Pub Rants

Making Me Cringe

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STATUS: TGIF and it’s sleeting in Denver. Ah, spring.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SLAVE TO LOVE by Bryan Ferry

So I’m finally getting caught up on my favorite writers’ forums and blog sites, and let me tell you what makes me cringe.

Writers bad-mouthing a particular agent or agency. Now I’m not talking about revealing a scam artist or lodging a complaint about being charged a fee on a public forum. Heck, that’s a public service. Go for it.

I mean complaining about a legitimate agent who might have been rude because he/she didn’t respond to a query or sample pages in a prompt manner or was a little curt when doing so (and remember, even that is sometimes open for interpretation). Even if you post the complaint anonymously, it’s funny how often that veil of anonymity can get lifted!

Now, I’m not talking about objectively posting that such-n-such agent wasn’t right for you or your communication styles didn’t match (or whatever) and you share that info in a neutral, professional manner.

I’m talking about just being irritated and posting your irritation. It’s tempting I know but I really do think that no matter what, you come out sparkling clean by always remaining professional—even in the face of somebody else’s unprofessionalism. If you practice this on a regular basis (even in chat world), it will carry you through a tough time if and when it ever happens in real life.

Agents are human too and some more so than others by displaying un-admirable behaviors. It is a cross section of the general population after all. But never let your actions be what’s in question. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

26 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    This makes me cringe too. I have been querying agents for a year now and things are really starting to happen for me. If you read my blog, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea that I’m querying agents at all. I never mention it. Same with editors (when I was querying them). I know writers who write about their agent, their editors, the problems they have and I just think to myself, “Go see Miss Snark because you need a really good dousing with the clue gun!” But what can you say? If they don’t know why a post is wrong on so many levels then nothing you tell them is going to get through.

  2. 2readornot said:

    When I feel the need to vent, I either protect the post (with many layers) or try to put it in such general terms that no one could possibly know.

    But yeah, it’s better to remember that if you can’t say something nice….

  3. julia said:

    It’s always a good idea to remember how small the world is, after all. The personal journal aspect of blogging should always be twinned with its location on the world wide web. Just as you might not talk about someone while riding the bus or shopping, in case someone who knows someone might be listening, discretion is everything when posting on your blog.

  4. kathie said:

    I think people get so comfortable in the blogosphere that they forget they’re broadcasting world-wide–they forget the mic’s on. I think most bloggers longing to be published in hardcover are very good about expressing their ideas without harming others. Thanks for the post.

  5. Christopher M. Park said:

    I post about the query process, and agents that I’ve had interaction with during that process, but only insofar as it is informative to other aspiring writers who are trying to figure out how all this works. I know there are a lot of resources out there for this, but I feel like more of those are from the perspectives of agents, rather than writers.

    At any rate, most writers seem to be either very negative on their blogs about their own rejections (which Kristen is addressing), or are very closed about it until after they are actually taken on as somebody’s client–and by then, their perspective has changed. They have a whole new set of fears and anxieties, then. So I write about this process, but I always keep in mind that agents might well come across these posts if they search for their name or mine. So, as Kristen says, I keep it professional. That’s just how I like to be seen, in any case; hopefully that’s how we all want to be seen.

    Fortunately, the worst thing that has happened to me is a few queries that never got answered at all, so the question of rants is moot (even if I were one to rant on any subject). No response is par for the course sometimes, I know, and I don’t even mention those agents by name. I also don’t mention an agent’s name while they are still a prospect for my current work; I only talk about these things with names included in retrospect.

    I know that this sort of posting might make some agents uncomfortable, and I try to be conscientious of that fact. I try to put myself in their shoes, and don’t post anything that I think they would feel is damaging to their reputation. There’s no need to burn bridges, and I’m not out to hurt somebody just because they didn’t want to represent a specific work of mine. But it was really overwhelming for me when I first started my agent search, and as immensely helpful as agent blogs like this one are, the perspective is just different from that of an aspiring author.

    I’ve read Miss Snark’s comments on this subject, and now Kristen’s here, and I feel reasonably confident that I don’t need any shots from the clue gun. I think the rule of thumb that if you would be comfortable reading your blog post to a group of people that included the agent in question, then you’re pretty safe.



  6. Kim said:

    I haven’t vented on agents, but I did write a steaming blast at editors. No names were menitoned, no publishing houses were mentioned, and it felt so good to get it off my chest. It wasn’t nasty, just very sarcastic.

    The next day, I reread it and smacked myself in the forehead. It came down about two minutes later. It just seemed so… childish…

    Now, I keep my venting to myself and write about the good stuff 🙂

  7. Susan Helene Gottfried said:

    Hmm. I might come off sounding like a dissenter here. Not because I like hearing irritated people vent, but because I’ve read a lot of those same discussions.

    When you hear the same complaint/criticism/story from a number of people, it gives you a picture of an agent’s character, much as a fictional character’s actions speak as to who they are.

    These sorts of discussions are very helpful for forming an opinion as to whether or not this person is an agent you want to approach. After all, agents work *for* us writers by being our representatives to publishers. They hold our reputations in their hands.

    Just as we girls are told in high school to be careful which boys we date, we writers need to be careful about who we approach for representation. There are too many agents for us to gossip about them in the last stall of the girls’ room across from the office, so instead, many of these conversations take place on message boards.

    Yes, some of what’s said is unprofessional. Yes, it’s important to keep in mind who is speaking and what their agenda might be.

    But at the end of the day, knowing that 30 people felt that when a sale didn’t happen in two weeks and during week #3, the agent lost the phone number and e-mail of all 30 of those clients, that’s something I need to know before I become client #31.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I think Kristin makes a very important point about interpretation. Just the other day I read a post where a writer was downright confounded that his/her query didn’t perk the interest of an agent even though the MS was being read by a “big” editor. Blew my mind, b/c here I’m thinking the agent is a class act because it’s about the project, not the sale, and the writer was insulted. I read these boards and wonder sometimes how y’all manage to be as polite as you are.

  9. Julie Leto said:

    Susan, just remember the old adage, “consider the source,” when you read these rants. You’re only getting one side of the story…and it’s not always accurate.

    Case in point–when I was agent shopping, I asked around. I heard one HORRIBLE story about an agent who was top on my list. Heard it from a few people…but all those people knew the same ONE writer who had the bad experience. This writer was unpublished and eventually parted ways with the agent. I decided I liked the agent anyway and let me tell you, in three years, I’ve never had her once behave in the way this writer told not only me, but several people who felt compelled to share the stories with me. I now suspect it was simply a situation of a bad marriage, whereas my experience has been phenomenal.

    Personally, I think people who post whiny, negative complaints about agents or editors are taking a risk at angering someone they might need in the future. Unless someone is a scam artist, you should take your lumps quietly, drink heavily and keep you comments to yourself. Vent to your friends who will listen, commiserate and keep their mouths shut afterwards

  10. Impy said:

    On the subject of public-service warnings, when IS it professional to give them, and how?

    For all that a warning about a scam publisher or agent might be very important to newbie authors, with the exposure of the internet it’s awfully hard to both appear professional and talk about a business’s specific failings in enough detail to come off as voicing a legitimate warning instead of an immature whine. An author doesn’t want to establish a reputation for making public complaints about someone they work with, after all, no matter how just those complaints might be.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Most blogs aren’t public service. They’re just people being human and expressing emotions.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, you’re right, we (as human beings) shouldn’t be in the business of lashing out, ranting unprofessionally, or poking fun at others. Ever.

    That goes for agents, too.

    Anonymous4:54: “Go see Miss Snark.” Are you kidding? Miss Snark bashed a NYTB author–Anne Stuart–publicly. It doesn’t matter why. She did it. I didn’t see one single blogging agent (including Kristin) blog, saying: “She represents authors, so she should be professional and not do that. It makes us all look bad.” Additionally, Miss Snark bashed an unpublished author, and then led her snarklings over to the woman’s site to make fun of the newbie’s whopper mistake. The author didn’t know–it was a naive mistake, born of a desire to market herself. Miss Snark claims she does what she does because she wants to help aspiring authors. If that’s so, why didn’t she send her a MissSnark e-mail (anonymous enough) and explain to her why what she was doing was a bad idea?

    That poor aspiring author, I hope she’ll be published one day soon and find herself a huge commercial success, and then lift the veil of anonymity from Miss Snark.

  13. Kim said:

    Anon 7:43 –

    I remember the whole Anne Stuart thing – what a mess. However, people did come out against Miss Snark for her scolding of Anne Stuart. Jenny Crusie for one – it led to a few heated arguments in her blog.

    And as for the unpubbed author – her mistake was suggesting people spam an editor at Tor, that it might help this editor decide to buy the manuscript. If you think this isn’t a surefire way to make sure you NEVER have a chance with a certain editor, then have at it. Even the editor in question was aghast and basically said so in a post to the unpubbed author. That was a little beyond a foolish mistake. Spamming an editor? That goes beyond the realm of common sense.

    To make matters worse, this author’s apology was a sarcastic one at best – basically laying the fault at the editor’s feet instead of saying “I screwed up. I wasn’t thinking.” Ask me, that’s not what you want an editor to remember you for. That isn’t exactly professional, either.

  14. LJCohen said:

    I’ve blogged about rejection, not as a way to whine about agents, but as part of my growth process as a writer. Actually, the best thing I ever did on this theme was a ‘found’ poem with lines from form rejection letters. It was fun to transform disappointment into art.

    Badmouthing anybody in public is just dead wrong.

  15. Susan Helene Gottfried said:

    Julie Leto…

    I agree it’s one thing when five people say, “I heard this agent does this,” but it’s another thing entirely when five (or more) people say, “This happened TO ME, too.”

    On the one hand, whining’s never cool. But on the other, if people are having *very real* problems, that’s information that ought to be shared.

  16. Eileen said:

    Great advice I recently heard- be careful who you share disapointment and even more careful who you share success. In addition to people being snarky- some go after those who have had a success.

  17. Daryl Andrews said:

    I find it interesting the emotional (writer) mixing with the professional (business) and how being behind a bloodless computer monitor is an enabler to some.
    Being in a sales/marketing role for numerous years I tend to encourage others to view queries as a sales process. I know, I know! That should be obvious. Whether I am selling a tangible item that is sure to storm the country as the best new mousetrap or selling my own intangible name, a “no” is not personal.
    Bad example perhaps but I encourage those I know to view it the following way. I may be the very best septic tank cleaner sales person in the world. I may be the quickest, the best and the flashiest. I may be cheaper than my competitors and have the most advanced product in the marketplace. However, no amount of charm, technical knowledge or better product is going to help me sell the world’s best septic tank cleaner to a man that doesn’t have a septic tank. To take a no from someone that doesn’t need a septic tank cleaner and whine, groan, complain and threaten to give up is absolutely insane. Finding someone that actually HAS a septic tank and NEEDS your product? A salesperson keeps going until they find ‘em.
    Not only that, writers trade on their name. Their name is their brand. The way they behave, present themselves, act or interact with other people helps determine whether an agent, editor or septic tank owner decides if they want to live with that individual for years on end. It is easy to say “my finished product is the “be all end all” however, that is just not the case. I think in all walks of life being difficult, argumentative or just downright untrustworthy (even behind a monitor) makes it difficult for others to want to deal with them.
    In job interviews, people are on their best behavior. In fact, I would venture to say that people are the best they will ever be on that day. That is the image people should present to agents and editors. Any chink in the armor is a chink in the armor. Why would I want to work with someone that is shady enough to stay behind the scenes and take pot shots at others?

    But then again I am in Texas and it is snowing in April! Perhaps I have just lost my senses.

  18. Daryl Andrews said:

    Just learned a lesson –

    If writing a response in Word and copy and pasting into the comment box, be sure you fix your paragraphs.

    I didn’t. Sorry…

  19. Janny said:

    While I agree that ranting or whining can sound unprofessional, no matter where you do it, I (as often is the case!) need to put in a tiny word of dissent: agents and editors need to behave professionally, too. And all too often, that’s not the case.

    Maybe the unprofessional conduct isn’t done by the agent or editor herself, maybe only by her assistant, or office person, or whatnot…but the fact is, that street goes both ways, and many of us on the “author” side get treated with a lack of respect and/or consideration, if not outright shamefully, by some agencies and editors. Saying that out loud, in public, is not ranting. It’s consumerism at work. 🙂

    Even if the treatment isn’t shameful, or doesn’t really hurt us, many of us have encountered publishing professionals who have a great “reputation” but who don’t live up to it at all. To me, stating such–even if in an emotionally charged manner–can’t always be called either “whining” or immaturity, either. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and you really don’t want to be “client #31,” as one poster so eloquently put it.

    Please understand, I’m not advocating foul language, personal abuse that goes beyond merely stating what happened, or the like…heaven knows I’ve been the recipient of more than my share of that (WAY more than my share) in cyberspace, and it’s upsetting. But “professional conduct” has to be the norm on both sides of the street, and often it is not. Things like putting a link up to someone’s site so they can be vilified is NEVER okay. I don’t care how “clueless” the person is who does it, and I don’t care what a “character” the person is who takes that liberty. There’s no excuse for that. Period.

    People who are in the public eye to an extent, or people who are active in any business, also have to remember that not EVERYTHING negative out there is a personal attack or “whining.” Sometimes, it’s just criticism, and we can all learn from that…if we’re not so busy putting down the critic that we fail to hear the legitimate message involved.

    Finally, it also pays to remember that different parts of the country, or the world, interpret stuff way differently than it may be meant. I came from the Chicago suburbs to northeast Indiana, which you wouldn’t think would be a huge culture shock–yet I am continually amazed at how easily people take offense here sometimes. In business, especially, conversations or communication that we in Chicago would consider perfectly OK and normal, even cordial, these people will react to as “rudeness.” You come out and state something directly, without any sugarcoating here, and without prefacing it with lots of small talk and/or an apology for having to “hurry,” and people say, “Wow, that person was sure rude.” To which I’m thinking, “Did we hear the same thing?”

    So bottom line–try to keep your public speech as professional as you possibly can. But also keep in mind as well that no matter how you say something, someone’s going to be offended by it. And nine times out of ten, that offense isn’t going to have anything to do with what you said, OR how you said it, OR when you said it. It’s going to have everything to do with what the hearer or reader tells herself after you’re done talking (writing). And that isn’t, and will never be, your fault.

    My two and a half dollars’ worth…

  20. Anonymous said:

    Writers in public forums are pretty good at self policing anyways. Whoever posted whatever made you cringe is probably sitting in the middle of a flame-war now…

  21. Anonymous said:

    Oooo, it’s all just “he said-she said.”

    As an agent, Kristin doesn’t like to see anyone flaming agents. As writers, some of us say, “Flame on!”

    If an agent is stupid enough to behave unprofessionaly, writers have every right to spread the word… when enough of us are saying the same thing, the agent’s business will dry up and blow away like an old dog turd.

    First impressions are everything. An agent who fails to respond to a query is making a bad one, just as a writer who knocks on an agent’s door unannounced is making a bad one… so is a writer sending a full manuscript somewhere it wasn’t asked for. No one has a problem pointing and making fun of the writer, so why shouldn’t we discuss the agent who crosses the lines of professionalism?

    Here’s a wonderful example, and if Kristin reads this, I think she will secretly agree: I attended a conference in southern Colorado, and got to see Kristin and two other agents hold an “agents’ roundtable” discussion– one of the agents was a Californian named Lili Gharamanni (probably misspelled), and the other will remain nameless. Kristin and Lili were very positive, upbeat and helpfully realistic. The nameless one, though…

    She began by telling us how her husband died and left her with lots of bills, which led to the loss of her house. She told us what a grind it had been working some schlock job at a publishing house, right up until she gained employment with a prestigious, old agency, where she learned everything she needed to know about agenting sci-fi… so much that before long she was practically running the place. Then, of course, the founder’s grandchildren stepped in and changed everything, giving our heroine the shaft, etc.

    Now, this agent was perfect to me, on paper… knowledgeable about the sci-fi/fantasy market, knew all the editors from decades in the business, was familiar with the the inner workings of a publisher. BUT. She was the crustiest, gloomiest, depressing sadsack of a business person I’d ever met. How could anyone put their career/work in the hands of someone so down on life?

    I won’t say the agent’s name, because I happen to agree that trashing someone professionally is rude. Trash the profession itself, if you must, but leave individuals out of it (unless they are up to real badness, that is).

  22. mrbookmonkey said:

    As a publisher, I am constantly appalled by the parade of time-wasting fools who try to set themselves up as agents and proceed to mislead unwitting writers. Even among established agents, the number who really do a job for their clients are in the minority. I think a some critical evaluation on the internet could do some good in sorting the wheat from the chaff–but only if it originated from writers who have some real publishing experience to base their opinions on. Most of the criticism we hear is just whining by wannabes who haven’t done anything to deserve a serious response and hence don’t get one. They are like locusts–there are just so damn manyof them it isn’t possible to respond to them individually. Blogging is their only appropriate forum.

  23. susan said:

    It seems to me that a lot of people act like spiteful teenagers on the internet because of the supposed anonymity of the whole thing. I wouldn’t make any business decisions based on anything I read on the internet, just like I wouldn’t make any professional decisions based on nasty gossip.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Interesting, Anon 2:23…I was at that conference, at that roundtable. I know exactly who you mean, and I agree. The agent was clearly having a bad day (maybe a bad year), and I think many of us left there thinking, “I won’t be querying that person any time soon.”

    The thing is, those of us who are serious about our craft, our careers, are going to encounter many different types of agents along the journey. Yes, I don’t think it’s wise or beneficial to be a whiner — but I’d truly appreciate factual (as factual as it can be) information about the working methods of various agents.

    I’ve been looking for an agent for over a year now, and I’m hoping I’m finally near the end of the hunt. along the way, I’ve discovered certain agents I don’t want to work with — not because they’re bad people or scammers or anything like that. they’re simply not right for me. And I think listing the things I’ve learned about them, through my own experience, is fine and helpful for others in their own searches.

    I’ve had a number of friends leave their agents recently…and perhaps, if they’d heard more honest thoughts from others, they wouldn’t have spent so many months unhappy.

    Just my thoughts, about a penny’s worth.

  25. Anonymous said:

    Ack! I suspect I may have been at fault in this matter. In trying to get answers about an agent I aired my concerns with my online group (thinking of it like a support group.) When it became clear that I needed to make a change, I posted with excitement that I’d had the guts to make that change (typically I’m a real wimp when it comes to standing up for myself)–but I was less than generous in describing my agent. I guess the lesson to remember when venting is that most online groups aren’t as private as you think, so don’t share things you wouldn’t want to see posted on the front page of a website. Point taken.