My boss, the head of the publisher I work for, told me that a recent conference she attended made her feel less than human.
Not a moment went by, during the fifteen-hour days, where someone didn't try to snag her to pitch a book.
"I was surprised by the level of desperation." She remarked that a fellow industry friend called her "chum."
You know, chum. The type of bait that lures marine animals into a feeding frenzy.
Over the past few years, I've noticed some disturbing trends in the publishing industry. Why they happen ... I can completely understand from a writer's perspective. Agents and editors are much harder to query than, say, seven years ago. Therefore, they're harder to get a hold of. So why wouldn't you make every opportunity to get in front of them.
But if we forget the human, we may turn these poor people into chum.
Trend #1 - Harassing Agents and Editors Online
Most agents and editors I know don't check LinkedIn often. Why? Because people harass them on messages there.
It's become increasingly normal for most publishers to only take submissions from agents. And most agents only have their submissions windows open for a few months a year.
But some people don't want to wait that long.
So they resort to harassing them online, bombarding them with DMs, pleading with them to take on their books.
When the agents or publishers don't respond, people resort to disparaging them online. Twitter has gone into a feeding frenzy recently when it comes to literary agents. This is part of why I ended up saying goodbye to that career. It was a thankless job.
Trend #2 - Exploitation at Conferences
Something disturbing lately has been the increased exploitation of conference faculty.
People know that they can jump over a slush pile if they meet an agent or editor at a conference. So they will pitch their book to them ... no matter what the cost.
There was a conference I attended a few months ago where I lost my voice—having to work it to death for fifteen-hour days. I tried to explain—with the lack of voice I had—that it hurt to talk and that I needed to do as much vocal rest as possible.
Writers heard this and still pestered me with questions about what I wanted to see in my inbox and if they could submit their work to me. They were relentless.
At another recent conference, thirty faculty members walked away with COVID, from being in close proximity to so many writers at one time. Health and safety concerns were not a priority at all for the staff.
And at another, a conference attempted to squeeze as much as they could out of an editor. Refusing to pay her for teaching classes, taking pitches, or sitting on panels.
This actually has been another disturbing trend I'm seeing.
Many conferences—not all, many—are trying to get as much bang-for-their-buck as possible with the faculty. Some will only pay a meager amount for classes, or just cover the travel costs of the staff.
Most faculty walk away having lost their voices, having gotten infected by an illness, and mentally exhausted. Only to come to an inbox swamped with submissions from the insane amount of pitches they had to field during the event.
To be honest, there's also not much incentive for faculty to appear to these events anyway. Their submissions are already swamped, and they have little reason to need to hear more pitches.
Trend #3 - Friends and Family Entering the Feeding Frenzy
Worst of all, friends and family may jump into the feeding frenzy.
They may expect you to grant them favors—give them contracts, simply because they've known you all these years.
And if you say no. Well, "I thought you were my friend."
I've had to field a number of awkward conversations with friends and family who tried to buddy up to me to get something out of me during my time as an agent, and now as a publisher.
Imagine that you worked forty-five hours at a conference and only got paid $100 for your time.
Imagine that you can't trust any DM you get, because a friend or family member may be trying to get something out of you.
Imagine that you get told, "Well this is a ministry," when you work a Christian event, as an excuse to not pay you anything for your twelve to fifteen-hour day.
Sounds crazy, right?
So why does this happen to publishing professionals?
They aren't chum. They're human.