11.13.2006

Nitwittery Abounding over the Maine

Dear Miss Snark:

I just returned from a conference where I witnessed first hand why agents, publishers, publicists HATE authors and I am embarrassed for my kind. At the agents panel where about a dozen agents answered questions from the audience, a woman stood up at the mike and attacked one of the agents in the panel. She turned to a specific agent and said "Ms. Agent, I sent you a query and got a form letter back saying you were not accepting submissions at this time. If that is true, WHY ARE YOU HERE?"

The woman continued to attack the panel and argue with them about the query process. Why would she do this? She not only alienated herself from that particular agent, but the entire panel. All of the attendees at my table were cringing and I was looking for Killer Yapp to drag her away from the mike.


Killer Yapp was busy calling the Animal Control officer to come save him from the impending Snarkplosion I'm sure.

Of course, her behavior was shortsighted, stupid really. We can all agree on that.

But imagine this nitwit had presented herself with some degree of decorum.

It's actually a legitimate question: if an agent doesn't want new clients, or isn't taking submissions why are they at a writing conference presumably looking for clients.

First, writing conferences can book their agent roster (particularly very good, and in demand agents) a year in advance. Let's all agree a lot can happen in a year.

Second, writing conferences need the expertise of agents who are industry savvy whether they have a full client list or not.

Third, "we're not taking submissions right now" can be code for a lot of things, primarily "please don't ever write to me again cause you're a nitwit".

Agents go to conferences for a lot of reasons. They don't get paid for it so don't think of it as some sort of paid vacation. They're hoping to find good work and help people navigate this industry.

I've seen people behave badly at conference workshops. It's actually quite amusing to watch the other people in the room literally tilt to get themselves out of the nitwit's orbit.

24 comments:

Termagant 2 said...

For once I must beg leave to differ with Miss S.

If an agent/cy says, "we're not taking submissions right now," I assume it means exactly that: they're closed to new authors' projects.

If, however, they use "we're not taking submissions right now" to mean, "we're surreptitiously taking submissions, just not from you (you nitwit)", this is a lie.

It's not code. It's a lie. Anytime you utter a statement that isn't truth.

I, too, have seen agents at conferences (including Himself who dumped me) and wondered what they were about. At this point in time, he was not only closed to new-author projects, he was downsizing the pool of writers he already did have.

Yet there he was, right there in living color. I saw him do a bunch of networking, then figured it out--he was there to schmooze with the publishers and with the authors he had NOT dumped.

Silly me. But he did not lie. He was downsizing, and that's how he presented it.

See why we authors get confoozled?

T2

kathie said...

Yikes! Thank God, I have more sanity than this poor soul. All this process has done is make me want to be published even more,and work harder--even with the searing set-backs.

Anonymous said...

Double-talk certainly fuels the paranoia.

Dave Kuzminski said...

You may differ, but keep in mind that the industry doesn't behave according to your rules. As it stands now, except for SammyK who'd rather bend some writers over a keyboard, most agents tend to be sensitive about how they respond to writers. You may not see that particular response as tactful and sensitive, but it's a lot better to use than one that will cause a writer to completely doubt themselves or worse.

You'd be amazed how many writers consider it unprofessional that an agent would even use a form letter or take longer than two weeks to respond to their query. I've encountered agents who took up to two years to respond, though the winning agent's award was post humous and accepted by the executor of the estate who sent the response. Do you think that was maybe why it took so long? Well, life gets in the way of everyone and there are a lot of writers who simply don't know enough about the publishing industry and once you submit a query or manuscript for publication you enter that industry. You're no longer entitled to immediate five star ratings that can be hung on the refrigerator door. You learn the industry and you compete like a professional while you develop a thick hide. Some members of the industry are on your side, but that doesn't give you the right to vent at them, not if you expect them to further help you learn what you need to know.

Anonymous said...

I was at the same conference (New England Crime Bake) and saw that silly woman shoot herself in the foot too! The agents gave a good answer to this -- they said that they come to conferences to find clients because they know they'll get a higher calibre of wannabe, someone who's done their research, knows the community, has forked over some money, etc. So in other words, they may not want to look at queries from the great unknown, but they may want to look at queries from people who've taken the time to go to a conference. That's certainly their prerogative, right?

Tattieheid said...

I agree with T2, to say "we're not taking submissions right now," is confusing if you actually mean "go away this is crap". It falls into the same trap as that post earlier about the author that kept resubmitting.

Plain English works for me.

I can see why an agent would go to a conference even if they are not accepting submissions, networking is an essential part of their job. Maybe they should insist all wannabee writers get a letter from their therapist confirming their sanity before they can attend.

Lexie Ward said...

No matter what kind of gathering you attend, whether it be a writer's conference or a Sunday School class, you will always encounter somebody who thinks they've been divinely appointed to monopolize the floor with a stupid question or ill-timed comment.

Such is life.

whoever said...

Yeah, it seems like a legitimate question to me. So not all people have a tactful way of presenting themselves. What was the agent's answer anyway?

Laura K said...

The situation was actually worse than the original letter-writer depicted it.

When the complainer began her whine (and I do mean whine--if she were my kid I'd have smacked her), the agent said "I don't send letters like that." So the complainer said "well, I got a letter that said that from your agency." Subsequently, she repeatedly asserted that she had gotten the rejection from the agent's agency.

The people at my table took that to mean that the querier had queried the agency, not the agent. That is pretty much an auto-rejection, I would think. Certainly, the agents on the panel (which was--that silly question aside--extremely informative and useful) were very emphatic about wanting query/cover letters that showed that the author had researched them and was not just blanketing the world with queries.

The agents on that panel were all scheduled to hear authors "pitches" as well as being on the panel. Many of them--if you bothered to look them up in publications, etc, as this woman clearly had not--are very specific about not accepting unsolicited queries/pages. The conferences are a way for them to decide whether or not they want to solicit something from an author. And since I know how helpful many of those agents were even when an author's work was not appropriate for their own agencies, I'd have to say that whether or not they themselves were accepting new clients or not wouldn't much matter.

Elektra said...

"It's actually quite amusing to watch the other people in the room literally tilt to get themselves out of the nitwit's orbit."

Does this mean that nitwits have their own gravitational pull? Is there such a thing as binary nitwits?

Janet Black said...

Aw well, the nitwit made everyone else look good

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Yanno what the agency racket needs? A literary version of Simon Cowell. Publishing is so much more civilized than so many other forms of artistic endeavor, it's rare for wannabe writers to encounter professionals (agents or publishers) with the chutzpah to say "This is appalling" or "Go back to school" or "Find another field." Sometimes, a splash of icy water can do a world of good.

WV: gogkqb: how a literate person reacts to really, really crappy prose.

overdog said...

janet black, you said it.

The slush pile is full of stuff written by people who either didn't edit enough or didn't research who they sent it to. If you are among the 10% who write well AND submit properly, and you top that off with a professional demeanor, you've placed yourself among the cream of the crop. Agents are really, really glad to see you.

Sal said...

My dear Miss Snark,

Your notes and the follow-on comments tail are so prolific that I can't follow each and every post.

Have you seen or commented on this sour grapes commentary at LitSoup (Jenny Rappaport's blog).

All I could say when I read it was, aaaarrrrgggh! Don't DO THAT!

Anonymous said...

Truly the agents as a breed should get some sort of public punishment (smacking would do).
Everybody knows there are special laws of ethics, behavior and even physics that apply to some un-published writers.
This is a special kind of writer: immense, glittering, overwhelming, suffocating talent balancing on the cusp of critical and popular recognition, nay, adulation. They're not published yet because of the jealous and/or incompetent agents and/or editors they encountered so far, but just you wait.
In the meantime, they have the RIGHT to demand that everybody they deign to notice behaves the way they expect them to.
And why wouldn't they. After all, these days everybody has rights. Special rights.
And that agent did not realize who he was dealing with. For shame...

Elektra, nitwits do have a gravitational effect but it is a push not a pull.
Yes, you have found the mysterious repulsive force that is responsible for the continued expansion of the universe. Please leave your name and number and the Nobel Prize Committee will contact you shortly.

Yours vengefully,
AlmostWriter.

Termagant 2 said...

Dave, you write: "You're no longer entitled to immediate five star ratings that can be hung on the refrigerator door."

Yipes! I wasn't asking for that. What I was suggesting is that agents speak some semblance of the truth. "We're closed" IMO should mean "we're not accepting submissions from anybody." It shouldn't mean "go away, your mother dresses you funny."

If they need to find another way to say "go away", then go find it.

Would you believe me if I said I was a published author who's no longer seeking publication, so don't bother to ask me if I have anything to pitch? No?

I thought not.

Just tell us as close to the truth as your niceness can manage.

T2

Kimber An said...

Maybe conference attendees should carry signs in their purses to hold up when necessary for the agents and editers to see. Mine would read "I'm NOT with this NitWit!"

Anonymous said...

In every field there is a jargon, and in publishing the use of anything other than "please send" I take to be a no.

It's not that tough to get it, if you've paid your dues and done your homework.

Of course it's frustrating to a new author trying for the first time to query. But jeez. Muzzle it.

Bernita said...

Just reading this I suffered a mild form of "tilt" - total idiot location trauma.

MaryAnnTheRest said...

Ha, good one bernita.

Seriously, I wish there was a way at conferences to control the crowd a bit more. Once I took unpaid time from work to go to the Charlottesville Book Festival to see a presentation by historical fiction writers that I was excited about. The entire presentation was taken up by an audience member "asking questions" (i.e. making pronouncements) about stationery. What a waste of my money. I've been conference phobic ever since.

Zany Mom said...

Yanno what the agency racket needs? A literary version of Simon Cowell. Publishing is so much more civilized than so many other forms of artistic endeavor, it's rare for wannabe writers to encounter professionals (agents or publishers) with the chutzpah to say "This is appalling" or "Go back to school" or "Find another field." Sometimes, a splash of icy water can do a world of good.

I thought that was what Miss Snark and the Evil Editor were for?

Seriously, when I send out my next batch of queries and all I get back is form letters with the words NO on them, I will seriously take a long, hard look at my work to see what's wrong with it.

I'm sure there are many writers that are 'close, but no cigar', and it's nice if agents say that. But I don't think it's their job to offer me critiques.

whitemouse said...

Yes, you have found the mysterious repulsive force that is responsible for the continued expansion of the universe. Please leave your name and number and the Nobel Prize Committee will contact you shortly.

:::is still laughing:::

:::applauds AlmostWriter:::

Anonymous said...

I was there too, and one of the other agents made a point that I thought was valid - and related to the exchange a few days ago about rejections that include the phrase "at this time". It seems perfectly reasonable for an agent to reject something with the response that they are not accepting queries "at this time". "At this time" might mean, "we are so buried that we need to dig ourselves out before opening ourselves up to the onslaught of new queries". So a week or month later, the situation might well be different...

Dragonet2 said...

I have a really bad idea that I know who the nitwit was. When she's on panels, she overtalks everyone including the moderator with how unfair, how cruel, how whatever the publishing business is to authors, and if she's in the audience, she doesn't give the panelists any kind of consideration.

If I walk into a small panel at the conventions that I go to and she's either on the panel or in the audience, I just leave because nothing valuable will ever get conveyed, no matter what the topic of the panel is. I wish it was politically corrtect to smack her with my white courtesy clue phone. Or thorazine darts close up (don't want to hit anyone else...)