megwrites: Shakespeared! Don't be afraid to talk Elizabethan, or Kimberlian, or Meredithian! (shakespeared!)
[personal profile] megwrites
I'm proud of myself. I've had jury duty the last two days and managed to get approximately 1100 words written long hand on Invisible!Book despite that and I'm moving on to another chapter, yay! Of course, I had lots of time to kill so maybe it isn't that amazing after all.

Sitting there getting all the nice speeches about how patriotic and necessary and heroic it is to serve on a jury, it occurred to me that a lot of industries and businesses have a "Bill of Rights". For instance, if you take taxi cabs in NYC you'll see a Bill of Rights for passengers.

Maybe what the publishing industry needs is a Bill of Rights for writers (published or unpublished), and agents. I think it might really help if there were a universal standard, especially considering that this is an industry that can, at times, make working relationships feel adversarial, as though the people who are supposed to be working together are working against each other.

The first item I would add in such a bill would be, of course, that everyone has the unalienable right to courtesy, respect, professionalism, even when serious disagreements arise. And no, disagreements do not constitute disrespect. The manner in which those disagreements are voiced, however, can.

What respect and courtesy entail are up for debate. Trying to dictate real life behavior is difficult. Dictating internet behavior in blogs and comments is like spitting in the wind on the best of days - but this is a theoretical document and I am, in this lovely theoretical scenario, the author of it. And in my lovely theoretical scenario, both agents and writers would realize that even on the internet, some kinds of snark just aren't professional and aren't called for.

My second item would concern interactions between agents and querying writers. This seems to be the source of a lot of contention and for obvious reasons. Writers who are querying their works want the quickest, most positive response they can get. The agents reading the queries are, by and large, vastly overworked, underpaid, and dealing with a shortage of hours in the day.

That's where I think a Bill of Rights would make life easier for both sides, but especially agents. I've been querying around my own novel since March this year and I've learned that response times vary greatly. I've had agents respond mere hours later, I've had agents respond many months later.

I think it's valid for a writer to wonder what they are entitled to, and what counts as professional, respectful treatment from an agent. While, technically speaking, there is no rule or standard that says an agent even has to reply to you - I don't think this necessarily works in the best interest of an agent.

The major pitfall of the "no response equals rejection" policy is it's inability to give the writer a way of knowing their email or letter arrived. Mail, electronic or otherwise, gets lost. An autoresponder, in the case of email, would deal adequately with this. Non-response rejections would be more palatable, I believe. And it would deter query spammers - for every query they sent, they'd get an email to clog their own inbox.

Queries aren't the only topic of contention. What about partials? Full manuscripts? Are you entitled to more time and attention in those cases? Moreover, when are you entitled to expect a response?

Setting a number is hard, because the workload agents have varies greatly. But at the same time, I fully believe that if a writer sends off the entire manuscript, they have a right to hear back within a reasonable time frame.

It is my opinion that a query letter does not entitle anyone to much, nor should it. Query letters can be a pain to write, but are certain bits of it (the hook, plot summary, word count, and closing) that I simply copy and paste into the query email once I'm done. The only individual handcrafting comes when and if I have some other information that would be relevant to the agent. For instance, I'll mention if I saw an interview they did where they said, "I'm looking for such-and-such kind of books" - especially if my book fits the description.

Which would bring me to agents' rights. I'd like to see writers, whether they are professionally published or not, respecting those rights and being mindful of what happens on the other side of the equation.

Agents have the right to as much courtesy and respect as anyone. They also have a right to a reasonable working day and a non-working life. They have a right to Twitter and blog about that life without expectations that they will slave 24/7 over manuscripts instead of doing such frivolous things as laundry or grocery shopping or spending time with their spouses, children, family, loved ones, and friends. Or, heavens forfend, relaxing and watching some TV or catching a movie or reading a book for pleasure.

I would suggest, to those writers are troubled by watching the blogs and Twitter feeds and facebook status updates of agents who have their query/partial/full, that they stop watching those things until they've gotten a response. It's human nature to want immediate attention, but it's not one of humanity's better instincts. Especially when it comes to waiting games.

I think most writers do respect this, but there are some who don't. I'd like to see writers as a sort of nebulous community try to encourage each other to keep this in mind. I'd like to see criticisms of bad behavior by writers coming from other writers rather than just from agents or editors.

For my part, it's easier to swallow such reminders when they come from other authors - because I know they've been sitting in the exact same place that I'm sitting now.

I also think agents have the right to have their decisions, guidelines, and wishes respected. When an agent rejects you, protesting that rejection is both pointless and unprofessional. Furthermore, it smacks of arrogance to believe that any manuscript is so good that any agent who dares to pass must immediately be called to account.

But is a writer entitled to feedback? I would say, it depends. On a query - no. On a partial, maybe a sentence or two. Or at least a form letter. On a full, I do think a little bit of an explanation is in order.

Which brings me to yet another aspect. Client-agent interactions. Querying writers should remembering that clients have rights, too. They also have the right to timely, professional responses to questions, concerns, and other matters. Agents have a limited amount of time they can (or even should) dole out concerning their working lives, and I think the right of a client should trump the right of a potential client if a choice has to be made.

I'd comment more on this area, but it's not something I'm familiar with yet.

These things have all been said before, numerous times. Nothing here is particularly revolutionary. The revolution would be in declaring such a Bill of Rights and using it as a standard, especially for unpublished writers.

So what say you, internets? If you were helping me draft this wonderful Bill of Rights, what would you add or take out?

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