no (Bob) Sugar here — just spice

Go here to see my pal Deidre talking about how agents aren’t really heartless, and how we have our own horror stories to tell about treatment from writers who view us only as a means to an end and not as people who are passionate about Story and helping talented writers make careers from their dreams. (Or even as people who have lives of our own.)

Yes, there are bad, evil agents out there only in it for a buck or two, and sometimes without even submitting your work at all. I’ve gotten letters from writers who have poured out their hearts – and bitterly – about this. And I sympathize. Those people give the good agents a bad name. I’ve also gotten what Deidre describes as “hate mail” – vicious diatribes against Agent-kind. It pains me to battle against the perception of agent-as-enemy in a way that so often feels upstream. I can only hope to band together with agents like Deidre and show writers agent-as-advocate as an alternative.

And to remind myself that I shouldn’t get caught up in the writers-as-adversaries psychology, which can be tempting on the days one feels like a target, I also keep a file of the thank-you notes that have come from various conferences I’ve attended and from writers to whom I’ve offered a comment or two of feedback when I decline submissions. There aren’t many of them – only a few writers take the time to recognize these minor contributions to their journey from page one to publication. But from this small percentage, I can draw a picture of good writers seeking their dreams instead of those who are angry, bitter and denied; who feel they must lash out against an available target.

7 responses to “no (Bob) Sugar here — just spice

  1. Copy editors deal with this, too. There is a small percentage of very vocal writers who truly view copy editors as the enemy, as manuscript-wreckers. Undoubtedly, there are bad copy editors out there, and those writers have had unfortunate experiences with them. When authors thank you, put you in the acknowledgments, and request you again and again, though, it makes up for the few who have developed a negative attitude toward all copyediting in general. Those files of thank-you notes are a necessary part of publishing, to help remind us why we love our jobs. 🙂

  2. Waugh. Reading that blog story makes me want to give my own wonderful agent a big hug.
    *BIG HUGS*!

  3. From the small number of queries I sent out before locating an agent: one contained very helpful criticism, one was insulting though not in a direct manner, and the rest ranged from strictly professional to polite. That’s a better record than when I used to do short stories and submitted to a number of editors, though most of them were polite and professional, too.
    The problem is that you remember the nice ones and the jerks, especially the jerks, but you tend to forget all the standard professional responses. All in all, my experiences dealing with people in writing and publishing have been so much better than dealing with customers when I worked at Kinko’s! So I have no complaints. In fact, it would have to get pretty bad before you’d hear me complain much.

  4. Oh lordy. You do have my sympathies.
    I remember when you declined my first submission. Your comments were immensely helpful — to the point where I had an epiphany about the book and my writing in general. The manuscript is happier for your suggestions. Even though I sent a thank-you before, let me thank you again.

  5. Well, speaking as someone who got helpful comments from you when you turned me down … I bet there are a bunch of authors who keep your rejection letter and pull it out to look at occassionally when the writing isn’t going well (I am *too* a good writer! Look, Someone Who Knows These Things said so right here!) but who wouldn’t send you a note thanking you for your comments because they were afraid they’d come across as needy authors trying desperately to build a relationship you’d already indicated you didn’t want, and you’d put the name down in a master list of authors-liable-to-turn-stalker.
    Or, um, maybe that’s just me.

  6. Thank you notes are a powerful thing…I know when I got them in my various roles–or indeed, any recognition or compliments–they were something I tucked away mentally to be reviewed over and over in time of need.
    Just the fact that you make yourself accessible via blog is a big deal, and you should never (not that you do) worry about being categorized in a negative way. (And this from someone who has received the rejection letter 😉

  7. I’m sure you’re familiar with http://www.rejectioncollection.com
    While I can understand some of the poor jilted writers – returns of coffee-stained pages with illegible scribbles aren’t what I’m hoping for, either, most of them make me break out in hives.
    Writers getting into a snit because an agent has sent back a portion-and-outline with the words ‘I’m not getting excited about this, but please send me your next project’? Writers devastated and/or furious because an agent writes ‘you need to make your protagonist more active, please resubmit’?
    That’s bad?
    Bring it on!
    Of course, I dream of someone telling me that every word I wrote is perfect, but the odds for that aren’t all that wonderful.
    Hanging out with sensible writers in places like rasfc makes one completely blind to the unreasonableness that must be out there for agents and editors to complain about. Getting a glimpse of the abyss was … educational.

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