Friday, April 03, 2009

The Nameless, the Faceless



The nameless, the faceless.

The people who are rejected, day in and day out. The ones who come close. The ones who get the form rejections.

The people who have their hearts crushed and their dreams burned.

The people who are angry.

The people who are hurt.

The people who are bitter.
One of the reasons I didn't like #agentfail was because I felt that there was so much hatred being spewed out. I felt that if you had a complaint about an agent, you shouldn't have to hide behind anonymity. That you should be able to own up to your own words, which is an offshoot of my general internet philosophy. Don't write something, if you're unwilling to attach your name to it.

I understand anger. I understand hurt. I know all too well the feeling of having your hopes and dreams being crushed out of you. Hello, I applied to Clarion West this year, and missed the freaking waitlist by one spot. Out of hundreds of people, I was #21. Don't tell me that doesn't sting. It does.

And it stings when you get rejected by an agent.

It stings when an agent behaves badly. It stings when they don't answer your e-mail. It stings when it takes them months or years to reply to partials (I am guilty of this). It stings when they never reply.

And it stings because you feel that you cannot attach your name to it, since we live in a public Internet and a public society. You feel that you can't say, "Agent X was a bitch. She never got back to me." or "Agent Y, what an asshole, he read half my book and never finished it."

And the sad truth, is that you shouldn't say those things in public. Agents shouldn't talk about writers except vaguely, and writers shouldn't talk about agents except vaguely. This is part of the careful dance we do in publishing, where we try not to step on other people's toes. It's a small industry, and the internet just makes it a hell of a lot smaller.

To Agent X or Agent Y, you are not a person. You are a nameless, faceless writer. You feel that you have no recourse. That you have tried so hard, and there is nothing left. That they don't care about you.

I cannot change the behavior of my fellow agents. I cannot change the behavior of my fellow writers. I fall firmly into both camps.

But I can change my own behavior as an agent, which is one of the reasons I hired Jodi so many months ago. I had a problem with giving fast feedback, and I wanted to change that. Jodi offered me that opportunity. I am forever grateful for that.

The problem is that we all care too much about what we do. Agents care about the books they represent, and writers care about the books they write. Rejection is not personal, but it often comes across as that, especially when people don't get back to you. The very hard thing is detaching yourself from your book, and the thing that you care about so much.

There is no easy solution to this.

There will never be any easy solution to the anger and hurt that writers feel, and the way that makes agents feel. There will never be an easy solution to agents seeing writers as the nameless, the faceless.

But I think we are slowly getting to a point of equilibrium, where writers are able to connect with agents. I love Twitter because I get to talk to so many writers on a daily basis, people around the globe that I would never speak to. I love this blog because so many of you comment on my posts. I love talking to people, and this is an often isolating job. I think that by connecting with agents on a personal level, even if you like cats, or I think you have a great recipe blog... that we are slowly starting to overcome this divide.

That writers are starting to be less nameless and less faceless.

And agents are becoming the same to writers.
My lovely assistant, Jodi Meadows, has written a post about this too: Jodi's post


Jodi Meadows said...

Lovely post, Jenny.

Derek said...

Very good post, Jenny.

Gray Rinehart said...

Well said, Jenny. It's tough, but it gets a lot tougher when folks try to burn bridges that they haven't even built yet, let alone crossed.

inkwench said...

Wonderful post, Jenny. The anonymity makes giving and receiving rejection easier (I've done both, but I mostly receive, heh), but it's important to remember we are all real people. Writing is about making a connection, after all.

Jarucia said...

Thanks, Jenny.

It's encouraging to see examples of people on all sides of this publishing arena embrace a work-together spirit rather than a tear-each-other-down one.

And it's nice to use my name and face in addition to my voice.


ciarcullen said...

What a wonderful, balanced, and evidently heartfelt post. Agent Win!

P. Bradley Robb said...


I know I haven't worked with you in any manner approaching professional, but from what I can tell regarding both Queryfail and Agentfail is that the bulk of those who were paying attention needn't be. You specifically.

I saw Jodi mention to someone on Twitter that merely doing a little research on an agent and basic copy editing on a query before sending a query in will put the author in the upper 10% of the query pile. Jodi was, perhaps without intentionally vocalizing it, telling the author that if she cared and tried, then she was ahead of the curve, and probably didn't need the lessons of queryfail. The converse seems to be true with regards to perceived grievances aired by authors in regards to agents.

The lesson, as I pointed out in my piece earlier today on Fiction Matters, is to not personally read into what should collectively be called "IndustryFail." Answers were vague to provide anonymity, and that vagueness allows any number of answers to be perceived. The fail complaints were taken like horoscopes.

Take the big lessons at face value – a vocal minority expressing their opinions.

Kristin Laughtin said...

That writers are starting to be less nameless and less faceless.

And agents are becoming the same to writers.

And this is a good thing for both.

I was going to say what P. Bradley Robb did, as well. I've seen many agents note on their blogs that their regular readers aren't the ones who need to worry when an agent makes a remark about what queriers are doing wrong, since they're learning the steps and how to query and what makes a good proposal and the like simply by reading. People who care pay attention. Likewise, I say that those agents following #agentfail are probably in the same boat. It's usually the ones who need it most who never seek the information. I am glad to see, though, that several agents have posted that they saw themselves reflected in people's criticism, and are working to fix what they can do better. It's nice that we were all able to learn a thing or two despite the hoopla.

Lisa Iriarte said...

When you talk about the "faceless" writers and agents, I remember the first time I pitched an agent. (You were my fourth in-person pitch.) It was nerve wracking, yes, but pitching in person also made the agent a "real human being" in my eyes. And all the agents I've pitched to in person were nice, respectful individuals who went out of their way to try to make me more comfortable in a tense situation.

Agents are people. And the vast majority of agents are sensitive, intelligent, conscientious people who share with writers a love of good books. We (writers and agents) have more in common than not. We just have to remind ourselves of that when we get those rejections. :)

E. J. Tonks said...

You're too nice! Honestly, I thought the whiners were pretty much revealing their true identities, even sans names--they're the ones who don't write well enough to be published. So really, their gripes don't count, do they?

Criss said...

Hear, hear!

Excellently put.

Dyann said...

Thank you for this look into the agent's world. I've received so many rejections that I started to doubt my work. My good friend Julie told me not to worry, it was a matter of ice cream. She went on to explain -- some agents want chocolate when I'm shopping around strawberry. Next time I'll send chocolate. I just hope the agent isn't craving strawberry. Thank you again for your wonderful post.

acpaul said...

Thank you, Jenny, for posting this.

It's clear to me that your response is heartfelt, and that you care passionately about your work.

You strike me as the type of agent that any author would be privileged to work with.

I'm sorry you didn't get into Clarion, though.

lisanneharris said...

Dear Jenny,

Here's my face so I'm no longer faceless! :)

Everything you said is very well put. I don't think I made it through half of the #agentfail responses. I ranted once on Nathan's blog about not get a personal rejection on a requested snail-mailed full. No names were mentioned, but I wish I could take it back now.

Writers have to develop a very thick skin and continue onward and upward. I have, and I am.


P.S. You never said how YOU feel about teapots!

Nonny said...

Awesome post. I love the new design for your blog, btw. It's been awhile since I commented here so I hadn't seen it before! :)

#agentfail bothered me as well, and I'm a writer. There were some complaints/horror stories that I thought were valid (example: the agent that sent the MS out to editors before signing the author and then rejected her)... but there was also a lot of needless whining.

Agents and editors are people, too. I don't understand the complaints about them Twittering or blogging or whatever. I would be pretty pissed off if a reader got on my ass about participating in social activities online rather than working on the next book.

The complaints about "no response means no" policies... that I will agree with. I've had too many incidents where the e-mail didn't make it or it got spam-boxed or someone deleted it by accident. I'd at least like to know it got there, and not everyone has an auto-response set up.

Most of the other common complaints... are from people that have obviously never spent any time in an editor's shoes. I've done slush reading and editing for a friend and that was enough to make me highly sympathetic to what agents and editors have to deal with on a regular basis. I wish people would try to look at the situation from the other side more often.

Alicia said...

I didn't participate in either Fail event, but I've been interested in seeing the fallout.

Jenny, I loved your post and thought you made a lot of insightful points in it. I think your experience as both an agent and a writer helps you see the whole picture. Thank you for sharing your own frustrations and hopes.

To an earlier commenter, Tonks -- kind of harsh, don't you think? Just because someone hasn't been published yet doesn't mean they don't write well. I've seen books I consider horrible get published and books I'd recommended to countless friends never find an agent. Watch the ego. It doesn't take long for dreams to crumble, and there's no reason to dance on the ashes of those who haven't made it.

I think gripes on both sides count, but we all need to understand there are real people behind the masks of "writer" and "agent" -- which is exactly the point Jenny was making with her post.

Tara Maya said...

I prefer the positive approach over there now.

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

Thank you everyone, for your kind comments on this, both here and on Twitter. =)

acpaul, I will manage to live without Clarion West this year, but thank you anyway. =)

Spiny said...

Given the snark of queryfail, there was bound to be some backlash, tbh.

Yes, the vitriol of agentfail was over the top, but I think the basic message was that writers want agent to treat them as professionally as agents expect to be treated. Not too much to ask, really. Because I've been treated like the crap off someone's shoe by some agents. Like they don't need writers to make a living, or writers are a necessary evil to get money. Obviously after that, not ones I'd want to be represented by! It does give us writers a chance to sift the wheat from the chaff among agents, but it can be harsh. Who wants to be treated like scum? No one.

But of course, the agents they were venting about probably weren't the ones reading agentfail...

As for the anons - I've never got round to making a google user name till now, but I've posted on blogs. I never had the time to set it up, and it was a pain in the arse to do it now, but I had to post. Sorry 'bout that.But hey, we all get busy.

Margaret said...

Thank you for linking to this on Twitter. It's a great post and it's one of the reasons I persist with Twitter too. It's much easier to rail against a "system" or "the anonymous agent group mind" and much harder when people are just people (not that I've ever been guilty of the same ;)).

I've seen the same problem with critting and reviewing too. Seeing the face on the other end makes it much more personal, but in a good way because it's easy to see human and fallible rather than out to get you on any side of the equation.

Good luck on next year with Clarion. Life has always managed to keep me from applying, but it wasn't from lack of desire to go :).


Jeanne Tomlin said...

Jenny, I understand what you're saying and agree in part but not totally.

I had to applaud the agents who chose to not take part in queryfail. I don't care what anyone says, it was intended solely to make fun of people. It was an ego boost for agents saying look how stupid these writers are. They didn't care if they hurt people.

And guess what. Obviously, they did hurt people. People who when it comes to the publishing industry are totally powerless. This made it particularly unconscionable.

Agents didn't take it to well when writers struck back. Mind you, striking back at someone who hurts you is childish and unprofessional. I did understand the impulse.

Agents and writers need to treat each other with mutual respect. I've never seen anything except respect from the majority of agents, but the ones who took part in queryfail are now on my questionable list.

Not that they care. Heck, I may have at some time made a mistake on one of my queries. Just as occasionally agents who SHOULD respond to partials they have invited and follow-up emails don't always.

writermomof5 said...

Wow, excellent post!

Summer said...

This is a very insightful post Jenny. I'm just visiting your blog after having looked around your website.

I'll be starting on my own path of manuscript rejection very soon I'm sure. :)