A Dime a Dozen

Katiebabs posted a blog yesterday about Respect and Professionalism from the Agent to the Writer and Visa-Versa. It’s a wonderful post, and I hope you take a look. It hit me on such a personal level that I wanted to follow up with my own response. I’m seeking representation, new to the industry with no connections, and honestly afraid I’ll say something to blacklist myself before I even get started. There! I said it. 🙂 I’m afraid. Moving on.

Katiebabs mentioned many agents  are helpful in the query process. She names a few in her blog post. In addition to her list, I read the Query Shark aka Janet Reid. She’s harsh and no nonsense, but her critiques push the author forward, and she gives authors additional tries until they get the query right. She goes above and beyond for authors she doesn’t even represent. I can’t expect her services from every agent, but knowing agents are there who care for the aspiring author is encouraging.

I’ve been on twitter a few months and have seen the other side of agents–ones who mock writers on a regular basis and post negative blogs. Agents have no shortage of authors from whom to choose. I understand. With agents receiving hundreds of query letters a week, I guess there’s no worry about burning bridges. For authors, it’s another story. Thousands upon thousands of authors vie for the attention of a few hundred agents. I’m okay with that. It reminds me of applying for a job. Only thing, it’s not applying for a job. It’s more on the lines of seeking a professional to take one on as a client. Having an agent increases the chances of an author seeing his/her work published. An author doesn’t NEED an agent for this to happen, but it certainly helps. I think of agents as gatekeepers. Get your work past the secret agent door, and they’ll push it through to a publisher…hopefully. 🙂

Here is where my frustration comes into play. Before I started querying, I imagined it would be like hiring a lawyer. I’d shop for the perfect fit, and the lawyer would choose to represent me or not. I thought we (the agent and author) were on equal footing, seeking each other in order to meet a common goal. Instead I feel as if many agents look at authors as a nuisance they have to tolerate until they decide to take one on as a client. Authors are not beneath agents. It’s supposed to be a partnership. The author has the novel. The agent has the contacts. Without both the novel and the contact, no contract would exist. Everyone loses.

Someone might say, but you don’t understand the horrible stuff which passes an agent’s desk. Perhaps people think if I saw the crap, I’d be more sympathetic to the agent’s dilemma. I critique. I know a lot of work isn’t up to par. Heck, I’ve received rejections myself…I’m sure agents have put my work in the ‘not up to par’ category.

Here is my thought. Regardless of how frustrating the situation is rude, disrespectful, or unprofessional behavior is unwarranted. An agent who has no clients has nothing to sell. To me, this makes authors valuable.

I’ve heard agents say they don’t get paid to read query letters; they get paid for sells.  Many agents read on their personal time. I can imagine it can be time consuming, but isn’t that part of the process of finding clients? Writers don’t get paid to write query letters and synopses; they get paid for getting their work published. Likewise, query letters and synopses are part of the writer process for finding a good literary agent and publisher. Agents and writers both have tasks they’d prefer not to do. Like my husband says, sometimes we do chores we hate because we like the end results. His take on yard work, but it applies to the query process on both sides of the fence.

Agents don’t have to read my query letters, and they don’t have to respond. Of course I’d like them to, but it’s really they’re prerogative. Still, without those query letters from authors, the selection would be very sparse, leaving an agent with few or even no one new to represent. Those mounds of query letters might house an introduction to your next client aka your next pay check. Don’t future clients deserve a bit of respect and professionalism? Be one of those agents writers are dying to have because they’ve heard and seen such amazing things from and about you.

When I land the perfect agent, and people ask who represents me, I want to be able to puff out my chest. I don’t want to mumble your name under my breath because I’ve read the snide remarks you’ve made about other authors. It frustrates me and leaves me a little resentful to think agents have become such a commodity that some think they can treating aspiring authors like crap.

Nathan Bransford wrote a blog this week How Would You Handle the Query Deluge? He’s said in the past he loves queries and said it again here. He probably receives more queries than any agent out there. Yet he keeps a 24 hour response time to queries, with a few exceptions. Why? Here’s a direct quote pulled from Nathan’s comment.

“Oh – also meant to mention regarding delaying responses to people I might be interested: I’ve had times where I was out of the office and couldn’t get back to people for a couple of days, and by the time I was back they were already signed. Hopefully that also helps explain why I jump on things quickly – I send requests for partials just as fast as I send passes.”

He’s looking for the next great book and knows they’re written by authors (potential clients). He’s professional, helpful, and respectful. As an author he DOES NOT represent (though I’d love if he did :)), I feel valued. He’s combing the slush piles for me or maybe you. He doesn’t resent us for querying, even though I’m sure he receives the worst of the worst sometimes. He doesn’t make himself to be better than the writer. He treats us (writers) as equals who might one day be his partner in the publishing industry.

I’ve seen agents post their feelings were hurt by a writer. I’ve seen agents rally around the injured party. I completely sympathize with the mean responses agents receive after sending a rejection. It’s hard enough trying to do a job without having people rag on you. Agents can’t represent everyone. At the same time, I ask agents to remember that writers have feelings also. You get hurt by unsavory responses, and so do we.

A lot of authors put their heart into their work. Writing is a dream for some. They’ve taken that dream and presented it to you as an agent. Yet some agents find it acceptable to take someone’s dream and jeer. Suppose the situation were reverse and agents were plentiful and authors were few. How would you feel if authors posted your attempts at trying to acquire their works then laughed?

Anyway, I hope some time in the future we (authors and agents) can overcome who needs whom more and just become partners like we’re supposed to be.

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Nix the Grain of Salt–Be Objective!

I’ve received critiques over the last forty-eight (48) hours on the newest chapter of my current work in progress. One of the comments my critter made was “…I wanted to return the favor and be as picky as I could for you.”

The very first critique I ever received was October 2009. I sent my work of perfection into the yahoo critique group thinking I’d amaze the writers there. Did I mention I’m a little bit arrogant? Now I may have amazed them, but it certainly wasn’t because my writing was topnotch. My little baby came back riddled with corrections and comments. One critique I had was actually so harsh, I wondered if I even had what it took to become a writer.

As of today, I’ve submitted seven (7) chapters, each one a little miracle of writing. The way I boast to my husband before sending in these flawless works of art, you’d think I was the next <insert your favorite author here> in the making. Then the critiques start rolling in, and I realize “gee…I guess I’m not as great as I thought.”

Now to my critter’s quote. I wouldn’t say she was picky (somehow this word just seems so negative), but she definitely gave me a lot to work with. (Thank you Critter Julie. If you read my blog, you know who you are).  As I lay in bed last night, I thought about her comment (mostly because the word picky stood out) and reflected on the way I felt about my most recent critiques compared to the ones I’d received back in October. I realized the  emotional roller coaster (Pride–the finished chapter, Excitement–waiting for the critique, Bummed–receiving the critiques, Ego rebuilding–just take it with a grain of salt, make the changes, and move on) didn’t happen this time.

That’s not to say I didn’t have any emotions. I still nearly broke my arm trying to pat myself on the back before submitting my newest chapter. But my attitude about the critiques were different. As I read through the critiques, my thoughts drifted along the lines of “hmm, now this is helpful” rather than “man, I have a long way to go to become a writer.” Instead of having to rebuild my grand ego, I got to stay in the excited stage–“My first chapter is going to be even better once I tweak it!”

So, for you rising authors, don’t be discouraged by those critiques. Forget the thick skin (the leathery look is out) and grain of salt (be good to your heart). Try changing your attitude about the critiques. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a critter who’s “picky” and takes the time to seriously consider your work. Be objective about it and use it to your benefit–make your chapter be the best it can be.

Remember: With or without the critique, you’re still a writer. Just keep writing, cause that’s what writers do!