by Alison Dasho
So the Bookends agency launched an ebook publishing arm, Beyond the Page publishing, and it's got people on the internet talking.
One of those people is author Courtney Milan, who keeps a wonderful and informative blog (bookmark it!). Her response to Bookends becoming a publisher is clear and convincing, and the full post is here.
I don't want to weigh in on the agents-as-publishers discussion today. But I do want to pull out and talk about a couple paragraphs that Ms. Milan wrote about trust:
The way I often hear this come up is often as follows: “But if you can’t trust your agent, why have them?” Or: “I trust my agent, and I don’t believe she would screw me.” I can’t argue with someone who trusts their agent -- that’s your decision and your choice. I also think that people who claim that you should trust nobody are just as bad as the ones who say you should repose trust blindly -- the complete skeptic is as good at figuring out the truth as the gullible person who believes everything. I don’t have a problem with trusting people.
But for me, personally, it’s just not that simple. Here’s the thing about trust: as a personal matter, I trust people who demonstrate that they understand the process by which good intentions get fouled up, and take steps to insulate themselves from the worst temptations. I don’t think people are “good” or “bad” and you trust the good ones and consign the bad ones to hell. I think most people are well-intentioned but prone to mistakes, and the reasons why some screw up and some don’t is (a) luck, and (b) some people recognize that they are fallible and just don’t put themselves in that position to start with. The person who says, “I’m not going to take that chance” is the person I trust, because I know they’re aware of the risks.
More than that. I believe that the person who says, “It’s not going to be a problem” is someone who is not self-aware enough to avoid problems. And even though I may trust that person’s intentions, I don’t trust their results. I’m fundamentally a process person. I think that people are more likely to save money if they transfer it into a second account, instead of telling themselves not to spend it unless they really need it; I think that the best way to avoid eating too many cookies is not to buy any; I think it’s a good idea to take away someone’s keys before they start drinking; and I think people are more likely to do good because they make themselves keep away from temptation entirely. Process leads to prophylactic rules–meaning they’re by necessity cut larger than they need to be, to avoid harm. They may seem stodgy and weird, but the rules of agency relationship have arisen out of long experience.
When someone says, “I trust my agent,” in response to a conflict of interest that arises, I feel like the person who helplessly watches her best friend get in the car with her drunk boyfriend. He might not crash. Most people who drive drunk don’t. But he also might kill her, and I want to scream, “Look, if your boyfriend was worthy of trust, he wouldn’t be behind the wheel.” And the instant someone says to me directly after consuming a six-pack, “Look, I’m good to drive, I don’t know why you don’t trust me,” is the point when I stalk away in a blind fury. If you want to make sure harm doesn’t arise, you don’t put yourself in a situation where your reflexes are slowed, your senses dimmed, and you’re directing a multi-ton vehicle at high speeds.
Agents can be good people, who want to help their clients, and can nonetheless do harm to their clients by creating conflicts. I’ve just seen too many examples in too many other fields for me to simply say it’s a matter of trust. I trust process, and I trust people who believe in good processes.
(Again, full blog post here.)
(Bold emphasis mine.)
Now read the above once more, but instead of thinking about agents and contracts and conflict of interest, think about writers and manuscripts and distance in editing.
Do you trust yourself to have enough distance from your manuscript to handle the editorial side yourself, honestly and fairly? Are your manuscripts edited by family members or close friends who are perhaps too in love with you to tell you the truth about what works and what doesn't? Or to even *see* what works and what doesn't? (Love is blind, they say ...)
Some authors -- usually those who've been writing a long time, and who have a large backlist to show for it -- are absolutely capable of being writer and editor. Other authors benefit from the distant, outside input of a professional. Editing is part of the publishing process for a reason (beyond "gatekeeping," which, you guys, if I had a real, fancy gilt gate that term would be so much more appealing to me).
Like Ms. Milan, I've become a person who trusts process, and trusts in the people who believe in it. I've been on the too-trusting-of-good-intentions side of business deals, and I've always been disappointed (but I've also learned lessons, so maybe it's a wash). Trust in the editorial process, and know when you (or your mom) are too close to your work to critique it completely. Don't let conflict of interest creep in through the door of best intentions.