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. She sent the email on Jan. 8, 2019. At the time, Backbeat Books was planning to release a wonderful memoir I co-authored with Artimus Pyle, the former drummer with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jennifer De Chiara had been representing the project since about 2013, when she signed a boilerplate contract agreeing to make her “best efforts” to represent the book “enthusiastically.” In February 2016, she secured a deal for us with Backbeat, a small firm that specializes in music-related books.
THE DISAPPEARING AGENT
The manuscript was finished on time in early 2017 and a release date set for October 2017, the fortieth anniversary of the plane crash that killed Artimus’ friends. But Jennifer De Chiara disappeared on us mid-2017 when Backbeat postponed publication because of unrelated litigation involving Artimus and a Skynyrd movie he was working on.
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 Backbeat publisher John Cerullo and his staff, devising 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:
DEAN: 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.
She quickly replied:
JENNIFER: 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 was glad Jennifer was still on board. 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 Artimus’ movie litigation had been resolved in his favor two months earlier? What lawsuit was she talking about?
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 John Cerullo [to find out the long-awaited results of a legal review]. Dean Goodman.
JENNIFER: You’re not aware of any lawsuit against the book? Did they drop the lawsuit?
D’oh! Our agent was completely clueless. Let me repeat: There was no lawsuit against the book. My response was admirably restrained.
DEAN: There was a lawsuit against the film—which Artimus won.
Indeed, the legal victory for Artimus’ film had been all over the news. How could she have missed this? Jennifer De Chiara didn’t reply, didn’t even offer belated congratulations or a festive emoji. A few weeks went by. On Jan. 8, our final exchange, 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 Cerullo 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 not telling her things a proper agent should have known.
DEAN: I found out about the Backbeat sale today [Jan. 8], from John [Cerullo]. 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.
Backbeat eventually dropped the book, and Cerullo has been seeking a return of the puny advance he paid to Artimus and me. Incredibly, Jennifer De Chiara has taken his side against her own clients.
Writing the book with Artimus was the highlight of my professional life, and the project has been incredibly important for Artimus. There was never a bad day. We are so proud of the book, and maybe one day it will come out. It’s a shame when an industry “professional” lets us down.