Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to be Stupid

I have a very cordial relationship with several smaller publishers. We wrangle about how much money they can't advance me, and we duke it out over contracts, but we are generally pals.

I was talking with one of my publisher pals this week, and she was fresh off a phone call that, when she relayed the gist to me, took my breath away.

An author, published and in print with several hundred books in the warehouse, has found himself out of print, all rights reverted, we're done, thank you very much.

How? One too many "fuck you"*** emails. I didn't get the specifics, I was reeling from the sheer stupidity of someone saying that. Then the publisher reminded me, no he didn't say it. He emailed it.

The very definition of stupidity.

Here's the thing. Publishers aren't obliged to keep your book in print at all. They can revert all rights to you this minute, and take the book out of Books In Print, out of the Ingram data base, and not fill orders, and baby that's all she wrote.

It's not a violation of your publishing contract. It's not even a violation of the law. Publishers are not obliged to sell books if they don't want to.

Now, mostly publishers don't do this. There's an immediate and a long term financial hit. It's not a profit-based decision at all.

I've never seen a large publisher do this. Large publishers have reservoirs of staff to draw on. Make one editor crazy, might be you'll get another. Make your publicist crazy, you just don't get your calls returned.

But a small publisher is frequently the editor, the publicist and the marketing manager rolled into one. Too many pissy emails and you're reaching your quota not just for the day, but for the entire life of the book.

Small publishers don't make a lot of money. They do value their independence, and their ability to make their own decisions. They don't need permission to pull the plug. They can just do it.

So, one value of an agent? If you're the kind of person who flies off the handle or needs "translation services" an agent is a good medium between you and the publisher.

Another is we can save deals like that by smoothing things over sometimes.

And bottom line? I've been so angry I've said some things I shouldn't have. Hot angry words have fallen out of my mouth like lava from a volcano. Three minutes later though I recovered myself enough to say "wait, I said some stuff I shouldn't have. Let me cool down. Let's regroup."
You can recover from stupidity but you have to do it promptly and it has to have been SAID in the heat of the moment.

There's NO excuse for emailing that kind of intemperate language however. I'm sure none of you reading this blog would ever do such a thing...would you?

But just a word to the wise. Publishers can pull the plug on a published book, and leave you with nothing. I've only seen it happen twice but it does happen.

***a little youtube presentation on The F Word courtesy of my pal Lesia!


jovic said...

If you treat an editor that way (or anyone), it doesn't seem to me that you'll be able to hang onto your agent for long either.

Merry Monteleone said...

I've had some contentious emails tossed at me over simple beta reader crits, in fact I ranted a bit about it on my blog (no names of course) - and I've even thought lately about cleaning out the blog because it's really a writer's blog and while I love it and my writing circle there, it's not great pr for a middle grade author.

The funny thing about a writer doing this is that I've often thought the problem with us literary types is that we wander around in prose when a simple, "go f*@# yourself" would do.... apparently there's an author that proved me wrong.

Outside of the lack of professionalism, (which is hard to get past in itself) couldn't he / she come up with something a little more thoughtfully insulting if they were going to flush their career anyway?

Julie Weathers said...

I'm kind of astonished by this.

Is this common?

I guess the author felt they were so important the publisher had to put up with their crap.

I sold new construction for a long time. It was always amusing how much the sub contractors would go out of their way to fix things that were wrong with my houses. Treating people like people instead of peons tends to go a long way.

Treating people, who hold your writing career in their hands, courteously just seems pretty basic.

kitty said...

Three cheers for the publisher!

A sense of shame seems to be a thing of the past.


Southern Writer said...

This reminds me of a wonderful recipe for an apology we got from Miss Snark once. I still use it more than I wish I had to. You can find it here:

KingM said...

I'm right with the publisher on this one. I own an inn and every once in awhile a guest is such an asshole that I become suddenly full whenever he needs a reservation. The guy in question doesn't understand why I won't take his money and give him a room.

The thing is, one bad customer is more work, worry, and aggravation than all the good customers put together. Whatever money you're bringing to the table, it's just not worth it.

Lorra said...

This person should have been drop kicked, if for no other reason than they've blasphemied one of the finest words in the English language, a word whose essence can only be appreciated as the spoken word.

Like fine music, with that wonderful "ck" ending, it is just wrong, wrong, wrong to try and express the ethereal, tension-relieving beauty of the word "fuck" in a pedestrian email.

Next time, pick up the phone and just let it rip. The more times repeated, the better.

Oh yeah, and make sure you have a new editor/agent/boss lined up before you make that call.


Wilfred the Author said...

Being in the Corporate Business world, I've seen my share of stupid emails. I even sent one, that was meant for "eyes only" and got forwarded when it shouldn't have.

I've learned, ALWAYS, take a deep breath before clicking the send button. Double-check the TO: field and then re-read your prose. That "Reply to all" button is too close to the ""Reply" button.

It seems so full of common sense, but in this age of texting, email, IMs, discussion boards, a lot of us have lost our sense of respect in communication.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ye-aaah, flame emails can happen. You hit "send" in the heat of the moment, rather than opening your mouth, but it's the same principle at work.

And you handle it the same way, with a prompt and heartfelt apology, preferably done face-to-face or by phone.

However, flaming someone more than once? That's a symptom of anger management problems and an inability to learn from past mistakes. Someone who does that is toxic; you don't want a business or personal relationship with such a person.

Nymeria87 said...

Agreed. If you have to send a flame email, at least think about the consequences.

I've been working in politics for years and God knows my big mouth has gotten me into trouble more than once, but even if you get all heated up about an issue, you should have the sense and put it into appropriate words.

Especially for a writer, yelling "fuck you!" at random is nothing but degrading and stating that said person probably isn't that great a writer if they can't articulate themselves on a higher level.

Loretta Ross said...

My mother always told us not to use profanity because "intelligent people can find better ways to express themselves". That said, there are times when nothing else will do, but because I hardly ever swear, when I *do* people take notice.

In a business relationship, though, I don't think swearing is ever appropriate. Even if you feel you have good cause to be angry and are at the point of terminating the relationship, in swearing at the other party you only demean yourself.

Besides, tears and guilt trips are *so* much more effective! J/K!

Anne-Marie said...

Maybe I'm just too old, but I was taught to respect the written word and never put in print what you might regret later. Any time I am angry, I let the email sit and sit and sit before hitting "send". It usually get unsent before any real damage ensues. How people don't realise that emails can be forwarded to unwanted eyes is just beyond me. Things can come back to haunt you...

Chumplet said...

I was the recipient of that exact expression recently because a fellow 'writer' lied to all of us in our writers' group. I had suggested she get help, and those words were her response.

I only feel sorry for her.

BTW, no apology followed. She simply disappeared into the netherworld.

Not only emails, but posts on forums and blogs can follow one. It never goes away. Even if it's deleted, the post lives on in archives and caches.

Treat everyone with respect and honesty if you plan to get anywhere in this crazy writing world.

Guy Stewart said...

I've been a high school teacher for 27 years and had those exact words used on me several times -- sometimes several times in a week. The stun effect has worn off. But I have only pity for adults who feel the words are "normal" and that should be used to verbally abuse others. How sad that someone who once created words good enough to publish and lift people up would resort to language fit only for untrained adolescents still experimenting with the power of words. Reminds me of kids playing with matches in a straw-filled barn; the result isn't unexpected when we find out it's fifteen-year-olds but shocking when we find out they're educated adults.

Maryann Miller said...

Janet, I just read your guest blog on Lee Lofland's blog and enjoyed that very much. I am trying to get a handle on this whole idea of Internet promoting and your comments were most helpful. Then I popped over here to read your blog and had to laugh about the writer sending the f you email. I had a good friend, who was a police officer and a writer, and he was always getting angry and sending letters or e-mail telling folks where to go and how to get there. I tried and tried to get him to understand that he shouldn't do that if he didn't want to burn every bridge between him and possible publication, but to no avail.
Enjoyed your blog and I will definitely be back.

Kim Stagliano said...

Forget the Ten Commandments. Forget the Bible. (She says on Sunday morning.) The best lesson I've ever learned was on a piece of paper taped to the dashboard of a cab in NYC. "A hostile attitude provokes a hostile response." Now, sometimes a hostile attitude just feels gooooood and is worth the returned volley. But more often, you just end up kicking yourself for lack of self-control.

There are plenty of writers. Not so many publishing house.

"Ms. Editor, may I hotten your coffee? Is my font easy on your eyes? What's that? Your dry cleaning is ready? In DesMoines? I'll be right back..."


Southern Writer said...

Oh, there's the link. Duh. Sorry, Janet. I looked in the wrong place. Did you happen to notice how many misspelled words are in that clip?

jjdebenedictis said...

Apparently plagiarism will get you knocked off the roster of one of the big publishers too. Voila:

(April 18, 2008)

Romance writer Cassie Edwards and publisher Signet Books have decided to break up after allegations emerged in January that in she lifted passages in several of her books from other sources.

“Signet has conducted an extensive review of all its Cassie Edwards novels and due to irreconcilable editorial differences, Ms. Edwards and Signet have mutually agreed to part ways,” the publisher said in a statement Friday.

“Cassie Edwards novels will no longer be published with Signet Books. All rights to Ms. Edwards’ previously published Signet books have reverted to the author.”

This is a very classy response from Signet. To read the full report from those who broke the plagiarism, go to the Smart Bitches Who Read Trashy Books website and look for the Cassie Edwards link on the sidebar.