Friday, October 19, 2007

Attack of the Killer Assistants

I received a great comment in my previous post about treating the assistants of the publishing world with respect, and I felt it was worthy of putting the comment front and center. Just like everyone else in the business, I was once an assistant myself and so I speak from experience.

Good assistants are the life force of publishing. They are uniformly underpaid and could easily make twice as much in another industry, but they stick it out because they love books.

They read your queries, partials, and manuscripts. They pass on your phone messages. They file your royalty statement and mail you your check. They remind their boss to call you back. They show up for your readings. They are the unseen wheels turning the machine. And one day, through a combination of hard work, aptitude, and luck, many will become editors, agents, publishers, and publicists and have assistants of their own.

But when you're underpaid and underappreciated, you tend to feel like a martyr. And let me tell you, martyrs have long memories. They remember the smallest slight for months, and certainly will recall the time you yelled at them for the rest of their lives. They bide their time, waiting patiently until they are in a position to serve their revenge, a dish cold but delectable.

I have never yelled at an assistant. I suggest that you don't either.


Josh said...

But can we bribe them?

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

One thing I've learned is that the assistants are the lifeblood of ANY business. It's never wise to abuse an assistant -- although it makes for really good fiction when done right (Devil Wears Prada, anyone?).

moonrat said...


--recovering editorial ass

Emily said...

In the five years I've been querying, it was an assistant who gave me the most enthusiastic feedback about one of my books. For that I'm eternally grateful, because it helped me persevere. Long live the assistant!

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Okay. Deal! I will be nice to assistants.

But, on the flipside, is it possible that a hypothetical agent probably should not post in her blog that she just hired an assistant with no industry experience off the street and spent an entire two whole weeks training her before putting the assistant in charge of the slushpile?

Unwelcome perhaps the implication that the instantaneous e-rejection that just came firing back at me was courtesy of somebody who working at a Quiznos a mere fortnight hence?

Please. You know... Leave me my illusions. Meet me half way? Pretend that all your assistants are at the very least well-rounded Columbia upperclassmen?

Then you have a deal.

Jonathan Lyons said...

I would like to think that no hypothetical agent would hire an assistant and then let them immediately start reviewing and rejecting queries without any type of oversight. But I don't know hypothetical agent, and so I can't say for sure.

Robbie H said...

Problem is, the title of "Assistant" may unfairly imply that it's okay to dump on this person. Even "The Office" pokes fun at the role.

Maybe some of the best advice I can offer for anyone who may look down at his nose at an assistant (or waittress, or cashier, or anybody not in a prestige position) is this:

Perhaps the truest measure of a man's character is in how well he treats those he doesn't have to treat well. (Feel free to substitute 'woman' for 'man' and 'she' for 'he'.)

Bernita said...

In addition, it's just plain, lowlify rude.