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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Protecting Your Reputation

Recently someone posted on one of the email loops I belong to, saying that a few agents are honest, but most agents steal from their clients.

Since I am an agent, that comment made me stop and consider. Was what this woman said true? 

I'm not sure how we can know. Unless we actually know all the agents and then look at all their books and see if they're stealing from their authors, we can't really say that most steal. And we can't say most don't steal, either. We simply can't know what percentage is stealing.

So if I can't prove the claim wrong, and the writer of the email can't prove her statement, why give any more thought to the issue?

Because I think it's sad that this woman, who I'm sure wants to help newer writers by warning them, is damaging her reputation. If you make wild claims and have no proof to back up those claims, you look dishonest or lazy at worst and not very bright at best.

I am not saying this because the wild claim under discussion negatively impacted agents. The claims could have just as easily been against people I don't like all that much. You may say the presidential candidate I didn't vote for is a liar, for instance. If you are just passing on info that you heard somewhere and you have no proof to offer, I'm not going to think highly of you. 

We're all sloppy in our communication at times. I know I've posted too fast more often than I care to remember. I've spewed harsh and/or careless thoughts that should have been stated more gently or carefully. I hope people can forgive and forget when I do it and I try to offer the same mercy to others when they slip up.

So I'm not trying to threaten or engage in fear mongering. I’m not saying that a few mistakes will ruin your career. What I'm saying is that if you are usually careful and fair, then if you slip up every once in a while, you'll probably be forgiven. But if you're consistently making accusations you can't prove, you're going to hurt your career.

Even if you plan to self-publish and you never intend to sign with an agent or a royalty-paying publisher, it would be best for you to gain a reputation for being fair and honest and careful. If you have a bad reputation, others will distance themselves from you. 

So here are some things to ask yourself before you post on your blog, at Facebook, or in an email loop:
  • Why am I posting this? Do I need to protect others, or am I posting it because it makes me feel good to expose sin in others?
  •  Is it true? Have I heard from more than one reliable source?
  •  Have I given others the benefit of the doubt?
  •  Have I given the guilty party a chance to explain or defend himself before passing on harmful information about him?
  •  Have I prayed for the person I'm exposing/accusing?
After answering those questions, give yourself a time buffer. Make a solid rule that you won't post anything negative immediately after writing it. You must let it sit for six hours before you hit the "send" button.

I confess: I have not always followed my own advice. But now that I'm an agent, what I post reflects not only on me but also on my clients. So I'm committed to being more careful. If I get a bad reputation, then I'm hurting my clients (even if I'm not stealing from them). And it works the other way around, too. If they get bad reputations, then they are hurting me and, by association, my other clients. Because we're all connected. When one succeeds it's good for all, and when one fails we all have to carry a bit of the burden.

So, no, I won't be signing any clients who make unsupported claims and wild accusations. I love to argue and I love truth, but I don't love to hear gossipy accusations that can't be proven.

What about you? Are there things that others post that make you know you don't want to work with them? What things bother you most?

photo credit: Dano via photopin cc

Sally Apokedak
Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She's in the process of of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.


  1. Definitely something to ponder, Sally. Once you hit "send" on an email, you CANNOT take it back. Same with comments on many blogs. Yes, we have to comment and participate to build platform and meet people, and yes, sometimes we might comment on a grouchy day where we just got rejected for the umpteenth time...but manners are key, even when you're responding to something you don't agree with. And you're so right--we need to make sure what we say is TRUE, verifiable and specific, not some vast blanket statement we can't back up.

  2. Thanks, Heather. You've always been gracious in the discussions I've seen you in.

    I know you've seen me posting some pretty opinionated comments on blogs. I'm not opposed to people sharing opinions, either. But I don't like it when I forget that I'm arguing with real people, not with words on a screen.

    And just as bad is passing on info that hasn't been verified because we're in too much of a hurry. Not a good deal. Too often, real people are being hurt when we slam faceless people online.

    1. So true. I try to be gracious but I'm sure I've failed miserably along the way! I am an opinionated person, and the type who wants to stand for something, just like I'm sure you are. So I think it's disingenuous when we DON'T participate and just lurk around, you know? At least that's what I tell myself. Hee. And you've always been gracious too, Sally.

  3. My worst thing is making up statistics... I don't know why I do that. Thank heavens for preview buttons, though, because at least they give you a moment to think twice. Thanks, Sally. I needed a reminder that reputations are a lot easier to keep than get back, again!

    1. That's funny, Lilly. I guess I can kind of understand it. Usually when I make up stats, I tell people when I'm making up stats--I say something like, "I can't remember the exact figure but it was huge--like 90%..."

      Where I get in trouble is telling stories and taking literary license with true stories. I may make up a an ending for more effect, or to add some humor. Or I may fudge a date simply because it's not important to the point of the story, and I'm too lazy to look it up. If my son, the literalist hears me, he calls me a liar. I've tried to tell him that taking literary license is not the same thing as lying, but he won't believe me.

  4. Will Rogers gets the credit for noting, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” As you noted, Sally, being sloppy with facts and quick to accuse is one such way writers can damage their reputations.

    In reply to your closing questions, I once pitched a project to a literary agent and was declined. Months later, though, that same agent wrote a miffed-sounding blog post and used a four-letter word. I and others considered the post unprofessional at best. With that new glimpse into the agent, I was rejoiced that I was not that person's client.

    1. It's a little scary, Rick. Sometimes I read the facebook pages of people I like in real life and I am surprised to find that they are a world away from me in political or spiritual beliefs. It's uncomfortable. Helpful, too, as you note. It helps us connect with people we are going to get along with.

  5. In this world I suspect that there are many who are not ethical in their practice, no matter the profession. Still, it is a sad world if we focus on those and ignore the fact that there are far more who practice ethics and do their best to help others.

    If there is doubt about an agent, there are websites that show agents with questionable practices. I have heard that some people, without adequate backgrounds, call themselves agents, but they do not have the contacts. As with any profession, it is necessary to check credentials and not just grab at the first offer. A contract is an agreement between two parties and needs to be honored. That means both parties have to be able to meet responsibilities.

    As an author hoping for an agent someday, I'll have to be careful in selecting an agent. I need to make sure that they are who they say they are and that they have the capacity to perform the service they offer. But an agent/author relationship is a two-way street. Whoever I choose to represent my book needs to be a "good fit." We would have to work together.

    I'm sure agents also have their complaints about authors - those who promise to meet a contract deadline and don't. Those who start off strong and then fade away without a word. Those who move from agent to agent when the going gets tough. Those who make unreasonable demands and nag the agent far too much.

    The one thing that both agents and authors need to remember is: What goes up online stays there. You cannot take back words spoken in frustration. Anytime someone vents online it is not professional and it will affect one's chances of a business relationship in the future.

    Thanks for this post. It is an important reminder.

    1. Yes, Heather, you're right about authors needing to check out agents. Not only are there sites online where you can check agents out, but you can also talk to other writers. If an agent has a bad reputation, you'll hear about it. Of course, you have to sift what you hear. You have to discard complaints from writers who are disgruntled simply because their books didn't sell, and discard praise from authors whose books sold really well. Kind of like with Amazon ratings. You have to be a bit careful taking the five stars and the one stars as gospel truth.


      Anytime someone vents online it is not professional and it will affect one's chances of a business relationship in the future.

      This is so true. Venting is simply not a good practice, ever. We say we're venting as if that's a healthy practice--letting off steam so we won't blow or something. Venting is usually gossip, or muttering and complaining, or character assassination. When we vent we say that someone else treated us shabbily, so it's usually pride thing--we think we deserved better than we got. And maybe we did. But when we focus on that we move from being servants to being lords. And that's not what God calls us to do.

      I'm guilty of it--I don' t mean to say I'm not. Just saying it's something I would like to eradicate from my life.

  6. Sally, I feel sad when people malign others with vague opinions for many reasons but mostly because it causes me to wonder about the person who says the harmful statement. Without going into details, having been the victim at different times of both verbal abuse and malicious gossip, I can attest to the pain it causes.

    As believers, we are tasked to build up the body. I work at being encouraging and positive, even when I speak the truth in love. It is actually so much easier than being hateful. Perhaps it is best to let generalities fall away, as without the foundation of proof, they have the potential to be seeds among weeds.

    Thank you for your candid sharing of this topic. I think we can all apply your good thinking to these situations in our lives.

  7. I'm of the mindset a person needs to watch what they say at all times. Not that I always take my own advice. But mouthing off about editors and agents on social media is not only rude, it's remembered. Thanks, Sally for the reminder!

  8. I like how you took what amounted to an insult and turned it into an exhortation on righteousness. I need to be reminded to guard my lips. Thanks so much! :}

  9. Early in my engineering career, I had a boss who told me never to send an e-mail I wouldn't want to see printed on the front page of the newspaper. I've tried to live by that.

    I get turned off by any post or e-mail that begins with "Breaking!" C'mon, that is dramatic and equivalent to the town gossip whispering "You won't believe this..." I saw a lot of "breaking" posts this week that featured rumors and even photos of innocent men in Boston. Always ask "what if this is wrong" before you post. My first post regarding Boston was today, when it was overwhelmingly clear that the right guys had been pegged. I don't need to "scoop" other facebookers. That's what we pay journalists for (who also jumped the gun a few times this week in the "breaking" frenzy).


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