I finally figured out what has been under my skin about this particular blog post
by agent Jessica Faust over at Bookends Literary Agency, and indeed about a lot of "advice" coming from agents these days.
I like hearing about the agent side of the equation, and I certainly believe that most agents are consummate professionals, wonderful people, and sorely underappreciated for the hard work they do. I want to make that clear. Even the agents that rejected me were professional as they did so (well, all but one, but every group's got it's bad apples) and I would welcome the chance to work with them in the future. There were a few who I almost wanted to send a "thank you" to for being so quick on the turn around and their kind words of "keep submitting elsewhere".
But in all this talk of "good enough", with people like Michelle Sagara (msgara
) weighing in
, I've just felt this sense of aggravation and frustration, but especially when I read what Ms. Faust wrote.
And now I've figured out why, and there are two major reasons.
Reason the First - Writers cannot exist without a sense of "good enough". There comes a point when every writer has to say "I've done all I can do" and hand the project off. Otherwise we'd all only ever write one thing in our lives and that makes for a lousy career. Especially if you have rent and bills to pay. I don't know the specifics of the writer that Ms. Faust talked about in her blog post, but I do know that writers usually don't need telling about revising. Most of us, left to our own devices, would spend decades revising and redrafting the same work. One of the hardest decisions a writer makes is when to put the pen (or the keyboard) down and let it go. I'm sorry that she encountered someone who didn't seem to take pride in her work, but I'm not sure Ms. Faust can be an accurate judge of what kind of work that particular writer put into her manuscript. Yes, she said "rough draft", but maybe for her, a draft that's only been revised five times is still "rough". Maybe she considers it rough, even though she did her level best on it.
Like I said, I don't know.
But that brings me to Reason the Second - If that writer is the kind who hands in sloppy work, then she's not the kind of writer who is reading agent blogs anyway. The advice a lot of agents are handing out these days is not advice that anyone who actually needs it would be listening to in the first place. Advice like, "Don't tell me how great a movie your book would be" or "don't write back to bitch about being rejected by me" or "please bother to get my name right" isn't helpful. The writers who do these things are not the ones who even read submission guidelines to begin with, much less agent blogs and Tweets.
Agents seem to believe, in very good faith, that they are being helpful. Sadly, they're not. I think this is part of what made #AgentFail so vicious. A lot of writers who were doing their level best felt like they were getting lectured at for things they weren't doing
, and felt like their hard work and professionalism were being ignored. A lot of agents believed they were helping out aspiring writers by letting them know What Not To Do.
The writers who are reading these blogs and feeds are not, by and large, the people who are causing agents such headaches. The ones who send the "I'm the next Stephanie Meyer!" queries with your name misspelled and give you a surprise sex change, ignoring that you don't even represent YA or urban fantasy/paranormal romance are the ones who don't bother doing any research. They are not listening to you.
I'd like for agents to stop talking about the writers who do the deeply silly, obviously stupid things and start talking about something besides Query 101. I'd like to hear an agent talk about the queries they passed up for reasons other than beginner mistakes.
I'd like someone to show me a perfectly correct query that they rejected and show me why, even when the writer checked all the boxes and got everything right. Did the description of the plot make it sound too boring? Did they not emphasize the characters enough? Did they not make it clear what the story was about? What specific sentence, in an otherwise great query, turned you off or made you say "pass"?
I'd even like for an agent to show me a perfectly serviceable manuscript or partial they turned down and describe why. Did the author take too long in getting to the plot? Was the hook not good enough? Was it too much like every other manuscript you'd seen that day - and what makes a manuscript stand out. And don't just tell me generalizations like "great characters" and "a unique voice". Tell me specifics.
Tell me that when you see a mystery you can solve before you get to the second chapter you turn away, and what it is, specifically in that manuscript, that made you figure it out so quickly.
Tell me that a character comes off as too artificial, and point to the lines of dialogue or narration that gave you that impression.
It comes down to this, dear agents: bumbling idiots are an eternally renewing resource. If snarky advice was going to stem the tide of bad queries, it would have done so a very long time ago. You can swing the clue-by-four as wide and hard as you like. It won't help. You run a business where you open your door to public submissions. You're going to get a lot of losers. I know, it sucks, but thems the breaks. Ask anyone who works in a business where they deal directly with the public. Service industries, tech support, anyone. They'll tell you. Stupid people are just part and parcel. You have to deal and focus on the good people that you can
help. I know, I've done everything from working in a coffee shop to tech support to janitorial. You just have to let the stupid roll off your back.
Focusing on the writers who are willing to take advice will help them turn good queries and manuscripts into great ones - ones that have a better chance of selling and making more money that can go in your pocket
Wouldn't seeing an increase in great queries and great manuscripts make your day brighter, not to mention make you richer?
So let the losers go, okay? I appreciate the urge to snark, and some folks really do deserve it, but it's not helping the impression that the agent-writer relationship is antagonistic, and I'd hate to see anything make your lives harder.
Oh, and just a side note to you advice giving agents who are otherwise awesome: be careful about giving advice on Twitter. I know it's tempting, but honestly? Twitter is not given to thorough communication. Some things you wish for writers to know really do take more than 140 characters to convey.