Tuesday, February 02, 2010

It's Not All About You

I used to know this incredible narcissist. She was convinced that all of her “funny” stories were fodder for everyone else to share and would frequently ask, when meeting new people, what stories I hadn’t yet told them about her. The truth was the stories I shared weren’t even close to the stories she was thinking I might have shared. Finally her questions stopped when a mutual friend of ours, upon losing her patience, replied with, “you know, we really don’t talk about you that much.”

And that’s the truth. While it feels that when you’re querying and submitting, agents have nothing better to do but sit around and chat about your proposal, your book, or even your query, the truth is that we really don’t talk about you . . . at all. When getting together for drinks with my fellow agents, I usually have only one thing in mind and that’s the drink. After that, the fun. If I am in a situation where I’m going to share horror stories, it rarely if ever comes down to queries or submissions. Trust me, there are a lot of other things to be talking about.

I understand why authors get paranoid and I can relate. We all get paranoid about things. But the minute you start to think that everyone is talking about you, or worse, laughing about you, take a step back and remind yourself that it’s not all about you. Most of the time when agents and editors get together we talk about things like dating, kids, recipes, TV, published books, and cocktails. Rarely if ever do we talk about an author we aren’t representing or aren’t over-the-moon excited about.



Simon Hay said...

As excited as I am about what I do I'm able to socialise and not talk about work. I'll debrief with my partner, but I never go into much detail.

Did you have a bad encounter with a writer to post this story?

Cheers, Simon.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I'm so glad you posted this. It really needed to be said.

Jane Lebak said...

But when we see agents' comments about the truly over-the-top bad queries, either on their blogs or over Twitter, it's a little unnerving.

I figure the ones who get talked about are the ones who are so truly awful they stand out, like the guy who sent 128 of the same query, numbering them each time. But when innocent mistakes get framed up on Twitter with a #pubtips hashtag, that makes it easier to think sometimes the merely-bad queries do get talked about.

E. McD. said...

You know what I like about you? You don't sugar coat. I only discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago - how sad I am that you're winding it down. Best wishes, Emily

p.s. Keep the torch lit, girlfriend.

Scott Daniel said...

Generally I find your posts to be very helpful, but this was insulting.

First off, I know the world doesn't revolve around me. I would never think for a minute that you would spend your personal time talking about me nor would I want you to.

This is a business. Your are a business person. I am a business person. If we can help each other out at some point, great! If not, life will move on for both of us.

If a writer/author doesn't present themselves professionally, why would you waste your time with them?

Lydia Sharp said...

Today's dose of reality was brought to you by the letter J.
Haha. I loved this, Jessica. Agents are people, too, and some of us authors need to lighten up.

David A. Todd said...

I'm not paranoid. I was sure you weren't talking about me.

Good post.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Scott, chill, man!

However... the fact that you felt this post to be insulting - and I can only imagine that means you felt it was aimed at you - is... revealing?

Most of us were not insulted, since we assumed - rightly or wrongly - that the post was aimed at narcissists, which most of us are not.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I feel bad for authors with that kind of angst. It never occurred to me that agents would be talking about me. I think this paranoia might stem from some of the banter that happens on Twitter with agents mentioning what not to do in a query. That's one venue where it can seem like agents would sit around dissing authors. But it's isolated and intermittent and (I believe) it's done there as a service to writers who want information. Because if it was done just to "make fun of" authors it would be counterproductive to an agent's livelihood and just plain mean. And that's not the sense I get from most agents online at all.

Maybe part of it is just the fragile ego of an aspiring author!

Kate Douglas said...

Simon, that was my first thought! I just had this same conversation with my editor's assistant when I apologized for loading him down with questions--I told him to feel free to remind me, on occasion, that I'm not the only author harassing him for stuff. It's so easy to focus on our own needs and forget that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others wanting the same attention. I imagine paranoia has the same focus!

Rachelle said...

Writers, I think it's important for everyone to remember that there is a big difference between posting a query mistake on Twitter or a blog, and actually "talking about writers." We often post the mistakes we see because we want writers to have the benefit of our experience, and to hopefully gain some helpful tips. Doesn't it help you to see things from the agent's perspective? But we don't post writers' names or anything like that.

We really don't talk about you. But we are frequently accused of such. That's what Jessica is responding to, I think.

Anonymous said...

Well, can I pay you to talk about me? ;)

Scott Daniel said...

Donna Lea,

No, actually I didn't feel this was aimed at me. I did query Ms. Faust once a few years ago, and I am actually quite embarrassed that I did. Not that she did anything wrong, quite the opposite. She was very professional with me and very gracious. I just had no business querying anyone at that point.

The issue is that I have taken the time since then to educate myself about the business and I know (or at least have a pretty good idea)of what's expected of me. I try to treat people with respect and professionalism and this particular post just touched a nerve.

Anonymous said...

Insulting post? A narcissist might think it was about them. Which, I believe, was the point of the post.

Rebecca Knight said...

This reminds me of jr. high when I thought everyone else was talking about the zit that appeared on my face overnight :P. No one actually notices these things or cares... and it's a relief when you mature and figure that out.

Thanks for this, Jessica! :)

Kate Sheeran Swed said...

I agree that it may come from all the blog and Twitter posts about queries. I am grateful for them, because they're incredibly helpful. But sometimes, as Philangelus points out, mistakes are presented in a way that - even while we laugh at it - is a bit unnerving. A mistake from someone (even if it is an outlandish mistake) who never meant for her query to be quoted in public might breed some paranoia.

Not saying it should. People should calm down. But I do think it may be a product of this crazy internet thing.

Kim Lionetti said...

I think when agents discuss recurrent mistakes on Twitter, etc., the writer can often take it personally. We almost never, ever talk about an individual querier. But when we see some of the same mistakes over and over again, sometimes we commiserate over these common blunders and point them out so that other writers can learn.

The only - ONLY - time I can remember a specific query coming into conversation with another agent was the one Philangelus brought up. This specific person blatantly ignores all communication from every agent he/she e-mails and is currently up to Query #122. Honestly, I don't even consider that person a querier anymore. More like a spammer.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

Hey, Scott, no worries, but for it to have touched a nerve, you *must* have felt it had something to do with you?

If not, I am genuinely curious; what about the post did touch that nerve?

Truthfully, most of us writers at some point in our career do have some degree of morbid certainty that we are doing something stupid, and everyone is laughing. It takes a while to understand how small a part we play in others' daily lives! Especially hyper-busy agents and editors!

The Swivet said...

Kim -

Wow, he's up to #122, now? I feel insulted. He stopped querying me at #104.





Layne said...

Why would Jessica post this? Is she heading towards some sort of breakdown?

Kim Lionetti said...

Colleen --

He goes straight to my trash folder now like every other spammer, but every now and then I just have to peek in there and see what # we're up to.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Scott, no worries, but for it to have touched a nerve, you *must* have felt it had something to do with you?

Um, Donna. Like Scott, I though the tone of this post was a little harsh and insulting--but I don't believe this post had anything to do with me. (Heck, I'm not even querying agents right now.)

My reaction is based on the fact that I don't think the world revolves around me and my work: I'm a professional and publishing is a business. It's that simple. But I forget that not everyone views things this way.

Aimlesswriter said...

I'd wish agents and editors were talking about me! That would mean I'd have a name in the business.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for an Amazon Rep to manage my upcoming novel on,,,you guessed it--Amazon. Someone with established Amzn ties and who knows the ins & outs of the author page and how to "work" the system.

Not looking for a traditional agent. Just an Amazon Rep. to handle the ebook wars as well as pb sales. Know anybody? I would pay an agreed upon % of sales.

Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to calrify what wouldbe involved: communicating with Amzn about any shipping delays or stock availability issues, price points, formating issues, responding to customer inquiries, maintaining the author blog...that kind of thing.

Kate Sheeran Swed said...

I didn't meant to say query mistakes shouldn't be discussed in blogs and Twitter - trust me, I am glad they are! I learn so much. I just think maybe that could be the source of this particular 'tude. Some people can't distinguish between online life/society and reality. Or they have a hard time picturing that there is more to the internet persona they see. It's like when you're a kid and you see your teacher at the grocery store. Kinda trippy, right? That's all I meant.

Anonymous said...

Maybe writers think agents talk about them when they get together because writers sure do, on occasion, discuss agents when they hook up for drinks. And via the internet.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

OMG, I'm so confused! I thought the whole world DID revolve around me! If you don't talk about me in private conversations, then what on Earth are you talking about? I mean, really, what else is there to discuss that's the slightest bit interesting?

Fine. I'm going to go sulk in a corner now, because, after all, how this blog post effects me is really all that matters, right?

#lightenuppeople ;-)

Anonymous said...

I actually thought the post was supposed to be reassuring: Don't worry so much, guys, we're really not talking about you, so it's okay to make mistakes sometimes. It doesn't get you blackballed industry-wide or anything.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Absolutely. And it's not all about agents either. But you would think it is based on comments on twitter and agent blogs. You don't produce the product; you sell it. So calm down and get over yourselves.

Florence said...


The tenor of the last two days seems to be revealing a change happening in your life. It will be good if you can embrace it and when you look back on this time... the time of transition... you might feel proud that you made it through with class.

You are not far from the people you work with and when we decide to become writers we also know ... what we love more than anything else is being alone for long hours at a time with words as our only companions.

I lost my literary hero this week and spent some time re-reading him. He was a man of his time and when his work was done, he went home and no matter what else the world ever thinks of him, he was always true to his craft.

You and the other agents and pros in publishing give me information, inspiration and also some good laughs.

Find Steve Jobs speach at Stanford about five years ago ... and above all else ... Stay Foolish

Anonymous said...

On the other hand if an agent does read something she loves, or maybe even likes a great big whole bunch, does she share that? After the drinks and fun of course...