One of the many things I have discovered in the course of being a blogging agent is the intense sensitivity of many writer types.
And actually, the mere fact that I typed that sentence will probably get legions of anonymous commenters up in arms about my gross insensitivity. Steel yourselves, sensitive writers! Steel!
To take the most obvious example, there’s a proud and distinguished history of authors losing their minds over bad reviews and acting badly, to the point an author has to really, really act badly for anyone to surprised anymore (but writers also happen to be inventive types and manage to find new ways).
To take another example, I can’t count the number of times in the course of writing this blog I’ve been accused of hating writers or looking down on writers or otherwise being reflective of all that is wrong with publishing today. Even aside from the fact that I’m actually a writer in my spare time, why in the world would I spend my time blogging about writers and books if I hated them? Why would I have spent seven years in this business to begin with?
Now, to be clear and fair, I’ve written a lot of words on this blog and anyone who spills this much e-ink is going to misspeak or state things inartfully from time to time. So I’m not criticizing people for taking offense occasionally. I also don’t intend to absolve agents everywhere of bad behavior or attitudes that don’t deserve to be absolved.
But still, there’s a small, vocal portion of the Internet writing community who will seize upon any teeny tiny perceived slight and use it as proof that agents really truly are haters of writers/scum of the earth/enemy of Literature with a capital L/Philistines/Luddites/Carthaginians (is that a thing?)/you name it.
It’s worth remembering during these times: agents have devoted their working lives to writers, they have typically worked their way up for years while living in expensive cities and making less than some part time temp workers, and they often work for hours on end with writers whose books they can’t sell, for which they receive absolutely no compensation. I’ve never met a single agent who is in this business for any reason other than the fact that they love writers and they love books.
But there’s just something about writing, where it’s almost as if writer types feel things more deeply and need a channel for that passion and the inevitable frustration that comes with the business. And frustration really is inevitable. No matter how successful you are there are always going to be challenges, needlessly personal bad reviews/rejections, and any number of road blocks along the way.
Channeling it into frustration with the business side of publishing, against literary agents, editors, reviewers, bookstores… you see it so often, and yet it’s just so clearly not the most productive way to be.
Michael Jordan is the one of the most notorious competitors and cataloguer of slights of all time. Rumor has it he never missed an opportunity to feel slighted. The sensitive soul of an artist!
And yet: he didn’t complain (at least not publicly) when he was supposedly frozen out when he was a young All Star or when the Pistons created the “Jordan Rules,” which basically entailed knocking him senseless at every opportunity, or about the height of the rims or the length of the court or David Stern or fans or anything else. Instead he set about destroying the competition on the court.
This is probably some of the most obvious advice you’ve ever seen on the Internet, but still! I think it’s worth remembering that if you’re a writer you are most likely also a sensitive type who must steel yourself from time to time and remember to channel your passion into the proper vessel: your writing.
I'd like to know where writers said that they feel agents hate writers?
Nathan says he wrote this blog before the contest, so I guess something happened before the contest?
I didn't see any disrespect against agents during or after the contest.
I also agree with whoever said it's not fair to tell someone to toughen up and get a thicker skin, it's who they are.
Some people are sensitive, some people don't care (or they appear not to care), we are all different and all entitled to our feelings.
This is a subjective business as is most art medians, and nobody is a real expert, because of the subjectivity.
I would bet that we could get 10 other agents to look at those same entries and we'd have 10 different opinions on what they liked, didn't like and the advice they'd give us.
It's a good basis, but I don't think anybody should walk away feeling like a loser or that they need to obsess over a paragraph.
I still would like to know when and where writers have said they think agents HATE them. Very strong statement to make without any backup, in my humble opinion.
Future RN says
My day job is working as an RN/punching bag for a bunch of high-strung surgeons. I routinely get ridiculed, laughed at, or even cursed at during a shift. The one silver lining I've managed to find in my job (other than that it pays enough so I can have 4 days a week to write) is that I have become much less sensitive about my writing.
And as an RN I'd just like to say you do NOT resemble Chace Crawford with FAS. 🙂
Chazz – that's because of the environment Nathan has fostered here. It's a very positive community which is why I'm a regular, even though Nathan doesn't represent the type work I do. I'm not a fan of the Bill Belichick type teaching style and I'm guessing the people that prefer that would find a different blog.
Marilyn Peake says
"The combination of those two things led me, at least, to eventually feel like a cog in the wheel of literally thousands. I was just another number being counted in the submission thread."
I think you hit on something important here. I don’t know what happened toward the end of the contest because I was on vacation, then came back with a cold and raging headache, and never got around to reading more than a few of the paragraph entries or comments. But, when I saw Nathan’s word cloud of frequently entered first paragraph words and themes, my eyes glazed over. (Sorry, Nathan). I suddenly realized there are a flood of writers submitting manuscripts during tough economic times, and that combination just won’t allow for very many writers to make it past the floodgates. For anything to be valuable, like diamonds, they need to be rare. Writers are hardly rare. One current theme of writing was sunrise. I kept thinking that if Hemingway lived today, he might receive a rejection that said, "You named a book THE SUN ALSO RISES? Are you nuts, man? Sunrises are so overdone."
The Carthaginian thing made me laugh. It's just fun to say. Carthaginians were also good at getting wiped out by Romans who really resented that whole elephant thing.
(I'm such geek.)
So agree about the sensitivity. Far better to channel the angst into writing.
Marilyn Peake says
I forgot to add that this news story is all over the Internet today: Book-Price War. Ugh. This was not a good day for me to wake up with a raging headache, then try to catch up on book news on the Internet. Ugh.
Journaling Woman says
Rejection is not a growth serum or vitamin that makes us stronger. Rejection is what it is, another's opinion of what we are doing. It doesn't make what we write neither right nor wrong. It just is what it is.
With that said, I say we receive the rejections, throw them in the pile, rework the work and proceed with writing.
Rissa Watkins says
Ah yes. I was saying what a jerk you are just today, Nathan. I mean look at your last contest…you read over 200K words from first paragraphs, picked winners and even included non-winners who did a good job just to encourage them. You didn't even charge an entry fee and probably judged the contest in your free time.
Wow. You horrible little man!
How dare you spend so much time encouraging and teaching others without getting a thing back for it.
You obviously hate writers. I don't know how you can live with yourself.
Rissa, can you show me where SOMEONE said that writers hate agents, or slammed Nathan in that way.
I'm just not getting this whole thing at all.
That's a pretty big statement to come out and say, some writers say agents HATE writers. I've never seen that posted here or other forums.
Sure, I've read rants about agents and editors, at the same token, I've read rants from editors and agents about writers.
It's a great lovefest in here and nobody as far as I can read, is taking away the hard work Nathan puts into his blog, advice or the contest, but it sounds like some are defending him. But for what?
Where is all this supposed hate thing coming from?
Correction: I want to know where a writer claimed that agents hate writers.
This hate word being bandied around is confusing.
maggie m says
Wonderful. Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.If you put yourself out there, you're asking for it. Just suck it up. Anyway, so what? Who cares?
As with Anon @6:51 PM and Anon @6:52 PM, I am also confused. There is way more gushing and praise than hate here. Is this referencing something in particular? I have no clue what Nathan meant by “to the point an author has to really, really act badly for anyone to surprised anymore (but writers also happen to be inventive types and manage to find new ways).” There are so many pleasant writers in so many writers groups on the web and so many friendly participants on this blog, I’m not sure what this comment is in reference to.
Actually, tradition has it that Carthage was founded by Philistines (otherwise known as Phoenicians.) So I love the idea of Carthaginians being sort of uber-Philistines: Smug ignoramuses—with elephants. I think you’ve coined a new expression, Nathan–and you ain't no Carthaginian!
Thanks for all you do for the vast unpublished out there!
Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe says
So true. We all need to chill and get back to writing!
Carthaginians = ignoramuses with elephants.
I love it, Annerallen!
This has nothing to do with this post, and I don't know if this is too late in this strain to add, but I wanted to say that I am NOT a writer. And yet, I come here everyday. This is my favorite blog and I enjoy learning about new things. I wish I could write, but I've got no stories inside of me. Meanwhile, I truly enjoy everything Nathan Bransford. Getting published is similar to trying to get noticed in many areas in life. I think this blog applies to many things. I love it here.
Well, perhaps it's not so much writer's being sensitive but this being an element of human nature. Humans are intensely insecure and tend to negativety. If we were strong and confident in ourselves then outside influences wouldn't matter. The longer one lives, the more one realises the extent of that fragility. And as you pointed out, Nathan, it's easy for misunderstandings to occur, especially when we are of a negative nature, half-expecting the worst…some more so than others. But we can try and make every situation a win-win for everyone by trying to ease each other's burdens with understanding and compassion.
Btw, thanks for providing such a great blogging home for us to come and play in.
Authors are sensitive because amongst all publishing players they have the least power.
Unless they are bestsellers they are often treated quite carelessly by agents and editors alike and garner very little respect. Many people in publishing assume authors need to be treated with kid gloves. Authors are usually the least informed about sales, marketing budget and other important items because too many people assume they are touchy as car alarms and need to be kept out of the loop.
So which comes first? Are authors inherently sensitive or do they become sensitive because of the patronizing way they are treated?
And may I mention one other thing? Truth is, agent-editor relationships are often very adversial and fraught with difficulty but agents don't dare complain about editors on their blogs because it isn't smart.
But here's the scary deal that a lot of agents don't think about: Every writer started out in slush. Every writer, no matter how many books they sell, remembers what it was like when they were trying to be published. So, when you write a post that is semi disrespectful to writers,you're writing it not just to the slushies, but to every single writer, from the bestsellers to the midlist. And yeah, while we don't hold the purse strings, there is no $$ flowing in your direction without us. So maybe it's not the best idea to nip the hand that feeds.
I think every agent should ask herself or himself this question before posting: Would I write such a post about editors? If not, skip it. There's lots of things you can write that doesn't make writers feel less than. And yeah, just sign me as one of those sensitive writers.
Can't use my real name cuz because I'm a writer and writers can't afford to alienate anyone.
My best feedback comes from my most ruthless crit partners.
You can't improve if no one tells you what's broken.
Just my $0.02.
Wait – needed to tweak that.
Marilyn, I enjoyed the word cloud, but I know what you mean.
You know there are lots of sites where I would feel like one in a thousand. But I've never felt that way here at Nathan's. That is one of his gifts, and one reason he is so wildly appreciated. I am absolutely positive the contest was not intended to give people that feeling – it just sort of happened – for me anyway. It may have been one reason I was sort of befuddled afterwards.
And you and I have disagreed on one point before. I think good writers – writers who are ready to be published and will sell – are very rare indeed.
I'm not one yet, but I'm feeling better and think I might be – someday. 🙂
You, hard and talented worker that you are, published and very well on your way. I have faith. 🙂
Well, that's a really interesting tactic on the part of Sears….I don't know what to make of that. I'd be interested in Nathan's take on that sometime.
Nathan – it's important to me that you know I think the world of you.
p.s. don't burn out. Take care of yourself.
Anon: 7:56 PM Well said!
I'm still baffled as to where this all came from?
Nathan or others who agree with him have not pointed to where authors are saying that agents hate writers. Nobody seems to have an answer for this.
Nathan explained he wrote this blog before the contest, so I can only assume it has nothing to do with the contest.
I think when anyone puts out a statements such as Nathan did in this particular blog, he needs to back it up with at least a few facts.
Is this just ranting on his part? I don't know. We all rant, editors, publishers, agents, writers, marketing people, but to put it out in public with nothing to substiantiate it, of course he's going to get some people who disagree.
I think Nathan does an awesome job of blogging, generous with his advice and information, but like everything else, you cannot take his word or anyone's word or advice as Gospel, as said many times over, this is a very subjective art form.
I'm still waiting to see where writers claim that agents hate writers. I know my agent loves books and encourages his writers and if he ever made a statement like that with no facts behind it, on a public forum, well, it would not sit well with me or with many of his authors (since we have discussed this blog today).
Nathan Bransford says
I'm not going to give these people the traffic by linking to them or forward you e-mails I've received. Believe me or don't believe me, it's completely beside the point of the post anyway.
I can be sensitive at times, but my real problem in the blog and online world is that I don't get emotionally involved. Sometimes I pick fights and join debates just because I know I can win and enjoy the exercise. So I have to take a step back and ask myself if it's worth the potential of offending someone. I usually have to keep it within my friends who know me too well to take anything I write seriously. Or go back to arguing with my characters. 😛
Nathan, it's not a matter of not believing you, and no, I for one do not want to see any private email exchanges. I guess, I just wondered where this was all coming from.
I belong to writer groups, and read many good (non flaming) writing message boards and blogs, and never once did I ever read a writer say that he/she feels agents hate writers.
That's a pretty strong statement you put out there, and more than a few of us are curious as to why you would lump many writers into this category if a few drama diva's queens or kings are ranting about agents.
It's obvious if one is in this business they love the written word and want to work with wordsmiths to get the best possible book out there.
A few rants here and there are not indicative of how the majority of writers feel about agents.
In summary, I guess I just didn't see the point of your blog today, other than you felt you needed to get something off your chest to the few people who perhaps were disrespectful to you in private.
I'm still confused though. 🙂
Nathan Bransford says
I didn't lump everyone in together. I said it's a small, vocal portion who actually gets vocal about those sentiments. I'm confused why you're confused.
Nathan Bransford says
Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it.
I don't think you're a Philistine, Nathan (although you clearly suffered from a temporary lapse in your usual good judgment when you rejected my recent submission)!
Seriously, though, I find your blogs very helpful and supportive. I even gave you kudos recently in Mike's "What is your biggest frustration as a writer" contest (Mike's Writing Workshop – Yahoo Groups).
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go Google "Luddites."
All this talk about getting books you can't sell…I've read this blog over a million times and it just won't. Sink. In. I feel like you'd have to be a descendant of McCarthy just to get a book deal. It is disheartening! I am 31 and I'd like to get a book deal. Yeah, it may take some time but I don't want to be 50 and publishing my first book! I want to have years and years to write. Ugh, just a wide-eyed novice, I guess.
Writers are artists and artists are notoriously sensitive. Regarding agents, my experience has been exceedingly positive. There are certainly those less willing to share themselves with unpublished writers, but so be it. There are many who do share, and their generosity, support, and great information far outweighs the slights from others.
And you, Nathan, are a shining example of what an open, generous, well-informed agent is all about. Those who don't get you or get agents in general are sorely missing out. IMHO.
Marilyn Peake says
Thanks, Mira! I appreciate your kind words. I’ve recently realized, while surfing the web, just how many writers there are out there! Good Lord, the slush piles must be mountains high. Earlier today, a writer in one of my writers’ groups posted part of an email they received from an agent in response to their query. It was a long paragraph, more like a formal review, praising their book. It was so complimentary, I thought the author was about to be offered a six or seven figure deal, or to have their book entered into auction for bidding. Not exactly. The last sentence in the agent’s email stated that, in today’s market, the agent wasn’t sure the book would sell enough copies and they were therefore not going to represent it. The writer sounded calm, just shared the information matter-of-factly. That’s where most writers are at, I think. I’ve seen those kinds of posts in writers’ groups several times within the past couple of months.
Nathan – very sincerely meant.
Gawd! It is YOU who is the sensitive one!
Given that 95% of the posters on your blog are slobbering butt- lickers who heap sycophantic praise on you at every opportunity, the few who registered some discontent are the ones who you center out? Is your ego so tender? Don't you have better things to do? How self-possessed can one be?
And you're wrong about Jordan totally. He never suffered in silence at the many "slights" he had to endure, he actively sought retribution at every turn, he humiliated his foes on and off the court at every turn, including physical assaults, in your face boasting and most recently evidenced by his pathetically whiny hall of fame speech where he called out and picked on every petty offense he'd "suffered" going back thirty years. Jordan was adept at putting a ball through a hoop like no other, but my admiration for him stops there.
Nathan, I'll just leave any more opinions on this to myself, it's obvious that one has to agree with the majority on this forum.
Have a great evening.
Marilyn Peake says
What a small world! I'm also a member of Mike's Writing Workshop and used to write for Mike's newsletter. I've been very busy, so I haven't stopped by or submitted articles for a while, but that's a very large, active group with some great discussions.
Don't rule out mental health issues. There are higher rates of depression (and thus panic and anxiety and agoraphobia) and Bipolar Disorder (thus the above, plus irritation and agression) among writer than among any other group, with the exception of maybe poets. Factor in a few Borderline Personality Disorder folk and you have most likely a chunk of your most sensitive types.
If Bipolar people make up 2% of the entire population, their rate among writers is much higher (no statistics available but this is an educated guess), then a sizeable number of your readers are under theinfluence of neurological disorders that make them oversensitive, reactive– and prone to long rants.
I'm anonymous because I have Bipolar. I run an online support forum for Bipolar Disorder and this year am leading a group into NaNoWriMo. This is my secret life. I would lose my job if anyone knew I had Bipolar (so there are valid reasons why we are paranoid sometimes) 🙂
All my best to you. 🙂
Anon 9:20……no. It's not worth it.
Marilyn, I hear you, but times pass. The economy will turn around, and that writer will find a home for their book – if it's that good – no doubt about it. 🙂
So, now, I've posted tons on this thread. Time to stop. Besides, I have a mid-term tomorrow. It's on chapters 1-9. I'm debating. It might be a good idea to actually read chapters 1-9. I think I'll wander toward the book and see what happens.
Nathan, thanks very much for the opportunity to talk all of this out.
Nathan Bransford says
lol. My word. I do appreciate the anon's help in proving the point of the post.
Nathan, I think you are coming across as unprofessional and "sensitive." Steel yourself, Nathan. lol
Not everyone is going to bow down and agree with everything you say or advice in the publishing industry.
Just like not everyone is going to love a writer's work. You say you've been accused of hating writers in your blogs at times. To use your own advice – "Steel yourself sensitive Agent!"
I know it's hard to resist a group of people you probably will never meet adore you, but for the few who don't think you are the God of all Agents….STEEL YOURSELF! lol
I've never posted 3 times in a day but I've finished my ms and I'm bored – I'm waiting on beta readers and need a week of downtime before I start my next ms so I'd just like to say…
Anon@9:21 – I'm certain that you do in fact have a story in you somewhere or you wouldn't have found this blog. You just haven't found it yet – but I'm glad you're here.
Most of the other Anons after that don't deserve the energy of feedback and prove that Nathan is a saint for keeping the Anon function.
Nathan Bransford says
And then anonymous comments were closed.
Nathan Bransford says
Thanks, BofA, I appreciate the sentiments but let's just let anon fade into the blue yonder from whence he/she came.
I deleted my previous comment because after another review, I realized that it is unlikely the Anons are the same person. (The timing of their posts are too close together)
Sorry second Anon.
But still – my comments about Anon. 9:20 stand.
Other Lisa says
Late to the party as usual…and, wow!
What I've noticed is that the writers who approach their work with a professional attitude are the ones who tend to take rejection the best — not that rejection is ever easy or fun, but they don't personalize it the way that that, oh, a certain departed Anon did. It's not easy for a lot of us to arrive at that place of professional detachment — it sure took me a long time to get even to that neighborhood (oh, and Mira, I am an INTP. Not sure how that factors into your theory).
To the Anon who is 31 and doesn't want to get his/her first book deal at the age of 50…excuse me why I go laugh. Or cry. Or drink. Or perhaps some combination thereof. You know what, it comes when it comes, if it comes. Setting arbitrary deadlines is a recipe for unhappiness, in my experience.
And to assuage one of the other Anon's concerns, I am a very happy client.
Other Lisa says
Although, as I understand it, Michael Jordan was an absolute jerk at his Hall of Fame induction…
Maya / מיה says
Mira, I just wanted to say that I actually always look for your comments here and I truly enjoy reading your writing! I mean, I know commenting on a blog isn't exactly your publishing dream, but you have a Voice… I think you have that writing magic that will some day draw a lot of people to your books. I mean, who knows, maybe your first book will be a memoir about being a writer cobbled together using your comments on other people's blogs… wacky idea but I would actually read it. 🙂 Don't give up! I would be disappointed if you stopped writing!
I wonder if I'm the only one that sees the irony in this. A significant theme of this post and the comments has been people being supportive toward you in the face of mean things various overly "sensitive" (or is it "insensitive"?) writers have accused you of. But, as you point out, you are also a writer, so some sensitivity on your own part is surely allowed. 🙂
Writers, for good or bad, represent the The Aloneness of Craft. And of the Business.
Agents are often part of a team at an agency. Assistants who were promoted. Or publishing professionals who jumped ship from being…
An editor, who is part of a team at the puiblishers. Assistants who were promoted.
Writers are sensitive because we work alone. Because we dangle by one thread, reaching for another that everyone refers to as the "luck" of being published, with oblivion in between.
When a writer's completed book doesn't sell, she/he is devastated personally and professionally. Agents sell yet another client. Editors edit yet another book.
When a book doesn't sell, agents and editors go on with their careers. The writer disappears… alone.
Sometimes you'll hear us screaming on the way out. It doesn't hurt anyone but ourselves — because, professionally, ourselves are the only one in publishing we can hurt.
Nathan, anyone who thinks you give writers a hard time needs to get out more.
I'm a hard nose older guy, but your blog is an almost perfect blend of advice and guidance — stern at times, but always useful.
Then there's that other agent . . . 🙂
Aren't really known for anything?
You have got to be kidding. It was the direct descendants of same who founded the town of Blaine, Missouri, if I'm not mistaken.
And, yes, Blaine does in fact smell very much like the sea.
Josin L. McQuein says
Okay, I just popped over here to read this morning, but I have to post because my verification word is "graill".
Considering the topic here, sometimes it seems like we're all after the grail, doesn't it?