky enough to find a writer who wants to represent you they don't work for you per se, they are working with you. Because while your part of the process, the writing may be done, their part, the selling is just getting started.

    Okay off my soap box now. Great post!


  6. From Kerry Schafer (who blogger apparently hates and won't let comment):

    I loved this post. I've been completely insulated from this latest round of writer agent drama – for this I am thankful. But the last time there was a flare – around #queryfail and #agentfail if I remember correctly – I came away from the wreckage calling it #humanbeingfail. Which, I think, is essentially what Jeffe is saying. All of us – agents, writers, and 'muggles' – are prone to lash out when frightened or hurt. And we also tend to believe that somewhere the grass is greener, that somebody else is getting a better deal, that for some reason we have been chosen to be the universal scapegoat. I've been guilty of this myself from time to time, as Jeffe knows all too well.

    But the truth is – life is what we make it. Yep, that's a cliche, but it's a damned good one.

  7. My job is spectacular. People just show up and feed me grapes – seedless of course. Isn't everyone's job like this?

  8. In the interest of proving that the universe doesn't really hate me, I think I've mastered the art of leaving my own blog comments. Yay!

  9. And Kelly – I should have said I think it's really interesting that you don't follow the agents you'd like to have. You'll have to report back on how that works for you. Could be a really great idea!

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