What in the world was he thinking?

Last Friday, I ran across this story on Galleycat and I was really amazed and troubled by it. I sincerely hope this is an isolated, freak incident, but it made me think about our process and how it is perceived by the authors who approach us.

We agents work very hard to encourage new writers and to help them find a home.  Often our business depends on unsolicited queries (I know mine does).  Finding something wonderful in the “slush” pile gives everyone a sense of real satisfaction and during the last twenty-five years I have had my share of new clients come from there.

This, though, is not the norm.  Even though we pride ourselves in reviewing everything that is sent to us, we pass on most unsolicited queries .  In fact, we would be helping nobody by signing an author who isn’t ready and submitting his or her work only to be turned down by publishers.  More than anything else, the author would suffer – his or her ego would be hurt by the mass rejection and he or she would have to wait a good long time before submitting again to the same editors who had just turned down the material.

When we do turn a writer down, whether they are solicited or unsolicited, we try to do so thoughtfully.  There is absolutely no point in being rude or discouraging.  That said, with the volume of queries we receive, there’s no avoiding the dreaded form rejection letter.  We know authors hate these and we’re not thrilled to use them, but we simply don’t have the manpower to write individual notes to everyone.

So my message to authors who are just starting is to have your material be as ready as possible before you query agents and if you get turned down, think about why, continue to work on your project and try again when it is in a more polished place.

Persistence is one of the things I live by; giving up is simply unacceptable.  But so is lashing out against people who work hard and are genuinely trying to help.

4 Responses to What in the world was he thinking?

  1. Good advice. This is why I haven’t started querying yet, despite support from friends and family and acquaintances. I want to make sure my work is as strong as I can get it in the hopes of reducing rejection. (Not that I’d attack anyone who did reject me even after that, though…)

  2. emily says:

    After more than 30 years of writing for public consumption and having everything go through an editor and proofreader first — not to mention supervisors with their own ideas — I have learned to separate MYSELF from my WRITTEN PRODUCT.

    One thing that constantly amazes me is the way some writers react to editorial comments as if their physical body had been injured.

    One client recently told me she didn’t like editors who always acted like they “knew more than she did.” After one editorial round she decided to do her own editing. I was left wondering if she hires plumbers who know ‘less’ than she does, or maybe sees a hairdresser who doesn’t know what she knows about hair???

    The point of hiring skilled assistants is thay they DO KNOW MORE.

    OK — the man who assailed the agent was clearly a criminal — and doubtless a bad writer.

    Should I get a dog?

  3. Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

    Numerous writers have commented on this event. We’re uniformly horrified.

  4. Ryan Field says:

    That was a scary story, indeed. One of the premium facts of being a writer is learning how to deal with rejection…all your life. Just getting an agent and getting a book pubbed doesn’t mean you’re never going to experience rejection again either.

    I will say this, I have had experiences with that agency in the distant past that were not positive. Not that particular agent, and not recently, but I never forgot the general impression I received from them. Back in the day when snail mail was the only way to query, their guidelines were…interesting (smile).

    But that doesn’t mean you attack an agent. There’s clearly something wrong with that writer.

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