Thursday, April 02, 2009

#agent fail at Bookends--glad I had my brolly up!

Whew! That was a tsunami of comments over at Bookends yesterday. It took a while to read through the comments but I finally finished tonight.

Several people remarked about the depth of anger revealed by commenters. I wasn't surprised at all. Anyone who's been to a conference lately and spent any informal time in the bar with writers has heard this kind of thing. It's not news.

What it is though is instructive. For example: the number one thing that pains your asterisks is the "no response means no interest" policy that's becoming common. Many who commented about how much they loathed that policy also added that they would not query an agency who said that. Others said if that's the policy, at least establish a time limit and put an auto-responder up so the writer knew the query had been received.

I loath no-response. I think it's rude and unprofessional and a short sighted business strategy. I've said all that before, and at length.

What was REALLY interesting though was the commenter who said "if your policy is no response means no, and I see an email from you, I think it's a yes. When it's not, I'm disappointed".

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh boy. A LOT of agents salve their consciences by saying that even though the agency policy is a no response means no, they still try to respond to every query.

It's clear to me we can't have it both ways.

Uniform guidelines was another complaint. Frankly this one never occurred to me. I don't keep track of where my guidelines are posted, and I only update Pub Mkt, my website and AgentQuery. Since I'll read just about anything though, I'm not worried about people sending me the wrong stuff.

The other big complaint is lack of communication in all its permutations: lack of replies to status updates on queries; lack of responses to clients; slow responses to everything.

That one hit home. It's my worst fault. I've been trying to work on it for awhile, and it doesn't seem to be getting much better. Maybe one of the things I can do in the next blog post is talk about WHY that kind of thing happens. Despite all evidence to the contrary it's not cause I'm twittering or blogging all day. I wish it was cause then I could just stop doing that and solve the problem.

I had to laugh when a couple people mentioned an agent looked or sounded disorganized and that was a negative. Look at the picture of the pink octopus on the blog post below this. See that MESS of a desk? Yup that's mine! I actually shuddered a bit when I realized how messy it looks in the picture. I knew someone would notice and sure enough I heard about it on twitter!

I blame the octopus for that though. When you've got eight arms you need to have a lot of things nearby to keep them occupied!


Unknown said...

Not much else to say besides thanks for your post. Glad you could see through the rage and focus on the messages, because there was a lot to sift through.

~Jamie said...

there was a lot of rage, wasn't there?

I wonder if more people just adapted an auto responder that said "I received your query" if that wouldn't solve the no response problem.

I know personally I am more worried that they didn't RECEIVE my query than I am about them not wanting to respond if they didn't get it.

I just wish people would have been more grown up, because that could have been an amazing comment stream where we all learned something, ya know?

Liz Wolfe said...

I read all the comments on #agentfail and I sat here nodding my head at the comments regarding "no response = no". Then I read Nathan Bransford's blog where he said "if an agent has a no-response policy, chances are they aren't actively looking to build their list".
Well, duh.
Yes, I still dislike (intensely) that I have to assume it's a no. But Nathan's pearl of wisdom shifted the paradigm for me.
As a writer I believe it's part of my job to keep informed, so when I query, it's after a few weeks of intense research so I know I've got the latest info on my list of agents. Yes, the "no response = no" agents will still be at the bottom of my list but now it's because I know they are much less likely to be interested than because I just think they are rude.

Dana Strotheide said...

Now, how could I judge any agent who is disorganized and behind when I can't even see my desk and I haven't cleaned the bathroom in a month... despite being at home all day. I think an uber-organized agent would worry me more. :)

HWPetty said...

Your response to this whole thing makes me wish you rep'd what I write.

/suck up

Actually I'm not saying that to suck up. It makes a point as well. I love agents that blog and Twitter because it lets me get to know them and how they respond to different situations. That's the best way for me to figure out if they're the kind of person I want to work with.

One more suck up... thanks for all you do for writers. You are very generous with your time.

Kimbra Kasch said...

OMG! Your desk makes you look OCD and ultrafreak neat - at least next to my desk.

Jenna said...

Your desk isn't very messy. Personally I go for the spartan look with my own desk, but you should see the desks of some of the people I work with. A billion times worse than yours! I like that skyline thing you have going there too.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I didn't comment on that thread because I have no experiences with agents and thus no negatives to share (which is good! Hopefully I never will.), but I'm glad to see you respond calmly and maturely to a criticism you felt could apply to you. I'd be very interested to see your post. I know agents are always saying they're busy (and several have posted breakdowns of their day, and I believe them!), but I'm especially interested in hearing about lack of communication with your clients, since they're the ones you're already trying to sell.

I didn't even *notice* the mess because there was an octopus in the picture. I love cephalopods!

Unknown said...

If there could just be an instant "I have received your query. If you don't hear back in (X) months, it's a pass". I think that would solve a lot of problems.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Janet, Don't feel bad about your desk. I've heard all geniuses have messy desks. People with big brains need a more complicated organizational system. ;)

none said...

I avoided #agentfail because I knew there'd be a lot of vitriol. #queryfail was at least set up with the aim of helping people.

All this anger and hate in the world makes me very sad. Motes and beams, anyone?

The disorganised desk doesn't bother me. It's a valid way of working!

Carradee said...

I'm the cluttered-but-organized type, myself, so I don't mind knowing that the agent's desk is a mess.

Now, if you were my agent and you had a tendancy to lose my hard copies, then I'd be concerned. But only then.


Rick Daley said...

I've submitted to you twice in the past year, and I'm proud to say I've been rejected by the best. You have always been timely in your responses, and the service you provide through this blog and QueryShark is nothing short of outstanding.

As a writer submitting queries, no response means either no, or you query was lost, blocked by a SPAM filter, or not receieved in some form or fashion. That's where the auto-reply acknowledging receipt would help.

I have 4 queries I submitted in August last year that are still lingering.

Unknown said...

Lots of rage out there. I guess I shouldn't be surprised because the art of finding an agent that not only wants to represent you but is also a great fit for what you write is a task I liken to climbing Mount Everest.

I am of the opinion that a messy and disorganized desk displays a busy and successful person. (glances around at her disarray of an office). That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

AuthorTiffany said...

The biggest problem I have with agents is that they don't want to take as many chances on unpublished authors anymore. Maybe you could take some of the time spent on these blogs and use it to take on some new authors and develop their talent. Every best selling author started out as a nobody. Reading is subjective and even I have certain kinds of books I like to read and authors that I follow, but there was a time when I could walk into a bookstore and know that I could find a book by a new author I would like. Have you seen the shelves in bookstores? The new books are almost a joke, holding less than twenty titles, and much of that is copycat junk. (If I'm looking for a good YA book, I better like vampires.) Books by my fav's are becoming few and far between, and some that have been around for a while are writing the same old crap with a new title on the cover. As an agent you are the front line in the battle to get good books on the market. Rather than representing something just because it is what the publishers are buying is fine, but use those selling skills to get them to buy something new.

Liana Brooks said...

Janet- I don't need uniform guidelines as long as all the agents can be convinced to keep their websites up-to-date. Sending out a query only to get a rejection because the agent no longer represents that genre, when their website states otherwise, is frustrating. Ditto for long absences. It's great that people are taking time to commune with nature and find themselves, but if they're an agent, I want them to leave a note before they go!

BJ said...

I don't know. From what I can see of your desk, it looks like neat piles. A pile, to me, is like a physical list, and list-making is a sign of organization.

(I'll keep telling myself as I look at my desk at work. At home? Wellll, I have a pile that could be a list of fast food places I've been to...)

Scott said...

Janet, thanks for this post, and the first 'heads-up' about the agentfail on BookEnds (a few other blogs reported the agentfail, but you were first - at least with the blogs I follow). : )

I have to agree with Leigh about an auto-response or something to let the sender know their query isn't lost somewhere in cyberland (why, oh, why did a vision of Tammy Wynette singing 'justified and ancient' just pop into my head?? ARRGHHH, that songs gonna be stuck there all day long). I'm probably one of the few that sends out one query at a time, waits for a response, or if a no-response agent, at least waits the requisite period of time . . . if the agent bothers to list a period of time, which many don't. In the end, I guess every body just wants to know that their query was received and, importantly, that it is 'just not right' for that particular agent so they can move forward with the query process.

Thanks again for everything.

Jenny said...


Your reaction strengthens the impression your whole blog gives that you'd be a pleasure to do business with.

I don't write in your genre so I won't ever find out, but I have been writing about business for decades and if there's one thing I've heard from successful entrepreneurs it is this: It's stupid to piss off any one, ever.

Everyone has a surprisingly wide network of contacts, and some of the most "insignificant" people turn out to be related to people who can send you a lot of work.

So the agents who are writing off the comments posted on Bookends being from unimportant disgruntled wannabe writers are forgetting this: Jane Badwriter has friends. When Sally Agentfail makes fun of Jane's query in public she doesn't have to mention Jane's name. Her friends know what her book is about. And some of Jane's friends write much better than Jane does. When it's time for them to query, they're not going to query Sally.

Over time negative word of mouth can make a huge difference. I don't work with an agent, but I have a lot of friends who write and because I've been in the business forever they ask me to recommend agents. You better believe I don't recommend people who have earned poor reputations for their disrespectful behavior to people they think "don't matter" no matter how many books they claim to have sold.

Psue Dohnyme said...

In the unlikely event I am forced to choose between an agent who works at a gleaming expanse of mahogany and one who can't remember what material her desk is made of because it's surface is buried beneath a pile of real work - no contest.

Kyler said...

Some agents do have that kind of auto-response. I don't mind getting my hopes up for two seconds if I see a response from an agent who says they won't respond unless interested. I never assume that a response will be a request. I take it as a compliment (because they usually say something encouraging)that they took a moment to respond. And what's interesting is that I've gotten kind responses like these from giant uber-agents, the ones who you'd think would never respond, even on a Sunday morning. It shows that some of the top people still take the time to be encouraging and polite.

Ulysses said...

Messy desk?

Good lord, you've got half of New York on there, including the Empire State Building! Of course it's messy!

(I've always referred to my mess as an environment that promotes free association and lateral thinking.)

Maria said...

BTW, I think most people waiting for a response don't have to HAVE the response (ie, the finished product) so much as any follow up email--"I got your note, my hair is on fire, I haven't forgotten, prod me in a week if you don't hear from me (or I promise in a week...)"

It's when the prods that are two weeks apart get a total nothing in response...remember that rumor out there that "no response from your current agent after a couple of months of emails usually means she is dropping you."

I didn't see that complaint mentioned, but writer's do talk about it--at lot. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it is considered a rule of thumb because I obviously only interact with a small segment of the writing world, but there you go!

I probably shouldn't have been, but I was SHOCKED and dismayed to find that some agents actually shopped a manuscript before signing the client. Horrified actually.

I was unbelievably shocked and dismayed to hear that some agents were pushing a self-publishing route as though gaining a commission from the referral...awful.

Thanks to everyone who participated--writers, Jessica, Janet--all the agents and writers that read with an open mind.

Deb Vlock said...

I do think that many writers forget they're not an agent's first priority or only client (I'm sometimes guilty of this). I've learned that above all, one needs patience; publishing is a SLOOOW industry compared to many. A conscientious agent (like Janet) WILL get back to you when she's able.

Tess said...

Good point, Leigh. Andrea Brown Literary has an auto/instant response that states *basically* "query received, 6 weeks, no response means no". It is a nice, helpful feature to their submission process. But, overall, I think that when we choose to be kind, professional, grateful and patient then we will get the same in return -- more often than not. I love the thread going on over at Book Ends now. Delightful. And, I love that you took the high road here, Janet.

Sarah said...

Liz, that comment of Nathan's made sense to me, too. I'm not happy about no response = no interest, but it wouldn't keep me from querying.

Janet, thanks for your thoughts. I could care less about the desk. I organize by piles and it works for me: the farther back I 'filed' something, the lower it will be in the pile. Makes me feel like Indy Jones. (Besides, how many other people do their paper work with a whip?)

Anonymous said...

It's understandable that you may have slow responses to queries and partials. You aren't superhuman, as much as some writers expect agents to be.

Kudos to you for seeing your weakness and wanting to improve :)

BTW, your desk is hardly messy. Mine is much worse! I've tried to organize it and clean it but it never lasts more than a few days.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

It was interesting to see that my specific complaints were shared by others. ... Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the nasty blogging agent who lied about me is still posting her rude comments about writers. She thinks she's immune because she's successful. ... Fine, I don't really read her blog anymore, 'cept once in a blue moon. And then I come away from it nauseus umm nauseous. (Ha! I caught that one!) I’d never query her again. If I become more famous the Mr. S. King, richer than Croesus, and in need of a new agent, it would still not be her.

And ... alas ... my posts over there on the agent-fail thing maintained my perfect record of typos and misspellings. Honest, I’m not dyslexic ... I think ...

Agents forget the amount of “self” writers invest in their work. The final product may be awful, but it still represents their current best, and it represents their heart. A little consideration, even while saying no, is in order.

I don't mean Agents should run a Lonely Writer's Club. Just be polite, helpful when it's really warranted, and review your idiot form rejection.

Do you know how many form rejections are rude in tone, ungrammatical, or otherwise idiotic? For most writers an agent's form rejection is the agent’s voice to the world. You may be an exceptionally nice person, but if you have a rejection letter or email that is rude in tone (you east-coasties getting this?) that is how you are perceived.

Your attitude toward writers comes through clearly in your form rejections. Don’t think so? Pick up the first page of the next query you get. You decide if it’s worth your while in the first few sentences. You analyze voice, talent, attitude and competence within two sentences. Do you honestly think we don’t do the same with your form rejections?

A no isn’t always just a no. If your form rejection is rude, you may not notice it, but we will. So that agent who trumpets her niceness to the world should have someone other than her best buddies review her form rejection. Because it is awful. From my perspective as a writer, she is haughty, nasty, aloof, rude, crude and probably in need of counseling. Would her friends tell her this? Probably not, but I just did.

Does she mean for her form emails to be like they are. How the heck would I know? I just know what their effect was on me.

Along the way to publication I got maybe two dozen rejections. They fell into three categories: 1. A simple polite “no.” 2. Rude crap. 3. Oh, dear, this is lovely but not what we publish; send us something else.

Number 2 is never acceptable in polite society. Take it where it belongs.

Spy Scribbler said...

Am I the only one thinking that when I get an agent, I really don't care one bit about their query response time or rejection protocol? Sure, it'll give an agent bonus points in the "dating" stage, but neither of those things are going to advance my career.

Of course I'll care about client-response time, but that's a different matter. And I'll hope my agent finds all the new clients she needs to stay in the business, but...

J.R. Johansson said...

Awesome post, I'm glad you could wade through the mess and find the things that were valid problems. I think the idea about posting why you have a problem with lack of communication would be very enlightening for the rest of us.

Thank you for responding with maturity. Not every agent did and I respect you more for having the kahunas to handle it with grace. :)

ryan field said...

I didn't comment. But I was surprised at all the hostility I read.

When I was querying agents, I only had two bad experiences, and neither one ruined my life. The rest were either normal (routine rejection or no-reply) or very helpful (agents going out of their way to offer valuable advice). Which is really surprising, because I did my fair share of hocking some of them to death with queries (poor Dan Lazar; I still feel guilty; he was always so nice and polite).

Maybe someone should do an "agentpass" now.

PurpleClover said...

Just reading the comments and responding in your post speaks volumes about your professionalism.

As for your desk. Hardly disorganized. I actually disagreed with the poster that made that comment anyway. Managers would always say that as messy as my desk was that it must have worked for me because I was always top in sales in my career. They said as long as you have it straight upstairs it didn't matter what the desk looked like (until corporate did a walk-thru). lol. Plus some people are more photographic memorizes and it doesnt matter where they laid it or how many papers are on top of it...they always know where "it" is. :)

DeadlyAccurate said...

That's not a messy desk. Not even close. And I'm glad you Twitter and blog. I'm also glad you respond to your queriers, even though I know if you stopped doing so it would free up some of your time for your existing clients. It shows you respect all writers. Thank you.

Pamela Hammonds said...

Just as writers who query represent different degrees of professionalism, agents are people too. And what one views as appropriate (for example Janet says not responding feels rude to her), another sees as perfectly okay to not respond to a query they never requested in the first place. I've accepted it as part of the process. Do I like it? Not really but it sure makes those requests for fulls and partials that much sweeter.

Julie Weathers said...

I've had two agents. One repped my suspense novel and the other my children's book.

The lady with the children's book was a dream agent. Very professional, honest, helpful and she sent me copies of rejections and comments. I dearly loved her.

The other agents were very helpful, easy to talk to, and they loved another book project I was working on. I didn't get feedback from them on who was being submitted to or any responses. I learned after my computer crashed they had actually lost the manuscript and the back up disks they had. I can only assume the game plan was for me to lose interest in the suspense and get to work on the historical that they loved.

For that reason, getting some kind of feedback about who is being contacted and their response is important. I don't need a daily report, but some kind of report is good.

The griping about twittering and blogging bugged me. I know how many hours some of these agents are putting in and it's probably far and above what their detractors put in. I like following the agent blogs and twitters, even if they aren't a prospect for me. It gives me another glimpse into the industry. Plus, it's just fun.

This isn't a sweat shop where agents are expected to work 18 hours a day before they can have their bowl of twitter. Some people need to lighten up.

Unknown said...

In your defense, organization is not necessarily linked to neatness. I am not the neatest person in the world, but I am organized. I often wish I were neater, but I'm too often faced with the issue of where to spend my time: getting the writing done or shuffling piles of paper when I already know where everything is. Even if is isn't neat.

Mira said...

Janet, thank you. I thought your response to a difficult situation was very open, gracious and human.

I think you deserve alot of credit. Thanks.

Stephanie Feldstein said...

You've had the best reaction to this that I've seen so far. I don't understand why others were shocked at the level of anger that came out in #agentfail - this is a frustrating business that people pour their hearts and souls into and when you give the opportunity to vent a little, they're going to take advantage of that. I bet a popular session at conferences would be where everyone gets to stand in a room and scream (assuming there was a way to do it without worries of seeming unprofessional). Sure, some writers can just take the writing/querying/publishing process in stride, but for a lot of people, it's intensely difficult and they don't have a writing group or other support system that would understand.

The fact that so many other agents have reacted aversely to this just shows that they don't really understand the other side. I don't hold it against them, but it's disappointing.


P.S. Your desk feels like home :). Really, I don't care if an agent looks disorganized since many of the most intelligent, successful people I know have their own "unique" filing system. But I do care if an agent IS disorganized and can't keep track of their requests and replies.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Why would you be surprised at the hostility? Instead of surprise, or the dismay some bloggers are expressing, borrow from historians, social scientists and engineers. Seek the root cause.

If a profession is generating this kind of negativity, one must ask why.

Diana said...

Mess? What are you talking about? At least your stuff is in stacks.

Julie Weathers said...


When Sally Agentfail makes fun of Jane's query in public she doesn't have to mention Jane's name. Her friends know what her book is about. And some of Jane's friends write much better than Jane does. When it's time for them to query, they're not going to query Sally.

Did you actually follow Queryfail or are you just assuming it was a slam fest?

If Jane Badwriter's friends think it's perfectly acceptable to copy thirty other agents on a query submission, I am guessing their chances of being published are rather slim also.

If her friends were really good writers and friends, they would point out people don't "mustard" their courage, send a query to Greg Daniel addressed to Colleen Lindsay, wonder why a man is named Colleen Lindsay, threaten an agent if they don't sign them or the myriad other mistakes that were pointed out.

My writing friends, on the other hand, are pretty free with their criticism and advice and when correct advice is given by an agent or editor they don't get up in arms and vow never to submit. They agree I should change that and give me suggestions.

RobinR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Adrian said...

In case y'all haven't seen it, Jessica came back with an #agentwin and #authorwin post today.

Anonymous said...

Janet, I'm curious. If you only had to respond to queries that weren't rejections, the requests for more pages and such, how much time would it free up for you to do other things, like catching up on partials or whatever? said...

I'll have to go over and read that, because I haven't. I only wanted to say that you have always handled yourself and your business with grace, wit and charm, and anyone who doesn't know that, doesn't know you. I think it's truly amazing that you accomplish as much as you do. I wish you could bottle some of that energy and send it to me. I'd pay a pretty penny for it.

Robin Wendell said...

Oh, for God's Sake. Your desk is fine. It's a work of "WORK" art.

I have not finished my novel, (I'm having a blast blogging away while I work on it), but when I do and I put it out to you and others, ya know what, Like the old song says,"If you don't happen to like it, deal me out, thank you kindly -- pass me by!"

My job is to make sure that my writing is sooo good that eventually it is sure to find a place in the world. Kind of like I did when I dated 46 guys on one summer before I found the one Mr. Right. If you've got good stuff my theory is you just have to keep running the numbers until you get lucky :>}

Haste yee back ;-) said...

LOL, Janet, the only brolly that'd stood up against Agentfail is one of asbestos... some of that was hell-fire and brimstone!

Haste yee back ;-)

Jenna said...

I have a sneaking suspicion that if all agents set up an auto-response there will still be a healthy dose of complaints from writers about how awful auto-responses are and how awful agents are for using them. You can never please everyone...

And, to people who think that no one is willing to take a chance on a new author, I don't believe that's true. I am seeing books by new authors published all the time, and not just ones with vampires in them, either.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

oh, i just have to share this somewhere ... and this is as good a spot as any ... remember all the discussion of glitter and stickers and coloured paper? as nono's for submissions?

A Canadian writer friend of mine got a rejection today ... on perfumed paper. She said it was so strongly perfumed she had to set it outside to air out! LOVE IT!

PS by W.E. Goat, III, esq. So, what's wrong with glitter?

none said...

Eh, the root cause is frustration. Unfortunately, that's not curable, because there are far more people who've written bad books that they think are great than people who've written great books. And always will be.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Buffy,

No, frustration is an effect, not a cause. Unrealistic expectations would be one cause, though perhaps a secondary one.

The agent who used me as the basis of a blog post frankly said her post was a rant. (It was also a lie.) She wasn't trying to educate or help anyone. The book she rejected saw publication and received flattering reviews except for one blog post made by a young man who can’t spell and has not concept of basic English grammar. (Snarky comment, huh? I learned from the best!)

So the cause of her failure wasn't in my expectation of minimal civility. It wasn't in the quality of the work I submitted to [Insert name of well known agent with blog]. The ultimate cause is in a self-view that allows her to publicly savage another in an identifiable way. Even if her post didn't leave it clear to all who had critiqued Pixie Warrior that she meant me, the basis for that kind of post is a personality defect. She's broken. The sad thing is, she doesn't know it.

Both her boss and she have posted in response to agentfail. They've both said, "We don't do those things." There is a really nasty bovine phrase one could use in response. They both do them.

That they do not see themselves in the agentfail complaints is amazing. It's more amazing because short of naming them, several of those posting made clear exactly whom they meant.

Root Causes are never found in the symptoms. One arrives at root cause by asking "and what causes that" to each possible motivating force put forward as a cause.

There are usually secondary causes, and one or two main causations. You could list them. The causes of writer frustration are: [insert list here.]

Mere analysis fails without solutions. A historian, unless she is politically inclined and agenda driven, is freed from seeking significant solutions. We're free to simply pursue the causes and motivations and presenting the effects.

In "real life" analysis must include a summary that proposes a solution. A summary outline would be: 1. Opening realistic commendation if possible; 2. Identify the problem; 3. Identify the root cause of the problem; 4. Identify the solution; 5. Explain how to apply the solution; 6. Concluding encouragement.

Organizations are effective when they apply a system of problem solving similar to this. Unfortunately, the writer-agent-publisher triad isn't part of a formal organization, and one can't be as specific in analysis as they would wish. That leaves each writer and agent to sort through their motivations and practice. Few will do that. It's painful to look into one's self.

I'm content with the conclusion "a few agents are broken, and I'll avoid them." If I were a good Christian girl, I'd forgive them and move on. Since I'm a faulty Christian, I'll just forget it until it becomes an issue again. ... And feel marginally guilty that I can still be peeved at the treatment I received.

I'm not angry at the agents who never responded, or who rejected me without reading my query (Sorry I don't do romance.) If I am angry at anyone it is myself for not being perceptive enough when first reading one agent’s blog to pick up on what she does. However, I'm not the one "broken." She is. What she did to me, she does to others.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...


has not concept = has no concept!

At least my record of blog post typos is intact. ...