I’m not responding to anymore emails from you, so don’t bother responding. — Jennifer De Chiara, literary agent, New York.
I’m not disappointed that my literary agent, Jennifer De Chiara, fired off an unprofessional email to me. I am disappointed that she didn’t do it with more literary flair. This is a brassy New Yorker who works on the periphery of the publishing industry. Am I not deserving of some artful bons mots? All I got was a typo and some awkward syntax.
The timing was awkward, too. The email was sent on Jan. 8, 2019. As I write this, my publisher is working hard to release a wonderful memoir I co-authored with Artimus Pyle, the former drummer with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Things are in in flux, and Jennifer De Chiara (also confusingly spelled as DeChiara) has gone AWOL on us. Notwithstanding her edict, I did send some follow-up emails reminding her that she is contractually obligated to make her “best efforts” to represent the book “enthusiastically.” No response.
THE DISAPPEARING AGENT
Jennifer De Chiara has been our agent for almost seven years, and she signed us to a modest deal at Backbeat Books, a small music specialist that I preferred over the larger, general-interest houses. The manuscript was finished on time in early 2017 and a release date was set for October 2017, the fortieth anniversary of the plane crash that killed Artimus’ friends. But Jennifer disappeared on us mid-year when the book was put on hold pending the resolution of some unrelated litigation involving Artimus and a Skynyrd biopic he was working on. (It was resolved in his favor, on appeal, in October 2018.)
From June 2017 onwards—18 months—there was not a peep from Jennifer, not a single call or email to check up on the lawsuit, the book, or her clients’ well-being. In that time, Artimus and I were in frequent contact with the publisher as we devised various legal and release strategies—tasks normally handled by an agent. I assumed Jennifer De Chiara had lost interest, and moved on. Just to be sure, I emailed her on Christmas Eve, 2018:
Dear Jennifer, It has been a while since we last spoke. I wonder, please, if you could clarify your involvement with Artimus Pyle’s memoir going forward. I infer from your silence since June 2017 that you have moved on. I would prefer to have you on board, but if you feel otherwise I respect that – and I guess we would need to make that official. Kind regards, Dean Goodman
Jennifer De Chiara quickly replied:
I have no idea what you’re talking about. I haven’t been in touch because there’s no news with the book, but neither you or Artimus have reached out to me either. I’m legally the agent on the book, and that won’t change, so of course I’m involved. I checked in with the publisher recently, and there’s no update regarding the lawsuit; the status of the book has not changed. If there’s something you feel I should be doing, let me know.
SHIFTING THE BLAME
Well, I’m glad Jennifer’s still on board and willing to serve, but I was surprised by her claim that there was “no news” because there was a lot of news. We even had a new release date. And why did she say there was “no update regarding the lawsuit” when the only lawsuit—Artimus’ movie litigation—had been resolved? As for her claim that neither Artimus nor I had reached out to her, Jennifer De Chiara did not like speaking with Artimus, and she made it clear in June 2017 that she had no desire to speak with me either. As you’ll see below, she likes to shift the blame.
DEAN: Dear Jennifer, There has actually been a lot of news with the book and Artimus, and I’m not aware of any lawsuit against the book. But since you asked if there’s something you can do, I would ask that you get back to [the publisher, to sort out some matters]. Dean Goodman.
JENNIFER: You’re not aware of any lawsuit against the book? Did they drop the lawsuit?
DEAN: There was a lawsuit against the film—which Artimus won.
D’oh! Our agent should have known all this. It was all over the news. But nobody’s perfect. She didn’t reply, didn’t even offer a congratulatory or festive emoji. A few weeks went by. On Jan. 8, I emailed Jennifer:
DEAN: Jennifer, any updates from Backbeat?
JENNIFER: Nothing new.
At this point, I knew something that Jennifer De Chiara evidently didn’t know, that Backbeat had been sold!! An announcement was made via the Publishers Weekly trade paper in mid-December, and I belatedly learned of it hours before the above email to Jennifer. I was getting annoyed.
DEAN: So you’re not aware that Backbeat changed ownership . . . and the book’s status is now uncertain? Surely you would have known these things and informed us, if you had, indeed, “checked in with the publisher recently”? If you could represent our interests “enthusiastically,” per our deal – and honestly – that would be appreciated. We’ve all worked too hard to see this fall apart now. Dean Goodman.
JENNIFER: Yes, I did check in with the publisher recently. I don’t appreciate your attitude. I don’t deserve it . . . Just read your email again–now you’re calling me dishonest? Go to hell.
DEAN: Why didn’t you tell us Backbeat had been sold? Why did you not know that there was NO lawsuit against the book? That [the publisher] had planned to release the book as a drop-in title in early summer?
The emails were flying back and forth, overlapping. I present them in a logical flow.
JENNIFER: Why didn’t you email me about all this?
Again, she’s blaming me, for something she should have known. Great. She also blamed her ignorance on a Backbeat senior editor, with whom she claimed to have spoken in early December, just before the sale was announced. I quickly googled that person and it seemed she had left Backbeat in November, another thing Jennifer was unaware of and said I should have told her about. (It’s possible that Jennifer did, indeed, speak with the Backbeat folks, but these must have been some strange conversations.)
DEAN: I found out about the Backbeat sale today [Jan. 8], from [the publisher]. I kinda thought you should know these industry things and book updates.
JENNIFER … I’ve been away since the 14th [of December]–I don’t check Publishers Weekly when I’m on vacation! Take your attitude and shove it. I’m not responding to anymore emails from you, so don’t bother responding.
DEAN: Unprofessional. You are our agent. You work for our book. There will be repercussions if you fail to uphold your fiduciary responsibilities … The last time I wanted to speak to you, 18 months ago, you refused to call me. I had hoped to give “us” another chance.
Crickets. Like I said, I have emailed Jennifer De Chiara a few times since then. I even suggested that she hand us over to one of her colleagues if she preferred not to work with us directly. More crickets. I am trying to terminate the relationship, which is not as easy as it should be. Writing the book with Artimus was the highlight of my professional life. There was never a bad day. We are so proud of the book, and can’t wait to share it with fans and critics. It’s a shame when an industry “professional” lets us down.