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Miss Manner’s Guide to Working with Publishing Professionals

Dear Miss Manners,

My agent never returns my calls or emails.  Even when I email her every day. Or call her on her home phone at 11:00 at night.  What can I do to make her more responsive to my needs?  My first book is out on submission, and I need to know what’s happening with my career. NOW!


Gentle Reader,

Miss Manners hates to point the finger (so rude!) but is it possible that the reason that you are not receiving the response you wish, is that you have annoyed your agent into fits of despair?


 

So that was a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a point here.

Even though your agent, your publicist, and your webmaster, (etc) work for you, they also probably work for 100 other people as well.  And they’re probably working for you and their other clients 10-12+ hours per day, so being very cognizant of their time can endear you to them, and wasting their time can drop you to the bottom of their collective priority lists.  As the creative director of Bemis Promotions (an ad agency for authors), I have been working with authors for over 12 years, with clients in all levels of their careers — from submitting their first manuscript, to NY Times Bestsellers.

So here are my top 10 tips and tricks to working with Publishing Professionals. Note:  a lot of these will also apply to people from your publishing house as well, even though they do not technically work for you.

1)      Be organized.
Your agent/editor/webmaster/publicist (etc) is likely getting dozens of important requests every day.  When you are organized, your work will take less time to complete and therefore be more likely to be done first.

  • Don’t send 42 emails with 42 separate requests. Send one detailed, organized email with prioritized tasks.
  • Don’t fire off requests so quickly that you don’t send complete information.
  • Use complete sentences.  Re-read your email before you send it off. Make sure everything makes sense. If your publishing professional has to spend time deciphering your meaning, or emailing back for clarification, your work may take longer to complete.
  • Don’t send “Oops. Ignore previous. Use THIS information instead” because you didn’t take the time to make sure you had the right information.

2)      Do not believe that you are more important than any other client.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that you are not the most special snowflake that your publishing professional handles.  Sometimes someone else’s urgent issue will take precedence over yours.  And sometimes yours will be the most urgent request.

3)      Unless it’s an emergency, keep your requests during business hours.
If you are calling your publishing professional on the weekend or after business hours, someone’s hair better be on fire. (Obviously, this goes for phone calls, not as much for emails.  But don’t expect your publishing professional to address your email during off hours or on the weekend.)

4)      Recognize what’s an emergency.
A typo on an interior page of your website is annoying, but not an emergency. A bad review is annoying, but not an emergency. Your publisher just closed his doors *IS* an emergency.

5)      No matter how frustrated you may be, be friendly and pleasant.

Playing the “bitch card” will not endear you to your publishing professional.  It will not make her jump on your request.  It will, however, make her dread your emails and avoid your phone calls.

6)      Always say please and thank you.
This kind of goes with “be friendly and pleasant”, but it needs to be said.

7)      If your agent/publicist/webmaster (etc) has specific procedures, follow them.
It will only make their life (and probably yours) easier.

8)      Even if they are not giving you the best possible service, do not bad-mouth them to others (and definitely NEVER online!)
Publishing is a very small (almost incestuous) business. Agents talk to other agents. Publicists talk to other publicists and web developers for authors talk to other web developers for authors.  If you are spewing vitriol, it will be likely to get back to your publishing professional. If you are a difficult client, others in the community will definitely know about it and hesitate to work with you if you decide to leave your publishing professional. If someone asks you for a referral, be professional, even if you can’t recommend the services of a publishing professional.

9)      Remember that your publishing professional is a human being too.
It’s very easy to forget that the person on the other end of the keyboard is a person. A REAL person, who has a family and a dog and a life outside your needs and who sometimes has sick children and dying fathers, and family drama, and medical problems that have to come before your current issue.

10)   Also…realize that you hired professionals because they are professionals. Their advice comes from experience.
If you don’t agree with the advice of your publishing professional, ask questions about why they believe what they do. Don’t immediately dismiss the advice (or the publishing professional).  You only have your career to guide.  They guide dozens (or more) and they probably know what they’re talking about.

And now I leave you, gentle reader, to come up with a list of top 10 items for publishing professionals to remember when working with authors!

Liz Bemis-Hittinger has worked in the design and technology fields for more than two decades with clients in a wide range of industries, including publishing, restaurants, non-profit, small business, corporate, military/government and educational institutions. Her consulting and corporate work includes acclaimed site design and comprehensive eCommerce site development. Additionally, she has implemented Ad Agency-led international marketing campaigns and managed application development for the US Air Force. Liz is also a 6-time Golden Heart finalist and a 2012 Golden Heart Winner. More information about Bemis Promotions can be found at their website: www.bemispromotions.com

36 responses to “Miss Manner’s Guide to Working with Publishing Professionals”

  1. Vivi Andrews says:

    Miss Manners has never been more relevant. 🙂 There is so much waiting in this business, it helps to remind ourselves that the only reason we’re having to wait so long is because the people we work with are BUSY. Like INSANELY busy. Every agent we query is juggling a million things. Our editors are constantly swamped. So a little patience on our part goes a long way.

    Great post, Liz.

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  2. Addison Fox says:

    This is a great post, Liz!

    As someone who has clients in my day job, I know how it feels to be on that receiving end. Rude demands become wearing very quickly, especially when it’s tied to something that seems frivolous. EVERYTHING can’t be an emergency.

    Addison

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  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    I DO have a suggestion to offer publishing professionals working with authors:

    Remember that authors are busy, too. Somehow, while juggling personal relationships, parenthood, day jobs, health problems, irascible and smelly pets, housework, elder care, and community work, we managed to eke out enough time to write a decent manuscript. Please consider the health and well-being of your authors when setting deadlines.

    And authors? SPEAK UP, and negotiate politely and in good faith, if you know the deadline being proposed is too aggressive. Missing a deadline, or killing yourself making one, isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

    Great advice, Liz! Always good to get a reminder. 😉

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  4. I am probably the exact opposite of the rascally client you described, to the point of frustration for my agent. And, quite possibly, my web designer. 🙂

    I am very conscious of how many clients other professionals have and I hate to take up their time. So more often than not, I just don’t say anything. They are busy! They don’t have time to answer my stupid questions! But sometimes those questions aren’t stupid and should be addressed. I’m learning this. I really am.

    Or, well, I’m trying. But in my own defense, I have the best in the biz on my side, so I’m not overly worried about being railroaded. I trust my peeps implicitly,

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  5. This is a wonderful, must-read post, Liz! I tend to be the type of person who would never bother an agent/editor/publishing professional even when I probably should. I really don’t like conflict. Or tension. Or feeling even the slightest bit nervous or uncomfortable. So I don’t always (read *never*) speak up when I should. It’s something I’m struggling to learn — this idea that it is MY career, after all, and that I need to take charge of it, ask questions, and be open about what I want/need. All done politely of course! 🙂

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    • Liz Bemis says:

      Cynthia,

      There’s a wide expanse between being afraid to ask for a service which you have paid for and making a provider cower in fear of your next email or phone call. 😀

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  6. Amanda Brice says:

    Great post, Liz!

    I’ll second Tammy’s comments, particularly when it comes to unreasonable deadlines that are the result of the publishing professional pushing too close to the deadline on doing their part.

    On some of my writers’ loops, I’m constantly hearing about editors who set a release date several months in the future, but then don’t get edits to the author until a couple of weeks before release and then expect the author to turn that around within a few days. Um, no.

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    • Liz Bemis says:

      Thanks, Amanda! I think it’s true for everyone… we should make sure that we do not let ourselves get tied into unreasonable deadlines. (I’m TERRIBLE about this!)

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  7. Gwyn says:

    Well done, Liz. Like begets like, so if you want consideration, you need to give it.

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  8. Great tips – I’ve always believed that “you can lure more flies with honey than vinegar.” It pays to be kind, and live by the Golden Rule. 🙂

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    • June Love says:

      Anne Marie, my mother always said that about the flies and honey. That and “don’t burn your bridges because you never know when you may need to cross back over”. Oh, and “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all”. Actually, I think it was Thumper’s mother who taught me the last one. 🙂

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  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is great advice everywhere in life. I’ve never understood why some people think being an aggressive jerk will get them what they want.

    As someone who’s done a lot of “service”-oriented jobs, I know that people in a position to help others (whether it’s waiters, doctors, airline ticket clerks, teachers, car mechanics, or the Big Boss’s front office secretary) will bend over backwards to help gracious people who respect boundaries and show gratitude. It feels GOOD to help a nice person. It leaves everybody with a glow.

    But when someone asking for help is pushy, accusing, over-demanding, and disrespectful, it’s only natural to hunker down defensively and have as little as possible to do with the nastiness.

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    • Liz Bemis says:

      Elisa,

      That is so true! Being super nice makes people want to be super nice to you.

      I also found that tears are especially effective on 20 year old boys/men. Not that I’m a proponent of using tears to get what you want… just a recent observation. (I kind of melted down in the middle of CVS while trying to rent an emergency wheelchair for my father this week. I’m pretty sure he was thinking to himself, “I’m barely trained on how to rent you this wheelchair. No one said I’d have to deal with tears!”)

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Great points, Elisa. When I was in a hiring position in my previous job, I always asked the Admin for their feedback on each candidate. Anyone who treated the Admin poorly didn’t get a callback.

      Do NOT piss off the Admin. 😉

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      • Amanda Brice says:

        ALWAYS good advice. I’ve seen plenty of candidates who were fabulous on paper who have not gotten job offers because of how rude they were to the Admin.

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  10. Carradee says:

    I’m a writer AND an editor, so I see both sides, and I agree with you, Liz…sorta.

    Problem is, your post is assuming that the writer is being unreasonable and that the hiree is being reasonable. Granted, the questioner sounds as if he or she probably is being unreasonable and rude.

    But there are agents, publishers, etc., who actively ignore legitimate requests.

    In those cases, the writer might conceivably call at off hours, just trying to get a response, particularly when weeks and months go by of being ignored.

    I also believe there’s a time to go public if someone’s treating you poorly. I had an incident wherein I couldn’t get replies—much less the royalty statements or payments I’d been promised several months before—until I went public about it. I’ve seen some writers have issues with cover artists, wherein the artist didn’t even deliver paid-for work until some of the clients banded together online.

    So while public “badmouthing” shouldn’t be a first resort, it shouldn’t be omitted as a possibility.

    However, an author inclined to nag someone else does need to back off and seriously consider what you pointed out in your post.

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    • Liz Bemis says:

      Caradee,

      This is also a very good point. If the person you hired isn’t consistently getting the job done, and is ignoring your calls and emails, that’s certainly a problem. However, if you sent a non-urgent email at 5:30 on Friday, and they don’t call until Monday morning, then that’s NOT a reason to interrupt their weekend (for example).

      I would very much like to apologize to any writers who read the above and believed I was saying that agents/editors/publicists/web developers, etc are busier than authors. That is absolutely not what I was meaning to convey at all!! Only that we are slaves to more masters. Writers work under incredible deadlines, sometimes to multiple publishers, who don’t consult one another on those deadlines! And some while still holding down a demanding “day job” and taking care of families, etc… Also, to clarify, I used the term “publishing professionals” to refer to agents/editors/publicists/web developers/independent cover artists (etc), as that is how they are labeled & categorized at every publishing-related conference I’ve ever been to. This is not at all to say that authors are in any way less professional than agents/editors etc…

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  11. Vanessa Barneveld says:

    Excellent advice, Liz! I agree with Elisa in that using aggression to get what you want only makes people less likely or willing to help you. Trouble is people like that may *think* they’re getting away with such behaviour because no one calls them out on it.

    I am guilty of saying “oops, ignore the last email,” though. I’m trying to cut down on that!

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  12. You ask for “a list of top 10 items for publishing professionals to remember when working with authors”. Okay.

    Number One: remember that without authors, you would be out of a job.

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  13. June Love says:

    Liz, you would hope most people would know better, but I know that isn’t the case. I’ve worked with customers before and the ones who yell, scream, and demand action are the very ones you least want to help.

    I hate being an inconvenience because I know people are busy, so I’m more of the type to call only if I absolutely have to. While being nice is more advantageous than not, I do know that sometimes professionals will take advantage of the sweet ones because “they won’t mind” which often translate into they won’t say anything.

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    • Liz Bemis says:

      June,

      That’s so true. I have clients that demand the moon, and I’m happy to give it to them, (and more) because they are so nice about it.

      I have others who want a simple typo fixed, and they’re so rude about it, I just think to myself, “You? Again? Demanding the 5 seconds of my time it will take to do this?! GAH!!”

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  14. Kate Parker says:

    I, and probably most, writers do business with our publishing professionals by email. I never worry about what time I send it out, because I figure they’ll see it the next time they’re on line, and because there’s no real blood or fire involved. OTOH, I probably sound very abrupt because email is not the most personal and friendly way to communicate. At least not when I’m writing it.

    And Liz, oh, so sorry about the meltdown in CVS. But it can be so effective.

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  15. J. R. Tomlin says:

    #1 for working with authors: If you do a bad job, consistently miss deadlines, break promises and don’t deliver, do NOT expect the author you let down to keep it a secret, I don’t care how “incestuous” publishing is. Authors write about things, including rotten service. Be warned.

    #2 Try keeping your promises. If you can’t, communicate with the person who is paying you.

    #3 Try treating authors with respect (for a change). You will be amazed at how well they might react.

    #4 – #10 Since you are being paid for your service to the author, that means you are not the boss.

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