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Hate On Me, Hater

It’s so easy as an agent who blogs to delve into horror stories or just list things we hate it when authors do. I hate when authors send really mean responses to rejections. I hate people who address me as Dear Sir/Ma’am. I hate when every single piece of slush I receive in a day seems to be describing the exact same book. I could go on. But I won’t! Why?

Well, first of all, I love getting lots of comments on my blog entries, and asking people to name books they hated really seemed to capture your attention. Also, someone responded to a “Dear Author,” letter this morning to tell me I’m an asshole. So clearly, there’s some hate on the other side of the fence.

So without naming names (especially if they’re ours!), go ahead and exorcise those demons: what do you hate about agents? Share your horror stories. I KNOW you have them.

25 Responses to Hate On Me, Hater

  1. BlueDuck says:

    What I don’t understand is agents who have these elaborate requirements for submissions (manuscript double-spaced, hand-written in vermillion ink, synopsis of no less than 372 words and no more than 381 words), and you follow that to the letter, and then get back a postcard in the mail that says “sorry try somewhere else kthanxbye.” If you’re expecting me to put an unusual amount of effort into my query, and then put no effort into your rejection, I’m not going to appreciate that one little bit.

  2. Silver James says:

    I had one agent tell me that while the project seemed very promising and she enjoyed my “voice”, she couldn’t represent me as I would be in direct competition with her star talent. *blinkblink* D’uh…huh? That was a VERY long time ago and we are now friendly acquaintances. I still giggle over it. I’ve also had an editor tell me that my work was strong, loved the voice, etc. but the work was too sophisticated for their readers. Uhm…okay… Yeah…I wasn’t submitted for YA or Middle grade, but an adult novel.

    I suppose something’s wrong with me because I consider this to be a business and therefore comport myself accordingly. Luckily, I get along very well with my agent and we stay on the same wavelength. (And no, no one here.)

  3. Katie says:

    My only complaint would be the standard rejection letter. I totally understand why it’s used but I would LOVE to know what I’m doing wrong. How else can I fix it and make it better. I know agents don’t have time for that but I really wish they did.

  4. UK agents almost all want postal submissions only, and who can afford to print out and post a 120,000 word novel? Double spaced, no less, and with wide margins. So with the UK agents stuck in the last century, I’m left submitting (by email) to US agents, even though having had four books published in the US already I’d really like to have a book published in my own country so that my family could actually see it in a shop.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I wish agents could promise it all. I love honesty about my craft and compliments, but there is always a but. I would like to see a slip from a publisher that would say, ” yes or no your work is going to be published.” An agent should be like a realtor, if it needs improvement tell me so I can fix it. In the end all writers have a story we are serious about publishing, but guide us so we can all be successful.

  6. Temple says:

    It makes me crazy when my agent doesn’t forward my rejections or even tell me they happened! I know the book is on submission! Bad news is better than silence!!

  7. Disrespecting writers, either online or in person. That always gets to me. (I’ve never seen it from you folks, though)

  8. Larissa says:

    I find “Dear Author” rejections extremely offensive. I prefer the “no response means no” rejections to “Dear Author,” although I find the no response ones a bit offensive, too. *sigh* Querying just sucks all the way around.

  9. Tamara says:

    I tried to work one up, but the truth is I don’t hate. I understand. And that may not be in my best interest, but I can’t help it. Empathy is in my DNA – something which I’m thankful for, because I think (I hope!) it makes me a better writer. The reasons why people do things, be it nasty or nice, infinitely cruel and martyrishly self-denying – those are precisely why I’m a writer.

    Agents, the same as me, just want something that shakes them to their bones. And I can’t blame them for that.

  10. I don’t hate, either, but I do agree with Blue Duck about not getting a response when I’ve spent an hour or two researching an agent (interviews, books they rep, etc), tailor-making the letter and I get diddly squat in return. All I ask is that agents set up their email to say “We’ve received your query, we’ll get back to you in due course” or “We’ve received your query, if you don’t hear from us within XX weeks, please take this as a sign we’re not interested” or whatever. I’ve had numerous cases where a query or partial/full has been sent via email and when I’ve followed up, the agent or editor hadn’t received it (yet nothing bounced back to me). It’s the not knowing if the person has received my query/partial/full that drives me nuts.

  11. I’m with the last few people who commented: I don’t hate anything, just wish that I’d get an actual “no” as opposed to silence. I can understand that agents get a lot, a lot of queries, but setting up a standard rejection ready to go seems like a reasonable action (yes, it takes some time) to respond to writers who have, in good faith, done everything they could to be respectful of the agents’ wishes. For me at least, when this courtesy is extended, I feel more human and less beggar/minion/house elf.

  12. Catherine Whitney says:

    I sympathize with the frustrations of writers who are just trying to get a fair hearing, and I have often felt frustrated myself. But people should keep in mind that agents are not the enemy. They don’t take a single penny to read our proposals or manuscripts, and, frankly, I don’t know any other circumstance in life where you can get this much expertise for free. I don’t understand the hate thing. When you’re on the outside, seduce them with your ideas and your prose. When they decide to represent you, then you can complain, but keep in mind it’s a partnership and a business. There’s a lot of shooting the messenger in this post.

  13. Tyhitia says:

    I agree with Catherine and will go on to add that I don’t hate either.

    I sent out queries years ago for a novel that was not ready. The query was good because I received several requests for fulls, but my writing was not quite where it needed to be. And I was disappointed but realized I needed to hone my skills. And I even thanked the agents for their time. Writers should remain professional, just like in any other field.

    Oh, and Jim, I love the Jill Scott reference. :-D Teehee.

  14. Greg Machlin says:

    I second Catherine Whitney–agents are reading our queries for free. All they owe is a yes/no, on paper or email. Anything beyond that is gravy. (I haven’t had the silence problem that others have had.)

    I did once get a rejection note from a theatre I submitted a play to scribbled on the back of my self-addressed stamped envelope. That was a bit much.

    The one element of disrespect I can think of in my own personal submission history came from Ira Glass. I had had a short radio play produced and near-professional quality, and was at an event Glass was speaking at in 2004–a “How to make a story for This American Life.” His first response was to refuse to listen to the CD on the grounds that This American Life didn’t air radio theatre because–I kid you not–the entire genre of radio theatre was “just so clichéd.” Yes, he dismissed THE ENTIRE GENRE. Then, THEN!, to add insult to injury, he mentioned offhand, “Oh, wait, we DID air a radio play last year. By David Sedaris.” As if he needed the help. Still wouldn’t take the CD. I give you Ira Glass, disrespectful jackass.

    (Sigh… there goes my chance for getting my book promoted on This American Life.)

  15. An Author says:

    I had an agent once who pretty much lied to me about the meaning of contract terms. She encouraged me to sign a boilerplate contract with terms (as I later discovered) that gave the publisher, among other things, ownership of my characters. That happened to be one of the terms I questioned and she told it it didn’t mean that. But it did. Long after I parted ways with that agent and that publisher, I was unable to write sequels that readers really, really wanted. I now have the rights back to that book, and it’s making me A LOT of money as a self-published title. Finally, after nearly 10 years, I’m free to write the sequels.

    I had another agent who told me she’d sent out projects when she actually hadn’t. Eventually, I got suspicious and contacted the editors (who had requested work in the first place) and learned the material had never been sent.

    So, I have some resentment against agents who lie or misrepresent. But I also resent my old-writer self for not doing a better job of understanding normal and acceptable agent behavior.

    I can at least say that those experiences helped me focus on what I wanted and needed in an agent so that my next agent search resulted in a very good fit — and a writer who is much wiser. This is a business, and I should have treated it more objectively from the very start.

  16. Tricia says:

    It is so frustrating querying. But the worst, absolute worst was when we had an agent request a partial, a month later a full (Hooray! The Heart is Racing!) and after about two months we received an e-mail saying that the agency did not represent our genre. What, but, but, but you requested a full and your website says you do?!?!?! So, I broke all protocol and sent a reply e-mail cutting and pasting the previous requests. I immediately apologized for responding. I asked if maybe the rejection e-mail was a mistake based upon the requests below. The agent responded that an intern had made the requests (in her name) without authorization and that we should take more time researching prior to submission and to never, ever under any circumstances reply to a rejection. About three months later, the genre was removed from the agency website. Heartbreaking, frustrating, humiliating…but I still think I did the right thing asking the question. The search continues.

  17. Mary Gray says:

    I’ve just wasted the past five minutes trying to work out a scenario where I’ve actually have the grounds to hate an agent, but I can’t! The agents I’ve been in contact with have been professional, candid, and kind. I remember one agent saying in defense of her colleagues that they’re educated, nerdy, well-mannered souls. And in my limited experience I must agree!

    But even I’m finding my optimism annoying, so here’s a short list of “professionals” I could almost hate:

    1. DMV employees
    2. Non-English speaking phone answerers
    3. German customs officials (Not that I hate Germans, but they can be terrifying when you don’t speak the language and they don’t like your passport too much.)

  18. Mike Lancde says:

    I don’t hate, but what I like are agents with manners and consideration. At the bottom of my list for queries are those agents who post on their web sites, “Unless I’m interested, I can’t be bothered even responding with a ‘Not for me’ form email.” (Obviously paraphrased.)
    I appreciate agents who respond courteously in recognition that authors go to a lot of trouble to submit queries. Researching agents, modifying queries to each agents quirks, maintaining a query/agent database; all take time and thoughtful effort.
    I suggest that all authors consider first querying agents who will respond, even if it’s just a form letter/email. We are after all providing them the opportunity to review a potentially revenue producing piece of work.

  19. Kim says:

    The thing I hate the most: the phrase “I can’t get excited.” I can accept that a book would be difficult to sell to a publisher, that there’s not a broad enough readership for that book based on marketing data. I can even live with a “this isn’t quite the book I’m looking for.” (All hard to fit into a form rejection, I know.) But when I see the above phrase, all I can think of is, “What do I look like, a store for adult paraphernalia?” Thanks for letting us vent, Jim.

    • Jenni Wiltz says:

      Kim, you’ve hit the nail on the head!

      Nothing is stranger or more discouraging than the feeling that our futures as writers are wholly dependent on an agent’s ability to “fall in love” with our work. I’ve had plenty of rejection letters that tell me the agent “just didn’t love it.” Frankly, I didn’t ask if he or she might love it. I asked if he or she is capable of selling it.

      I always thought the goal was to place a book with a publisher–ideally, a book that might sell well. Does this really require the same amount of personal devotion and emotional commitment one offers to a spouse? If that’s the case, are all married agents committing infidelity?

  20. Teri Carter says:

    I can’t even say I hate it. Hate’s too strong. But you have to wonder about those who never respond — as in Never — especially when they’ve requested material. No is pretty easy to say, right? It just makes everyone look bad. Kind of like the one or two dog owners who don’t pick up their dog’s poop who make non-dog people resentful of all “dog people.”

  21. I’m not far enough into the process to have developed a huge tic for agent behavior, but I will say something about authors that been driving me nuts lately – when some sweet young thing beats us over the head with their age. I love checking out author websites / blogs and while it makes sense that many are young peeps, is it really necessary to put the fact right there on the fist page, yell it from the profile? I am thrilled when ANYONE gets a book out there, it’s awesome news for the author, the industry, all of us. And it’s also cool when that person happens to be fresh outta school, it’s a hell of an accomplishment. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, I’m even more impressed when someone reinvents him / herself as an author after having spent time in other lines of work. It just proves there’s hope for anyone to get published after getting nice and seasoned. Signed, still marinating but only slightly crotchety girl.

  22. No hate. Am too new or too optimistic. Just feel love and hope and gratitude because I suspect that dealing with publishers and their expectations and their attorneys on ones own would be a great deal more difficult than dealing with publishers with an experienced agent and a sharp lawyer at ones side.

    Of course, my feelings well may change significantly in the near future.

    Maybe I should revisit this post in a few months, after I hear back from some of the recipients of the book proposal and query letters I am sending out this month.

  23. I have tons of empathy for agents, because I’ve managed a retail store where people constantly pitch me their products. I have a soft heart, and once I bought several cases of someone’s awful board game. Three years later, we couldn’t give them away and I finally chucked them in the dumpster.

    It always comes down to time or money or both, right? At the end of the day, I’d still rather be the writer than the agent.

  24. U. B. Red says:

    Here it is in a nutshell: Literary agents are no more than the real estate agents of the writing world.

    Some of them are lawyers (and even when not, they are far, far too like lawyers). They are just as often failed writers who have gravitated to this relative position of authority whereupon they can put their bitterness to its truest and best use. They are former editors who couldn’t make the grade at a publishing house and were fired. Some are copy editors who’ve risen as far as they can go in their profession.

    To each of their delight, they have now become kings of their own particular hill. They’ve hung out their shingle along with tens of thousands of others just like them, each hoping to rake in a little piece of as many of us writers as possible—to take part in the Las Vegas of Manhattan, this lucrative racket—and like any other racket, it’s a numbers game. They wheel and deal. They make canny arrangements that serve themselves above all (naturally). They are frequently pompous and arrogant. They claim to be harried and overworked yet still seem to find time for cocktail parties and lavish editor lunches. They make promises that are never kept. They ignore queries. They neglect to read requested submissions. They don’t return e-mails. They stall. They make excuses. They use meaningless euphemisms in their rejections like “it just didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped” or “it really didn’t jump off the page” or “I wanted to fall in love with your characters, but alas, it didn’t happen” or “I couldn’t get on board with the voice…” I could go on and on.

    But paramount to any of those things is this: they have become jaded and desensitized to good writing. They have long since forgotten the difference between tripe and tenderloin.

    It is not quality and creativity that motivates literary agents to take action, to request pages, to offer representation. No, it is instead one magic ingredient (over which you have tremendous control). And that is where my methods come in.

    Read my book I HATE LITERARY AGENTS by U.B. Red, available on Amazon.

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