Empathyfail: A Writer-Doctor’s Thoughts on Agentfail

If you’re the sort of person that reads my blog, chances are outrageously high that you have heard all about Queryfail and Agentfail. I’ve read all 230+ comments on the BookEnds post.

And what struck me most about the more angry comments posted there was the lack of understanding. I hate the crickets treatment as much as the next writer, but despite the fact that, indeed, it would take only a few seconds to send a reply, I understand why some agents can’t do that.

It’s true… if an agent reads a query and knows instantly that the project is not for them, it would take only a few seconds to paste a rejection. But if they waffle just a bit, they might not want to reject it instantly. Maybe a day or two later, one of those not-instant-rejections will stick out as something that interests them after all. Keeping track of every yes, no, and maybe can quickly get overwhelming, as any bride can tell you. Since the default response is “no” regardless of the agent’s policy, I can understand why a no-reply-means-no policy is the path of least resistance, given the numbers of queries received. Don’t get me wrong… I greatly prefer to receive a response, and certainly favor agents who take the time to respond, but I understand the ones who don’t.

Perhaps the gripes that hit home the hardest for me were those where people complained about agents tweeting or blogging about things like snack foods and reality TV, arguing that these agents had no right to be behind in responding to queries and manuscripts if they had time for such trivialities.

Yikes. I have been on the other end of this argument too many times. I totally get this. As a physician, I have worked crazy hours for over a decade. I frequently work through meals, go without sleep. On several occasions, when I’ve taken a break to run to the bathroom or down a cup of coffee, I’ve had family members chastise me.

“Glad to see you’ve got your coffee, Doc, while we’ve been waiting here for an hour.”

And I get it. I get that they’re frustrated, cuz they’ve entrusted their kids to my care and all they want is for someone to give them an answer on what’s going on and what to expect. A cup of coffee seems unbearably trivial when you’re worried about someone you love.

And so I put things like coffee and meals, my own medication when I’m ill, etc. on hold a lot of the time, but I can’t do it always. I know that sometimes I need a few minutes or a graham cracker or something to keep my stamina up, or I won’t be any good at my job in the first place.

A lot of writers love their books like children, so I understand the frustration and the desperation. But, you know… we’re writers. We’re also supposed to be better than the average bear at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Agents need to look after their own needs… which includes indulging on occasion. No one can work every second and be good at what they do.

I’m not saying agents or writers are perfect, cuz heaven knows none of us are, but I do think we deserve to try to understand each other a little better.

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6 Responses

  1. I think part of it is attitude – writers, agents, doctors. It’s the ‘you owe me’ mentality. I’m a writer – and I was married to a doctor a long time. There’s tremendous ego involved with all these professions. And simply – we’re all just human – albeit with different strengths and talents.

  2. Good argument. No one can be perfect.

  3. Well said. I haven’t read the AgentFail blog yet. Maybe I won’t. I’ve been waiting for over a year for an agent to get back to me about the novel manuscript of mine he requested. I’m still trying to understand why, after 6 or 7 follow-up letters sent to him, he’s not responded in any way. Nothing. Complete silence. Now, I understand that he has established clients to work for, but a year? I’m thinking that in that length of time he must have had a weekend or two to read my book at some point, never mind 5 minutes to write and send an e-mail to me. Am I angry? No. Frustrated? Yes. I continue to query other agents and I’m about to embark on also querying editors at publishers. Oh, and I’m not a hobby writer. It’s my fulltime job, which is another reason I’m mightily frustrated. And looking for another fulltime job…..(smile) Cinda

    P.S. Thanks for linking to my blog!

  4. Well said. I’ve been in charge of a writing contest for a conference the last few months and have been completely slammed with entries, so my judges and I have a whole new appreciation for what agents go through on a regular basis. And perhaps I’m one of those weird ones who likes seeing the agents/editors in their “normal person” identity on Twitter/Facebook.

  5. That was well said.

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