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
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.