Friday, November 30, 2018

Further on the red flag of "I have an offer"

Yesterday's blog post prompted a comment from Matt Adams

While I'm not defending the writer, this really does stink of overkill and feels a lot like piling on, especially when retweeted a bunch of times like happened yesterday. The writer tried something to get agents' attention and speed up the process a bit (or they got the name wrong, or misinterpreted something or whatever). It was a mistake, but one the agent could have easily ignored or addressed when/if she was asked about it. Instead she went public, and while she didn't use the writer's name, she added to the pantheon of how annoying queriers are.
What's troubling about this is it's all one-sided Writers don't have a forum to complain about bad agent behavior because of the very thing Janet talked about, that any bad querier behavior gets discussed in the community. I've had bad experiences with agents -- plenty of great ones, too -- but I'd never say anything about it publicly (or tweet about it) for that very fear. But agents have no such qualms about complaining about writers (even if they are just queriers) and it feels a little gross to see how quickly people pile on. Queriers are human being who have invested a lot of their time, talents and energy into a process they have little control over. Most of the time their hard-crafted (even if lousy) queries are just ignored, or their novel -- the thing they are deeply emotionally invested in -- is rejected out of hand. I'm sure bad queries, or mis-followed guidelines, or even silly attempts to rush the process are aggravating, but it would be nice if a little more empathy was presented to writers. Even bad ones. They're trying as hard as they can -- they just want it so bad. While the occasional bit of bad behavior is not justified, it's at least understandable.

Matt raises an interesting point here, one that's worth talking about. The underlying sense seems to be agents have all the power, and writers have none. If you're a writer, I'm sure it feels that way. If you're an agent, it doesn't. Both of us need to understand that.

The point that "the writer tried something to get the agent's attention and speed up the process" is the one I'm perplexed that you think is "understandable."

What this writer did was try to jump the line. If your novel is in that line, are you ok with a writer lying (literally) about an offer to get her work read before yours? If I were in that line I'm not sure I'd be so sanguine. By speeding up her consideration, she's slowing yours down. It's that simple.

Moreover this is the kind of me-first think that places the wants of one person above the needs of the community. It's ok for her to do it because really what's the harm?

Think about what happens if 30 people do it? Or a hundred? I'll tell you the first thing it would mean: exclusives. If I regularly got "hurry up I have an offer" emails I'd start requiring you send me your manuscript exclusively.

Exclusives aren't in an author's best interest. Not now, not ever.

The second thing I'd do is request fewer mss. That would be GREAT news for the writers whose ms I do request. Not so good for the other 80% who'd get passes instead. Again, what's good for a lot of people versus what's good for just a few.

Then there's the whole idea that lying to someone you want to work with is an acceptable tactic. How about we change positions. What about if I tell you that I know I can sell your book for six figures, knowing full well that the chances of that are quite slim? Is that ok, because really I WANT to sell your book for six figures?

Is it ok for me to lie to you as a tactic to get you to sign with me? A tactic to placate you? We had a recent instance of an agent lying about offers to her clients. Rightfully, there was a pile on of epic proportion when the particulars came to light. 

The sense I get from Matt's comment was it was just a little thing, it didn't matter. But it wasn't a little thing. It wasn't just "I have an offer" which is bad enough. It was very specifically an offer from a specific agent with a stellar rep, known for finding big successful books, and using her name gain interest from other agents.

That said, it was a pile on, and that is the nature of the Twitter beast. That doesn't make it right, but it's also not a reason not to let writers know about one of the very few things they can do that will hinder their search for representation in a permanent way. That's the down side of community.

Not all mistakes merit a public discussion. I'll even say most of them do not. But this one did. And knowing all y'all the way I do, I could hear the meticulous and fastidious among you thinking "wait, should I NOT tell requesting agents I have an offer." Thus, my contribution to the pile-on.

Opinions of course may will vary.

One of the things I value most about the blog readers here is your willingness to offer alternate viewpoints in a way that makes reasonable discussion and disagreement possible.

And a sidenote: The idea that writers don't have a place to complain means you just haven't found Absolute Write yet. Trust me, writers have raised complaint to an art form there. There are also private Facebook groups of all sorts. And the Author's Guild has a new message board where authors can talk about a wide variety of subjects. There are others, and some commenters yesterday mentioned them.


french sojourn said...

Throughout the world, as you drive in traffic, there are rotary's. The secret to the traffic circle is the common agreement that as you enter the rotary, you give priority to the car already in the rotary. We all know the universal hand-sign for those that cut in line. Don't be that applies to all community events. This person trying to cut in line is just another me first kind of person, one no agent would want to represent, or socialize with for that matter.

Janet Reid said...

The first time I drove in the UK, I did not know about rotarys, or how to yield. I just merrily drove along, and was really puzzled about why all these drivers were so MAD at me.

The penny dropped somewhere north of York.

I remain mortified to this day.

Mister Furkles said...

"...there's the whole idea that lying to someone you want to work with is an acceptable tactic."

Nearly commented on this yesterday. But got carried away, so deleted it.

RULE for life: Never start a relationship based on a lie.

Those who lie to start a relationship will continue to lie whenever they think it gains them an advantage. You do not want to work or live with that person.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

There is no world where a writer saying they have an offer when they don't is ok. It is wrong and business relationships like all good and healthy relationships require trust. See Miss Furkles rule for life for reference :) Publishing ain't for sissies - it is a long, long game. Patience and persistence. Not lying and conniving.

Imagine if an agent, wanting to get a quick sale, told editors at publishing houses that they had an offer on YOUR BOOK when they did not? Would that be ok? Even if the editors did not check? (And the editors all know each other too. They would check)

Regardless, it's lying and it will tank the agent as well as the writer. A similar incident happened a while back with an agent being dishonest about book deals, and the agents went twitter berserk because that one agent colored their reputations and they had to defend themselves by disavowing this behavior.

Same happens to writers when one writer behaves this badly. As Luanne pointed out yesterday, the agents are more suspicious of offer claims because of writers trying this same lie.

As a writer, I don't want to work with an agent that would lie about something so important as a book deal. Why would an agent want to work with a writer that did the same with an offer? No matter how good the writing. Because the harsh truth is there are many talented writers submitting great work, and dealing with a dishonest client is probably not worth the effort to any self-respecting agent.

I should never comment before coffee. I am a touch cranky first thing in morning.

JeffO said...

Not to be 'that guy,' but rules for rotaries vary. In New York, you yield to traffic in the circle. I believe in Massachusetts, cars entering the circle have right-of-way. Anyway, the point stands, if everyone follows the same rules, it all works.

To the subject at hand, I understand Matt's point about the pile on and apparent meanness of some agents. I've seen some of those blog posts or collections of tweets where agents are just kind of vicious--and not in the constructive way of a query shark. However, lying like this must be called out, and for better or worse, Twitter is a convenient way to spread the word.

Cheyenne said...

I agree, this particular writer’s “technique” is infuriating, not to mention disrespectful to the agent and to their fellow writers. And mind-boggling that they’re thick enough to think they wouldn’t get caught in their lie.

I also feel like some agents freely gripe about queriers on Twitter, but we dare not ever mention we’re even querying there. It’s just how it is, but it can be disheartening. Until we reach the other side of the fence and become writers-with-books-on-submission, the social media complaints *can* tend to make us feel like annoying gnats, but I think this mainly relates to the types of agents who do the “10 queries” thing, specifically mocking us silly queriers. There does seem to be a great divide sometimes, but I just unfollow those people and carry on.

Also, Janet, I hear you on the roundabouts. As an American & a Brit now, having lived in the UK for the past 11 years, I've found it unbelievably illogical that tourists/visitors are allowed to drive here without being given a crash course in the rules. Visitors can drive for a year without testing, but a resident, after a year, must pass a test. So it's okay that they're unsafe for that first year? Bizarre!

Janet Reid said...

Any agent who makes you feel like queries are an annoyance should be consigned not even to Carkoon, but the anti-Carkoon: a place without writers, without veg, without light.

Honestly, this just makes me LIVID.

Queries from writers are how we find the projects we sell to earn a living. Sneering at that is just plain stupid.

*rant over*
*returns soapbox to library and checks out picture books of kittens*

Dena Pawling said...

While I agree that lying is never good in any relationship, I agree with Matt on the following points:

1. Consider the forum

In one of the best descriptions I've seen in a long time, yesterday EM Goldsmith wrote "It sent a phalanx of agents twittering like aggravated hornets." Yes, writers have Absolute Write and other forums where reporting on agent behavior does not have the high probability of tanking your career before it even starts. But this agent chose to use Twitter. As a writer, that makes me cringe.

2. Consider the audience

In the furor over the agent who lied about offers for her clients, the twitter frenzy was all about helping the affected writers and letting other writers know what to look for, that this was not considered appropriate behavior, etc.

But instead of that, and instead of places like this blog which reports on bad/worse/horrible/stupid/frustrating/automatic-pass writer behavior by describing the behavior and then saying "please don't do this", this highly respected agent [who was understandably upset and/or angry] directed her tweet at AGENTS AND EDITORS. So the possible take-away for writers who are searching for feedback on the industry and expectations, is not that she was being helpful, but that she was attempting to destroy this person's career. In my opinion, that should have been done, if at all, in a different forum.

John Williamson said...

From what I understand, Volpe did not name or otherwise publicize the identity of the writer except to her own staff. The more general announcement was anonymized. Thus, the damage to that writer's career is limited to the House of New Leaf. Volpe handled it correctly and the writer got off easy.

Miles O'Neal said...

While I understand some of where Matt is coming from, the lie was completely unacceptable. I've done a lot of interviewing and hiring. If I find out you are lying to me in the interview- whether about skills, experience, education, what you are making, offers to hire you, etc., the interview is over and you will not work for the company I'm with, or any other company I switch to, at least any time soon. And yes, I just might tell my friends about it- not because I want to keep you from working, but so they have the best chance of not being burned.

I don't see this as any different. Don't do this. Ever.

Casey Karp said...

Dena, I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with your second point.

Suppose your security camera catches a neighbor stealing a package from your porch. Do you (a) send the neighbor a note saying "naughty, naughty," (b) send a note to your other neighbors saying "hey, I've just had a package stolen. Be on the lookout so it doesn't happen to you," or (c) send that same note to the neighbors, but also identify the thief?

(Okay, outside Analogyland, you've also got the option of calling the police.)

It seems to me, the agent in question chose option (b). No risk she might have been mistaken and fingers an innocent. Much better chance of preventing a recurrence.

And, come to think of it, how else would she get the word out to the people affected by this miscreant? I doubt the writer sent her a note telling her which agents he's used the ploy on, so she couldn't have contacted them privately.

Elissa M said...

Way, way back in the day (I'm talking prehistory), when a community member did something the majority considered inappropriate, the community as a whole would react together. They would basically "pile on." Worst case scenario: the offending member would be turned out--almost always a death sentence. This reaction was because the community had to work together or all could die.

That basic survival instinct sticks with us today, and I doubt it'll ever really go away. The only changes have ever been to what the community finds acceptable, not to the reaction toward the unacceptable.

The fact that the agent didn't "name and shame" was a kindness she didn't have to show. People mustn't forget that the agent wasn't the one who was lied to. The agent sending out the original tweet was the one whose was being lied about. I can't blame her for broadcasting this in the most efficient way possible. The later "piling on" wasn't her doing. That was just instinct taking over.

Personally, as bad as it feels to see a mob swarming all over someone, there are still times when such swarming was practically asked for. Blatant lies just to further one's personal goals should never be considered excusable. Never.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

As a person who lies for fun (gaming) and profit (writing), it would NEVER occur to me to lie about having an offer.

I think I might be superstitious.....lying about an offer seems like a great way to never get an offer ever in your life.

Do I think publishing takes too long? Sure. That's why I started self publishing. We don't know how much time we have, and some of us have had experiences/situations that make us more aware of that than others.

I'm not sure I announced it here at the reef, but I'm now an Associate member of the SFWA! (my qualifying story was "Surveillance Fatigue", in Escape Pod) I'm also nearing the paperback release of my novella Run With the Hunted, which will have a teensy preview of book 2 in it (Tentatively titled Run With the Hunted 2: Electric Boogaloo.....though I think I'll be changing that, at least a little)

Matt Adams said...

Yikes. Looks like I chose the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

I wasn't trying to justify the lying, and if that's how I came across I was wrong. I was more concerned with the response, which did not seem instructive at all but punitive. And then the piling on that followed (while she didn't publicly name him, her tweet inherently invited agents and editors to contact her to ask), She could have just as easily written the author (it wouldn't have taken more time than the tweeting and subsequent reaction) and asked if there was a misunderstanding, and if not, to ask him/her to stop. It would have been beyond the call of duty, but it would have been much nicer, and since this doesn't seem to be a widespread problem, probably more effective.

I do want to admit I may have misunderstood the circumstance; if Volpe had a requested full, then the author said Volpe had made an offer in order to prompt other requested fulls into action, that's uncool and stupid because it is akin to skipping -- if an agent has a requested full and they know someone else is interested, I know from experience it goes to the front of the line. I read it as though the lie was a part of the query in order to suggest other agents had seen merit in the work. Not any more excusable, but since it's unlikely agents with no initial interest would develop interest based on another agent's actions, I pretty much think that's no harm no foul. Not cool -- jerky even -- but something with no real consequence.

This has all led to an interesting question, though. I've read almost universal condemnation of lying in this circumstance. But a lot of sales requires that technique, the saying that others are interested in a unique property in order to create urgency. When my book was on submission. my agent made sure other editors knew when someone had expressed even passing interest. I would hope that would be the case with anyone representing my interests in a book, a deal or a house -- you don't want to leave potential buyers unaware that urgency exists. That's different from saying "offer in hand" (and offer in hand can quickly blow up in your face) but it's not as dramatic a departure as it might seem.

I do want to disagree with Janet a smidge. I spend a lot of time on AW (I'm whiporee there if anyone wants to say "hey"), and whenever an agent is criticized in any way, the crowd is very quick to come to the agent's defense. That's because a lot off the criticism is stupid or uniformed, but also because writers want agents to like them, and many think the quickest way to do that its by defending their honor. Illegal or immoral activity is pointed out, but jerky behavior is defended pretty strongly. And the AW guidelines say that pretty clearly -- there's a reminder in the venting threads that agents read what is written and to be careful about what you say.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's someone banging on my door. My guess is it's ICE agents with Carkoonian deportation papers in hand. Glad my kale allergy has cleared up.

Colin Smith said...

The anti-Carkoon?? There is such a place???

Pours over maps and galactic charts.

If this is a place even worse than Carkoon... I heard rumors of a place... Nook-Rac they called it. No-one knows what it's like because no-one has ever been and returned to tell. 8-O

Elissa M said...

Matt, I think you're being very kind and assuming the questionable writer made an honest mistake due to a misunderstanding. That's commendable of you. But the majority of people obviously believe the incident was one of outright dishonesty. I personally think you're being too lenient because the agent mentions that no one in her agency is even considering the writer's work. That means no requested fulls that the writer could have misinterpreted.

Still, it's nice that some people (like you) are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt no matter how damning the circumstance. That's a bit of humanity we all should strive harder to emulate.

Karl Henwood said...

I find myself very much agreeing with the public call-out. Saying you have an offer from agent X is shorthand for telling everyone and their cousin:

"Agent X believes that my work is good enough to merit sale AND has interacted personally with me to some degree. Based on that personal interaction agent X finds me sufficiently professional to become a long term business partner."

It's no small thing to falsely claim an agent said that about you.

Imagine the damage to an agent's reputation if some writer lying about being offered representation by agent X then went on to threaten agent Y, stalk editor Z, and kick a puppy in front of publisher Q.

Since we already know our errant writer is perfectly willing to lie to get what they want, the chance of them being willing to cross all kinds of other lines is very, very high. Bad people are almost never bad just once. Mentally ill people don't stop being mentally ill because they achieved a goal.

So I'd say any agent who finds their credibility being abused like this is right to broadcast that fact far, wide, and in no uncertain terms.

Craig F said...

I think we have two wrongs here and I hope we can agree that it does not make a right.

The writer did something obtuse. We don't have enough info to say more than that. We, this blog community, are very highly educated about querying. We are not most people, we are the exception.

A blatant lie does need to be put down. We do not know that it was.

Ms. Volpe was also complicit because her tweet seemed almost like a knee-jerk reaction. The second tweet says that she did not put any research into the issue before issuing the first tweet. There have been unreliable witnesses before and will be again. Maybe it was all blown out of proportion from the start. It certainly has by now.

I just hope it settles out and I don't do anything stupid when I hit the trenches.

Richelle Elberg said...

*returns soapbox to library and checks out picture books of kittens*

I think that's how I feel too after reading all the comments today and yesterday....

Has anyone pointed out to the orange man in that large white house out East that lying is always a no-no??


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John Davis Frain said...

It makes life interesting when reasonable people disagree on something. Makes me think more. There is so much grey area in life.

When I read yesterday's post with the tweets, my first reaction was feeling sorry for that writer. Not because they were shamed on Twitter, although that's bad enough. My sorrow came from the fact that I have walked in their shoes up to the point of acting.

You work SO HARD on your manuscript, spend literally YEARS making it perfect, and it gets dismissed without even a response. I don't know any equivalent in life. There are nights when you wonder if it's worth it, nights where you think you can't go on any longer, nights where you curse yourself for wasting so much time. So, while I can't excuse lying to better yourself, I can understand reaching the point where you make that mistake. Where, maybe if you'd slept on it overnight, you wouldn't have made that mistake.

I don't know any of the circumstances. I don't know why Dec. 7 was a deadline. I don't know if this writer said "I give up." And I know, I know, none of that excuses the lie. But I can't pretend I don't understand it and feel sorry for the person.

Which is not to slight Joanna Volpe, who I also don't know, and who did nothing wrong. She didn't name the writer and allowing agents / editors to ask her for the name is an honorable way to handle things.

It's a tough world some days.

Michael Seese said...

A question for Janet...

In yesterday's post, Luanne G. said "This time when I notified agents still considering the novel EVERYONE asked me who the offer was from."

Let's say my dream some day does come true, and I DO receive an offer from the Duchess Of Yowl, hand-delivered by her servant with the opposable thumbs. I dutifully write the other folks who have the book, and they ask, "Oh yeah? From whom?"

Shouldn't my answer be, "None of your business." I truly can't imagine anything good (for either me or you) coming from my saying who wants me in her posse.

KDJames said...

It's interesting that Janet's response focuses on the effect on writers. None of that had really occurred to me and I appreciate the perspective. I also don't think that would happen, because you're just not going to suddenly convince hundreds of writers it's in their best interest to lie about this stuff.

My concern was more along the lines of how this *might* affect the agent, if she didn't defend against the lie. What if she had said nothing and other agents with the ms in question set everything else aside to read it? I'm going to make a big assumption here that the ms isn't good enough to garner attention without the lie; I could be wrong. :shrug: What if those agents read the ms and decided it was utter dreck? What opinion do they then have about Joanna Volpe's judgment? Do they wonder whether she's lost her mind? Had a stroke? Why would she offer on this awful project? Do they then tell other agents how concerned they are? Do they express concern to editors? That's a lot of trust shaken. What happens to Volpe's reputation and career?

She has every right to defend her reputation. She did so in the most effective and efficient manner by using social media. What was the alternative? Email every single currently active agent and editor, even the ones she doesn't know but who might have been lied to by this writer? That's ridiculous.

She was polite enough not to name the writer. Honestly, you can't really call it piling on if the "target" hasn't even been identified. (I'm guessing some of you have never seen an instance of true piling on, when it IS personal. Book twitter has been absolutely chock full of it the past couple days and it's like night and day from this issue.)

Frankly, this writer is fortunate not to have heard from attorneys regarding defamation or slander/libel.

Timothy Lowe said...

Aside: this is a pretty effed up business.

Ok, back to the near-impossible task of trying to make a book work.

Jonathan Levy said...

I wonder if any agent, after receiving an OMG QUERY!! and then an AMAZING FULL! The next Harry Potter! OMG!!

-- And then offering representation, and waiting a week, and another two days, and another day with no reply...

... has ever sent out a quick email saying, "Could you try to get back to me by next week? I've just finished reading 3 Fulls from other writers on my list, and I've got to decide if I can represent them as well".

... And if we would be hearing about it on twitter if they had.

As someone else said, it's a common sales technique. Maybe this writer is a real estate agent, or car salesman, and is used to a world where this is common. He hasn't yet realized the power imbalance when querying, and doesn't know that he has to dance to the piper's tune to have any chance of getting through the gate.