Saturday, 15 March 2014

On being professional

I recently read a tweet from a particular agent which began with #agenttip: and then a piece of advice for writers when it comes to submissions. One of the replies used the same hashtag to tell agents to actually read their submissions because they might find something decent. Unprofessional enough, you might think, but when the agent replied to say 95% of their authors came from the submission pile and that agents couldn't sell to publishers without them, the author replied with this stunner:

You don't sell books, publishers do. Those who can, write; those who can't become agents. 

I had no skin left after reading that. It all crawled away and curled up in embarrassment. Here's the thing: writing is a frustrating business. You slave over a book; you polish it until you can quote the entire thing and you're sick of the sight of it. Then you send it off into the world in the hope someone will give you a few quid for it and you'll become a professional writer. Sometimes, you hear precisely jack in reply. Not even a wow, this book was a massive bag of crap. Never darken my inbox again, you total wanker. Other times, you get back the standard form reply you know has gone to another hundred people on the same day. I know that as well as any writer. Ask me how many submissions I've sent to publishers and agents over the last fifteen years and I honestly couldn't tell you. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. But so what? The publishing world doesn't give a monkey's. Why should it? I've proved I can write a book someone wants to publish and others want to read. I've proved I've got the drive to write another one and then another, but I say again - so what? Why should the publishing world give a shit? They want a book from me that will make them sit up and take notice just like they want one from the snarky author quoted above. If the author here doesn't get that and thinks being a dick in public to an agent will win him any friends, he's very wrong.

All this doesn't mean writers should bow and scrape before agents like they're Victorian noblemen about to shove our children up their chimneys. It simply means this: be professional. You want people to treat your work with respect and take time out of their day or weekend or evening to read it, right? Well, what makes you think you'll get anywhere by not being professional? I've said it before and I'll say it again - publishing is a business. We're all professional in our working lives or when dealing with people we don't know. Why would interacting on Twitter be any different? It could well be the author doesn't want representation and that's cool. Not every writer does, but they'd do well to remember how we present ourselves in the flesh is how we should present ourselves online.

Otherwise, you're just being an arsehole. And nobody likes an arsehole.


  1. How I wished you lived closer, so we could go for a beer and talk about the joys of publishing. :) I feel like we came up together, you know?

    1. That would be very cool. I tell you what, if I'm ever on your side of the pond, the ale's on me.