How to Be a Decent Person (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re all about how to interact with an agent or editor.

Well, don’t drool or spit on them.

Don’t talk about them behind their back.

Don’t be a demanding, self-absorbed PITA.

Don’t overshare.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Don’t be so desperate to have an agent or editor – ANY agent or editor – that you start imitating Kevin Bacon from Animal House. As in, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” (If you don’t know the reference, it’s been too long since you’ve seen Animal House, or you’ve never seen it, in which case: how can I begin to give you advice, right?)

In a burst of shocking news, agents and editors are like everyone else.

In a way, they’re like a boss. But in a fundamental way, you’re also THEIR boss. It’s a two-way street, and it takes the whole gang to successfully launch a book.

So, really, you’re coworkers. Treat them like a coworker, but not one you might get drunk or sloppy with. (I seem to be in an Animal House mood, so this might be the point to quote Dean Wormer: “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” But cutting on anyone’s weight isn’t cool, so ignore that. And, for the most part, ignore most things that Dean Wormer said.)

My overwhelming thought when I saw this month’s blog topic was that we should treat agents and editors in the same way that we treat everyone in life. And that thought brought me to The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.

I live my life by this book. But I hate proselytizing, so ignore this if it doesn’t speak to you.

According to Ruiz, there are four basic principles that will get you through life:

1. Be impeccable with your word. (Don’t lie, and keep your promises.)

2. Don’t take anything personally. (‘Nuff said.)

3. Don’t make assumptions. (If you have a question, ask.)

4. Always do your best.

There’s much more to these principles than I just wrote, but even without explanation, I hope these make sense.

In short, whether you’re talking to an agent or editor – or to a CEO or janitor, or an older person or a small child – always be yourself. (Unless your true self could use some work, in which case do the work.) Treat them exactly how you’d like to be treated.

Sometimes life is complicated ... but quite often it isn’t.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


  1. As one who self-publishes, I'm extremely grateful to have a very talented sister who edits my stuff and then I work with another long time friend who does the prep and final copy fixes I catch. It's never perfect, but seems to work.

    1. Whether traditionally or indie pubbed, we all need help to get our books into the world!


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