Once there was a man called Mark who was looking for an agent for his novel. He told his friend, Joe Bloggs, who suggested Mark could try his friend Ginny who was a literary agent.
So Mark rang Ginny up.
'Hi, Ginny,' he started. 'I'm a friend of -'
'My name is Virginia,' she cut in, and put the phone down.
Who do you think was rude - Mark or Virginia/Ginny?
Consider these points:
1. To Mark, his book is important. In fact, it's been the central feature of his life for some years. He's thrilled to have finished it.
2. Ginny is deluged with manuscripts every day, and has been for years. She already has all the clients she can cope with.
3. Mark has just retired and has time on his hands - that's in part why he wrote a novel.
4. Ginny is in the middle of a busy working day. She's waiting to get a call from an editor about an existing client's manuscript.
5. Cold calling is annoying.
6. Cold calling is especially annoying when they get your name wrong.
Mark didn't think what it was like to be Ginny. He forgot that publishing is a business. If asked, he might have imagined her day to be like something from an Ealing film - a large empty office with a leather Chesterfield sofa, an assistant called Emma or Felicity, the morning spent pottering around before a long boozy lunch and a book launch in the evening. It really isn't like that any more, if it ever was. Publishing is a meaner, leaner machine and no one has time to potter.
So who was rude? In a lot of ways, questions of rudeness aren't really the issue here. What I think Mark showed was ignorance, and in his ignorance he put his foot in it. He forgot that, although his novel was terribly important to him, it wasn't important at all to Ginny.
What Mark should have done was a bit of research (via The Writers and Artists Yearbook or The Writers Handbook) and found out what Ginny's professional name was. Then he could have contacted Ginny by mail or email and done it properly:
Dear Virginia Smith,
Our mutual friend, Joe Bloggs, suggested I contact you....
Publishing is a business, and the people who work in it take it as seriously as anybody else who takes their day job seriously. I think we writers get so caught up in our stories that we sometimes forget that.