I know. I still owe you the third part of my discussion about copyright and the internet. In my defense, I have to think to write it, and at this moment all spare brain cells (all three of them) are devoted to writing books. In the broader sense, this is good for me and you, but not so good for my discussion of copyright.
But I have something to say about entitlement, and I don’t even have to think about it to write it down, so here goes.
In the last handful of weeks, I saw an instance in which an agent accused a writer of “entitlement.” The agent in question is Lori Perkins; the post is here if you are interested. I mention this, but I don’t mean to single out Lori Perkins in this post as the sole source of bad behavior; there were a number of people who have done similar-ish things in the past that have grated on my nerves. This is just the one that pushed me over the edge.
In any event, in the post in question, this agent labeled a writer as “entitled” because he sent two polite inquiries about a partial sent out in July. One inquiry was sent in November, at which point he was told that he would get a response sometime in December. The second inquiry was sent in February.
“Entitlement” is one of those words that has a certain morality embedded in it by implication. That is, if you say someone is “entitled,” in modern times we mean “this person is acting as if they are owed something, when they in fact are not.” In other words, when we say someone is “entitled” we usually mean that they are falsely entitled. Leaving off that modifier in regular speech means that certain things often go unspoken. That is: if you say someone is “entitled” you should also explain what is false about their sense of entitlement. Because there is nothing blameworthy about someone acting as if they are owed something, when, in fact, they are owed something.
In this case, the gentleman in question had not heard anything on the pages he sent to the agent for over six months. He did not insist that the agent in question read them instantly; he asked instead for an update on his status, and was roundly berated for that. And I just want to take a step aback and say… wait, what? In what sense is a person ever not entitled to ask about partials sent at the request of an agent, and not answered? How is asking for a status update, in a polite manner, ever indicative of a false sense of entitlement? And what does it say about the agent in question, that she thinks that the author did not deserve even this bare courtesy?
So let’s start with the basics. No, you are not entitled to be a diva. You should not expect agents to drop everything to meet your every need, before you’re signed as a client–but we’re not talking about that kind of person. We’re talking about the average writer. We’re talking about someone perhaps like the gentleman featured on Lori Perkins’s blog, or maybe someone like you.
You wrote a book. You submitted it to an agent. Now you’re getting a little worried. Maybe your book isn’t there yet. Maybe your characterization is not zipping. Maybe your plot could be more original. Maybe your query letter has a howling clunker in it. Maybe it does. The last I checked, those things didn’t turn you into a piece of granite, unworthy of basic human civility. And an agent–a good agent–knows that even if this book isn’t there yet, you might move on to book #2 or #3 or #4, and one day, your book will be there. In any event, at a bare minimum, you are one of the very few people who had the courage and stamina to write a whole book.
You are entitled to someone who thinks of you as a potentially valuable asset, who starts off what might be a long, profitable relationship with a sense of professionalism and respect. It is not too much to ask that if an agent says she will get back to you in ten weeks, that at the end of ten weeks you can send a status update asking for more details. And if she responds, “I haven’t gotten to it yet; give me another month,” it is not completely beyond the pale to ask for another update several months later, and if that person fails to respond that time, to e-mail her boss to see if she is still around. You are entitled to civility and professionalism.
You get what you see with agents. If someone doesn’t treat writers with respect on her blog or on twitter, chances are she doesn’t magically morph into someone who treats her clients with respect once she signs them. And yes, you can tell. My agent? She respects writers–even the ones who aren’t there yet. You can tell from her blog, and the effort she goes through to educate people about the query process and the business of publishing. She’s not the only one. Take the late, lamented Miss Snark (aka Janet Reid, aka the Query Shark). She respects writers, too, and you can feel it, even though her tone is quite different. Nathan Bransford? Ditto. Jim McCarthy? You betcha.
Want to know how to judge an agent? Pay attention to how they make you feel as a writer. And anyone who makes you think you’re an insignificant worm, and you’re falsely entitled merely because you think you deserve common courtesy?
Run away. Run away now.
Because if there’s one thing you are entitled to, it is an agent who thinks you have something to offer her.