Years ago I heard a very famous and important author, one whom I respect so much, speak at a writers conference and I’ve never forgotten it. He talked a lot about loyalty. He had the same agent and the same editor for all of his career and not only was this very important to him, but he also felt it was an integral part of his success.
I think that’s wonderful, and like I said, I remember it still. And his agent and his editor are both stellar and important members of the publishing community.
But there’s a nagging voice inside my head which asks the following: what if he’d had different luck? What if he’d started with a different agent, an agent who was a lemon, or maybe even not a good fit? What then?
In a business where the personal and the professional are melded much more closely than in other industries, I think there is often an expectation of loyalty that perhaps is not so warranted. Publishers are often outraged if successful authors leave them: after all, they are the ones who made said author a huge success, they reason. They feel that the author has taken advantage, and used their hard work to leverage a better deal with another house.
Agents are often furious if clients decide to leave, using the same reasoning. They worked so hard to build an author, after all, and this is how they are repaid?
And some authors are angered if their agent or editor tells them it’s time to part ways. They feel abandoned, rejected, dumped. It’s been a close personal relationship, they’ve exchanged hopes, dreams, and baby pictures, and now they are being discarded? The agent after all reaped the benefits of their career for a long time and should stick with them.
And while I understand all these reactions, and they certainly have merit, I do see the other side, which I think is as follows:
This is a business and while loyalty plays a role it is not the only factor. Regardless of the friendships that are formed along the way, this is the way we all make a living. And if anyone: editor, agent, author, publisher, feels that it’s time to make a decision which may be painful, but is ultimately necessary, if we are at the receiving end perhaps we should set aside our egos and recognize that it’s not personal, it’s professional. (I struggle with this myself, don’t get me wrong.)
Having said that, I also say this: the fact that it is a professional decision does not mean that it shouldn’t be carried out in a direct and kind way. The goal is to part friends. This is a nod to the personal side of this business, the side that means we are all so often friends as we all do our individual jobs.
So here’s my conclusion. Be a loyal friend. Be a pragmatic businessperson. And meld them as much as you can: when you have to make tough business decisions, keep in mind that you are often dealing with a friend and act accordingly.