Thursday, October 02, 2008

Life's Too Short

All too frequently agents will receive nasty replies to rejection letters. While this occasionally happened in the days of snail mail only, I suspect it happens much more frequently now that email makes communication so easy. Well, a very interesting thing happened this week. I received a query that sounded interesting, but was far outside of my area of expertise. Naturally I rejected it, but thinking it might be right for a colleague of mine I forwarded the email on to her explaining that I had passed, but if she was interested she should certainly get in touch. Why did I reject it rather than simply pass it on? All agents I know are inundated with queries and I feel uncomfortable passing along more work to any of my colleagues, especially my work. My feeling is that I’ll reject it so that I’m sure the author received a response from the agent she queried, and then pass it along just in case someone else finds it interesting. That way the agents I’m passing it along to are under no obligation to reply, but can if they are interested.

Well, in this case the author immediately sent me back a very nasty reply. She called me names and implied that I was an idiot for throwing away what others were calling a bestseller. That may be, but clearly I’m not the agent to represent it and help make it a bestseller. My other thought is that if she had so many agents already interested as she claimed, why would she care about one rejection?

Anyway, I immediately forwarded the author’s response to my colleague. Not surprisingly, after seeing the author’s remarks, my fellow agent determined that this was not someone who would be easy to work with or with whom she would want to work.

It may be a bestseller, but many of my colleagues work under the belief that life’s too short. Life’s too short to work with people who you know going into the relationship will make things more difficult than they need to be.

And frankly, I just think the possibilities of “bestseller” are slim.



Anonymous said...

I don't use this word lightly, but what an idiot. She blew it plain and simple. A missed opportunity because she's so unmannerly and arrogant. There are many great writers and books out there that will NEVER be published. She is but one in many.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm sure she is reading this blog. Ouch. Idgit.

Kathleen Irene Paterka said...

Hi Jessica,

My husband has a saying: "Never burn bridges."

I have a saying: "Kindness and good manners will be remembered long after rudeness burns away."

My CP has a saying: "The publishing world is very small."

I wonder what sayings that arrogant author has tucked away in her repertoire?


Women's Fiction

Juliana said...

Hey Jessica...the restraint you showed...I would be so tempted to send a reply to the arrogant little snit...but, I guess you have to rise above...and you're is so much easier to be nasty in the cyber world! I hope this author does read your blog and realizes how badly she's blown what could have very well been a chance of a lifetime!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I'm not married to Kathleen, but I profess never to burn bridges. I advised that to my daughter as she graduated from her master's program and wanted to go back and give a certain professor a piece of her mind.

Too many people these days thinks life owes them something.

Kimber An said...

Oh, dear, I hope she's a newbie who will learn from this mistake.

I think authors could avoid a lot of the same grief if they didn't query or enter into contract with agents whom they know they couldn't get along with. With the Internet, it's not difficult to research someone's reputation.

Keri Ford said...

nasty replies to rejection letters

I just don't get this practice that some writers take part in. If someone takes a bite of a cookie you baked and spit it out, do you go off on them for not liking the taste?

Me? I'd be more worried about what's wrong with my cookie.

Kristina said...

She was wrong. Very wrong.

But, by colleague-are you referring to someone in the agency or someone else? I'm going to assume inside, but if it was outside the agency, for the sake of curiosity, would there be a reason you wouldn't inform the writer you'd passed on the query and who you passed it on to? Or ask permission? Because I wonder if that couldn't prove potentially awkward for the writer?

tina gray said...

Talk about your own worst enemy. Thanks for sharing that. How dissapointing, to go out on a limb for an author you thought might have an intriguing idea, only to be slapped with nasty comments. But I'm glad you found out soon enough to flush her out to your colleague. Just desserts, I say.

We could all learn something from this. When I was in the querying game, I ALWAYS responded to email rejections, whether forms or personal, with a polite "thank you for your time and prompt reply". I forced myself to send it the moment I received the rejection, no matter how scalding it was, because I didn't want--as so many have already said above--to ever burn any bridges.

And it also helped me become a more diplomatic person in the process, which I'm hoping will help me in the publishing world as a whole. You have to be able to work with people of differing opnions if you want to scale the ladder to success.

I hope this author is reading this blog today, and I hope she can learn something. Snarkiness never wins any points. In this business, there is WAY too much competition to lose the game on a rash outburst of frustration or anger.

And, Jessica, on behalf of the thousands upon thousands of querying writers out there, please don't let this discourage you from sending stuff on to other agents again. :-) We're not all narcissistic dolts.

Susan said...

Long after she's gone, I still love my mother. She taught me manners; she taught me thank-you notes.

You know what--I have never received a rude or cruel rejection. All were polite, with some friendly or encouraging. So, I respond in kind: polite and formal to the one-liners, or with genuine thanks and good wishes to the more personal ones. It just seemed a no-brainer.

I suppose it's better than if you'd signed her and THEN discovered she's difficult.

Good luck finding a friendly face in the pile today---

ChristaCarol said...

I really don't understand how someone really thinks acting like this won't come back and bite them in the rump. Sometimes people really lack sense. It should be obvious that when dealing with professionals, you should ACT professional. Hopefully they'll learn the hard way, but I've known some people like this that never learn and it's truly sad.

jnantz said...

I thought about the same thing kristina said, but from a slightly different POV. If I had been nicer than the person you're referencing was, and yet got a rejection from your colleague...I'd be going nuts trying to find when and where I queried him or her.

Other than that, this writer is obviously wound a little too tight. I have plenty of rejections, form and otherwise. So what? It's part of the business.

Of course the writer being referenced would say, "well, you have all those rejections because your book just isn't good enough. But mine's a bestseller in the making! Mama said so!"

To which I'd reply, "And yet we both remain unpublished, so who's better you self-superior little--"
Okay, so maybe your way was better, but I'd still love ta get a zinger in....

Shaun said...

JNantz and Kristina, Jessica mentioned the colleague was under no obligation to send a letter to the author. That was the reason for not telling the author. This way, she would never know it was sent if the colleague chose not to represent her.


Anonymous said...

On the other hand, years ago when I was first writing and trying to find an agent, I sent a query to a particular agency (now defunct) and the agent sent my query back and wrote in the margin in red pen, "Who would want to read this?"

No, it wasn't someone asking for what the demographic of the book would be, it was the agent cutting me off at the knees -- needlessly slaughtering a novel (that he hadn't read) that it'd taken me a year to write.

Admittedly, the query was for a snarky chic-lit book and was not targeted properly to this agent, (although the agency itself had represented similar books.)

But I'll never forget that. A form letter would've been so much better. I was so new and green then, and looking for any sort of validation I could get, and to have someone be that cruel -- I remember crying, and I'm not a crier. And I stopped writing for a good length of time.

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm often floored by the apparent self-emolation wannabe authors inflict upon themselves when seeking representation. Or even after they've gotten representation. I know of one author who managed to get his book picked up by one of the legendary editors. But when that editor suggested some changes, the author absolutely refused to cooperate. This, after the editor, who had represented a stable of top-notch best-selling authors, was convinced he could shepherd this writer into a top-tier writer. But after what became a rancorous exchange, the editor backed off. The book was never sold and to this day (15 years later) the only book I've seen published by this writer was from a small, online press. I am amazed at the ways wannabe authors allow their egos and wrong-headed approaches to seeking representation, etc. self-destruct and deep-six their careers before they get started. A fatal flaw. And dumb.

Anonymous said...

On the reverse - can you THANK an agent?

Is it considered professional to THANK an agent for their prompt repsonse - even if was a rejection?

Dave F. said...

When I was making a living doing scientific research, my coworkers and I knew the editors of the various journals that would publish out work. We'd see them several times a year at annual meetings and conventions. If an editor said - you need another ten experiments or explain this point, or delete that graph, you did it. You didn't argue. If you were found wrong, you admitted it and went on...

To have a public disagreement over a research results was difficult but not impossible. Experiments would resolve the issue and that was it. The two researchers would walk away as adults do.

But to be downright rude and nasty was suicidal to one's career.

This lesson is not obvious in the world of fiction.

melissablue13 said...

The great (paraphrased) words of Ms. Snark, "Someone buy this author a clue cake."

Anonymous said...

I think kimber an makes a good point saying:

"I think authors could avoid a lot of the same grief if they didn't query or enter into contract with agents whom they know they couldn't get along with. With the Internet, it's not difficult to research someone's reputation."

It brings up an issue the comments haven't really touched on yet. If I query an agent, I've done my homework and I know that this is someone I want to work with. However, if that agent (as in this case) passes the query along to a colleague, someone who, based on the research I've done is an agent I've decided I don't want to work with (let's say, based on reading their blog and seeing the potential for personality conflicts). It could be very embarrassing to the writer if that second agent then contacts them with an offer and the writer is sitting there thinking, "No offense, but I didn't query you for a reason."

How do you politely turn them down without looking like a schmuck when agent #1 was clearly acting with good intentions and so was agent #2?


Kate Douglas said...

One thing I've learned in this business is that the publishing community is very, very small. The last thing I would want to do is say something rude or insulting to anyone, be it author, agent or editor, because there is no doubt it would come back and bite me in the butt. Your experience is a perfect example. Thanks for the reminder!

Luke said...

Rejection can make us all do stupid things, but that particular reaction seems worse than most. I don't understand why people would think agents don't talk to each other. If you're mean or unkind towards one, you can be sure the word will get around and no one will want to work with you. Personally, I try to treat anyone I meet as a possible friend in the present moment and a possible co-worker in the future.

Jill Corcoran said...

Karma, baby :)

Cathy in AK said...

I've seen more than one agency website that notes in their submission guidelines they only respond to projects they are interested in because rejections have brought out the knuckleheads who rant back. So those of us who are civilized and have basic manners submit to these fine agents and wonder if it's a no thanks or perhaps our query became lost in transition. Yes, just what an anxiety-rich unpubbed writer needs, more uncertainty.

I've never understood the mentality of a ranty response to a simple, polite rejection. Let it go, man. Just Let. It . Go.

Karen Duvall said...

Phew! Someone dodged that bullet, huh? Appears this writer put the kabash on her own career. Stick a fork in her, she's done.

Karen Duvall said...

Sarah T. wrote:

It could be very embarrassing to the writer if that second agent then contacts them with an offer and the writer is sitting there thinking, "No offense, but I didn't query you for a reason."

I've never heard of an agent offering representation to a writer based on just a query letter. It's standard that if the query interests the agent, said agent will ask for sample pages or the full manuscript. At that point, the author who hadn't queried them for a reason, simple says: I appreciate your interest, but no thanks.

No harm, no foul.

Heather Wardell said...

SarahT (earlier anonymous) said exactly what I was going to say. While I'd be happy, on one level, that you saw something in my query that made you pass it along to a colleague, there ARE agents I've researched and put on my 'not gonna query' list for any number of good reasons. If you'd sent it along to one of those, and then the agent contacted me and wanted to see more, I would be uncomfortable but would refuse.

On the other hand, I've had several rejection letters say, "You might want to try Ms. So-and-so with this," and that I've found very useful.

I guess it's the difference between my deciding to query the other agent and you deciding to 'query' him/her for me. I like to know where my stuff goes.


Robena Grant said...

Yep, I too think you dodged a bullet. You should count yourself lucky you rejected the author.
And I agree, life is too short Writing and trying to get published is not for the weak. We all have to accept criticism and rejection and learn from it, and move on.

Chumplet said...

When I went to your blog today, I thought for a moment I was in the wrong place, or had a case of deja vu. Yesterday I gave my blog post the title 'Life's Too Short'.

You have every right to vent about such deplorable treatment, and to warn your colleague about a potentially difficult client.

I'm sure your feelings were hurt even though you didn't deserve such vitriol. I hope you can now put it behind you and not dwell on it. For every jerk in the world, there are a hundred people who will hopefully make you smile by the end of the day.

Suzanne said...

It's interesting that you receive nasty responses to rejections. I'm currently querying agents and it would never occur to me to send a nasty attitude is to simply move on and look for the agent that loves my work as much as I do!

Abi said...

Talk about burn your bridges. Whoops! What a mistake.


Folklore Fanatic said...

Wow. People like this one really need a slapping. I mean, damn. Talk about about shooting yourself in the foot.

Why would anyone even do that when the agent could be influential in her career? More importantly, why would anyone treat another human being like that for simply doing her/his job?

Chris Redding said...

I'm happy this person took themselves out of the running.

Aimless Writer said...

I can't help but wonder why anyone would want to piss off a person who might someday help your career. (And you were helping her career by passing along the email) You may not have liked this book but you might have liked her next. Or maybe years down the road if she wants to change agents and has a proven track record in publishing she might want you as an agent again. Why burn the bridges? Why get mad an an agent for just doing her job.

Matthew said...

That is rather ridiculous. I've been tempted to say some nasty things to people because of job rejections/communications (long stories about employers who don't read cover letters or resumes). But, I have never sent any angry letters or e-mails. I know that if it didn't work out this time, it'll work out some other time...and then I can laugh about it.

What happened to civil society anyway?

sylvia said...

If someone takes a bite of a cookie you baked and spit it out, do you go off on them for not liking the taste?

Yes, absolutely!

Having said that, I've had some rather bizarre responses from editors and have always resisted the urge to point out their flaws. OK, once, I did point out the most condescending form letter I had ever seen. To be fair, the agency changed it shortly thereafter.

Jane Smith said...

There are idiots wherever you look. Only yesterday I suggested that someone try to remove some of the cliches from his work, and perhaps use a slightly less passive voice.... His reply was a corker. Apparently I have no idea how to write, rules are changing, the internet has revolutionised publishing, and anyway, I'm a Nasty Norah for saying such things about his work.

Bless his heart.

Perhaps we should hook these two writers up? They'd have a lovely time discussing how they'd been abused by us.

Anonymous said...

Wow, there is a huge amount of vitriol for this author, and admiration for the restraint of the agent. There's a general consensus that he's a boor, ego-maniac, arrogant little shit, etc. In other words, he should have known his place.

When I submit to an agent I am very aware of the disparity in power. But I know my place. I am polite, witty, gracious. I know that the agent will be, in general, better disposed towards someone in the media industry. I can count the number of celebrities on that agent's list.

I don't believe the system of agents has improved the quality of novels over the last few decades. I regard an agent in much the same way as a customs officer or tax inspector. It's a job that's part of how the world operates.

It is the literary agents who are basking in arrogance. They may know more about what kind of book will sell, but let's not elevate them unduly. Anyone in a position of perceived power will occasionally spark resentment.

Jane Smith said...

"It is the literary agents who are basking in arrogance. They may know more about what kind of book will sell, but let's not elevate them unduly."

I'm not elevating my agent unduly when I describe her as committed, compassionate, honest, reliable and inspiring. She's guided me through more maelstroms than I care to admit, and I feel lucky to have her on my side. I've not spotted any arrogance in her, but perhaps I'm biased: she's earned me far more money than I'd ever have earned without her and has furthered my career by giant-steps, all with consummate grace and wit and impeccably-coiffed hair.

She won't even read this post. Yet still I say it.