Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Repeat: The No A**hole Rule

Remember all those stories about great cantankerous authors way back when who were legendarily inebriated most of the time, were notoriously difficult to handle, got into fisticuffs, and were generally misanthropic to every human they encountered but people still published their books because they were wonderfully talented?

How many successful authors today do you know who fit that description?

Um. On second thought, don't answer that. But now think of the huge number of bestselling and successful authors you know today (some of whom comment regularly on the blog) who are awesome, cool people who you would love to hang out with even if they weren't also incredible writers.


I'm not sure what's in the cultural waters, but I'm hearing from non-publishing people in the world of business that there's a new trend afoot toward politeness, anger management, and a less rigid hierarchy -- in other words, in business you can't really be a jerk anymore. Managers are no longer allowed to mistreat their assistants, it's essential to treat people with respect, contain tempers, work together, and generally avoid being a misanthrope. Stanford prof Richard Sutton chronicled the negative effective of assholes in the workplace with his appropriately titled book THE NO ASSHOLE RULE, and it's been a bestseller. Jim Collins showed in GOOD TO GREAT that the best leaders are humble, not egotistical.

Now, with publishing you're dealing with artists, who are not exactly known for an even temperament. And no doubt there's much more tolerance for eccentricity in publishing than there would be in the rest of the business world. But even in publishing an author who is a joy to work with and has a dynamite, charming personality has a leg up over one who doesn't. Allow me to venture a hypothesis on why this be so: I think this has a great deal to do with the role of the modern author.

Way back when in simpler times, the book was what mattered. The author may have had to do some events and readings, but for the most part an author's engagement with the public was limited. Word of mouth and reviews drove sales. If a writer wrote a good book but was a pill to deal with, that was basically ok.

Not so much anymore.

Now, via TV, radio, the Internet, lots more travel, etc., the author is face to face with their readership more than ever before and is called upon to generate sales opportunities -- this requires social skills. They are also more closely in touch with people within a publishing organization -- also requiring social skills. And it helps when people want to work with an author because they're an awesome, friendly, professional, hardworking author.

Is a publisher going to decline to publish a great book simply because the author is a jerk and a handful? Probably not. But when those difficult and nebulous decisions are being made in a publishing house, such as who gets what advertising and who is going to be the lead title and a great deal of complex factors are being weighed, put a great personality in the "pro" column for an author.

Personality counts.


spiziks said...

But I've always =wanted= to be a drunken, womanizing jerk. I was figuring on becoming one after my twelfth book came out last year. Now you're telling me I can't?


Chuck H. said...

Crap!! Another strike against me.

WV: locco ????

Stephen Duncan said...

That J.K. Rowling. She'll bite your head off, man. When she's not holding a handle of Jack she can throw a mean right hook.

Reesha said...

I couldn't agree more. Although sometimes I have to admit I wish I lived back in those times when I could be a pill and let other people deal with it. But alas, I must actually be responsible for my actions and words.

Thanks for the post, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

Most writers are nice up until that 300th rejection from agents/publishers. When they reach that milestone they get a nasty kick-dogs-and-taunt-children 'tude.

Jupiter Family said...

Happy New Year !!!

2010 New Year's Fireworks show

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I think it's probably because in this Digital Age, word spreads fast. Assholes are more likely to be flamed on the Internet than nice people who will be remembered.

It's just a fact...

Colette said...

The "No Asshole Rule" is a great book. Sadly, not too many coporations follow the advice.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

aaannddd I think there are still some asshole writers who exist. I've come across a few and I most certainly won't deal with 'em again.

Mean people SUCK.
Nice people rule.

T. Anne said...

Well said. I'm more attracted to people who mind their manners and tend to avoid those who don't.

Mira said...

Lol. First three comments are funny.

Well, this is interesting. I think in the workplace, people who are likeable, hard-working and easy to get along will always be re-paid for that.

I also agree that cultural expectations in the workplace have changed, and that now leadership and teams are expected to be respectful (on a side note, I have to say, Nathan, I've noticed you do a really nice job of describing cultural drifts.)

The interesting part to me is how e-books will change this.

Social networking and business protocol are very different things. Someone might be a really good networker, but quite difficult to get along with in the office. But will that matter with e-books? Or, an author might hire a publicity consultant and hide behind them altogether. Or a flamboyant personality might actually have a better chance of selling - that could be really interesting too.

So, e-books may change things once again, because e-books could move authors out of the boardroom altogether. Should be very interesting to watch.

But that's not to say people shouldn't be kind and pleasant. Life is tough, it's good not to make it harder on each other than we have to? So, I'm not saying I want authors to be able to be jerks. I'm just addressing the issue of whether they could be.

L.T. Elliot said...

I bought a book from an author who was charismatic and kind. After meeting him several times and finding that he was still kind and friendly, I became a fan for life. (Not to mention that I like his writing too. I just never would have read it when I did if I hadn't met him first.)

a cat of impossible colour said...

Hear, hear!

Kristi said...

I so love this post! Good to Great is one of my favorite books from my days in the business world. The notion that talented = miserable, tortured human being is something I'll be glad to see go. Happy 2010!

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

I guess Osker the Grouch won't get that pub deal. Ah well.

D. G. Hudson said...

This post resonates with me, as there seems to be a greater number of jerks or A**holes in relation to those nice socially acceptable types.

Isn't there also the saying about nice guys finishing last? In the competitive publishing environment today, an author may only be capitalizing on getting media attention in whatever manner he can. (a lot of people want their moment in the limelight)

From what I've seen, some people do feel their talent or power makes them so special that normal rules of good conduct don't apply to them.

Does society today encourage this type of behavior? I think it does to some extent, as we've seen our popular role models in government and business caught in some very compromising situations.

On your blog, Nathan, you treat your followers with respect. But are all agents and editors who deal with writers/authors using this same sort of guideline (the no A**hole rule)? Yes, writers should present themselves in a professional manner, and should expect the same in return. IMO.

Susan Quinn said...

Nathan, you're the prime example of nice guys finishing first. I just wish the rest of the world would follow.

I agree that in the future-world of author-driven sales, much will hinge on the social skills, marketing savvy and general nice-atude of the author. And a little spunkiness won't hurt.

Fawn Neun said...

I like to think I can still be "colourful" without being a jerk about it. ;)

fatcaster said...

GREAT POST!! I can think of a few people in the blogosphere who should take it to heart. Personalities (and what you said recently about inflated senses of self-importance on the Internet) being what they are, I know that's not going to happen -- they'll get what they deserve sooner or later. That's life.

Perry Robles said...

Damn...back to my job at Jack's.

fatcaster said...

@Anonymous 10:19

Instead of 'tude they should look in a mirror. There's no A**hole shortage -- why add to the glut?

Terry Towery said...

Good post, Nathan. Wouldn't it be great if nice guys did finish first every time?

Alas, they don't. That won't, however, keep me from continuing to try.

And I HAVE noticed a refreshing lack of assholes around here lately.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’ve noticed this, too. Same with actors, but in a different way. Even though there are lots of actors who do incredibly outrageous things, they’re expected to do the talk show circuit, look attractive, and interact well with the talk show hosts. In the past, some of the greatest actors could refuse to appear on talk shows if they felt uncomfortable doing them – Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, to name two of the most talented. A couple of years ago, I saw DeNiro and Hoffman interviewed on late night shows. They seemed extremely awkward and, comparing them to younger actors, I realized how much times have changed, with much more emphasis on PR and social interaction today.

I think, for writers, it’s actually a good thing. It takes so much less energy for a writer to be social, humble, part of a large writing community, and allowed to take time off from writing to have a personal life than to constantly have to prove that they are brilliant and separate. Of course, every approach has its downside. Being too informal can create a situation in which brilliance is undermined and pack mentality rules. In writing, that translates into automatically seeing a popular book as a good book. In film, Director James Cameron is known for being an extremely difficult person to get along with. TITANIC was an amazing film. This week, I saw his new movie, AVATAR in 3-D. Oh. My. God. That movie was nothing short of astounding, absolutely brilliant graphics along with a good solid story.

Dave Cullen said...

I like the No Asshole Rule a lot. It does seem to apply everywhere. You can get away with being an asshole some of the time if you're really good and really lucky and already established, but you will still be swimming against the current. And life will be less pleasant for you, too.

We're all a hell of a lot happier when we think about the other person involved and what they are going through. They tend to help us, but they're also just nice to us. It's a nicer way to live.

Anonymous said...

I am more likely to buy a book from an author who presents him/herself in a professional manner. With Twitter and Facebook being utilized by so many authors though, some of them forget that they are being read by so many.

There are some high profile authors who use facebook and twitter and other blog venues to spew their opinions about political and religious issues. A HOT BUTTON even in families, and they get down right nasty when one doesn't agree them. That is a huge turn off, and good writing or not, I won't buy their books.

There are a few other authors (high profile on NY Times and other lists) that have a platform or agenda, and not only do they inject it into their work, but blog about it and if one disagrees they take if personally and start flaming readers. Again, I won't buy their books any longer.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I wonder how Hemingway would have fared with Twitter and YouTube around.

Anti-social counts as having a personality, right?

Anonymous said...

I find that editors and agents are far more eccentric than writers, actually.

Maybe this is because the only writers I know are either struggling to get that first contract or only have a few published novels under their belts. I don't know. But, for the most part, writers sit around waiting endlessly on editors, and move like lightening to meet their demands. An editor says I'll get back to you tomorrow, and then they get back to you a month later. An editor says, I'll get this editorial letter to you in a week, and they get it to you in six, yet your deadline stays the same.

This isn't to say that editors/agents are assh*les, but writers take far more crap in this business than editors/agents, I think. I suppose the grass is always greener. Right now I'm waiting on an agent to give me the green light. She's had my full since July -- I clearly don't wear the pants in this "possible" agent/client relationship.

ryan field said...

I remember this post. And I still think it's so much easier, phsyically and emotionally, to be nice than nasty.

Ello said...

You're absolutely right - No one likes an A - hole!

There's even a commercial about it!


Happy New Year Nathan!

Sarah Olutola said...

True, Nathan, true. In fact I may be turned of a series all together, no matter how good it is, if I find the author's a jerk. Even if you have to fake it, try to be polite to the people giving up their hard earned money to support your work.

Happy new year!

Sarah O

Susan Quinn said...

Hey! I just noticed that you have "Literary Agent and Author" as your tag on the main page ( - which is awesome - but that you only have "Literary Agent" as your tag once on the blog.

Not sure if this was intentional or an oversight. I kinda like the "and Author" part!

miconian said...

I think you're leaving out a rather important factor, which is that the relationship between talent and lack of social graces is not a coincidence. Writers are people who invest a lot of time and energy into expressing their true selves as honestly as they can. This activity doesn't always go along with being a nice person.

Also, I think that a lot of times, people who work in corporate environments have an unusually high standard for what "nice" means, because they're used to sublimating or suppressing their true feelings in order to "play the game." Along comes someone who dares to say "that's stupid," and uh-oh, they're an "asshole."

maybe genius said...

Oh, I do so dearly love the phrase "got into fisticuffs."

I know I have amazing respect for authors who can remain classy and respectful, even when dealing with a scathing review or an irate fan. You have to be able to laugh at yourself a little, or you'll never survive.

Steph Damore said...

Karma. That's all I'm sayin'

Anna Bowles said...

I second miconian's point. Like any editor, I'd rather not work with egomaniac authors, but overall I've seen more damage done to the standard of books and the welfare of individuals in publishing by faux 'nice'ness (which is actually passive aggression) than by tantrums.

Courtney Price said...

Hemmingway would have tanked on the internet :) Good point Josin :)

This makes me think of today's news with Charlie Sheen... I mean, repeatedly an a$$hole in every respect. But he's the highest paid actor in television? How did that happen? Because really, there are TONS of actors who are better than Sheen.

I like the no a$$hole rule :)

mkcbunny said...

I think it is important to be polite and professional in all businesses, and a strong sense of humor really helps. When the sh*t hits the fan, it's a lot easier to handle the storm when people can laugh instead of yell.

Writer with Asperger's said...

"I think you're leaving out a rather important factor, which is that the relationship between talent and lack of social graces is not a coincidence."

Wow! That would make me...a genius.

nova said...

I just want an agent. I sold 247 books on Amazon so far this month. No advertising budget. Not to family. Just word of mouth. Yet only 1 agent answered my query. Am I a failure?

Rachel said...

Agreed on the karma comment. I know a woman in publishing who worked on a book by an author who shall remain unnamed: author then went on to trash the publishing house in public.

Editor to my friend: "Well, at least we'll save a lot of money on his next advance."

Oops! Could have avoided that just by being, yanno, nice.

Terry said...

Always good to be kind, business or no.

Madeleine said...

I love that: "Personality counts."

That's a perfect sum of what you just said, and like others have said, that applies to life in general, too.

For example, why is it that so many people read your blog? Well, of course, you give us information, but really it's because we're entertained by your personality. It's the you behind the information/words that makes reading this fabulous blog fun!

Triffany said...

Sage advice in any industry, I think. Thanks for the reminder.

Lauren said...

This actually makes me feel good because there are so many people out there who still think it's cool to be a "Mean Girl" and have never really gotten over themselves.

Finally the nice guy wins!
That is, if he has talent...

; )

pjd said...

Fear not, assholes! The pendulum will one day swing again your way. (I think The Pendulums would be a good name for a swing band.) This is not limited to authors--all kinds of celebrities, sports icons, etc. are subject to these societal trends. At some point we'll get tired of the nice people, start derisively saying "he's such a boy scout" and start again idolizing the shoot first, let god sort 'em out later egotistical types that get extra props for being more overtly corrupt and unapologetic about it than the other guys.

But I hope the pendulum stays on the side of "nice" for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...


I'm right with you.

I've sold 399 books on Amazon so far in December (and will likely sell another 50 in the next two days). I'm on track to sell 5,000 books in 2010 (probably more, as sales of my book keep accelerating 20-30% month-over-month).

Like you, I'm working with a zero ad budget. I've been rejected by agents and publishers many times over these past years.

My book is, right now, the highest ranked indie in 3 categories on the hourly charts (#1 in two categories). The ranking is at 1,033 as I write this (again, pretty good -- out of 400,000 titles on Kindle).

Know that you are not alone, and you are NOT a failure.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think you're wrong about this. The world is still full of A-hole. The reason we don't hear as much about cantakerous authors as we did in days past is, really, authors in general don't hold the same level of celebrity as they once did. If anything, I think we are in an age of less civility and politeness, rather than more.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

The world was "smaller" in the days when authors, and actors, could get away with rude and aggressive behaviour.
These days, any sign of those behaviours and the paparazzi would be all over them pushing - hoping to force even greater excesses of ill-conceived reactions.

anne said...

Nathan, although I really like your blog, i don't understand how you can possibly say that publishing has a higher tolerance for eccentricity than other areas of life. I've been reading an amazing batch of ranting about how authors MUST include a self addressed stamped envelope with their correspondence with publishing people. Not exactly cutting edge in the tolerance department.
And I know you take email correspondence (you do a blog, for hell's sake!) but some publishing types sound like they will only take hard copy in a very rigid format, again not exactly encouraging artistic expression.

My best guess is that frustration/rage will come out somehow, and that it may show as uninspired writing or low productivity if it doesn't show in peeing in the fireplace at a party. I'm happy to be a surgical photographer, nobody i work with would even understand that I'm being an asshole when I am. Want jowls? Be nasty to me and see what happens ;-) Two different cultures. I know if the surgeon is being an asshole by whether he throws surgical tools or yells. It all works nicely. Some of them get it that if they want to look good, they'd better treat photo girl well, but some don't. So I'm not frustrated but not blackballed either, best of both worlds. I wish the same for the more standard writer people.

Guinevere said...

As long as I can be eccentric, as long as I'm polite and professional, we're good.

Ink said...

miconian said:

I think you're leaving out a rather important factor, which is that the relationship between talent and lack of social graces is not a coincidence. Writers are people who invest a lot of time and energy into expressing their true selves as honestly as they can. This activity doesn't always go along with being a nice person.

I find this sort of argument a little distressing. Yes, talent and being a nice person don't always go together. But no more so than talent and anything else. It seems illogical to suggest that great talent somehow prevents people from being nice, or that the two are counter-productive. It seems a lazy excuse for poor behaviour. "Oh, I'm an artist, I'm creative, I'm expressing my true self..." Is a writer somehow exempt from decency because they write pretty words?

It seems faulty, an argument that doesn't work for artists any more than it does for architects or ad salesmen. It's not even that we should be good because it's convenient for our publishing careers. There's more to this than self-interest. We're human beings, and consideration for others should be an essential part of our basic humanity.

And I don't think there are any exemptions to that.

Donna Hole said...

I am more anxious to purchase a book by a genial person than one who writes well but doesn't play nice with others. I've been lucky in here (meaning the blogging world in general) to have met a lot of really great people.

There's always a bad one or three in any community, but for the most part, people are just people, trying to get their work noticed by the public. If you keep in mind your fellow aspiring authors are also your prospective fans, I guess everyone gets along.

Thanks for the reminder Nathan.


Kimberly Lynn said...

Excellent post, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

Good To Great is one of the most fantastic business books I've read yet.

And yea, being kind and generous puts good karma out there.


abc said...

Some people must like a-holes, because I've known a few and they seem to have a good amount of friends. I have never been able to figure that out.

Anyway, I wish Joan Didion and Jonathan Franzen would invite me over for drinks. I also think Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Kraus would be fun to hang out with. And Megan McCafferty just HAS to be a hoot.

Ellen Hopkins said...

To whoever the "e-book" person was, um, hello? You'd better be even more personable in your online presence because otherwise no one will give two farts what you've written if you can't win them over though social networking. Ugh.... why do these discussions keep coming down to "the future through electronic publishing?"

Beyond that, fab post, Nathan. As a traditionally-published, fairly well-read (okay, all my novels are NY Times top ten bestselling, but that sounds rather arrogant) author, I can say that I maintain a wide web presence, and also am very nice both online and in real life. I also like wine.

Nathan Bransford said...

I can definitely say from personal experience that not only is Ellen a bestselling author she's very nice as well!

Yoss said...

There are several levels on which to approach your post, Nathan. Perhaps the best is a translation to music composition. If a 'pleasant personality', 'charisma' had counted for anything at all, no-one would ever have heard of a gent called Ludwig van Beethoven.

One thing that's right about your post is that creative people tend to be erm 'awkward', in one way or the other. I used to think that the raison d'etre of Publishers and Agents was to identify good work and deal with the inevitable eccentricities of the author.

Now, though, it seems even this modest contribution to exposing the public to quality art is no longer the preserve of the publisher/agent. We are doomed to accept that art in the pubic domain ensues only when the artist has a perfect set of (white) teeth.

So what service, exactly, aside from the possible prospect of riches, does the modern Agent actually offer to a serious author?

Amanda said...

Rudness is annoying and tiring.

I'm glad to see it's not being tolerated as much because, quite frankly, rude people suck. ;)

Lydia Sharp said...

In the words of Le R: Does this mean I have to stop using the F word?

Haha. Just kidding. I know I don't have to stop. ;)
(again, kidding. lighten up)

Franziska said...

I am extremely nice and polite when drunk and disorderly. But then I'm British. We're genetically programmed to be polite to the point of painful.

lora96 said...

so the days of being a drunken misanthrope are over? then WHY am I writing?


I like this rule. I wish I could post this rule at work. But it's an elementary school and I'm not allowed to use that word.

Mira said...

Nathan, you're sort of on semi-vacation this week, right? That's good, I'm glad you're pacing down.

And in support of that, I'm showing the restraint of a saint on this thread. I should be cannonized.

That said, I thought the comments here were really interesting. Very interesting discussion.

Anonymous said...

"You'd better be even more personable in your online presence because otherwise no one will give two farts what you've written if you can't win them over though social networking."

You're kidding, right?

Good writing and a great story don't matter?

Maybe I'm in the wrong business . . .

bettielee said...

Ok, somebody needs to buy that No Assholes book for the generals at my office, because apparently, all the assholes that are no longer welcome in business and aren't allowed to abuse their underlings all work in my office....

I knew I was getting screwed.

Steve said...

First, let me say that I'm in favor of good, and against evil. I believe it's best to live one's life as a good-hearted person who cares about others and tries to do the right thing.

That being said, I think that such a person will, of necessity, always appear unpleasant to some. If he or she is good at what they do, they will appear unpleasant to many.

ALthough I am not a Christian, I'll take the person of Jesus as my example. (I'm referring to the human dimensions of his life, as I do not view him theologically). Jesus is often regarded by those who have not studies his life much as being "nicey-nice". The record of the Gospels does not bear this out. He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple with violence. He engaged in a 3 chapter long rant against the hypocricy of the religious authorities of his time. He rebuked individuals for their sinfulness. In less than a week he went from crowds singing "hosanna" in his praise, to an angry mob shouting "crucify him!".

He finally irrated so many people, that the authorities had him executed to try to shut him up, although it is still not clear whether this was successful :)

Now of course, you could argue that he was not, as far as we know, a writer. And I will agree that he might well not have been published today. (Although Sarah Palin manages to arouse the ire of many with her outspoken views, and her literary success is awesome! Ask the McCain campaign staffers how she is to work with, I guess.)

But although Jesus was not a writer, he is regarded, rightly IMO, as an admirable human being. And he did it without being a "nice guy".

Perhaps it's just that in the wake of 9/11 a lot of people are wishing for a little boredom in their life.

As for me, I prefer writers that use live ammo.


Wilhem Spihntingle said...

You can never go wrong with manners and respect. I read somewhere that sales for a self published author should be over 5,000 to even mention it in a query letter as part of your prior experience / success. Otherwise, you should not even mention it. Which would you rather have: 2,000 self-pubbed sales or 1000 via traditional means? Which would best help boost your career more.

Keith Popely said...

I think I tried to post a comment on this last night but was too drunk to figure out the word verification code thing. It was either the most brilliant thing ever written or the rantings of a total a**hole. As penance, I'm going to spend the day picking up cigarette butts and listening patiently to every telemarketer who calls.

Alena Thomas said...

Thanks, Nathan, for another thought-provoking blog. I quite agree that most past “notoriously difficult to handle authors” might find themselves fighting harder battles today, but still hold to the believe that in the end it is the quality of the work that matters. Take Stephen King for example. While I don’t know Mr. King as an individual, quite frankly he scares the living daylights out of me. He’s creepy and demented and honestly, his eyes freak me out. But do I read his books? Absolutely. He is a brilliant writer. Will I go to one of his signings? Yes…provided there is ample security. My point is that we all have a dark, hard to manage, sometime eccentric side…hello? Writers! But in the end, I would much rather see a writer’s true self than some polished up, smile for the camera bogus facade.

PS. Hadn’t had a chance to check out your new digs…well done. All the best in 2010 to all!

Joni Rodgers said...

True all that. It's kind of like the "video killed the radio star" leitmotif that dramatically changed the music world in the early '80s. Sure, right now it's just social networking. Next thing you know, authors will be expected to do "Love is a Battlefield" dance videos for every book release.

Not. Pretty.

Simon said...

I actually find relentlessly nice people to be inherently boring, and think this all-pervading niceness of the modern day is largely driven by fear.

Give me a genuine arsehole over a fake facebook friend every time.

Swifty said...

This is refreshing to know!!!

Anonymous said...

"You'd better be even more personable in your online presence because otherwise no one will give two farts what you've written if you can't win them over though social networking."

Oy. I completely disagree. Since when did books stop being about the writing?

I DON'T go on author's social networking sites anymore, because it ruins my reading experience. Twitter and Facebook and blogs make everyone seem psuedo important. But with posts or tweets about the minutia of life everyone comes off looking like a petulant child. I found a couple of authors whose work I really liked. I wanted to find out what they had coming out next. Instead, I discovered they were complete tools that take their "craft" and themselves so seriously it's laughable. One person's "personable social networking" is another's barf.

I don't need a book's author to be my best friend. I don't care what he ate for dinner or if his wife is having a baby. I don't want to know what he got for his birthday, especially if it cost more than my entire salary last year. I don't care where he went for vacation, nor do I want to see pictures of what he ate or the view out of his pricey hotel window.

The only thing I do want to know is when is his next book coming out and maybe a line or two concerning what the topic/plot might be. Of course, you never get that info anymore, you just get everyone acting like a child with posts that have nothing to do with their career saying, "Look at me! Look at me! Aren't I wonderful?"

No, actually, you're not. Your BOOK was good, but now that's been ruined because now I'm associating it with the fact you are an egomanic attention whore.

All these writers think they're reaching new or potential readers but in reality the main bulk of their visitors are other writers, who only comment to keep themselves visible. Ugh.

But, maybe that's just me. Is it just me? Am I the only one?

nkrell said...

Nicely done, Mr. Bransford. I couldn't agree more. I've never understood why some people think it's okay to treat others with little or no respect.

Simon said...

OK, nobody's going to dispute any comfortable tautologies about it being 'nice to be nice', or to advocate that we all kick a cat just for the hell of it.

But I do think there's a genuine danger in promoting the idea that being anything other than a wonderful and complete human being at all times, is professional and social suicide.

My take on these modern times, in which there exists little or no barrier between a person's public and private selves, has in reality resulted in people being far more guarded in how they reveal themselves. Everybody talks a lot more, but says a lot less.

Marcia said...

This is a no brainer to me - I once contracted a writer to speak at a conference on the basis of his wonderful writing and discovered the man was the most obnoxious person I'd ever met. He bitterly complained about his publisher and the industry in general. If I'd met him before reading his books I wouldn't have read them. He hasn't published a thing in a long time.

Kay Dew Shostak said...

We can see this principle everyday. If a person is likeable and polite they get second and third chances and our hope for success. If they are a--holes, we're all just waiting to see them fall from their pedestals.
So people may be watching you - but are they watching for your rise, or your fall?

Bob said...

Once more an agent posting about writers. Yes, they shouldn't be A**holes. No one should. Let's stop bitching about it and do our jobs. I've seen agents post and complain about how many emails they have to read; how many queries they have to wade through. I view such posts as being A**holes. It's their job. The interesting thing is that an agent is a processor of a product. They don't produce it. The author does. So once in a while a little respect would be appreciated. In essence most authors are treated as replaceable cogs in the machine. But the business is evolving. Anyone remember what happened to music in 2007? Let's stop looking backward and look forward.

Nathan Bransford said...

Hey Bob, I'm also a writer.

Dave Guilford said...

This is actually a shame. A$$holes are some of the most interesting writers. I once physically threw an assistant out of my office when he came back from lunch drunk. Now he's one of the big wigs at the Chicago Board of Trade. And he loves me for the worst 3 months of his life.

Nate said...

Like I've always said about the personalities acceptable for a safe, successful career as an airline captain: you can be a mean genius, or you can be a nice moron, but you can't be a mean moron.

janice said...

While I agree in essence with the no A**hole rule, I think sometimes people should be cut some slack.

First, some people are very exacting in their art, and *absolutely* demand the very best of those who might contribute to it. And while that doesn't totally excuse them for bad behavoir, it could explain someone else's *interpretation* that said A**hole is an A**hole, when they're not someone else's *idea* of *the perfect person.*

As for those people like JK Rowling, who was mentioned above-- I think she & others should be cut some slack because such artists *are* very big celebrities and have SO much pressure on them, pressure many of us have never dealt with, pressures put on them sometimes by *non-celebrity* people who might have been A**holes toward them. The a**hole factor can go both ways. Of course, there is a line, across which no *non-A**hole* should venture (smiling).

So again, not condoning bad behavoir, but a little slack sometimes, recognizing these things and that no one is perfect, no one has perfect patience, perfect etc.

Just saying... ;-))))

Dave Cullen said...

i'm a bit surprised by the pro-asshole contingent. (or the asshole-rationalizers.) i'm happy to see them in the minority, though.

half my friends are writers and a lot of acquaintances and i don't see any link between talent and assholishness in my small sample, nor do i find the argument that they coincide convincing. i'm with Ink there.

stephanie said...

One of my favorite posts, Nathan. Thank you.

Ink and Dave Cullen are spot on in my opinion. Nice never goes out of style, and if we all aren't accountable to ourselves and others, why should publishers, agents, booksellers or book buyers be accountable to us?

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks so much for weighing in, Dave.

steeleweed said...

I've been in the business world for nearly half a century and have seen one management team who weren't A$$holes - and even that company had a couple of them. Perhaps the MBA curriculum should also include reading Sutton & Collins...

Personally, I'd rather hire someone to impersonate me for publicity, so I can keep being my grumpy self. :-)
Have a great New Year!

Nick said...

And herein lies my great problem with writing in this day and age. Sure, I admit I can be a bit of a prick online, and in real life I can still be a prick from time to time (146 IQ in a high school of kids who think they're gangsta, it's bound to happen). But really, once I'm comfortable with you, I'm great fun to be around.

Unfortunately, I'm incredibly reclusive and shy and not much given to social environments. So I make every effort to avoid them, and when thrust into them I react the same way I react to anything that makes me uncomfortable, either a. with violence or b. by shutting down.

So hopefully plugging via radio and TV isn't that common. IM interviews and stuff I could do, but in person? Heh. Unless I'm best buds with the interviewer, it ain't gonna be very pretty my friend.

Alas, if only I could be a reclusive prick all day and just tell people to get over it. Curse you modern society! Curse you I say!

Steve said...

As one of the pro-A*hole commenters, I must respond.

I'd rather be hated for who I am than liked for who I'm not. I find butt-kissers and suck-ups disgusting, and people who enjoy them incomprehensible. If anybody wonders why we live in a culture of rampant public dishonesty and corporate bland, I think we have found some clues here.

Here's an idea for all the "nice" people. Get a copy of Professor Sutton's book. (You will need a paperbook edition for this exercise). Strip the cover. Cut and fold until you have a nicely shaped 3 dimensional object with plenty of sharp edges. Then ...

Oh, just forget it.

Happy sappy holidays and joy of the pleasin' season.


Steve said...

Yes Virginia,

With profound apologies to Virginia O'Hanlon and Francis Pharcellus Church

"DEAR NATHAN: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say they don't like a*holes.
"Papa says, 'If you see it on Nathan's Blog it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is it wrong to be an a@hole?


VIRGINIA, I'm not Nathan, but I comment on his blog, and your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the blandness of a dishonest and boring age. They do not appreciate except [what] makes them feel good. They think that nothing should be which is not flattering to their little egos. All egos, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his self-esteem, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of wit, irony and righteous indignation.

Yes, VIRGINIA, it's good to be an a*hole. They are essential to life, just as spice is essential to food, heartache to love, and conflict to unity, and you know that they enrich and give to your life its highest interest and excitement. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no a*holes. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike honesty then, no rock 'n roll, no reality TV to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in peace and quiet - the peace of the grave. The eternal struggle which moves the world forward would be extinguished.

Not like a*holes! You might as well not like agents! You might get the FCC to hire men to watch in all the TV channels and Internet blogs to catch a*holes, and bleep them out, but even if they erased every a*hole from our view, what would that prove? Nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of an a*hole's diligent attentions, but that is no sign that there is no need for their work. The most necessary things in the world are those that neither children nor men will always find likable. Do you like rejection letters? Or spinach? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not good for you. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the depth of precious stimlation provided for us by the heroic a*holes of the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart to discover from whence comes the noise of the clamoring city or the roaring world. Only wit, intelligence, tolerance, and a sense of humor, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the brawling, fluxing, steaming heap that is our life and that of our fellow beings. Are a*holes necessary? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else as necessary and vital.

No a*holes! Thank God! they live, and they live forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, they will continue to exite the heart of childhood.

This post quotes material which may or may not be copyrighted. To the extent it may be copyrighted, use here is made as parody and under the doctrine of fair use.


Nathan Bransford said...


Enh. If a*holes spent as much time trying to be better people as they do justifying their a*holeness the world would be an infinitely better place. Talent and a*holeness are not intertwined.

More great artists have been felled by a*holeness than fueled by it.

Steve said...


You may be missing part of my point. I'm saying that a*holes ARE good people (see my comment yesterday referencing Jesus).

You can disagree, odf course, but fortunately I don't think there are enough stocks of valium in the world to allow your viewpoint to prevail in practice.


Steve said...

And, I thought you *liked* reality TV :)

Nathan Bransford said...


I think we're quibbling over definitions of terms. Ah well! You do have a point that a*holes do make for some good reality TV. That may be a checkmate.

Steve said...

I think you're probably right about terms. When literary misanthropes are mentioned, I tend to think of Mark Twain. You may be thinking more of Hunter S. Thompson. :)

Simon said...

I think the main point that I (and possibly others) am/are making is that contrary to the prevailing mood of the times, the world doesn't exist purely in terms of polar opposites.
ie, there is always a middle ground.

BY this I mean that the choice is not solely between being an 'asshole' or being the banal diluted version of a real human being that so many people fastidiously contrive for themselves.

In England, at least, we've always been able to appreciate a character with a streak of the rascal or rogue to them. But in these increasingly media-savvy times this trait is in danger of being bred out of us.

The makeup of the human psyche determines that we are all by turns, selfish, prideful, conceited, angry and envious. To deny all this, hidden behind some public-facing persona, is a dishonesty we are all, to some degree, guilty of.

There is another way. A third path. Come on folks - embrace your inner asshole.

Nick said...

"To deny all this, hidden behind some public-facing persona, is a dishonesty we are all, to some degree, guilty of."

Welcome to Middle America! Seriously, the vast majority of middle-class families, at least here, are obsessed with keeping the veil of a "good family" up. Now for some, like my aunt Audry, that's just making the family not look totally batshit. And then you have situations such as my own, where the family is so immensely dysfunctional that the only solution my mother can conceive is perfection. If the house is sparkly clean and everyone outside thinks we're a happy-go-lucky Brady Bunch family, then all is right in her world.

Actually, that's probably a big part of why I have a rampant hatred for "phonies" as Holden would put it. I deliberately spend every moment being my eccentric self, even at the cost it's delivered -- which is one big case of alienation, if anyone's wondering -- rather than give in to what school wants (mindless drones to enter the workforce), mom wants (Brady Bunch), or other kids want (gangsta).

But enough armchair self-analysis blended with whining!

I do think Steve makes some good points above, and I'm going to assume he deliberately dressed it up in OTT tinsel for comedic effect or something akin to it.

Scott said...

No wonder only women read fiction these days. Bunch-a-wusses getting published, innit? ;)

Good advice, but I'd love for just a few agents to risk a hard-case author or two if they've got commensurate chops who can bring more men into the fold. If I saw a TV interview with a cantankerous old goat I'd be more interested in his work than another soft-bellied, Opera underling. Nothing like injecting a little full-blooded adventure into the literary love-in to get the eyebrows going.

I hope I never meet Donald Ray Pollock. I'd hate if he came off like Donald Duck.

Steve said...

Often, though not always, I adopt a policy of crafting comments so that they appear to come "out of left field". I won't pretend to a point of view that I don't hold, but I may put a certain "spin" on it to emphasize unconventional elements.

I do this to forcibly remind the audience that LEFT FIELD EXISTS. I really fear that there's a tendency for relatively homogenous discussion communities to get enamored of theit own (somewhat unconscious) cultural consensus. And I think it's a good thing to shake that up where possible.

I distinguish this from "trolling". I would never try to replicate the historic work of the crew from alt.syntax.tactical who pioneered trolling techniques by going into rec.pets.cats and posting offensive recipies. There may be a vaguely legitimate place for starting trouble for entertainment's sake, but that's nothing I want to do.

I suspect the dominant demogaphic of people here here is 20-40, comfortably middle-class, and readers of mainstream literary fiction.

I, on the other hand, am 63, low-income (though educated), and a lifelong reader of genre Science Fiction. This gives me a somewhat different perspective, which I enjoy inflicting on the unwary. All in a spirit of goodheartedness, I assure you.

Happy New Year,


Anonymous said...

Personality does count and that should apply to agents as well. Nathan thanks for being one of the nice guys! Wish the No Arsehole Rule applied to all agents. There are a few agents who are arrogant, rude and without tact.

I’m a published writer who recently met an agent who made me feel worthless. This agent has left a bad impression with my writer friends also. There are several agents that I’ve also heard horror stories about. Although, we writers are not blogging about this, word does get around in the writing community.

We are hard working people who deserve to be treated with respect. Why should we be expected to kiss agents arses and be treated like scum in return? Nice people rule no matter what your job is.

Related Posts with Thumbnails