• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Revved Up Like a Deuce

Dear Betsy,

I thought I’d throw a real question your way. If you’ve already answered it elsewhere, please forgive me.

When dealing with agents, publishers, etc., how do we not be dicks?  I don’t mean the kind who are intentionally that way, but dick-ness born of insecurity and desperation. The thought of getting published (what to speak of writing) is so frightening, so freighted, it brings to the fore (am I getting too alliterative?) all one’s defenses. It’s as if we unconsciously decide, “I’m not going to let them reject me so easily. I’m not going to let them see how scared I am. I’m going to preemptively reject them first by being a dick, and so, if they do somehow accept me, I’ll know it’s because they really, really want me.” For those of us who haven’t gone through years of therapy to overcome (or just become aware of) this kind of thinking, is there a code of publishing etiquette to which we can strictly hew? A chart which we can tape to the bathroom mirror? You can argue that it’s just a matter of being a decent human being, but dicks seemingly get published all the time. Or do they become dicks after they get published?


Dear Gentle Person:

If you are wondering about being a dick, pretty good chance that you’re not one. Isn’t that part of the definition of being a dick, a sort of willful disregard for other people’s feelings?  But more interesting to me is the question of whether being a dick helps or hurts. Tucker Max’s forthcoming book is called Assholes Finish First. I’ve always craved a little of that swagger to be honest. But I’ve also noted at every publishing house I’ve ever worked for that once you were deemed a dick, people did very little to advance your career. Of course, some would say publishers do precious little to advance your career regardless of your personality, zodiac sign, or the number of times you bring warm scones to the office.

The only authors from whom dick-head behavior is tolerated are those who  make the company a barge of money. I’ve always heard John Gray was a major dickhead (Men are from Scroto, Women are from Clito); I’ve always heard Tuesdays with Morrie was a dickwad among dickwads. But these are rumors. I’ve also heard Mary Higgins Clark is a sweetheart. I know John Grisham is a gentleman. I believe Stephen King to be a really cool dude.

Is there a code? Well, yes and no. I mean you can’t be a total asshole and expect people to work with you. You can’t show up without an appointment and demand an audience. You can’t bombard with calls or email. You can’t rent a Mercedes and hire a couple of hookers on your reading tour and submit the charges. Those days are long gone.

Look, there is never any excuse for being a dick. I once had dinner with some famous people and after some drinks the conversation got around to whether any of them ever played the “do you know who I am” card. It was hysterical. They all had done it, but only once or twice they swore. (That’s like me telling me my mom I only tried pot once or twice.) But they were ashamed. They knew they were being dickheads. I also met a lawyer once who told me that he was very good at what he did (divorce law), and almost always won. I asked him what his secret was. “I can be a real prick, ” he said.

Here’s the deal: you probably have to be at least a bit of a prick to be a writer. Probably getting published brings it out a little more. And big success can certainly fan some dickheaded flames. Thing is, it’s probably okay to be a bit of a dick. Just try not to be a douche.

C’mon everyone, talk to me. What’s the biggest dickheaded thing you ever did in relation to your writing?

24 Responses

  1. *thinks hard* Have not been one yet, but the night is young.

    Though don’t think I have it in me to be one. So, does this mean I’ll finish last?

    Won’t let it.

  2. Agree with Marisa that I haven’t quite been the dickhead that I might be if I were famous and rolling in the dough :-). At present, I am at the mercy of the publishing world as I work toward publication. Even then, I would hope no dickish-ness would surface. Confidence and assertivenss, yes… But I just had to comment that this entire post was hilarious, but had some serious messages that I enjoyed. I thought only my NJ-born and raised husband used the word “douche.” 🙂

  3. I have to admit I’m a giant dick at times. Never with my own writing though, but with others. I know a few artists who really like to draw comics and they have me look at their scripts, outlines, stories, etc.

    I am never nice about it. Ever. I roll my eyes at their cliches, groan at their typical plots and twists, and scold them for plot holes. They’re usually in the room when I’m looking over them too. To (try to) make up for my rudeness though I tell them how to fix their stories and make them better.

    I realize I have no reason or qualifications to be such a hardass but it seems to help the both of us at least.

  4. I have to admit the ‘death as a career move’ was the biggest DH thing I ever did 😦 Some of the trite my ‘biographers’ wrote without running it by me sucked big time.


  5. I’m incapable of being a dickhead. I went to therapy for years, but my mother is still sitting on my shoulder, telling me to be nice, not to wear out my welcome, or be a bother to anyone. In other words, bend over.

    I’ve known some Class A Douche Bags & always hoped karma would kick their ass, but somehow, it never turns out that way. They get ginormous book deals and buy wee farms in the Cotswolds. I get nice deals and pay off the Visa bill.

    And yeah, I sleep well at night , but have finally realized – so do dickheads. Except they’re tucked up all nice and cozy in the Cotswolds, and I’m in Bumfuck.

    Thanks, Mom.

    • “I’m in Bumfu…” Love it!

      Me too. It’s hard to be a dickhead when you’re raised Catholic.


      • I can relate.
        I don’t go to church anymore for a couple of very practical reasons —
        1. need the Time to write my novel, as still have to work full-time for money, and
        2. I grew up going to church — “PK” (preacher’s kid) — and I pray every day and, when it comes to religion —
        “Be nice;
        don’t kill people;
        I GET IT!”

  6. When my editor showed me the art department’s design for the cover of my first book, I told him that I HATE THAT GODDAM COVER. I told him that he’d got it ALL WRONG, that it was STUPID, UGLY, and CHEAP. I told him that I REFUSE to use that cover, and I insisted that they use a cover that I designed myself, no ifs, ands, or buts. It never occured to me to be polite, diplomatic, like, or to at least pretend to be open to negotiation. I just threw a fit and got it changed. (Oh, wait — I did compromise a bit, and put some pissant frilly curlicues in the corner which I STILL HATE.)

    I’ve since learned that a first-time author is expected to grovel when it comes to discussing editorial decisions. But that was a dip-shit cover (they used CLIP ART!!) and anyway, I’m not a very nice person even when I’m in a good mood.

  7. The worst I have ever done with writing is withholding. Withholding the good stuff, that is. Like I fail to tell people how much I appreciate them and somehow I DO remember to tell them when I think they are way out of line.

    Let me have a righteous cause and I can scorch with words. It is much more difficult to effuse about the everyday goodness of the same individuals.

    I did this just a couple of weeks ago and I am still feeling remorseful. How did I do this again? Have I not learned? Yet? I have apologized as profusely as I am capable. I keep wondering why remorse is not as energizing as anger, it would be helpful to have a LOT of energy behind my apologies. Ugh.

    Although the instance that is weighing heavily upon me at present is not directly publishing-related, I did write a scathing email and I was a DH. I was technically correct (about the specific instance that inflamed me) and overall very wrong (I failed to let the person know how I appreciated years of other nice things).

    😦 Off to hang my head for awhile.

  8. I don’t know….I’m all washed out!!!

  9. I watch people, judge them and write about it. No one is safe, not even me.

  10. That’s it, then. The line has to be drawn: no more scones.

    “What’s the biggest dickheaded thing you ever did in relation to your writing?”

    I’m sorry, that information is classified. If I told you, I’d have to kill… myself.

  11. I’m sorry, I only got as far as “Tucker Max’s forthcoming book” and then my fucking head exploded.

  12. Yeah, I ‘m with Shanna. I don’t want any swagger if it involves being even remotely like that dicky-douche.

    Frankly, I don’t think you ever HAVE to be a dick. Sure, there’s no distinction without risk, but it’s far riskier to be a dick than to try and distinguish yourself from the rest of the flotsam in more constructive ways.


    Karl Rove is a Dick
    Tucker Max is a dick

    I don’t want to be in any category that includes either of the above, thanks very much.

    And there’s a difference between being self-assured, knowing where you stand in the writerly pecking order, and being a total ass hat.

    I cringe when I encounter people like that. Ugh… And then I quietly simmer and wish upon them a painful case of reflux and a sudden bout of diarrhea. 😉

  13. Can’t think of anything, but what the hey, I’m not yet a paid member of the team. Something to look forward to if and when I get my turn for dickwadishness? Hopefully I’ll suffer from some sort of interruptus before it gets to be a habit–Oy-ness interruptus?

  14. A few people have asked me for secrets to the publishing world and networking (they seem not to realize I am a powerless newbie) and I say, “Be nice.”

    Whenever I feel dickishness coming on I call my agent and get him to be a dick instead. Cause that’s what agents are for, right, Betsy? (Not that he could ever be a dick either.)

    And speaking of niceness, I visited my Canadian publisher and oh my God, what they say about Canada is true. The nicest bunch of people I have ever met. I want them to publish every book I ever write and I don’t even care if they pay me, as long as they fly me back to Toronto and take me out to lunch again and bathe me in their utterly genuine, smart, non-snarky niceness.

    I grew up in the South and I believe in the bad place. So I will (try to) stick with nice.

    • Those are nice compliments you are throwing Canada’s way Holly. It is difficult to be a dick and a Canadian, but I do my best to fight the current. Your nice ways are obviously appreciated, as your book is getting loads of publicity up here. Heather Reisman has been all over the telly praising it.

  15. I was a dick to a very supportive friend last time I went through the submission process- which did nothing but add a shot of guilt to my anxiety cocktail. I was too scared to be a dick to my agent–I couldn’t get over the feeling that she was doing me some huge favor for which I was deeply in debt to her. She was great but looking back I wish I’d gotten over it and maybe been a little more assertive.

  16. Some years ago, after a monthly arts magazine signed me up for monthly reports from my fair city, it edited my first piece for space reasons in a way that changed the meaning of something. Since doing that kind of thing had been my job for a while (doing it well, that is, and not changing the meaning), I was put out, so much so that I refused to write for the publication again. “Not the best way” to approach the problem, to use a phrase one of my girlfriends later used. Haven’t made that mistake again, to use another expression she used.

  17. Wow. Oh, boy. Rough crowd, rough crowd. I’m still in awe of the dictionary. I’m still in awe of prepositions. With that confession, the dickishest thing I have done, while very drunk mind you, which I know is no excuse, is abruptly stand up while someone was giving a passionate lecture, at my table, on the merits of writing long drawn out commentaries on modern society and how enlightening it is to know that people are paying attention to the banality of long drawn out commentaries on modern society which rests mainly on arguing the banality of modern drawn out commentaries on modern society, is pick up my good old fairly light weight American Heritage College Dictionary and throw it at my unwanted guest’s head, which missed on purpose of course, hitting the wall and making me cringe that I had done that to that great book, and yelled Buy a fucking dictionary douche-bag! Realizing that I had never hung out with the cool crowd, ever, and didn’t know the negative to douching, and therefore was way out of my league in a modern intellectual discussion, I put myself to bed with a mumbling curse about idiots and fighting ghosts and assholes that need to go get a job driving a truck so they could see the difference between banal and lucky as hell. I was sufficiently guilt ridden in the morning to reread The Fixer all the way through. It was a weekend.

  18. I paid for a two-year gift subscription to Juggs magazine and had it sent to an agent’s office.

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