Pub Rants

Why It’s Probably Not A Good Idea To “Pop By”

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STATUS: I didn’t accomplish nearly what I wanted today. Yuck.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GUILTY by Bonnie Raitt

I admire the passion that would propel a writer to want to pitch a book in person to an agent and at the agent’s office.

The motive is admirable; the actual deed is not.

Please! I strongly recommend that you don’t follow this impulse. Regardless of the desire, it can be viewed as unprofessional and despite my best efforts, I end up having to be firm about saying NO about not taking the pitch in person—which is always construed as being rude.

Yes, you can probably guess this happened to me today. Not to mention, if the popper by is aggressive enough (as in not taking NO for an answer via the intercom and waiting in the lobby until somebody exited so they could come through a secure entrance), the whole action can be viewed as a little threatening. Now that wasn’t the case today but you can see where it could be.

When I mentioned the incident to a friend, he said “Your daring intruder may be right about the importance of sharing her passion for her project, but she has a few things to learn about listening, boundaries, and respect.”

And ultimately in the end, agents want clients who understand that.

29 Responses

  1. s. said:

    Holy monkeys, Batman!

    Some folks would admire the temerity of such a one. You know, the traveling salesman type, the guy who says, “Never take No for an answer.” I’ve worked with oxygen-wasters like this, and more than likely this poor, deluded soul was pushed into it by someone who has no idea as to how agents and publishers work.

    My wife tried to convince me to do crap like this, a couple years ago. Having no clue about the publishing industry, she thought that publishing contracts went to “strong-willed go-getters” who were willing to “take a chance” and blow past no’s.

    I was skeptical (thank God) and opened me eyes and ears to some learnin’. It didn’t take long to find out that this manner of tactic doesn’t wash too well. My wife still grumbles over my refusal to harass agents, though.

  2. Marva said:

    Somebody like that would scare me. The word ‘stalker’ comes to mind. All the same, I also understand the frustration of writers vying for a few spots in the publishing line up. Somehow, this whole game seems to me to be just that: a game going to whoever has figured out the rules the best. Everybody else can go self-publish.

  3. iago said:

    Isn’t every career “a game going to whoever has figured out the rules the best.”?

  4. Christopher M. Park said:

    Yikes, that’s creepy. You wouldn’t think that people would have to be told how badly that comes across, but so many people just have no concept. You should post a sign, like you’re a nice hair salon or something: “No walk ins.” Sheesh.


  5. David said:

    A lot of people have the same idea as s’s wife. Eons ago, I used to get that kind of advice from well intentioned friends and relatives.

    Fortunately, like s, I learned in time. That’s what everyone has to do, and that’s why new writers sometimes do things that they remember in later years with horror and anguish. Er, or so I imagine.

    Why, I even work in downtown Denver, and I still wouldn’t do that!

  6. B.E. Sanderson said:

    Ack. That’s more than a wee bit creepy. Sheesh.

    I hope that person can look back and see what a bad idea that was. Learn from the experience. If not, I hope they don’t ambush any other unsuspecting agents.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Iago said: Isn’t every career “a game going to whoever has figured out the rules the best.”?

    You mean my parents and teachers were wrong? It’s not really about the quality of your job performance or worth ethic??


  8. iago said:

    Iago said: Isn’t every career “a game going to whoever has figured out the rules the best.”?

    You mean my parents and teachers were wrong? It’s not really about the quality of your job performance or worth ethic??

    The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. “figuring out the rules the best” does not necessarily imply cheating, it implies understand what is expected and then doing as well as or better than that.

    “Job performance or worth ethic” are not absolute measures, they’re relative: relative to some defined standard — the rules.

    Trying hard isn’t enough if you don’t know what you’re trying hard to be.

  9. Havlen said:

    Neverminding the rudeness, the act displays the trait of being unwilling to do even the most basic research (i.e. basic agent querying do’s and dont’s) — a trait that is not a good sign for the person’s ability to write.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Trying hard isn’t enough if you don’t know what you’re trying hard to be.

    And trying hard at the wrong thing, ’cause you don’t understand the rules, like turning up at someone’s office without invitiation, is counter-productive. Obviously.

  11. CM said:

    Yes. Job performance and work ethic are only one of the measures by which you’re judged. But when people get to choose who they work with, they’re most likely to choose people they want to work with.

    In other words, there’s a lot to be said for being nice. 🙂

  12. Anonymous said:

    “Nice” is for friends and family. In business, you hope for fair and reasonable. You’re looking for respect, not love.

    “Nice” would’ve let the guy in the door. Not a good strategy.

  13. Anonymous said:

    We have a sign at my place of business that clearly says NO SOLICITORS. Amazing how many sales people think it doesn’t apply to them, then get miffed when the answer for the 10th time is NO and we have to threaten to call the cops to get them out of our reception area.

  14. Jana DeLeon said:

    I’m a client and I would never “drop by.” You don’t drop in on people – ever – unless they’re family/friends and that’s your arrangement. Business is business. Make an appointment. I would.

  15. Kimber An said:

    Once I publish, I’m going to buy me a couple of Great Danes and name them Martog and Grilka for this very reason. (Those are Klingon names, by the way.)

  16. Patrick McNamara said:

    I think the idea is a holdover of the past (back before the telephone, let alone the Internet) where a writer might drop-off their manuscript in person, but some places today don’t even want to see a print manuscript. It’s nice when one has a local publisher or agent and can talk face-to-face about exactly what they want, and I knew one local publisher who actually encouraged walk-ins but that was years ago when nobody was taking e-mail querys.

  17. Lynn Viehl said:

    I think these driveby pitches happen because of one of the more enduring secret handshakes out there: “In order to sell or to secure a decent contract, you must meet in person with your agent and/or editors.”

    I’ve only met my agent in the flesh twice, both times at conferences at her invitation. Out of the dozen editors I’ve worked with, I’ve met only one in person, once, again at a conference. She invited me out to dinner and asked me to pitch her over a meal.

    I’ve sold thirty-nine novels in nine years, so maybe the trick is to stay away from agents and editors.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I read an article once in a NY paper about a young author who spent his days pounding the streets of NYC, just trying to sell his book. He went from agent to agent to publisher to publisher, and did it for over a year. Mind you, this was probably twelve or thirteen years ago.

    I don’t know what became of that young author, who would have to be about forty by now. The article appeared in Newsday as a cautionary tale, I guess… they were telling people how hard it was to get a novel published, and how it was so much harder at the time of the article than it had been ten years previous.

    Competition is fierce, and is moreso now than it was twenty years ago (it’s how I explain the careers of such ‘greats’ as Piers Anthony– that misogynistic old troll is a hack, and became published back when there were a tenth the number of people trying to get onto shelves). We have to be better than writers were decades ago, and we have to use more circuitous routes to the people who can help us. We can no longer pound the pavement and ring doorbells like a brush salesman (“Hi, I’m a writer with a terrific new book I’d like you to have a look at, and you can have it for the price of… well, er, whatever it will take to keep me in rent money and food for a year, until the sequel’s done.”).

    Some people can’t get that old image out of their head. The crusty mensch of an agent, munching on a cigar, and looking the writer up and down before saying, “I like the cut of your jib, kid, you’ve got personality and guts… of course I’ll sell your book!” Agent-man sells book, you roll in the resulting cash with your spouse and do nothing but pump out sequels for the remainder of your life.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Oh, dear piss, lighten the hell up, all of you! Here’s the headline—- “Stupid Writer Pesters Busy Agent- Zero Dead, One Mildly Annoyed!”

  20. Anonymous said:

    Here’s the quote from Amazon on a book about Renegade Writers (link listed above):

    “Keep query letters to one page. Never call an editor. Face-to-face interviews take up too much time. According to sassy authors Formichelli and Burrell, such standard rules about freelance writing ought to be tossed in the wastebasket with last year’s self-addressed-stamped-envelopes. So why do so many writers stick to the rules? “Bugaboos abound because freelance writers work largely on their own,” the authors explain, and such isolation makes it hard to learn about better procedures and ideas. Their own guide aims to set freelance writers straight. Full of great tips and common sense, the book demystifies all the stages of getting a piece published, from “Cranking up the Idea Factory” to “Getting the Green.” Their overall advice: “Timely ideas and professional attitude…will take you further than the so-called ‘connections’ lesser writers gnash their teeth over.” Upbeat and exceptionally informative, this book is an excellent choice for both working and would-be writers.
    Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    Book Description

    Written by two freelancers who broke the rules to win the game, this handbook contains a wealth of information for writers who are frustrated by the seemingly limited ways to operate in the freelance market. It explains that freelancers can negotiate for more money and better terms without risking their careers, shows that editors are not the writer-gobbling monsters many freelancers fear, and explains how to establish and foster work relationships. In this updated second edition there are more ideas, more rules to break, and more resources to get started, including a suite of appendixes covering topics such as contract procedures, getting paid, services for freelancers, generating ideas, and doing research. As inspiration, the book includes examples of real writers who have gone against “expert” advice and flourished. Being shy doesn’t pay, and following the rules puts a writer in a long line of other sheep; with this text as a guide, writers can step out of the herd and build a successful business in a crowded market.”

    An agent’s nightmare, no?

  21. Annie said:

    The Renegade Writer is a book about writing magazine articles. It’s got nothing to do with book editors or literary agents.