And Now, A Word From the Other Side

By Gwen Florio

Writers, especially when they’re seeking representation, like to gripe about agents, those godlike beings who hold our future in their icy cold hands. Or would, if only we could get them to acknowledge our brilliance.

But they don’t even respond to our queries.

Or they do, but with form rejections.

Or with the so-called “good” rejections, the ones that go on and on about all the manuscript’s attributes, until it gets to the inevitable “but.”

Bastard! If he liked it that much, why didn’t he take it? A whine often accompanied by wine.

We’re not the only ones whining. Turns out agents have a few grievances of their own about – gasp! – us, trading tales of behavior so offensive as to make anyone pass on the wine in favor of the hard stuff.

You get glimmers of this at conferences, remarks dropped by agents on panels. Dozens, sometimes hundreds of queries per day, every day. (That advice about keeping your query short and bright? There’s a reason for it.)

Weird come-ons, that go well beyond handwritten queries in lavender ink on paper dusted in glitter. Among those that linger in my memory, some are just odd – one agent told of getting knitted mouse-size garments to accompany a query about a children’s book featuring mice – others, downright creepy, as in a query accompanied by naked pics. (News flash: As on Tindr, it doesn’t work.)

“I have had some out-there queries, as we all do. One of the worst was a political thriller featuring a character named John Legend. When I passed on it and suggested the writer consider another name, I was told lots of people have the name. No. That’s not even the John Legend’s real name. I didn’t feel the need to reply further,” says Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary.

“Another sent me a ‘humorous’ dictionary of misogyny with a letter that said anyone who didn’t find it funny was a humorless nag,” says Richter. “I try to send responses to all queries but for some of these I don’t reply at all.”

And the blowback from even the most helpful rejection!

“I’ve been told to f@#* myself enough,” says Richter, as to why she didn’t respond to the would-be dictionary author.

Back in 2009, agents took to Twitter with author horror stories – “My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school” – with a #queryfail thread that grew so exponentially it nearly broke Twitter. For sure, it halted my own work day.

The phenom was repeated a few weeks later, when agent Jessica Faust gave writers a chance to respond with AgentFail. (“To say it very plainly, without us you are nothing,” was among the more courteous ones.”)

#Queryfail lives. Just a few months ago, Kevan Lyon tweeted “Query addressed to probably every agent in the biz in inbox today. Haven’t seen that for a while. Those are an auto delete. #queryfail”

But these days, it’s just as likely to be used by writers as a rueful confession of misspelled names and pitches to closed agencies.

Agents aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of abuse. Midnight Ink acquisitions editor Terri Bischoff says she sometimes hears from an author after she’s responded with a rejection to the writer’s agent.

“I have been called names and told that I should be fired because I clearly don’t know anything. I have had authors try to convince me that I just didn’t get their book and that I should look at it again,” Bischoff says. “These are generally unagented authors. Here’s a clue – if I didn’t ‘get’ your ms the first time, I probably won’t get it the second time.”

That said, rejection is tough. Really tough. When the turn-downs start to stack up, when the darkness closes in, when your fingers twitch in fury above the keyboard, Richter has some great advice:

“You don’t need to respond to a rejection. If you want to yell and swear at it, or berate yourself, wait 24 hours to send a response,” she says.

“Then delete it without sending.”

Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose Reservations, the fourth novel in her Lola Wicks series – called “gutsy” by the New York Times – was released in 2017.

To learn more about Reservations, click on the cover below:

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