Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Advice to Literary Agents

So I guess this #queryfail thing has the agent/writer blogosphere all a twitter (pun most certainly intended). I didn't follow it real closely, but my understanding is that some agents tweeted (twittered?) as they received and rejected queries. Some writers liked the free advice, some were offended. (Shocking, I know.)

Enough were offended that there was talk of doing #agentfail, where writers would bitch vent about agents. You can read many of their complaints here, although, frankly, I wouldn't.

It's gotten to the point where some agents have felt the need to respond. (And yes, I'm sure the irony has been noted.) Nathan Bransford is running an Agent-For-a-Day contest (no, thanks), Janet Reid has been introspective and even somewhat apologetic, and Kristen Nelson thinks the hullabaloo is an unnecessary distraction that won't change a thing. (She's right.)

But what the agents should be doing is nothing. They should not be responding, reflecting, explaining, apologizing, defending, or any other thing that ends in "ing," and here's why:

Agents receive a ridiculous amount of queries, which means that there are a lot of people with manuscripts out there--far more than there are agents who could realistically represent them. That puts power in the hands of the agents. They are, in effect, bouncers standing in front of a very exclusive club that everyone wants to get into. Bouncers do not need a reason to keep you from entering, and, in fact, should not be giving reasons because doing so invites counter-arguments and complaints.

It reminds me of something I once heard Donald Trump say. Here's the quote:

"In fact, I fired somebody yesterday and I took 20 minutes to explain to him why he can do better outside of my company. I do it nice and easy. Of course, they wake up the next morning, they hate you anyway because they realize, hey, I just got fired."


And that's the point. These writers who complain about agents aren't doing anything to help themselves and the primary reason they're upset is because they haven't succeeded and they need to blame someone other than themselves. Every rejection and perceived slight becomes a personal affront. Agents, take my advice and take a page from The Donald. Quit justifying what you do and why you do it, because at the end of the day (hate that phrase), your rejection is still a rejection, no matter how nice you are about it.*


*Unless it's my manuscript. In that case, all the feedback you can muster would be highly appreciated because, as we all know, I'm far more important than other writers.

8 comments:

DebraLSchubert said...

"your rejection is still a rejection, no matter how nice you are about it."

Um, no. Not all rejections are created equal. Rejections with personal comments that help sharpen your ms are helpful not merely "nice." Form letter rejections, on the other hand, are simply rejections.

Love your last qualifier, though. Too darn funny!

Kelly said...

Wow, bold people who participated in the agentfail!
I think that any feedback that can help you know what an agent is looking for is helpful.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Fair point, Debra, and I appreciate those as much as any other writer. However, writers should not complain when they get form rejections. It isn't the job of an agent (who's not your agent) to help a writer improve his/her manuscript.

Anita said...

It all keeps coming back to the same thing: you've gotta write a damn good book.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I agree here that agents are not obligated to explain why they're passing on writers' work or how to improve their manuscripts. Is a cop obligated to tell you how to improve your driving? No, he just says you were going 85 in a 55 and hands you a ticket.

Agents need to just keep doing what they're doing and take the high road while looking the other way. They don't need to waste time entertaining the stupidity of frustrated writers. That is not a door that needs to be opened by any agent. Because there are plenty of frustrateds out there who would join the mud-slinging party.

If you can't take the heat (rejection), get your ass out of the kitchen (query process).

chris said...

Well said, PMM, well said.


Sorry about the rough start for the Tigers. Go Porcello today, though. Is it sad that I'm recording the game this afternoon even though I'm not a Tigers fan?

Paul Michael Murphy said...

chris--he looked good. The bullpen, not so much.

Sarah J Clark said...

I believe any gifted writer will eventually find the right agent/editor.

Check out how many famous books were first rejected... multiple times: http://tr.im/iBA3

Keep the faith and BELIEVE. :)