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The Entitled Writer

2 June 2017

From agent Wendy Lawton:

We talk a lot about the kinds of writers we love to work with but when we agents get together the talk often turns to the writers we hate representing.

And there is always one standout– one writer we all cite as the writer we’d most hate to represent. The entitled writer.

This is a tough business and it takes a team to make a project work these days. It takes a hardworking writer who has a “servant attitude.” That’s a hard term to define. It doesn’t mean the writer is low man on the totem pole. Some of our greatest leaders of all time had a servant attitude. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.

. . . .

It’s the writer who refuses to edit, claiming his first draft was good enough. After all, what’s an editor for?

It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole department to do this.

It’s the wannabe writer who can’t be bothered to read publishing blogs, work on the craft, or attend conferences. He just calls an agent on the phone and says he plans to get his book published and wants to know how.

It’s the person with a story who comes up to an author at a signing and tells her that he has a great idea for a book. Can she write it? They can split the profits.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management

PG wants to nominate “a hardworking writer who has a ‘servant attitude’” for some award somewhere.

Maybe  “The Best Reason Not to Call this Agent” award or the “If the Author is the Servant, Who is the Master?” award.

Or visitors to TPV can decide if a different award is more appropriate.

Agents

76 Comments to “The Entitled Writer”

  1. Of course agents don’t like ‘entitled’ writers – that’s the agent’s game – they feel entitled to 15% for doing very little.

    Any agent that gets an entitled writer should refuse to represent them and suggest they go indie/self-pub. 😉

  2. >It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He
    >doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole
    >department to do this.

    “We picked your book out of the pile, ran it through the spell checker, acquired some random cover art, and emailed it to the printer. For which we will only keep 85% of the book’s income. How much work do you expect us to do, anyway?!”

  3. I read the comments on the linked article. I see that there’s real concern about appropriate “team” attitude. For example, the writer who doesn’t do their fair share of the marketing is not supporting the “team.” But the writer will be personally paying the “team” for years, unlike the rest of the salaried members.
    As for the “servant attitude”, PG owes me a keyboard.
    I’m surprised that paying the “team” for many years, long after they’ve forgotten him and the book he rode in on (i.e., helped him in any way), does not earn the writer the title of “altruist.”

    • Yep!

      The writer is the person on the team who WRITES. The editor is the team member who acquires and edits. The designer designs and the formatter formats. The marketer markets and the advertising members promote. The publicists publicize. The distributors distribute. The publisher publishes.

      That’s the team.

      I think it’s pretty damn arrogant to expect the writer to do writing…and a whole lotta else of the work of the team….for the tiny % of the pie they get.

  4. Isn’t this the same literary agency that admitted to being ageist?

  5. Whenever I hear phrases like my “fair share” (determined by someone else) I reflexively put my hand on my wallet to keep it from being emptied. Something tells me she would not like the bill for my marketing services. I’m expensive 😀

  6. “selflessly” does not mean “gets 15% of earnings”.

  7. Servant attitude? Yuck. This is the same agent who discriminated against aging writers.

  8. “It takes a hardworking writer who has a “servant attitude.” That’s a hard term to define.”

    serv·ant – a person who performs duties for others, especially a person employed in a house on domestic duties or as a personal attendant.

    Not that freaking hard to define.

    And said writer will be receive about 15% of net for a book that took a year of their life to write?

    I am SO glad I went Indie.

  9. A ‘servant attitude’ is a religious or philosophical choice, such as when Pope Francis washes the feet of Muslim refugees on Holy Thursday.

    It is usual in great leaders.

    They are the ones who do NOT end up with all the money and living in luxury.

    There are CEOs who give the company to the employees when they retire. There are religious leaders who live very simply.

    Somehow I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here.

    • this was my same feeling.

      I’m not joining a religious order when I write a novel. I am certainly not giving up all my claims to earthly possessions when I try to publish it.

  10. The agency is a dying business on its last legs. The writers we meet at conferences want to publish and move on to the next book.

    Agenting has an inoperable attack on its system. It is called free will in writers.

    This agent who wrote this article lost me at “My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers.”. No it isnt to SERVE the publishers. You, who are using a phrase that devout Christians use ,”servant”, is NOT referent to you and to publishers, but about G-d. Which you are not. The agent seem to have forgotten, ‘One cannot serve two masters.’

    The author wont do their share of marketing? Really? That’s YOUR job, not the author’s. The author’s job is to write and to bypass anyone who wants to talk to them about being a servant. Subservience to an agent/ publisher is in no way the same as serving G-d. Agents and publishers are not G-d, not even close.

    • Agenting has an inoperable attack on its system. It is called free will in writers.

      For this saying, I award you three Internets. A blessing upon you and your house unto the expiry date of the copyright!

      • I humbly accept Tom Simon, thank you, thank you, and I would like to thank my mother the bareback circus rider and my father who kept the elephants which are like horses only with longer noses, and my brain I keep in a jar on my desk at night, and Thunderbolt, Fast Danger, JT and Silver Hoofs, my horses.

        And still dig your work Tom, and now with this honor, swear Im going to name a foal after you.

    • From looking at her website, it looks like they mostly rep Christian fiction. So by using the “servant attitude” language, it really feels like she’s trying to guilt-trip her clients/potential clients into entering into (or putting up with) a bad business arrangement by telling them that God wants them to. Which is a pretty crappy thing to do, when she should really just focus on doing her job to the best of her ability and let other people determine for themselves how they want to live their lives and what living out their faith looks like in their business dealings.

      • What’s that old saying about the devil being able to quote scripture as well as any god fearing man?

        We all should be thankful that she’s willing to prove it so convincingly.

      • Perceptive catch. This comment of hers:

        “My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.”

        reminded me of another biblical quote:

        “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

        • Ha! Yeah, that’s a good comparison. Especially in this case, where she’s clearly saying that she’s serving two people literally on opposite sides of a bargaining table.

  11. t’s the writer who refuses to edit, claiming his first draft was good enough. After all, what’s an editor for?

    It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole department to do this.

    It’s the wannabe writer who can’t be bothered to read publishing blogs, work on the craft, or attend conferences. He just calls an agent on the phone and says he plans to get his book published and wants to know how.

    How many agents tell writers NOT to self-publish because traditional publishing gives them more time to write?

  12. Can’t really think of a name for the award. I can, however, think of many names for the agent that deserves it.

  13. Someone’s entitled, but I don’t think it’s the writers.

  14. “It takes a hardworking writer who has a “servant attitude.”…
    …It means that you will selflessly serve others.”

    Horses**t. Charity begins at home. So does enlightened self-interest. As Harlan Ellison says, “Pay the writer.”

    I roll my eyes at trad pub statements — and attitudes — like this. I simply cannot envision myself EVER getting an agent and/or going the trad pub route. But then, I’m a selfish, self-centered, money-grubbing control freak of the first order.

  15. I actually believe that the publisher should do the marketing and promotion. That should not fall on the author in trad publishing. The author’s job should be to write and revise. And that’s about it. Anything they want to do beyond that (build a platform, pay for additional promo/ads, etc) is what they may choose to. But the word “author” says it all: they WROTE something.

    It’s up to the publisher, if one wants to be honest, to do the non-writing stuff.

    Why else the hell is one giving up the lion’s share of profits and surrendering (leasing) rights for(essentially)ever? Because THEY, the editors/publishers/agents are supposed to be the experts in doing all the other stuff: contracts, negotiations, branding, marketing, promotion, publicity, advertising, cover design, formatting. The publisher is going to get in many cases up to 93% and of the authors various percentages (depending on format and publisher), the agent gets 15%. So, hell, yeah, they need to EARN that.

    A publisher who puts the major burden of promoting the book on the author, imo, is an entitled publisher. They want to sneak out of doing their job.

    And so what if the author thinks the draft they send is fine with them? Maybe they genuinely think the story is in the shape it ought to be and it’s up to the editor to provide a persuasive case for why it’s NOT, rather than just ordering revisions “cuz.” I think reasoned explanations of why the revision strengthens the vision and story will get through to the vast majority of writers. But is it wrong for an author to say: “This is the story the way I want to tell it. Buy it or leave it, but this is it.” It’s not entitled. It may actually just be principled to not let someone else decide what your book should be. (As long as the author isn’t a snot about it.)

    (In my experience with many writer pals in various genres, writers take their drafts seriously and are open to sane revisions–and sometimes vexing ones–just to please publishers/editors. Some that are hybrids went to SP route to NOT have to gut their manuscripts for editors. Who can blame them, really?)

    It seems editors/publishers/agents increasingly want the author to do it nearly-all (write, revise/edit, brand, promote, advertise, build a platform, build pages on FB and spend hours connecting with readers) and be satisfied with measly royalties (and often measly advances).

    Who is really entitled in the 21st century scenario of author as co-publisher getting less for more?

    • if you have a tumblr can you publish this post there? or if you don’t put it on your blog so i can post a link?
      give a link here for whatever

    • Well said.
      The most ironic thing about this is that agents and publishers are still trying hard to sell the nurturing myth to authors.

    • *slow clap*
      Bravo!

    • Very well said.

    • Why else the hell is one giving up the lion’s share of profits and surrendering (leasing) rights for(essentially)ever?

      Because those profits don’t exist without the publisher, and the supply of authors to publishers far exceeds publishers’ needs?

      We often hear the writer is the most important factor because without her, there would be no book. OK. But we might also say the publisher and retailer are the most important factors because without them there would be no sales.

      Perhaps each is necessary but none sufficient?

      • Just as the author can be replaced with another, the publisher can be replaced with another, as can the retailer.

        My complaint with the claim that no writer is special is not that it is incorrect, it is correct, but that the arguments it appear in often include the rider that certain publishers are special. Nope. Any given publisher could be replaced. No particular publisher is needed to publish.

        Notice agents do even come into the discussion.

      • Smart Debut Author

        “Because those profits don’t exist without the publisher…”

        *has CPA double check royalty statements straight from retailers, scratches head*

        Um… sure. Whatever you say, dude.

        • Publishers produce the salable item. Retailers sell them. That’s where sales come from. Without publisher and retailer, there is are no sales. CPAs are not necessary.

          • Without the writers publishers would have nothing to produce.
            And most of us have seen how much those services ‘really’ cost.

            We can remove the publisher and the agent and still get a story out there for the readers to find and enjoy.

            Try removing the ‘writer’ and see how far you get. 😉

          • Smart Debut Author

            Anonymous called it straight.

            Point you’re missing, Terrence:

            Publishers are packagers.
            They don’t produce anything.
            It’s the writer that produces the “salable item.”

            If you doubt that, ask any reader who “produced” their favorite novel.

            A buck gets you twenty they’ll name the author…

  16. I’ve heard this lady speak at conferences, and the best I can say about her is that she walks the talk. She does believe in the agent/author relationship being heavily advantaged toward the agent. From what I’ve heard her say to writers, a passive author is her best client. I wrote off this agency long ago because I’m not a passive type person, much less a writer. I believe IIRC she’s made sales but only for high-profile writers in the Christian-fic market. How well she or her agent staff might do with a general market writer is an open question.

    • Ah, the Christian fiction market would explain the religious overtones to the article and some of the remarks there. Bah. Not for me, even if I wanted an agent (and I’d work really hard to find a good one, who realizes they work for me and not the other way around).

  17. “My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers.”

    I’m curious as to what she does when the purposes of the two conflict.

    • Why whichever will bring her the most profit of course.

    • She seems to not be aware that, according to agency law, she actually works for the author. This is why it’s a bad idea to let just anyone hang out a shingle to be a literary agent.

      • The only person who should be allowed to become a literary agent is a qualified and practising intellectual property lawyer with particular knowledge of international copyright laws. Fortunately, that person is far too busy running a lucrative IP law practice to waste time parting suckers from 15% of a pittance.

        If it sounds like I’m saying there should be no literary agents, well, yeah.

        • I disagree. Should reall estate agents be required by law to be attorneys too?

          All agents are commissioned salespeople, not litigators.

          • Every real estate transaction requires the services of a lawyer to transfer title. Show me where literary agents (or the authors they represent) employ a lawyer in the course of signing a publishing contract.

            Furthermore, real estate transactions are not subject to copyright law, and the contracts are not scores of pages long and written by the legal department of one party to be imposed, virtually as contracts of adhesion, upon the other party. It is extremely difficult to cause your grandchildren a permanent loss of income by buying a house.

            Any writer who signs a Big Five publishing contract without legal counsel is a fool.

            • Should an author be allowed to represent himself in all his business transactions?

              • Of course; but you know what they say about people who act as their own lawyers. If you’re going to sign a long and complex document that binds you for the rest of your life and your estate for 70 years thereafter, do you really want to rely on your own unaided legal acumen?

            • It may be highly advisable to have a lawyer to sell or purchase a home, but I could see no evidence that one is required by state law to transfer title, at least in the state of California.

              An intelligent, well informed agent should be capable of negotiating a publishing contract. Almost all the negotiation that goes on involves the amount of the advance and royalties. As long as you don’t grant the publisher all rights, there’s really not much more to negotiate and very little room to negotiate unless the publisher is convinced the book under discussion will be their big frontlist title and is willing to shell out big money to acquire it. In that case, the agent may have some leverage.

    • Silly me. I thought an agent’s job was to serve the client and negotiate every cent and right possible out of the publisher on behalf of the client and make sure no one took advantage of the client. After all, it’s the client’s money getting 15% taken out.

      🙂

  18. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

    I’ll believe that when the selfless servants stop charging for their service.

  19. Wendy Lawton is an idiot, and she wants to invert the author-agent relationship.

    The author pays the agent to do work. Legally, that means the author is the master and the agent is the servant. The master is liable for the actions of his servant.

    Methinks Ms Lawton should get a servant attitude and right soon.

  20. “My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.”

    To serve the publisher… But who pays you? The author, from their earnings. The biggest issue I have with most agents is they think the money comes from the publisher, they take their cut, then pass the remaining onto the author, therefore they are effectively paid by the publisher because they’ve added some arbitrary “value” to the work(s) therefore they own their 15%. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    You work for the author. You are paid by the author. You should work in the author’s best interest.

    • “You work for the author. You are paid by the author. You should work in the author’s best interest.”

      All true, but then the agent doesn’t get paid if the best thing for the author is to not sign the bad contract.

      • Exactly. A bad contract will be pushed by the majority of agents rather than tell the author to self publish. And if you refuse to sign, then “you’ll never work in this town again!”

        • @ Matt

          “you’ll never work in this town again!”

          Definitely not A Bad Thing if that town is NYC! 🙂

    • >You work for the author. You are paid by the author.

      The problem is that the check comes from the publisher. I’ve seen this in construction as well – people gravitate towards whoever the check is coming from. Some switch gets flipped in the head, and that’s the person they think they are working for.

      The only way to clearly define the relationship is to make sure their pay comes from your hands. Can’t you just imagine agents’ reactions to the idea that they should now get their pay directly from the author, after the author gets a check from the publisher? “But it’s not fair, what if you cheat me?” Ooh…?

  21. Patricia Sierra

    The most bewildering thing about this post is not that Wendy has that opinion. It’s that she willingly put it in writing.

    • I was just about to say the same thing when I saw your comment. It’s really mind boggling isn’t it? I mean, not matter what field you are working in, saying something that tone deaf, that blind to the changing reality of your profession (not to mention blind to absurdity of the old reality), it would be an automatic disqualifier for just about anyone. Who is she trying to appeal to? A proofreader who’s tired of writers?

      • This would, at the most, result in my just shaking the head and moving on.

        Unfortunately, whenever I emerge from the tiny little corner of the world that is writing and publishing, I see more and more people just like this. Many of them are running multi-billion dollar corporations – and at least one runs a European nation with nuclear weapons.

        Not amusing. Not in the least.

  22. Another victim mentality

  23. Hmmm…the first thing that crossed my mind is where did I see this kind of entitlement before. Answer, labor unions (specifically public sector) and their lackeys the Democratic party.

    In all seriousness though, having that kind of representation with that kind of attitude just means that your idol is Walter Mitty and you emulate him to perfection.

    • In the recent Walter Mitty movie (remake? reboot? re-something, anyway), the title character was a nebbish working deep in the bowels of LIFE magazine, and got the sack when they published their last print issue. May the persons of whom you speak have an equally good ending to their perfect emulation.

      • No, this was more from the original with Danny Kaye who was bullied/henpecked by his wife.

        • Ah, the immortal Kaye. That was the only adaptation of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, and Kaye was probably the only actor who could do the character justice. The recent film took the name of the character egregiously in vain. Still, it is fun to think how these Mitty imitators will like it when their benighted employer goes out of business.

  24. Reminds me of a few years ago when I attended the NYU graduation of my stepson at Yankee Stadium. After spending nearly $90k a year to get a degree, the commencement speaker (multi millionaire) Janet Yellen told the graduating class: ‘lose yourself in service to others.’

    My boy could have done that for a lot less than 90 a year, toots.

  25. In the interest of fairness, when I went to post my rebuttal on her blog, it posted instantly, without moderation. On many, if not most, of these C-fic sites, I expect to be moderated because these folks have seen me before. To her credit, that I wasn’t put in unrepentant author jail.

  26. Smart Debut Author

    I’m looking for someone to give me 15% of their lifetime income just for my sending a few emails.

    But I won’t accept just anybody; they have to fold my laundry and walk my dog and kiss my a** so I feel important, too.

    Any takers?

    😀

  27. Beat me, master. I have been a bad servant again. I have failed you.

  28. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

    Please withdraw my name from consideration.

  29. wendy lawton, a seeming middle aged+ woman who wrote this article, used to run a ‘doll’ company. Then published a series of books… on amazon, they are in the 400,000s in ‘religion’ ranking and some a bit higher, but essentially imo not ‘seeable’ in the massive ocean of popular christian books selling well in the last 1, 5, 10, 20 years –eclipsed by far more well written, far more fiery and shining, strong voices that sound like no one else’s.

    I looked at only the first pages in one book, and writer is aiming to know preslavery african tribal people, but writes like compendium out of wikipedia on africa. Authentic detailed voice? Compelling story fresh? No. Throwing a few words in looked up in an african /english dictionary wont cut it to establish place and time, but most esp missing is depth.

    Not sure, but dont think being a vague writer makes one qualified to be a stupendous agent.

    Wendy says in article she doesnt want to as a rule work with older authors because… the inference as Deb noted is strongly ageist, discriminating and biased against an entire class of persons.

    Funnily at the site, two commenters to this article say they are in their 70s and are doing well self publishing and that they’ll ‘pass’ on her ageist ‘requirement.’

    Her argument on age is that agents work really really really hard to estab an author. And that that takes more than ten years. And this particular agent is worried about whether an old person will live long enough –strong inference is ….for Wendy to make her own nut on the author.

    Truth to grotesque exaggeration: Agents dont have to work really really really hard for any talented author. The content of the book, the marketing plan of the pub will do that. Agent negotiates contract, smooths cover consult, collects money ever after, tries to often unsuccessfully sell christian books to foreign markets some of which have no market for christian books for the nations are Shinto or Confucian, or Muslim or Hindu in the majority. Movie deals, unlikely. A few, but rare as hen’s teeth. There’s no working really really really hard as an agent who brokers contracts.

    Worrying about how long an older author will live, I’d say agents who are morbidly obese, for instance, the author ought think twice about signing on with such an agent’s whose bodily health systems are far more likely to be at risk.

    Also noted on the webpage attached to this agency and this agent, the inattentive way they list pubs they work with, not updated in any even remotely timely way…. many such as random and penguin, and others which have been eliminated or merged, are still listed as they stood more than three and five and ten years ago . If they cant get those easy details right, question is, what else falls through the cracks cause they’re ‘too busy’ to correct erroneous face-out info that is one of their potentially top selling points.

    The principal of the agency has actually worked in publishing for a time, seems to be the only one who actually might know at least in christian pub, some of the ins and outs, depending on how long ago they worked there, as insider publishing has changed dramatically… in christian markets esp as the big pubs can publish anything religious they feel like, whereas the smaller Christian publishers are often highly constrained from publishing general works across massive number of topics… which is where the real money is.

    I’ve been at many of the religious book expos. And some few agents and smallish publishers claim the meme: we do it all for G-d. Trust. They do it for money. The authors who write often are the only one’s doing it in near pure faith. The publishers are more on the end of Render unto Ceasar, the authors being on the other end of the saying.

    • Ha, I thought that name was familiar, but I’m sure there are many people with the same name so I didn’t connect them. Her company had some pretty dolls, nothing to my collector’s taste, but still nicely done.

      I’ve found if someone has to push their religion in your face, you should step back and take a good, long look at them and their ethics. They supposedly serve God first, and others second, but everyone I’ve seen are out for themselves no matter what it takes.

      • When a man (or woman) speaks of their honor, make them pay cash (in advance). (L.L)

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