I’ve never met an author I didn’t like. Wait, let me rephrase that: I hate everybody. But Rachel Toor is more forgiving in this piece from the Chronicle in which she examines the phenomenon of asshole authors. (Rachel, have I got a few stories for you…)
By the time I left publishing, in the mid-90s, I had decided there were no bad books, only bad authors.
That, of course, is not true. There are plenty of bad books. But after a dozen years in the industry, the whining and whingeing of authors had worn me down: The conspiracy theories about how a publisher set out to ruin an author’s career by not sending his 15-year-old book to a small regional conference; the notion that a publisher sullied an author’s reputation by giving her a red cover; the complaint that there were not enough ads promoting the book (there were never enough ads); the indignation that we didn’t get the author reviewed in The New York Times, or booked on Oprah.
In general I adored my authors. But there were those few whose behavior suggested to me that flipping burgers or mucking out stalls would have been an easier and more pleasurable career choice. When I was an editorial assistant, I watched as one well-regarded author so managed to vex and trouble every single person at the press that by the time his book came out, no one would take his calls. Including his editor.
People go into publishing not only because they love books but because they love working with authors. Editors, in particular, are possessive: They speak of “my books,” “my authors.” It is, therefore, disconcerting and disturbing to see the disconnect in how some authors perceive publishers and how frequently writers are dissatisfied with the process. Friends in publishing think of those writers as the spawn of the devil, the evil seeds.
I asked my literary agent, Susan Arellano, what makes for a “bad” author. Susan has worked as an editor at both trade and university presses and now commands six-figure advances for academic authors. With characteristic acumen, she answered: “Bad authors are the ones who don’t know, or can’t remember, that publishing is a business.”
Also, the ones who torture and kill people in their basements. They’re bad too.