Pub Rants

What You Should Never Do

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STATUS: I signed a new client today. That’s always fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I MELT WITH YOU by Modern English

I want to begin this blog by saying that I do understand the incredible obstacles writers face in terms of finding an agent and selling a book. I understand that if you, as a writer, get rejection after rejection, it’s frustrating not to mention disheartening.

I get that.

And I imagine that every writer at one time has THOUGHT about writing an industry professional to express frustration. That’s valid. Think about it; just don’t ever do it. This is what journals are for or venting with your best writer friend.

I received an email over the weekend that just makes me want to shake my head in pity.

Clearly stating a name and title of the project, this writer emailed to tell me that he/she had decided to destroy his/her book thanks to my agency. That I, as well as many other agents who had rejected it, had destroyed his/her dream and I should put that on my resume.

Sigh. This is a mistake for so many reasons. I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just list them.

1. The only person responsible for your dream is you. It’s obvious that this writer is into blame and once begun, there is no end to who else’s fault it can be. It couldn’t possibly be because the writing isn’t strong enough, or the concept is unoriginal, or even that it’s not right for the current market. Nope. It must be those evil agents who haven’t recognized the brilliance; those evil agents who are keeping down deserving writers.

Real writers take personal responsibility for their work and even if it truly is the publishing world that has missed the boat (and it happens) a real writer perseveres in the face of challenge and writes another book. (John Grisham comes to mind. After all, the first book he wrote was a TIME TO KILL but that was not the first novel he sold.)

2. Sending such an email is just unprofessional. Think of any other business endeavor (such as applying for job etc.) and it would never occur to a person to send such a communication. Would you email all the people who interviewed you for a job but didn’t hire you about what a mistake they made? They would potentially think you unhinged. Not to mention question your age and maturity level.

3. Some agents have blacklists folks. This person did not send the letter anonymously. Guess where the name just went?

Uh, yikes? Why would you deliberately hamper a potential career that has not yet begun?

So think about it all you want. Vent to your writing friends and release the negative energy. Write numerous angry letters in your journal.

Just don’t send it.

44 Responses

  1. Joelle said:

    I think every writer thinks the first novel is going to be “the one” until they’ve been sending it out for ages and in the meantime have written two or three more. I was having lunch with a very, very successful writer a few months ago and we were talking about how my novel was finally generating editorial and agent interest. She asked me how many I wrote before it and I said, three. She said, “Sounds about right.”

    As for sending out letters like that…well, it’s a small, smaall world. Write ’em, read ’em, destroy ’em and move on. Even if it’s out of the writing world.

  2. Anonymous said:

    awwwww. . .can’t help but feel bad for the writer. I just keep thinking about a crushed artsy-looking person sitting by their dirty apartment window in New York, looking down at all the traffic, with their manuscript on their lap and all the hope from their eyes gone. I bet that’s going to be me as soon as I start getting all my rejections.

    Poor bloke just needs a hug. I bet he/she didn’t bother to read agent blogs, though. It would’ve helped so much to study the publishing industry from a personal angle and not just the cold hard facts way.

    I should be writing my novel right now instead of procrastinating, so. . .bye!

  3. Lynne Simpson said:

    That’s so self-destructive that I almost wonder if the email could’ve been forged by some psycho enemy of the writer. Stranger things have happened, and I’ve seen plenty of them in my IT career.

    It’s always worthwhile to look at message headers if an email seems just TOO weird. There are ways to determine if an email is authentic or not, and if Kristin has previous emails from this writer, it should be simple enough to compare headers. I’d certainly recommend doing that before blacklisting someone.

  4. mark long said:

    The late Larry Brown wrote a great novella called “92 Days” about a struggling writer in the short story collection _Big Bad Love_. Anyway, in this novella–later Arliss Howard loosely based his movie _Big Bad Love_ on it–he receives a heart breaking rejection letter from an agent and proceeds to write the most scatalogical yet poignant response to it. As he says in the story (paraphrased)after finishing it:

    I read it twice. It said exactly what I wanted to say. It made me feel better. I crumpled it up and threw it in the trash. Then I started on a new story.

  5. Diana Peterfreund said:

    Ugh. The old “no one wants it, I’m going to destroy it” thing. I have never been able to grok that. Every time I hear about a writer who has quit, then subsequently “burned all their manuscripts and taken a magnet to their hard drive,” I get all queasy. Wherefore this compulsion? What is the reasoning?

    I have books that will NEVER see the light of day. But I’m not going to destroy them. I made them. And the weird thing is, they go out of their way to destroy them too. Like they have laundry lists on their hard drive from 1999, but they have to delete the book, excise from their lives. “That’ll show ’em.”

    I don’t get it.

  6. Dave Kuzminski said:

    I destroyed a manuscript only once… when I was 13 or 14. It was about 80,000 words long and written in longhand on notebook paper. I destroyed it because it occurred to me that I was just a minor and no one would publish a child. Was it publishable? Not really, but it was an accomplishment for someone that age.

  7. Orhan Kahn said:

    So very well put. I don’t feel the frustration of rejection — for some it is never easy, no matter what it is.

    Besides, practising the alphabet isn’t something an agent/punlisher can reward, thats up to your readers. That starts with you, the writer.

    Everything comes in full circle.

  8. Eileen said:

    Congrats to your new client may the enjoy the ride!

    I feel for the person who is at the end of their creative rope. Not only because they feel that way, but also because they shared it in a way that doesn’t help anyone. As others have pointed out destroying it doesn’t do anything other than perhaps get them out of an industry where there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you write. If you can’t handle the pain this isn’t the industry. That isn’t a slam-just the truth.

  9. Gina Black said:

    Van Gogh cut off an ear. Okay, it wasn’t because an agent rejected him, but still…

    I think having an artistic temperament makes it tough to see this as a business. But it is a business, and because of that no one will want to do business with someone as difficult as that no matter how good their writing is, because it means that they will be very hard if not impossible to work with. Just imagine how it would be when it’s time for revisions and copy edits.

  10. Kimber An said:

    All things considered, I can see it was probably a good thing I wrote my first novel at age 11. It was a no-brainer to me that I couldn’t get the thing published and never tried. I just kept writing stories I loved. That was more than a couple of decades and about twenty novels ago. I never saved anything either. Not out of frustration. I simply didn’t see the point. Like Anne of Green Gables, I had everything logged away in my imagination anyway. It wasn’t until last year I felt emotionally ready to begin the publication journey.

  11. C said:

    You know, Harry Truman used to write angry letters to people and then put them in a drawer. When his papers eventually came out, they found hundreds of nasty letters that had never been sent.

    It’s not a bad idea. 🙂

  12. B.E. Sanderson said:

    Wow. That whole thing sounded like a huge guilt trip. “If you don’t say you love my book, I’m going to kill it.. I swear I will… and it will be all your fault… So live with that.” Sheesh. What a horrible thing to lay on another person. Feh. Delete your manuscripts because they stink, if you must, but don’t lay the blame on anyone but yourself. Personally, I keep everything so I can look back and learn from my mistakes. (And if you ever saw my college papers, you’d know I had a lot to learn from.)

    I feel like emailing you a piece of homemade cake, Kristin. If only I could smoosh it through the router. ;o)

  13. Anonymous said:

    Actually, yes, I have written those kind of emails to people I interviewed with, because:
    1) They did miss out on a great employee.
    2) They did not have the professionalism to contact me to say yes or no when they stated they would.
    I’d shoot emails off to some people I interviewed with mostly because of reason 2. Unprofessionalism is rampant all throughout the business world; it’s not limited to “artistic” fields or folk. In fact, most people, I’ve sadly noted, are terribly unprofessional.

    Personally, I just got a wonderful rejection from Kristin also. It didn’t tear me apart; it was going to happen, so now that the first rejection is out of the way, it should be easier to deal with the future rejections. I also found it was easier to simply not read the rejection too much; in the end, it said, “no.” Anything else stated in the rejection was inconsequential.
    So, with hope that would-be writer reads these comments, he/she should attempt to re-write the manuscript if was truly destroyed.

  14. Maprilynne said:

    Well, part of me wonders if you put this in here on purpose to see if we readers had learned our lesson about pointing out agent mistakes, but “A Time to Kill” WAS the first novel Grisham sold. It was NOT a big seller, with a print run of only 5,000. It was published in 1988.
    In 1991 “The Firm,” became his second novel and skyrocketted to success as the 7th best novel of 1991. There was no stopping him after that. “A Time to Kill” was later picked up by his new publisher and has had a very big and long-lasting print run. But it was originally published as his debut novel by a small publisher called Wynwood Press.

    Nonetheless, Kristin’s point still definitely stands. You can’t write back to an agent and tell them they are wrong. If they didn’t love your book, they didn’t love your book. It doesn’t mean no one else will. It doesn’t even necessarily means it’s not well written/ intriguing/ marketable, etc. But if several agents are saying the same thing, you should probably give your manuscript a good hard look . . . which is FAR from the easiest thing in the world to do.

    Also, Grisham apparently started writing his second book (The Firm) the day after he started sending out “A Time to Kill.” Keep after that second project. The second project was his first book to sell WELL.


    -Info coutesy of 😉

  15. ian said:

    But…but…it was the BESTEST BOOK EVER! How can an agent not see that?


    My first book has not sold. I shelved it. My second book hasn’t sold either. I feel good about the next one I’m going to be querying, but if it doesn’t sell, I’ve got more lined up to write. You can’t force someone to buy your work. Any artist ought to be able to see that. If you can’t sell it, you have to rework it, try a different avenue, or shelve it and move on.

    I would never destroy something I wrote just because an agent didn’t like it. Even if it’s crap. That’s just juvenile. And juveniles only belong in this business if they’re mature enough to take a “no” and keep on ticking.


  16. Kerry Allen said:

    My first manuscript many, many years ago was rejected – a good rejection letter (someone actually read the story, took the time to comment, and encouraged me to send them something else), but a “no” nonetheless. My disappointment was tempered with relief that it didn’t say, “This is complete crap. Try a career in plumbing.” I quit writing for a while after that, but it was because I didn’t have another story to tell at that time, not because I blamed someone else for murdering my muse.

    You have to expect rejection in this business. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Then when rejection comes your way, it’s not such a blow, and if you get a “yes,” it’s a happy surprise. In the meantime, hopefully it toughens up your hide for when you finally do get published and those mean critics start mauling your baby.

    Put your sensitivity and angst into your writing. For the rest of the process, be professional. Or at least adult. I wouldn’t want to work with this spaz at any point in the future, either. If you think Kristin’s being too harsh, think about what Madame Snark would have to say. “I’ll bring the matches” comes immediately to mind…

  17. Marianne Mancusi said:

    Rejection is a good way for a writer to develop a thick skin early on. If the person can’t handle a simple “no” from an agent, how are they going to deal with nasty Amazon reviews or comments from anonymous bloggers when their book comes out? Once you’re published, your book no longer belongs to you – you’ve put it out for the world to read–and judge! And believe me, they will! People seem to get off on ripping an author’s work apart. I’ve even had Amazon reviewers make nasty judgements about ME as a person based on the character I wrote about.

    I digress, but the point is, yes, rejection sucks and hurts. But it’s also good practice for what’s to come with the life of a published author. So take it for what it is, brush yourself off, and either resubmit or write something else. Then you’ll know you have what it takes to move to the next level–acceptance!

  18. Anonymous said:

    Think about the poor writer whose name just happens to be the same as the bloke who wrote that letter!

  19. Anonymous said:

    What’s the point though? By pitching an e-temper tantrum like that and suicidingly destroying your manuscript, what are you hoping to accomplish? That Kristin will suddenly go, “Oh wait, I do want that book after all.” I would venture to say the query came from someone under 30. Someone who has been told all of their life how perfect and wonderful and special they are and have never had an unkind word spoken to them because they’ve been so protected all of their life. This is where the growing up starts. Life is hard. Get used to it. And if you still want to burn your manuscript, I’ll supply the matches.


  20. Anonymous said:

    Sorry to hear you get letters like that. It makes all us new authors, trying to find representation, look bad. We’re not all nuts, and most of us do understand a no is just a no. Time to move on to the next one.

    Take care, and thanks for still reading queries and responding professionally to people even after that. We appreciate it.

    Anonymous (so you’ll know I’m not just kissing up)

  21. Patrick McNamara said:

    It’s obvious that the person had a false impression of the way publishing works. Much of that I’m inclined to blame on popular media, particularly TV shows and movies. They tend to give the impression that it’s a lot easier to be a writer than in actuality. Although news is partly to blame (excluding shows specifically about writing) because they’ll focus on a writer’s hit novel without talking about the novels that were written before the success. (It was the third Harry Potter book that made it big, not the first.)

    And the worst part of this is that it’s writers who create these stories. It would be refreshing to see a show actually show how hard it is to become a writer.

  22. Anonymous said:

    Time To Kill was TO the first novel John Grisham sold, it just wasn’t a hit until The Firm was published. He lived just a few miles from me before he hit it big.

  23. Zany Mom said:

    I like my first crappy book, even though agents don’t. Actually, I take that back. I did get some positive feedback with a few of the no’s, so it’s not *total* crap. 😉

    It has a few issues that need to be fixed, but it’s still a fine story. Even if nobody else thinks so.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Anon from 6:41 AM said the letter was probably from someone under 30. Wow. That’s the most insulting thing I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not 30 yet, but I’d never, ever send a letter like that. And I know people in their 50s who’d do so without thinking twice.

  25. Liz Wolfe said:

    I agree. Don’t send the email. And don’t post it to your blog either.
    I really understand the urge to smack someone who is behaving unprofessionally though. I recently got back a form rejection from an agent who had received my query letter a year earlier. Please. Did he really suppose I was still waiting?

  26. Bernita said:

    After the trouble you’ve gone to on this blog to help writers, you’re called Kristin Dream-Killer?
    Someone, no matter what age they are, needs to grow up.

  27. cryptoria said:

    She must have taken to heart the most misguided literary quote of the 20th century:
    “Manuscripts don’t burn.”
    A simple experiment with our latest “masterpiece” and a couple of matches will prove otherwise…. but we just keep hoping.

  28. Ryan Field said:

    “Anonymous said…
    Time To Kill was TO the first novel John Grisham sold, it just wasn’t a hit until The Firm was published. He lived just a few miles from me before he hit it big.”

    And I personally know one of the agents who actually rejected him back when; though we don’t speak about it openly at dinner parties 🙂

  29. Nonny said:

    “So think about it all you want. Vent to your writing friends and release the negative energy. Write numerous angry letters in your journal.”

    Though, if said journal is an online journal, it might be best to post it privately or behind a custom filter. Cause I imagine agents do sometimes Google authors they might be interested in, and they probably don’t want an angry rant about the last agent who rejected them coming up on the first page. ^_^

  30. Torrey Meeks said:

    Hey, I read a good quote that pertains to this just the other day. A little classic demotivation:

    Before you attempt to beat the odds, be sure you could survive the odds beating you. -Despair, Inc.

  31. Anonymous said:

    The angry writer should look at it this way:

    Two roads.

    1) You PUBLISH! Fame! Wealth! Ophra! Fine, now that all the dust settles, what do you do?

    Write the NEXT book.

    Road two:

    2) You get rejected. Sad. Mad. Poor. What do you do?

    Write the NEXT book.

    See? All roads lead to Rome. Don’t love the fame, love the writing.

    Did the agents make you stop writing? No. If you only want to be “seen,” go hit American Idol, dress like a banana, call the judges funny names and get your face on national television. or…

    Write the NEXT book.

  32. KingM said:

    This is sad. I have to admit I’ve had these thoughts before as it can be so painful to put that much time into a project and then have it rejected again and again and again. The fact is, the field is so competetive that most people who try, even most people with talent who persist will fail. To know that you have talent but it’s not sufficient is maddening. Thankfully, I recognized the folly and futility of arguing with rejections and never followed through on these thoughts.

    Of course the writer shouldn’t have sent it. I hope that when agents get letters like this (not the truly wacko, scary ones) that they just chuck them and do their best to forget names so that if/when the author comes to his senses everyone can pretend the bad incident didn’t happen.

  33. Anonymous said:

    Boy, talk about poking a bear with a short, sharp stick!

    This is why so many see the publishing industry as adversarial to art… granted, every artist who wants to publish commercial fiction needs a solid kick in the ass if they think it’s going to be simple.

    Were I in Kristin’s shoes, I would leave off blog entries of this sort. Number one, Mr. Looney T. Writer will undoubtedly read this and fly off the handle yet again. Number two, what if he does something stupid and drastic? The right attorney can say that this blog posting is what drove his client to carving off his ear.

    Don’t let us know about specific stories, dear. Give us the general admonishment of “Don’t send angry letters to agents if they reject you!” and leave the details that prompted the rant off the airwaves. You’ll be better off and the poor shmuck who inspired you won’t feel extra persecuted.

  34. Anonymous said:

    To let agent rejections decide whether or not you continue writing tells me that person doesn’t want it badly enough. (I also think the immaturity and unprofessionalism of this letter suggests the writer has some emotional problem for which I hope he/she gets help.)

  35. Manic Mom said:

    Kristin, how could you ruin a poor writer’s life like that?!?!?

    Gimme a break. That person will look back in a few years and realize how stupid he/she was being.

    And probably really regret that the ms was destroyed (but I highly doubt it was done).

  36. Catharin said:

    I’ll just point out that yes, actually, people do send this sort of letter when they’re rejected for 9-to-5 jobs too. And no, I don’t know of anyone who’s thought “Oh! What a mistake I have made! I will hire that unhinged nutjob immediately!”

  37. Anonymous said:

    All writers wonder why many great books get rejected so many times until they finally get accepted. That makes you wonder how many great books never get published, because agents just aren’t good at recognizing the next big thing. It would be good if sometimes agents took responsibility for their mistakes rather than making excuses for the ones that got away. That is unless agents keep rejected the next bestsellers on purpose. Lol.

  38. Miss Guzzums said:

    I’ve done that a bunch of times. I write letters to people I hate and get all my feelings out. Usually I don’t send those letters out, but there was this one time when I wrote a huge 8-page letter (back and forth and in tiny writing) to one of my teachers about why I thought they were so incompetent and ignorant (he was one of those “I don’t think we’ve killed *enough* citizens in Iraq” types). I wasn’t planning to send it at first, but then when I saw him again, I just decided that it was just better for my health if I let him know how I felt about his idiot ways.

    Although this situation seems pretty different. I definitely wouldn’t destroy my career by letting my temper get the best of me.

    But then again, maybe I shouldn’t judge. I’ve never sent out a manuscript to agents or been rejected by one.

    Plus, I’m only fifteen.

  39. Anonymous said:

    Was this the guy in the Utah shopping mall?

    Even though this is a joke, it’s in poor taste. My brother was in Salt Lake City, Utah on business and I didn’t sleep until I actually talked to him and found out he was back home.

    There is nothing funny about what happened there.

  40. phantom logoff said:

    Focusing on a different aspect of the letter and Kristin’s reply…we’ve been told for years that agents & editors do not remember us. They’re busy, they’re professionals, there’s no blacklist if you make a mistake or even honk someone off.

    Now Agent Kristin, whom I’ve come to respect, says there IS a blacklist, and we shouldn’t get on it? Or worse still, a whole bunch of blacklists?

    Say it isn’t so!

  41. adrienne said:

    This may be off topic, but I think it is quite apt. In response to Gina Black –

    Van Gogh cut off his ear yes, but it was while he was staying at a mental insitution, during a peroid of time where he wasn’t actually creating art.

    Just thought I’d point that out.

  42. BuffySquirrel said:

    I’ve lost count of the number of times writers have told me or one of my colleagues that they’re never ever submitting to us again. To which the only possible answer is, “good”. We also get emails telling us that although we didn’t want x story, y publication did. To which the answer is, “well, I’m glad you sold x, but we still don’t want it”. I’m sure that in the sender’s fantasy, something entirely different happens….

  43. Kate said:

    To anonymous #2, who said “Actually, yes, I have written those kind of emails to people I interviewed with …. In fact, most people, I’ve sadly noted, are terribly unprofessional.” I’m curious – does your behaviour not strike you as unprofessional also?