When things get a little rough…

A few days ago an agent wrote on her blog about how a disgruntled writer had sent an e-mail and then, before the agent had a chance to reply, had sent a follow-up e-mail lambasting her for not responding, and labeling her as a bad agent. She concluded with, “We know we’re supposed to brush it off, but sometimes it’s hard.”

Among the comments to her post was one that suggested she should ‘suck it up’… “and if it is ‘hard’, get some tips on coping skills.”

After I digested the post and its various comments I found myself wondering about these negative aspects of the industry – the effects of unjustified criticism, misunderstandings, and yes, the rejections and bad reviews.  How should we handle such things? As writers we try hard to write with integrity and express ourselves honestly and coherently, but our words are open to evaluation. When the interpretation of our work (or actions, as in the case of this agent) seems unfair, are we obliged to ‘suck it up’?

What’s your opinion? If you’re not thick skinned when it comes to those ‘black cloud’ situations, how do you cope with them?



36 thoughts on “When things get a little rough…

  1. Jennie Dugan says:

    As a writer, I’d rather be told, “Thanks, but no thanks,” than get no response at all. But as an editor, I try to be extra-careful with people’s feelings. I know people are anxious when they have a work in someone else’s hands. It’s like waiting to be judged. But, as an editor, I’d be reluctant to work with someone who sent me a hurtful message. Would it ruin my day? No, because —going back to also being a writer— I get the frustrations. But I don’t think the agent should just be expected to “suck it up.” Agents, editors, publishers are people, too. If we expect agents to feel for us, it makes sense to me that returning that empathy is a show of mutual respect.

    • Hi, Jennie. Thanks for your comment. I’m with you when it comes to appreciating a reply of any kind rather than silence. I can take abruptness from an agent or editor because I know they’re extremely busy. I would never expect rudeness, and I don’t think they should expect it from us. IMO, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot (I know it’s a cliche!) if we start a potential working relationship by being impatient, rude and unrealistic in our expectations.

  2. I wrote on my blog one day, the old adage: Don’t write anything in a letter you would not want published in your local newspaper.

    Yes, we must all develop thick skins, learn to suck it up, but in that process there is also a certain amount of dignity and respect for ourselves and for those professionals in pubishing we are seeking to help us. Of course, they would not make money if they were not representing writers.

    However, let’s take a reality check and remember there are more aspiring writers than there are readers, our industry is glutted with people, like those who audition on Idol, that really think they can write. Yearly, those who participate in NanNo also believe it is possible to sit there, write a great book, sell it and sit back collecting royalties.

    The person who wrote to Ms. Gardner needs to learn a lesson in humility and good manners.

    • We talk a lot about the need for a thick skin in the publishing industry, but I’m not so sure everyone has the ability to develop one. As an alternative, of course, we need to learn how to handle our disappointments and hurts… establish a controlled response that fits the situation. It was unfortunate that this agent wasn’t given the chance to respond as she had intended because the writer was too impatient. Your adage is a good one in this case. The bad manners may come back to haunt as it’s not likely other agents are going to want to work with this person either.

  3. Judith Robl says:

    My grandmother use to say “Make your words sweet and tender. You never know when you may have to eat them.” Wise lady, she. Would that we all could remember and do exactly that – always.

    • Your grandmother was indeed wise, Judith. Her saying reminds me of another: “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Rudeness and impatience aren’t endearing qualities at any time.

  4. It’s hard to just “get over stuff.” I would seek a different perspective and maybe funny and similar stories from other people in the same position as me. An agent seeking commiseration from authors is probably not a good plan, though, as I know many authors have a serious beef with agents. It doesn’t surprise me that an author would take the opportunity to tell an agent to “suck it up.”

    • It really is hard to brush off an uncalled for dissing, but you may be right in suggesting that public venting may not garner a lot of sympathy. On the other hand, the agent concerned is known for her beyond-the-call-of-duty kindness and helpfulness to both pubbed and unpubbed writers, and she has other agents and industry professionals among her readers, so she probably felt her blog was a safe place to air her disappointment at the incident.

  5. Tricia says:

    I like your Gma, Judith.

    Only in writing am I thick skinned. I know this ruthless business and take nothing personal. (Of course, that might all change if I ever get my book published and get bad reviews)

    Private life is a different matter.

    • Being able to differentiate between personal and professional criticism must be wonderful… reacting to one and not the other. There are times when I’ve found the two overlap, as in this agent’s case, and then it’s harder to separate the emotions. I don’t do well in confrontations… I want to hide my head in the sand. LOL.

  6. joylene says:

    The sad thing is, although the internet is a wonderful tool to meet terrific people, it also redefines the speed in which garbage gets out there. Sad. I used to think my parents were old fashioned. But boy were they right on with the old motto: treat people the way you would like to be treated.

    Carol, I have a surprise for you.

    • I agree, it’s way too easy to smash out an e-mail and hit ‘send’ without taking time to consider how the words may appear or what the consequences may be. That Golden Rule has never gone out of fashion, has it?

      Hmm… a surprise? Now I’m curious. What kind of a surprise?

  7. I try not to think of criticism of my work as a personal rejection. If there seems to be some truth in what’s said, I consider whether or not I might need to change something or get another opinion. If I completely disagree, I generally keep quiet about it and continue with what I was doing.

    • You have a very sensible attitude, Carol. Like Tricia says, separating our writing persona from our personal life can make criticism of our work much easier to swallow. Weighing the source of the criticism is a good idea, too. Joseph has some good points to consider when it comes to the business side.

  8. Joseph says:

    Hi Carol.

    Once again my disclaimer “Hi my name is Joseph and I am not a writer”

    Okay, now that is out of the way.

    In my business, critique and criticism in all forms comes in floods. Could be product based, personal, about management style etc. And it is really never easy….but…there is a way to handle it.

    Look at it for exactly what it is. A tool.

    Anytime you get feedback about a book, product or whatever, you are one step closer to having a superior product of sorts. Even if it is bad news.

    Criticism allows you to take a look at yourself or product and evaluate what needs to be modified or changed and in which manner to make it better. Think of it as an unpaid personal consultant. Kind of like exercise trainer. I have yet to meet one who is nice when they train you yet because we are doing something good for our bodies, we think it is okay. Really no difference, just a different part of your life.

    Sometimes though and even better is that you have ultimately hit on something good and the feedback is jealousy. That just means market the snot out of it….you are on to something.

    The only thing you really have to be careful of is checking your ego at the door and assuming that all feedback is the latter and based on jealousy.

    So, enough of my essay and I will never be one to sit here and say it is easy to get criticism. Its not. But you do have a choice what to do with it. Choose to use it to improve!

    • Hi, Joseph. Thanks for bringing your business approach to this discussion. I like that “unpaid personal consultant” analogy! 🙂

      Whenever criticism is given there is usually a reason. so, as you say, it may provide an opportunity for improvement. In the writer’s world the negative reaction to a book may be partially based on a non-technical opinion and the writer has to decide if accommodating it is in their book’s best interest. In this agent’s situation the e-mailer’s expectations were out of line based on industry standards so the reaction was unanticipated. But it may well have provided the agent with ideas of how to better prepare for future similar incidents if they should occur.

  9. Jill Kemerer says:

    Publicly, yes, we should suck it up. It does not help us to rant, rave, or be rude to industry professionals. Privately, we can whine to our friends about how unjust the world is. This is a very competitive business and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

    • If the person who e-mailed had simply whined to his/her friends and not jumped the gun to criticize the agent, within a couple days he would have received a helpful response from her.

      The situation reminds me a bit of the dog shows where an exhibitor’s dog loses to another perhaps inferior dog. The exhibitor paid for the judge’s opinion, but if he rejects it and publicly badmouths the other dog or (heaven forbid) the judge, a bad taste is left in everyone’s mouth. Better he thanks the judge politely and holds off on venting until he is alone with understanding friends. That way he hasn’t jeopardized future opportunities to show a different dog to that judge. (Don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it does to me because I’ve seen it happen.)

  10. I go sit in the sunshine. :0) If it’s winter… I pray for summer. :0)

  11. dave ebright says:

    I have the hide of a gator (& sometimes the same disposition). Will have to admit – never queried an agent, never will & I’m also not all that sypathetic toward them. Haven’t read an agent’s blog in ages, & don’t plan to. In the past – several of the blogging agents (not all) were pretty snarky & seemed to enjoy the chance to ridicule wannabe authors. That was a turn off. A nasty email to someone (an agent?) that doesn’t owe you the time of day couldn’t be effective, so it’s really a waste of time. Kind & decent – well, yeah, there’s that, but, in my world anyway, time & energy are valuable commodities, so, from the standpoint of practicality …. Why would anyone bother (a) writing said nasty email &/or (b) get bent out of shape over someone’s opinion – I dunno. Life’s too short.

    Okay – so I didn’t fit in with the crowd. I’m on a roll today.

    • You don’t have to fit in with the crowd, Dave. Your opinion is always welcome. That’s what a discussion is for… to get everyone’s ideas. If you’ve had some less-than-desirable experiences with agents I can quite understand why you might not have much sympathy for one now.

      • dave ebright says:

        Haven’t had any experience – good or bad – with an agent. I’m intolerant when it comes to whining, especially public whining. But that’s just me.

  12. Shari Green says:

    Vent (in private) to a trusted writer friend who “gets it”, then let it go & move on. Easier said than done, however…. 😉

  13. territiffany says:

    I was really sad when I read that someone could be so harsh. I know it would be diffcult to brush that one off but should. I am glad she is so open and shares like she does. I know many writers who have her as an agent and can’t speak highly enough about all she’s done for them.

    • Those that I know also speak very highly of her, and from following her blog I’ve become very impressed with her ability as an agent, but also her godliness and helpfulness. She seems like a genuinely nice person who goes out of her way to assist aspiring writers, so I can understand that it must have been hurtful to get such unjustified criticism.

  14. I chose the publisher I chose because they are always kind and never; ever act like I am bothering them.
    I had offers from 2 ‘big’ agents and cried my eyes out and could not believe I actually turned them down…but nice got me in the end.

  15. christicorbett says:

    I’ve got some pretty tough skin, and usually have no trouble blowing off critiques or comments that are harsh or mean-spirited.

    However, even though the “rational me” can shrug it off, the “why oh why don’t you like it?” part of me is known to sulk around, second guessing every word. 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

    Christi Corbett

    • Are you suggesting as writers we have both a rational and an irrational side? LOL! But I get what you’re saying. That tender spot sheltered deep within is linked to our creativity… probably where it originates.

  16. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I think it stings everyone to get a harsh comment. It may sting some more than others, but the idea that either writers or agents should be immune to being taken aback by brusque comments–I don’t think that’s realistic.

    Of course, we all react (or should) professionally, no matter how we feel. I don’t think the agent in question was saying “poor me” and looking for sympathy. I think she was discussing this incident as an example of what not to do, and also explaining why agents and editors get jaded, why they resort to terse form rejections.

    Sure, it’s frustrating to have to wait for responses, but there are several other factors here:
    The benefit of the doubt factor: one never knows if the person one is waiting to hear from might never have gotten the email, or might be sick, or traveling, or dealing with a crisis.
    The patience factor: While a thick skin may be optional in this business, patience is not. Anyone who finds three days a long time to wait to hear from an agent (that is, when they’re not that agent’s client) is going to have a hard time in the publishing business, where wait times can be measured in months or even years. And the wait times aren’t long because editors and agents are sitting around doing crossword puzzles and getting pedicures. The wait times are long because they get tons of submissions, and they’re working long hours to produce a low-profit product that gets ever more competition from other media.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Jenn. I love your statement, “While a thick skin may be optional in this business, patience is not.” So true! I suspect the e-mailer was a newbie (if not, s/he was very arrogant), but anyone who would jump in without first doing some homework about this industry is foolish.

  17. Marjorie says:

    I think I am the person who suggested she get some “coping skills.” Indeed. In all jobs that deal with the public, the employee has to learn how to handle the behavior of the disgruntled. A professional handles verbal insults and keeps on going. In some jobs, this is part of the training and staff development. Staff is trained how to “absorb” impolite behavior. They cannot react to every provocation.
    The bigger picture is that many agents are experiencing the fallout of the antics of other agents who online ridicule pieces of queries they receive. So the door has been opened for writers to hit back in ways that perhaps never before would have been imagined.
    If NYC teachers reacted to every time a disgruntled student ran to the principal to “get the teacher fired” they would never last for the long haul.

    • Interaction with the public is a feature of many jobs, and skills for dealing with all aspects of that interaction certainly are a necessity. Sometimes it involves taking a step back from the offender and not showing a reaction until an appropriate response is determined. It would be interesting to know what the agent eventually said, if and when she replied to that second e-mail, wouldn’t it?

  18. Marjorie says:

    I don’t think she ever replied to the second E-mail.

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