or perhaps we could ask Miss Manners about social etiquette at conventions

I have been somewhat and rather busy in the last week or so. Plus, it’s been royalty statement season. However….

icedrake had asked me something somewhere about whether I was ever concerned with attending a conference and running into people I had rejected. As I recall he felt that I didn’t seem to and wondered if I had conquered such a thing or never had it at all. Well. I guess the answer is sort of yes and no. Abstractly, yes, the possibility exists. But, not really, no – it would likely drive me mad.

There has been a story circulating lately as recounted by an agent of my acquaintance who witnessed someone in the audience of an agent panel get up at the Q&A section and begin to give one of the other agents on the panel an extremely hard time about a rejection. As in, this person was so abusive that everyone at her table was physically leaning away from her. This would be a very unpleasant experience. How she thought this was a productive approach in any way is beyond me.

I also once had to have someone removed from a panel I was moderating. The panel members were all editors and the conference thought it quite clever to have an agent as referee. When this person got the floor to ask their question, they proceeded to verbally attack the editors. This person had somehow become convinced that the only reason they were getting rejected was for using the wrong font. I kid you not. They were basing this on an article years out of date from a time period in which fonts were few. The problem wasn’t with the question (though basically anything that’s readable seems to be fine and everyone was a bit nonplussed). It was with the fact that once answered, the person continued to insist and wouldn’t let the panel move on. It escalated to a point where the person was yelling at members of the panel, and so security was called and the person was removed so that others could have a benefit this person was determined to deny everyone in the room. Extremely unfortunate situation and, again, one wonders what the person hoped to accomplish.

But, let’s be reasonable. Those are isolated incidents with a near-urban-legend quality. First, there’s a logistical issue. If I were to anticipate this at the query level, I might have to be suspicious of every writer I meet. I can’t possibly remember them all after years of agenting and thousands of letters. And I know I have a good memory for author/title combos from my bookstore days. I probably have far better luck with regard to requested submissions, particularly those that made a very good impression. Even just those would make for quite a mental spreadsheet, though, so the odds are against me.

That aside, 99.99% of writers that I encounter act in a professional manner and are serious about getting published. They might be frustrated, or have occasional bouts of jealousy or bitterness – but, heck, who doesn’t? For my part, I endeavor to treat every submission with respect and diligence. So, I don’t anticipate any of these professional writers having a problem with that. On both sides of this particular fence, there’s a realization that people are in it for the long haul. There are at least a couple writers on my list that I initially rejected, but invited revisions or new submissions from. I know there are writers who were at the conference in question (WFC) that I had read and rejected (maybe we need a different word for this process) but are nonetheless talented and likely have much to contribute before, during, and after their future achievement of publication. So, from that perspective, we’re all part of the same conversations, as it were, and, naturally I’d cultivate a positive relationship in the community sense of the word. And, since agents have been known to talk to each other on rare occasions, it’s in the writers’ best interests to do the same. Logically, this means the likelihood of running into a person that has lost their grip (as in the previous paragraphs) is slim. It may happen, but anticipating it is only going to cause undue awkwardness in the conference experience. I’d be borrowing trouble and I’d be hanging 99.99% of the population based on the sins of the occasional, and hopefully rare, lunatic. That way lies the Dark Side.

Now, let me turn it back — does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?

30 responses to “or perhaps we could ask Miss Manners about social etiquette at conventions

  1. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    As someone said, it would drive me mad. I can recall several occasions where editors were awkward for having rejected me (I’m talking short fiction here), but I can’t recall feeling awkward as a writer on that basis. Though I can readily envision it being a difficult issue for people who take this business very personally, as so many unfortunately do.

  2. Funny that you ask, because I read your blog regularly and I’m often wondering, Did she at some point reject me? My book ended up with an agent who was at Maass at the time (and went on to sell that book plus two more) so I don’t think I tried you with that book, but I have this nagging feeling that with an earlier manuscript, I queried you and didn’t get anywhere.
    And no, I certainly wouldn’t feel awkward about it. Those earlier manuscripts of mine, well, kinda sucked.

  3. Nope. Business is business. I also work hard to convince myself that the rejection was a “wrong place, wrong time” issue, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with my stuff. Sometimes it takes me a while to pound that theory into place, but I try. It helps me keep going.
    Last but not least–and I may be wrong on this–given submission volumes, I doubt that the folks remember who I am.

  4. Only awkward in the sense of “man, I hope she doesn’t recognize my name or book title, because I’m pretty sure I sent her a query at some point and she rejected it firmly, and I’m glad because it sucked, but I still wish I could find a way to blurt out, but I’m better now! I think I’ll go for a walk!” but instead I usually just walk my way around the agent instead of risking saying anything and looking like an idiot.
    You would never, ever guess that I spend my work-days facilitating communications, would ya.

  5. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them
    It may depend on if the writer in question has gotten themselves an agent or editor since then…. sort of the “my new girlfriend’s cuter than you are, anyway” situation occurs then, I suspect. *grin*

  6. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    Um… no, not really. ๐Ÿ™‚ Now, maybe if the rejection had been along the lines of “OHMYGOD! How can you sully the English language with this inane sophomoric drivel? Begone foul fiend and never darken my doorstep again!” there might be a moment or two of awkwardness.

  7. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    Not awkward, necessarily; for myself, I’d say my reaction’s more along the lines of wistful.

  8. For me it is, a little, but more in the sense of…well, I go to cons to be professional, but also to be social, and I don’t want Editor/Agent/Whoever to think I’m just at their bar table because I want to get something out of them business-wise. I don’t want to be a source of awkwardness.
    Yes, I am very Canadian. *g*

  9. Now, let me turn it back — does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    Nah. There is barely a convention-going editor or agent who hasn’t rejected me, at some point in the last too-many-years. Obviously they were wrong to do so, but that’s okay; everyone makes mistakes. Demonstrably. You can’t hold it against ’em; I’d have no friends left if I did.

  10. It depends I think.
    When I first started selling short fiction, a particular small magazine editor sent me a very rude rejection. I went on to sell that very same short story to another magazine who’s editor not only praised it, but paid me four times what the first offered to authors.
    Rejections don’t bother me, especially if I’m offered a reason and can use it to learn and improve. Rudeness and unnecessary cruelty bother me….There is a difference between a matter of taste, and good or bad writing.
    I’ve just begun to query with my novel and am pleased to say that while I have received my first few rejections based on the query, they were all polite and don’t bother me at all. It would really suck if agents and editors couldn’t choose their material….so it’s a necessary evil.

  11. For me personally the answer is no. Rejection is just part of the business. I don’t have any reason to feel awkward and neither do they. I sent them a story or novel I thought was my best work at the time. They felt they could not buy for one reason or another. That’s business.

  12. I have been somewhat and rather busy in the last week or so.
    You rock, and congratulations. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Not at all. It’s business. I have editor and agent friends, some of whom have rejected submissions of mine, and that’s separate from any social relationship I may have with them. I don’t expect any editor to accept any work of mine based on personal relations, either. If they say it’s not right for them, they do know what they’re talking about.
    It’s hard for a writer to change hats from the intensely personal, living-with-the-skin-off exercise of writing to the intensely IMpersonal business of getting it published. I think in sf&f because the community is small and fluid and today’s agent or editor may be tomorrow’s writer colleague or vice versa, it’s easier than it may be in other genres. Editors aren’t so much The Adversary, and agents aren’t so much of a mystery. Lately with agents and editors coming out into the blogosphere with the truth about what they do, at least some writers are becoming more educated, and that’s a good thing.
    The thing we all have to understand right out the door is that they’re not rejecting us as a person. Because Editor X didn’t like the story I submitted has nothing to do with whether or not he likes me. If I see him at a convention, there’s nothing to stop us having a drink together and talking shop, and I’m not going to wibble all over him because he didn’t buy my story. He may buy another one. Or not. That’s his job and prerogative. And it’s my job to keep personal and professional relations separate.

  14. I don’t think it’s awkward. I got to meet only two agents at WFC, though, and neither of them have rejected me yet. So it was more of…”don’t ask if they’ve read your book yet. don’t ask if they’ve read your book yet. don’t ask. if you ask, you will kick yourself. oh look, she’s nice anyway. good, you can talk to her like a normalish person. just don’t ask if she’s read your book yet.”
    There were a couple others I was hoping to meet while I was there, but you were always super busy, :), and I didn’t know what the other one looked like.
    ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. I’ve long assumed, for all the reasons you state above, that it was highly unlikely that an agent or editor who’d rejected me would remember my name out of the gazillions of queries they get. So, no, I don’t feel awkward in that sense. Having said that, there’s always a little tingle when talking to people I’ve submitted to. It isn’t much more than a…recognition, I guess.

  16. I can’t see how it would be a problem unless the rejection was over the top rude. Since I mainly deal with professionals, that doesn’t happen often.

  17. one wonders what the person hoped to accomplish.
    It sounds like that person was just nuts. You can’t reason with an unreasonable person, after all.
    A lot of people have already made the two points I was going to make: 1. You have to keep in mind that they’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting the writing you sent them. 2. Given how many queries an agent or editor gets, I’d be astonished if they remembered they turned down a given author’s work!

  18. Now, let me turn it back — does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    –>I don’t.
    I come at it from the perspective of someone who’s had to turn down people for employment. I’ve sometimes been lucky enough to have several really great candidates for a position. Of course, I could only hire one. I think of an editor’s rejection similarly–it’s just business, and if my book isn’t right for that editor, it’s not because the book sucks, and it’s not because the editor’s a twit.

  19. Now, let me turn it back — does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    Not at all. Rejection is part of the gig as a writer and isn’t fun for anyone involved. Given the business, the likelihood of encountering someone who has rejected you is high. So, why worry about it?

  20. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    OH! I just remembered one! Many years ago, my then writing partner and I sent a query to an agent who is still in the business (and doing quite well, by all accounts). Our novel was rejected (and looking back, I fully understand why) and we were sad. ๐Ÿ˜‰ A couple of years or so ago I found myself sitting next to that agent at a mutual friend’s anniversary/’re’wedding. There was a split second of “OH!” and then it was gone. For some reason meeting editors who’ve rejected my stuff has never been a problem, but that one split second was weird. I’ve never had a problem running into her again, either. Nor did I mention that she’d once rejected my stuff. It just didn’t seem to matter.

  21. I haven’t started submitting yet, so I can’t say how I would feel. I guess it would be sort of like this promotion I once wanted really bad and didn’t get. My boss called me at home and let me know that they were giving the position to someone else–who didn’t even work there yet–and after I got off the phone, I cried a little. Then I went to work the next day. It was awkward for a few minutes, but I’d had enough time to get over it at home. I think facing an agent or editor who rejected me would be the same way. I already had my chance to get all emotional, and life moves on. Actually, facing an agent who rejected me would be easier; unlike in the situation with my old job, I wouldn’t have to sit there with another author that WASN’T rejected by her. (And I might add that in the thing with my old job, I’m really glad I didn’t get that promotion, because the lady they hired from outside to do it was really great, and I’m glad I had a chance to work with her. But that is totally irrelevant…)

  22. Honestly, I assume the agent doesn’t even remember me…so I’m not awkward in any way ๐Ÿ˜‰
    As an aside, if I’ve queried (snail) and status checked and still heard nothing, can I assume it’s a no? (It’s been about seven weeks….) Thanks ๐Ÿ˜‰ And congrats for all your busyness!

  23. does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    yes

  24. awkwardness
    For myself, it wouldn’t bother me at all. Being pretty new to this, I just like the opportunity to meet agents on those rare times I actually get to attend a conference. It’s a connection, you get a chance to make a positive impression, maybe even get your name remembered for that next query for that next project. You certainly can’t afford to be negative about getting rejected, because unless you’re already published and have an agent, you really don’t want to be burning any of those bridges.
    JDuncan

    • Re: awkwardness
      You’ve got a point there, with the whole meeting agents and getting to network. But I can understand that awkward feeling too, the one you get when you meet someone who you turned down for a date…Weird feeling…But yeah, there is no point in feeling negative about getting rejected, it certainly isn’t anything personal and I agree, burning bridges definitely won’t get you where you want to go!

  25. Feeling awkward around people is my natural state.

  26. Now, let me turn it back — does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?
    I can’t speak for other writers, of course, but in my case, I don’t feel awkward at all if I meet an editor or agent who has passed on a project I submitted to him or her. It’s just business. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I do refrain from submitting any material to an editor or agent right before I’m likely to have to deal with her in the course of my duties as an officer in my RWA chapter. If I’m trying to schedule a chapter workshop or conference party with someone, the last thing I want is for her to feel awkward. For all I know, she may recently have had a bad experience such as the panel discussion you mentioned. It would also feel like a misuse of my position.

  27. This person had somehow become convinced that the only reason they were getting rejected was for using the wrong font.
    Okay, that’s just bananas. You would think that if you’ve been rejected by an agent, you would at least have the common sense to know it was not personal.
    Bananas, I say!
    ps.. sorry im always late to the party. hope you had a happy turkey day.

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