May 22, 2012

The Assistant

Everyone always calls agents the gatekeepers. This is silly. Agents aren't gatekeepers. Agents' assistants are gatekeepers. So keep that in mind the next time you think an assistant is beneath you.

Okay, really, no one reading my journal right now is a Douchebag McAsshole that would condescend an assistant. But some day I'll be popular and shit and there's always that percentage that think it's okay to treat the assistants like crap. These people are dumb. Not the assistants, the Douchebags McAssholes. So I'm talking to you right now, dumb person. Be nice to the assistants. They've earned it. And it's in your best interest.

At my day job, I sit across from an editorial assistant. I work hard at my day job. I do a good job at my day job. And that assistant is there before me and she's there after me. I actually check in the morning just to make sure she's wearing different clothes. The day she spends the night at work, we're having an intervention. Assistants work a LOT. They do a lot of the work we thank agents/editors for. They're the horses that pull the plows. Don't just thank a farmer for your sammich. Without those horses, he couldn't have even planted the wheat.

But you think to yourself, assistants are young and inexperienced. What do they know? I will grant you that an assistant is typically an entry level job1, 2, but they're inexperienced for about the first week. Then they've logged enough combat time that you can call them veterans, so get off your high horse. And really, what's the point of being shitty to the assistant anyway? Don't you have manners? Are please and thank you so hard? Cut them some slack. They're clocking 90 hours a week and have to live with four roommates to keep a roof over their heads because they don't make any money, so a mistake or two will happen.

Still not buying it, eh? Then let me tell you a story. I finished a book a couple years ago. I queried that book. An agent requested a partial. Then he requested a full. I never spoke directly to the agent. I spoke to his assistant. See where I'm going? No you don't.

The agent eventually passed on the manuscript. Asked for a partial of my next one. I never spoke to him. I spoke to the assistant. Eventually passed on that one as well. Two full manuscripts, 260,000 original words, and I never spoke to the agent. I spoke to the assistant. Think what would have happened if I had been a dick on that first manuscript. You think he would have asked for a second?

Still not convinced? Well, a couple years later I get an email. Hey, Joe, remember me? I was the assistant for so-and-so who read your stuff. Of course I remember you. You are awesome! Thanks, well, I have a confession. Agent so-and-so wasn't reading your stuff. I was. Now I'm an agent in my own right. Do you have anything new to share?

Oh well yes I do.

Pause and ask yourself if I would have ever received that email if I had been a dick.3

All right. Go now, and try out these new manners. Remember that publishing is a small world and people who were once low can grow to be mighty (and can do so quickly). There are a nice batch of awesome agents that were only assistants when I started querying three years ago. It makes things fresh. It makes things exciting. As long as you don't screw it up at the beginning.



1 With the changing economy, the entry-level position is actually becoming the intern. The assistant is the intern that had the chops to keep going, so they have more experience than you'd think. They just don't get paid for it. :)

2 Don't ever think just because it's an entry-level position that it means they don't know anything. Those positions aren't just thrown out to anyone. They scratch the eyes out of the competition to get those jobs.

3 The answer is no. No I would not have received that email if I had been a dick. Neither would you. It doesn't matter how much of a genius you are.

3 comments:

  1. This is a lesson I learned as a computer/business consultant, then again when I went back to school. The assistants are the ones that know how to get things done for you. If you are nice to them and treat them like real people, they will cut through Gordian knots for you. And a lot of times, they have a lot of pull within the office, such that they can get 'higher level' people screwed, while helping the 'lower level' people.

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  2. And an unrelated point: Captcha is getting so fucking ridiculous that I have started considering giving up on forms and posts when I see the Captcha image. I have pretty good pattern recognition skills, and even I have to hit the refresh button a few times before I can make out the nonsense they spew. I can only imagine how much this nonsense is stifling participation these days.

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  3. I disabled captcha. I agree, it has gotten ridiculous. I tried to post something to another blog this morning, and their "word/number" pairing looked like it was using roman numerals. When I tried the audio option, I think I made contact with a ghost in my office. So, that feature is gone now. I'll just have to regulate spam manually.

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