Friday, April 03, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Agentfail

In March, there was Queryfail, an initiative in which literary agents Twittered their worst queries ever. The intent was to let writers know where queries go wrong, and while many people appreciated the straight-from-the-source info, others were less happy.

There was some talk of an Agentfail day on Twitter, with authors giving tit for tat. As far as I know, that never came off. However, the lovely ladies at BookEnds decided to make April 1 Agentfail day on their blog. More than 250 comments have been posted so far, and they're still mounting up...and some are pretty angry.

Nathan Bransford comments on this in his blog, offering some thoughts about why one of things that seems to make writers angriest--agents who have a "we'll respond only if interested" policy--shouldn't. He concludes,

I understand that the publishing process can be frustrating and that the people who really ranted in that post are in the minority, and that these responses were all requested. But I just wonder if we could all get along and stay constructive instead of turning agents into pinatas.

I'm often struck by the extraordinary amount of anger that's directed at agents--far more, it seems to me, than is directed at publishers or editors. I get a lot of email from writers, and bitterness and resentment at agents' behavior, policies, and presumed motives is a constantly recurring theme.

Why? Well, as Nathan points out, there's the frustration of the quest for publication. There's the hope writers invest in their manuscripts, and the pain of having it thwarted. There's writers' unrealistic expectations of the agent/publisher process, or overconfident assessment of their own ability. For some writers, unable to snag an agent's interest, outrage becomes a substitute form of validation.

Beyond that, however, I think the root cause of agent-focused anger lies in the uneven power balance between agents and unpublished writers. Since, query by query, the agent has the power to strike the writer into outer darkness, the agent acquires superhuman qualities. Since being represented is a state of ultimate desirability, the agent is elevated to the status of the Holy Grail. The agent becomes an archetype, rather than a fallible human being doing business the best s/he can. Many writers are very reluctant to allow agents to have any human qualities at all, or to envision agents acting within real-life scenarios (busy office, hundreds of queries, calls from editors, manuscripts to read and edit, and--oh yes--a personal life to squeeze in around the edges).

Of course, agents really do screw up. Or are rude. Or nonresponsive. Or drop the ball in a hundred different ways. Plus, for beleaguered agents--bombarded by queries that are too often substandard or inappropriate, seeing the same misconceptions and mistakes over and over and over again--it's got to be as much of a temptation to dehumanize writers as it is for writers to dehumanize agents. But the bottom line is that a rude agent is simply a rude person--not a representative of agentdom in general. As Nathan says, getting mad about something like that is like being mad at oxygen.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Remember that two of the greatest writers of all time, namely JRR Tolkien and Isaac Asimov, never had an agent at all. Asimov, in his many autobiographies, was very proud of this. So it is possible to make it without an agent.

sexywriter said...

Anonymous, you're making an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Tolkien and Asimov wrote in the pre-agent era, when authors still dealt directly with editors. The business has changed since then. Anyone who has written professionally since the late 70s early 80s has had an agent.

sexywriter said...

I'd also like to say that the agentfail thread showed just how much hostility unsuccessful writers can have for publishing professionals---and for each other. Nobody is meaner to writers than other writers.

Not everyone, of course. But I've run into plenty of appalling behavior, both in-person and online, from writers who either can't get published or can't get an agent.

Aspiring writers need to understand that it's not agents' or publishers' faults that they haven't succeeded yet. Directing your ire at them is indeed like being mad at oxygen.

Sarah said...

Actually the thing you said that resonated the most with me was:

For some writers, unable to snag an agent's interest, outrage becomes a substitute form of validation.

I have a day job as an architect which may make me see this a bit differently. I am used to people rejecting things I create, it is part of life. Thing is, if you're looking for validation, statistically don't become a writer. Become a writer to write.

If you want continual validation, write fanfic. If you want to go out into the big bad scary world of publishing, be prepared that you're up against the big boys, and no-one owes you a pat on the back. Not an agent, not an editor, not a publisher. Everything takes working your arse off and a good dose of luck.

Sorry about the mini-rant. This thing has been percolating around my head for months.

RDJ said...

I think that a lot of the anger may also come from the perception that agents are self-appointed gatekeepers. "If I could just get my book to an editor, then they'd see; but these damned agents who care only about money keep getting in the way."

I don't think that's accurate. It's not like Tor or other publishers who accept direct submissions have a higher acceptance rate than agents on average (or like they're less interested in money). But, still, it's an understandable perception.

It is, admittedly, how I perceived things before I got an agent and found that once you're through that gate, there's another gate right behind it, and the key for that gate is not any easier to forge. It's still a matter of hard work, persistence, and luck. Though I suspect luck is much, much less important than simple hard work and persistence.

Maybe it's less a matter of forging a key than it is of banging your head against the lock till it breaks.

All right. Enough with the silly metaphors.

Robert said...

Sexywriter, I agree with you, but remember that it was the agents who started all this with Queryfail in the first place. They also made fun of aspiring writers, so it's a two-way process. Really, I think it's time they all grew up a bit.

Tara Maya said...

I think the other problem is that a lot of the writers who query agents would belong on the equivalent list of Agent Beware. Just as there are some people who call themselves "agents" who are really scam artists or jerks or simply incompetent boobs, some people who have written a book are psycho stalkers with delusions of godhood or simply semi-literate.

As I said in the comments on another blog, the only real AgentFails I see are the ones which belong in the list of Writer Beware. All the other complaints about response policy of legitimate agents is just whining.

James Grogan said...

This is all an example of people stereotyping and generalizing. You get one or two rude agents and the whole profession is suddenly lumped together as a bunch of arrogant boorish gits; at the same time, unpublished writers should all go out and find a real job because their writing isn't good enough. You need a thick skin.

I've been on the receiving end of this sort of thing myself, when i worked as a teacher in Brazil, preparing students for Cambridge exams. It was a private school, so they were all used to being mollycoddled. But when you come to the official exam, you have to be good to pass. One guy's English was so bad that he got a 0 on his speaking test. And failed. all he did after that was rant on about how the "Loch Ness Monster in there" (I'm Scottish) had messed up his life.

These sentiments are also reflected when a student says "I passed" when he does well, but "the teacher failed me" when things go wrong. They never say "the teacher passed me" or "I failed".

I agree with the person that said writers look for flattery from family and friends and then can't believe it out in the real world when it's hard (if not impossible) to sell their work.

But that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Susan said...

I attribute much of the anger towards the fact that authors are constantly told how professional they need to be to get representation--and then some agents, while not all, continue behaving in a manner which is not in itself professional. Not that it makes them horrible people, but if your accountant during tax season can keep track of your tax return... is it unreasonable to expect a literary agent to be able to keep track of queries? I think it sometimes goes too far, but it's a legitimate beef if you've done everything you could do to behave professionally and the response is agents who don't answer queries, sometimes for a rejection and other times because they've just lost them, who don't respond in the time they've said they respond in, who even after offering representation don't respond to correspondence promptly, etc. Agents have the power to reject authors who send in submissions that are sloppy, but authors who want to be published are, as prevalent as these practices are, basically stuck dealing with them. So people get upset.

Anonymous said...

There are a handful of self-important agents out there that seem to require a great deal of arbitrary hoops to jump through just to be read, only to completely ignore submissions.

Combined with the un-repped authors' suspicion that any agent's motive is to make money off of their hard work, it causes a lot of underlying hostility.
Un-repped authors have no idea what an agent will do for them, because, obviously they don't have one. They know they need one, they're just not sure what for. It's not just the balance of power, it's a suspicion of motive.

I read the whole ugly thing - I didn't see any hostility aimed at other writers, successful or not. I saw comments about agents that wouldn't give a writer any response whatsoever to a submission and I saw comments about agents who were not positively working for their clients.

This isn't high school - it's not "the cool kids" against the "nerds".

I think it's simply a backlash to #queryfail that wouldn't have happened under less tense circumstances.

And hey, they're writers - they're supposed to be able to express themselves in words vividly and expansively.

Soyarma said...

There were certainly some valid complaints as well as some unwarranted vitriol. There were a few people who, after reading their spiel, I sided with the agent. I would have ignored their calls too if their posts were indicative of their overall behavior.

sexywriter said...

"any agent's motive is to make money off of their hard work"

---Duh. Agents make money by selling their clients' work to publishers. Of _course_ they are motivated by money. So is everyone in publishing. Publishing is a business with an ultimate goal of profit for everyone involved, including writers.

I don't get why so many aspiring writers want to make a living by writing, yet they lash out at everyone else in publishing who also makes money in the business as being "greedy".

Andra M. said...

I read a lot of the #queryfail comments, and found them both humorous and informative. I saw it as a way for me -- as a writer seeking representation -- to learn what agents like to see, and how they think. By keeping their wants and needs in mind I can structure my queries and proposals accordingly, and my manuscript may gain more positive interest.

People tend to take themselves too seriously. I prefer to laugh at myself. It makes the whole world less intimidating and more fun to live in.

Victoria Strauss said...

I don't think that writer hostility is a backlash to Queryfail. I've been corresponding with masses of aspiring writers since 1998, and it has always been out there. In recent years, it only seems to have gotten worse.

I have to take issue with the notion that "unrepped writers have no idea what an agent will do for them" and therefore suspect their motives. I'm sure that's true of some writers, but I would hope that a large proportion of unrepped writers have taken enough time to study up on the publishing industry to know exactly what an agent will do for them. Frankly, if you don't know that, why are you even looking?

Anyway, that very kind of suspicion is just one more example of the bizarre and unfounded assumptions so many writers make about agents.

Victoria Strauss said...

A perspective on this issue from agent Jonathan Lyons.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember seeing any comment that stated every agent on this planet did everyone of the things listed. Not one. The agents weren't being lumped into one big sum. These for the most part were complaints about many different agents, the bloggers were told not to name names. I hate it that all of the agents that were not necessarily being talked about think that it was about them. It is sad that the whole ordeal was seen as every post there was by an angry or unpublished writer. There were many published writers and the majority of complaints were hopes for a better future, and yes there were a few over the top angry people. Just because someone blogged doesn't mean they agree with every complaint. IDK maybe some of these sensitive agents see something in theirselves we can't see. I saw some anger, but I also saw a LOT of justified stuff in there.

Victoria Strauss said...

On agents as self-appointed gatekeepers: blame publishers. I think that the power of agents is directly attributable to the consolidation of publishing that happened in the 1980s and 1990s--one of the results of which was a significant reduction in publishers' staff, while the number of published books continued to increase. Publishers simply no longer had enough people to sift through their slush piles, and came to rely more and more on agents to do it for them.

(Of course, the computer must also be blamed. In the days of typewriters, White-out, and carbonsets, writing books was not for sissies. The computer made it just too easy to produce a crisp clean manuscript, something that has vastly increased the slush pile's size.)

I also think that initiatives like Authonomy, in which publishers are supposedly bringing their slush piles back in house (although in reality, they're just outsourcing it to a different set of eyes), and Macmillan New Writing, in which agents are eliminated from the picture entirely, are an expression of the unease publishers feel about having ceded so much power to agents.

Victoria Strauss said...

I hate it that all of the agents that were not necessarily being talked about think that it was about them.

The same thing could be said about Queryfail (regarding writers).

Moira Rogers (Donna) said...

@Susan: Not that it makes them horrible people, but if your accountant during tax season can keep track of your tax return... is it unreasonable to expect a literary agent to be able to keep track of queries?

Yes, actually, I find this to be somewhat unreasonable. After all, one would assume you've already established a working relationship with your accountant. Not so of that agent you've queried.

I'm not saying agents should get a pass for disorganization or whatever. But there's a difference between being an agent's client and being a potential client.

Robert Downey Jr said...

I AM IRON MAN LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

Victoria,
IDK about other writers, but I didn't think it was about me. I thought Queryfail was about the new writers just starting to learn, writers who may turn all their mistakes into gems, the same ones who agents will be wishing they hadn't treated them so harshly one of these days. Not the same as agents who have been in the business a long time.

Jan said...

I wonder if some of the reason agents get such anger is because they're people while being mad at a publisher is being mad at a thing.

If someone cuts in front of you in line, you're way more likely to get mad than if you get to the store and it's closed...one seems a person to personal affront (though the person cutting in front of you probably didn't notice you at all) while the other is just the way life is sometimes, businesses don't always meet our needs.

I actually LIKE that agents blog and twitter and such. But the more we see them as people, I suspect the MORE folks are going to expect...because they get a false sense of "relationship" from reading the blog or whatnot. Kind of like how folks demand certain unrealistic perfection from celebrity encounters.

Also, though I'm a huge believer in "cut the agents and editors some slack, we're drowning them" -- I have to admit some of the things mentioned were disquieting...suggestions that respected professionals were doing really just plain wrong things. Asking for material, soliciting it and then not responding. Sending folks rejections that say they ought to go with XYZ self-publisher (how's that for a kick in the face?) Pre-shopping manuscripts before accepting (hopefully that was a once in a lifetime event.)

I actually found some of the stuff on the agentfail thing scary.

Will Entrekin said...

"But I just wonder if we could all get along and stay constructive instead of turning agents into pinatas."

Like when agents turned writers into pinatas for Queryfail?

I respect Nathan a lot. I've sorta known him for years, having met him when we were both first on MySpace. We're not in touch as often anymore, but one of the classiest things I've seen Nathan do was his week of Positivity smack in the midst of Queryfail. I tended to think that the most important thing aspiring writers could learn from Queryfail was which agents not to query.

JD said...

I've followed the threads on this, everything from the reason behind it to the misunderstanding of its intent. Therein lies the rub, in my opinion.

Agents don't want to see their names bandied about on writers' blogs or websites due to misconcieved on-line or off-line quoted or 're-quoted' quotes, and with good reason. In this cyber-era, it is so easy to misconstrue content for lack of a real person's face, voice inflection, body stance. Totally understandable.

Now do you get it? Without the voice, face, tone, writers were left to feel that their sweated over, carved from love and fear, these-suck-anyway queries/synopses were simply fodder for agents to while away the time on a Friday night. We don't know you sweat the slush pile, too. We don't expect to be dumped into the 'obviously didn't do their homework' pile when we did our best with the avenues available to us (yes, I queried inappropriate agents in my early days. The books I used said you were right for me!)

I think we all need to take a deep breath, step back, and see that neither side is right or wrong, but both sides need to revisit a lesson in cyber community.

JD

literaticat said...

I hate it that all of the agents that were not necessarily being talked about think that it was about them.

I honestly don't think that I was being talked about. I am confident that my clients are happy. (Unless they are all terrific liars). I know that I try my damnedest to be fast and responsive. I know that I try to give good advice places like Absolute Write, and I try to be honest but kind to authors that I meet (even the ones that try to corner me in the bathroom at conferences) because I really like authors. That is why I have this job.

But of course I worry. Of COURSE when I read that stuff, I think "jeez, did I ever do that? Is that me?!"

The fact is, there are people I've waited too long to get back to. For all kinds of reasons.

There are times that I've twittered about my crazy-ass schedule. Now, I know that I am not EVER complaining about being busy, I love to be busy, and I love what I do. But what if an author thinks that I am being haughty or busier-than-thou, which was a complaint of several people on that thread.

There are people whose work I've grown cold on.

There are clients whose work I couldn't sell or haven't sold yet.

There are former clients whose working style and mine just didn't mesh.

There are interactions at conferences - I might make a comment that I think is lighthearted and fun, but which a sensitive author perceives as being flip or abrasive. My "honest feedback" might be their "nightmare insult".

I know for a FACT that the latter has happened, because after one conference I got a couple of feedback comments (anonymously) that were so mean, and made it so clear that the authors had completely misunderstood everything that I thought I was communicating, that it totally made me cry. I made a vow that I would never go to a conference again.

I broke the vow, of course. But I'll tell you what, I was certainly walking on eggshells the next time around.

I don't even know where this comment is going anymore. The point is, I did take it personally, sure, of course - like my mom the lawyer is not a huge fan of lawyer jokes. SHE knows she is an ethical, wonderful lawyer that makes the world a better place, and the jokes aren't about her... but still.

Mostly, though, it makes me sad that there are authors who have been abused by shitty agents. And it makes me want to be sure that I am never that agent. So. I guess it did its job.

Now, onto something more elevating!

-- Jennifer Laughran

Anonymous said...

Jennifer,
You just did exactly the thing that makes me want a person like you as an agent. You stepped back and looked at your job and examined it for improvements. I think that is what 85% of those writers wanted. The other 15% were just nuts. I just posted on Agentpass, I wish you had said that sooner, because you win that award from me. Got to get to work now, blogging is addicting.

PS what agency are you at? Nevermind I google you later. I learned that is the proper channel to use from queryfail, but I can tell you I won't google that gentleman. I hope your are not at the same agency as him.

Anonymous said...

I think agentfail should not have been made personal by naming agents just like queryfail shouldn't be made personal by naming writers. I'd like to see a querypass where agents note parts of queries they enjoyed and worked for them. I'd find that more helpful, because some people really are odd and put the strangest things in queries! I'd hope the majority wasn't like that.
I've not really had bad experiences with agents. My only concern was no response means no, and also timing spans to get back to partials and fulls. But it's nothing I'd put all agents down for. Though, if you copy parts of someones query without permission and make fun of it, it's going to cause some backlash.

Anonymous said...

"I have to take issue with the notion that "unrepped writers have no idea what an agent will do for them" and therefore suspect their motives. I'm sure that's true of some writers, but I would hope that a large proportion of unrepped writers have taken enough time to study up on the publishing industry to know exactly what an agent will do for them. Frankly, if you don't know that, why are you even looking?"

----I couldn't agree more. I was recently criticized on a message board because I dared to share information I had received about how a publisher operated from my agent. Another poster (who was unagented) said something to the effect of "I don't know what kind of agent would share that kind of information with her client. Must be something wrong with that agent."

I mean, WTF??? Not only did that poster (a published writer, BTW) not understand what a real agent/client relationship is like, she thought it unusual that a client would dare to _ask_ her agent detailed questions about potential publishers.

As far as agents not responding to every query supposedly being "disorganized", that's just not true. Good agents are _extremely_ organized---they have to be. It's just that responding to queries is usually at the bottom of their priority list. My own agent usually works 16-hour days, 6 days a week, representing her existing clients (who provide her with earnings). She receives 30,000+ unsolicited queries a year---no joke---which provide her with no earnings. If she responded to every single one of those 30,000 queries, she would not have any time left to run her agency. Therefore, she only responds to queries she's interested in. Most top agents work this way, too, simply because they don't have time to respond to everyone. It doesn't make them bad people---just reasonable businesspeople who know how to prioritize their time.

scott g.f. bailey said...

"On agents as self-appointed gatekeepers: blame publishers."

I don't think we can blame publishers, either. They've become overwhelmed by submissions and the thing is, they have to pay someone to go through them. Or, yes, get a poor unpaid intern to go through them and publishers would, yes, rather have the interns doing more important things. I blame all the awful writers who inundate the publishers with awful books. I didn't see a single failed query on queryfail that deserved to be considered. Agents and publishers don't exist to buy our books. The exist to sell good books. They run the business we hope to make money from.

Most of the books written these days should not be published. But someone has to read through these books (or the awful and unreadable queries for them) to find those books that might deserve to be put up for sale at the publisher's expense. Editors don't have time to wade through all the horrid slush, so they stopped accepting submissions that weren't agented. Now agents get to wade through all the horrid slush. It must be awful having to read 100 badly-written queries a day.

I too sent off queries to agents from whom I never heard a word back. And I believe the stories about some agents being terribly rude. But agents aren't self-appointed gatekeepers crushing the dreams of good writers. They're people wading through mountains of garbage hoping to find something that looks good. No, it's not a nice thing to say. But it's true.

The best solution for this problem? People should write better books and keep the ones not ready for publishing out of the fray.

Henry Baum said...

The problem with "People should write better books" is that better=sells more copies, which is no gauge of actual quality, just plain marketability. People hate agents more than editors b/c at least if you're rejected by an editor, you still have an agent and advocate. If you're rejected by an agent, you're alone.

Victoria Strauss said...

Jan said,

I actually LIKE that agents blog and twitter and such. But the more we see them as people, I suspect the MORE folks are going to expect...because they get a false sense of "relationship" from reading the blog or whatnot.

That's a very good point, and I think you're absolutely right.

This is a really fascinating discussion. I can see a lot of raw feeling in these comments...and I want to thank everyone for keeping things civil and intelligent.

catie said...

But the bottom line is that a rude agent is simply a rude person--not a representative of agentdom in general.

Well stated Victoria. By the same token you could say "a rude author is simply a rude person." I don't think it really matters what career path people choose. There is an overriding pervasiveness of entitlement, especially in the US today. Too many aspiring authors are of the opinion that because they find a subject interesting, everyone else should as well; because they wrote it, you and the publishers are obligated to bring their books to the larger world. There is a fundamental truth about existence they are missing: no one owes any of us a thing.

Anonymous #1: Um you have seen how things work in the 21st Century--right?

Anonymous said...

Comments were also deleted from that blog item, including mine, and it wasn't abusive, did not mention names, or anythng like that.

If you think the comments were hostile, I would add 30% to get a more accurate picture.

It's sad, really, that a few unprofessional agents get others a bad name.

JMK said...

Speaking from a point of view where I have had a theatrical agent all my working life and now I'm at the mercy of literary agents. There is a vast difference in the way the two operate. First of all, all Theatrical agents must be franchised by either SAG or AFTRA. Secondly they must sign the talent before they can shop the actor around. I am not sure that's the case with Lit Agents. We've all bought into the myth that Lit Agents are the busiest people in the world and don't have time for us poor mortal writers unless we can bring 10 already published best sellers to the table. Writing is pretty much a faceless business and so is the inter connect between writer and agent until some success has been generated. If all these agents have time to keep their blogs up why can't they respond to query's in a timely manner. It sounds to me like dis organization.
Talent Agents prove themselves in a fast changing market place. The old Sho Biz story is, "What have you done for me today." I see on PMP some agents who haven't cut a deal all year. Yet they are too busy to give a polite and truthful response.

BuffySquirrel said...

The "we won't respond if not interested" policy creates huge amounts of frustration because of the uncertainty. The writer has no way to know if the agent even received their query, or how long they should wait before they consider it 'rejected'. Waiting for a response is hard enough; waiting for no response is a form of torture :D.

That isn't to say that authors are justified in directing their hatred and anger at agents. But the policy-makers have made a rod for their own backs with it, imo.

Anonymous said...

There's also the fact that all the editors I've queried directly have been prompt, polite, and followed their own guidelines. Not so with agents. I'd say the agents were at about 80%. However, I'm very practical about this. After the first round, I learned to only query agents who are prompt, polite, and follow their own guidelines. Anger is a waste of time and energy.

freddie said...

I think agentfail should not have been made personal by naming agents just like queryfail shouldn't be made personal by naming writers.

I followed queryfail on twitter and didn't see that any agents named writer names. I just wanted to say that because it seems to be a misconception among people who didn't see the posts.

There were a couple of commenters who named agents in agentfail, but those comments were promptly deleted.

freddie said...

Although I can see that isn't exactly what you said, Anon. : )

Victoria Strauss said...

Agent Caren Johnson weighs in on Agentfail.

Victoria Strauss said...

Agent Janet Reid weighs in as well.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Victoria,

Thanks for your response to the agentfail issue. I haven't posted anywhere else, mostly because A) it's already been said by other people who are far more bitter than I am and B) because I'm way far down on the list of comments! I'm not even sure if anyone will read this.

I think you're right about much of what you say. We want to be published. You are the gatekeepers, and we hold you up on a pedestal because you are the first we have to get through to get closer to accomplishing our dreams of being a published writer. Maybe some people forget that agents are people too who, like you said, drop the ball, make mistakes, etc. I know I've done that in my own profession and just as a person, so I'm not one to throw stones and go bananas when things get screwed up by an agent, and really, I haven't had many cases of that because I've chosen the agents I query very, very carefully. I like to think that I'm choosing the cream of the crop...people that act in a way that I find professional and respectable, and in doing that, I haven't had bad experiences like others have.

That said, I read the blogs and do the research, and although I may not choose to query those agents that are out there giving many of you a bad name, please understand that they are out there. It seems that the agents who are responding to these agentfail comments aren't the ones who create the issue. I'm sure these bad stereotypes about agents bother you, and that makes sense, but you have to understand and realize that just like in anything else, there are a few bad apples out there giving the profession a bad name. It's that way in anything including my profession (I'm a teacher), so I understand the need to defend your practices.

Still, I think it's best to read and listen rather than get defensive and/or angry. I suspect that many of you (Nathan, Bookends gals, etc.) don't need to defend yourselves, but pay attention to what other colleagues are out there doing, and you might understand our frustration. It isn't just about the fact that we desperately want to be published and we hold you responsible for our success and/or failure. It's about professionalism, and unfortunately, there are agents out there who just don't have it.

In fact, sometimes when I read a blog or listen to certain agents complain about their workload and how many queries they have to read, or how terrible the writing is or how people don't follow their guidelines, it's very frustrating. I'm a high school English teacher. Do you want to know how much I get to read in a a week? Want to hear how many papers I grade and how many times people don't follow my guidelines? Geesh. Get over it.

Again, I'm not saying this applies to you, Nathan, Bookends gals, Caren, or Janet, but it's out there, and as a working mother of two, I get tired of the whining and complaining. In fact, I began staying away from agent blogs because it became exhausting, wasn't inspiring, and if anything, the negativity began taking the fun out of writing. I started reading writer blogs instead because they focus on the craft, and I wish more agents would do that instead of complaining about how hard you work. Is there really a need for that? Everyone works hard. My husband owns a business and works 65 hours a week. My brother-in-law is a surgeon and works 12 hour days. I'm a teacher and don't get paid for all the work I do after hours. I get sneezed on and coughed on about every five seconds, and when I'm not doing that, I'm busy reminding people for the ten millionth time where a comma goes, all before I go home and raise two children and stay up until midnight to grade 140 essays on To Kill a Mockingbird. Do I complain? No. Do I discourage other people from this job? No. What's the point?

As for the agents who do that (and other things people have been complaining about), it's annoying and tacky. There would be less of these agentfail comments if people were positive and actually talked about their job and how to be a better writer. Be inspiring. Share good news and helpful hints. Many of you do that, and I appreciate it very much.

clindsay said...

And agent Ginger Clark weighs in on Agentfail Day as well.

Anonymous said...

I hope that when Agents face St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven he puts themthrough the same treatment that they put us through. Fitting punishment.

playwrighter said...

The two agents I last dealt with were smelly, hideously ugly creatures. One had a nervous twitch which she couldn't (or wouldn't) control. The other was taking a medication to lose weight and a side-effect was sudden bouts of flatulence.

I quickly thanked God I was better than they. Better in every way.

Anonymous said...

"Write better books"? Yes. We should all start as non-beginners so we don't bore agents or editors or bloggers.

"Don't whine"? Yes. We should not complain about agents because they are busy people. We should not kvetch about guidelines when their websites say they rep science fiction and your query comes back "No SF please."

"Authors who complain can't get published"? No. Many published authors have sold on their own, and still are treated like newbies if they dare contact an agent for representation. We authors should never do this. Unless your titles have hit top-10 lists, you are wasting everyone's time, because unless you hit the lists, you cannot write. Everyone knows this.

Enough, writers. Go bag groceries at your local food shoppe.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, no one is telling authors not to whine. It's a tough, frustrating business. It's exhausting to constantly have to suck it up. Everyone needs to vent.

But why shouldn't agents be allowed to vent as well? There seems to be a widespread feeling among authors that it's simply unconscionable for agents to express their own frustration. This double standard is not only unfair, it's unrealistic.

The truth is, everyone dishes about everyone else. Everyone needs to get over it.

pie, lover of said...

This was fascinating - thank you very much for the insight. Any situation where a person puts herself in a position of vulnerability has a tendency to turn ugly. The feeling of powerlessness over the outcome makes a person extremely self-absorbed. Fear and paranoia of rejection realized turns into a defensive attack that says (or does) anything to protect itself from further pain. I agonize over this at the mere thought of sending out queries. It's so much easier to think of the potential dismissal as coming from a heartless, unfeeling turd rather than, you know, a human being who's bound to make honest mistakes.