Thursday, 1 November 2012

No paid professional will care as much as you do

I'm sure you all recognize the quote...
Passive Guy posted recently from a US agent's blog a piece entitled Why agents collect your money for you

The agent, Janet Kobobel Grant, explained that having publishers send the entire amount to the agent, instead of her 15% commission to her and the author's share to the author, was really for the author's benefit. She could check the amount (she didn't explain why a statement wouldn't do just as well) thus saving the author "happily skipping off to the bank to deposit an incorrect check".

This picture of the naive little author saying, "Ooh! Money!" and in her enthusiasm failing to notice it was the wrong amount is typical of the patronizing way writers are treated by the publishing industry.  We are told there are all sorts of things we can't possibly do for ourselves, so we need to pay most of our earnings to others in order to get them done for us. Of course this learned helplessness is handy for getting rights-grab contracts signed - don't worry your pretty little head with the details, just sign on the dotted line.

When dealing with professionals, it's best to bear in mind that you care an awful lot more about your job than they do. Whether it's a plumber, a solicitor or a literary agent, to them you are just one customer among many. 

I've learned not to let other people do my thinking for me. I still remember the time I paid a for an opinion from a QC on the advice of my solicitor. The combined hourly charge was mind-boggling. I mentioned a possible problem I'd noticed, and they shook their heads in unison while reassuring me. I turned out to be right, they were wrong; they moved on to the next client and I paid for their bad advice each month for the next nine years.

Look at the comments on Janet Kobobel Grant's page from grateful authors agreeing with her. Then check out the comments beneath Passive Guy's post. It's herbivores and carnivores.

Don't be a herbivore. They'll chew you up and spit you out.


  1. Hi Lexi

    In response to my comment on your previous entry you asked, “how good are their editors at picking up anything you've missed?”. I’ve been meaning to answer that question and the reply also neatly touches upon your current blog.

    By the time I send off my MS I’ve gone through it a million times so hopefully there are no repeated words, tics etc left. To that extent there’s very little for a copy editor to pick up on. However, no matter how many times you go through a manuscript you will always miss something… and my experience is that the copy editor didn’t note it. Months after my book had been published I picked it up and randomly opened a page… to find a word unintentionally repeated within a couple of sentences! It was suddenly glaring to me but it had been missed.

    I suspect this is the norm because plenty of other books I’ve read (by established authors, published by big publishers) seem to have plenty of mistakes that should have been spotted.

    All of which ties back into the theme of this post – a copy editor is merely doing a job and doesn’t care about my book the way I do… which is why I prefer to do as much of it as possible myself.


  2. I have Odie thoroughly review all of my pages. He has the ultimate financial and emotional stake in the enterprise and so is remarkably conscientious. Mistakes are piddled on with pinpoint accuracy and ponderous prose is meticulously chewed into a slobbery pulp as is only proper. I then sob and he comforts me with a wet nose to the eye.

  3. Guy, though like you I do my best to achieve perfection, few readers notice repeat words and similar things. It's really just us. I noticed recently when rereading The Big Sleep that Chandler uses 'There was' multiple times in his descriptions. And John le Carré used 'it occurred to her' twice in a few lines of The Little Drummer Girl. Readers are surprisingly forgiving even of much more obvious flaws if the story is good.

    Alan, your description of Odie makes me quite pleased I don't own a dog :o)

  4. What a bizzare blog post (the agent's, not yours, Lexi!). Would any reasonably intelligent author not bother to check that the publisher had paid the contracted amount?

  5. You'd think so Justine, but three of the first commenters are being wryly knowing about 'writers and math' as if the ability to write somehow stops you being able to do sums.

    Then there's the hoary old chestnut, "I need all my time to write"...

  6. The agent's comments are insulting. Sometimes it seems as if authors are treated either as lepers or idiots. I am neither and find myself more and more inclined to be my own 'middleman' between my writing and any readers who might be interested in it.