Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Marriage Counseling For Authors and Agents

You are either completely sheltered or measurelessly brilliant if you have not been following, on some level, the goings-on known as Queryfail and Agentfail. The former took place on Twitter; the latter in the comment box of a blog.

No, I'm not posting links. If you are insatiably curious, look them up (they're all over the Net, and have even made their way into the UK Guardian).

Here's the nutshell version: Queryfail was a forum for agents to point out ridiculous errors in queries that garnered an immediate rejection. Agentfail was a forum for writers to voice their complaints about agently behavior.

The latter quickly deteriorated into vitriolic bitterness the likes of which no agent deserves to see.

So. Here's what I see: The problem, methinks, lies in the word "fail." Use of the word is almost de rigueur online when one is referring to anything that falls short, doesn't meet expectations, or is downright wrong. I've seen some belly-laugh-inducing photos on the Fail web site, after all.

But think about it. "Fail" denotes, well, failure. As in, it can't get any worse. Once you've failed at something, you can't "unfail."

Writers don't need to hear that kind of language. And, frankly, neither do agents.

So let's turn to Marriage Counseling 101 for a bit of wisdom, shall we? When confronting a spouse with behavior that makes us unhappy (or furious, as the case may be), a good counselor will instruct us to use "I" sentences; that is, begin the sentence with "I" instead of the more accusatory "you."

For instance:

"You always come home late when I need the car and it screws up my entire evening."

I don't think there's a spouse on the planet who will respond favorably to the above sentence. However, a simple rephrasing makes all the difference:

"I feel frustrated when you come home late when I have plans that evening."

Now stop snickering. It sounds much nicer, and you know it.

(Disclaimer: Authoress is in no way implying that she invariably speaks to Mr. Authoress in the prescribed manner.)

Another example:

"You never pay attention to me when I'm trying to tell you something important!"

Improved version:

"I feel ignored when you don't listen carefully while I'm talking."

Now let's apply this to authors and agents.

The query-deluged agent might say, "I feel annoyed when writers don't pay attention to the guidelines on my web site."

The disgruntled writer might say, "I feel frustrated when agents take 12 weeks to reply to an original query letter."

And so on.

Ultimately, this kind of conversation would quickly become stilted. And sound, yanno, stupid. But the point isn't to create conversation; at least not in the author/agent arena. It's to produce a PRODUCTIVE list of so-called "fails" instead of an unproductive, and often downright disrespectful (i.e. Agentfail) list.

If we would only remember to start our sentences with "I."

Let's give it a try.

Use the comment box to express everything that's on your heart concerning the writing/querying/publishing process. Begin your sentences with "I."

You see, I happen to know that I've got an amazing bunch of aspiring authors hanging around this blog. I believe the standard here is higher; the pickins are more prime.

Yep, I feel strongly about this. As you already know.

I'll go further. I believe that many of you will go on to be published. I'll see your books on the shelves; heck, I'll read your books. And it'll feel like sharing in the success of a family member.

So. Share your "I" sentences. Even if you don't have a gripe or sorrow or question. Because "I love chocolate" certainly counts as an "I" sentence, don't you think?



  1. I love chocolate. I wish I had the opportunity to complain (ok not really) and I might, if I could ever finish the damn book. I also love blogging and good communication. Yay!

  2. I have a gynormous box of chocolate hidden in the garage. Shhhh. Don't tell the kids. It's for Easter.

  3. I am so glad the writing community has such awesome people. I never fail to smile when I happen across blog posts like this one. :)

    That said, I'd love to learn subliminal messaging. I believe it would help so much in the querying/publishing/book selling process. ;)

  4. Bravo, authoress! Thanks for the perspective and positivity.

  5. I actually don't know the going ons of these fail places, though I've heard of them. I've stayed away for the simple reason of time and not having any of it. But I feel disappointed I, as a writer, am apparently not being represented well (by other writers).

    And I love this blog post and how you segue the marriage into it. Very nicely done, Authoress!

  6. I love cashews. I love Authoress's blog. I love writing. And I love this post!!! So, so, so true...

  7. "I" thought queryfail was instructive (and "I" actually followed it as it was happening) and "I" have had nothing but good experience with agents so far, including those that rejected me. "I" think if we all realize that it's a business, we could get along better.

    I also really like strawberries. Especially with shortcake and whipped cream.

  8. I learned a lot through queryfail, both as an aspiring author and as an editor looking to move into a more 'editorial' position. (I currently work in textbook publishing and am very much not what people think of when they think 'editor'.) I also found it quite amusing.

    I can see how some people could be upset by the idea of it, but I think spending my high school and college years in retail have pretty much trained me to to associate perceived lack with that sort of reaction. Plus, a lot of the people I know on both sides of the fence are generally snarky.

    I only wish they wouldn't hold the next one during my working hours!

  9. I wish that I understood the reason why so many people felt that they had to overreact to queryfail and again to agent fail.

    I must be missing some fundamental piece of the puzzle that everyone else has because I fail to see how either forum either hurts or even affects me.

    I work in an ICU. I know venting when I hear it, and recognize the value in getting excess emotions out of one's system.

    I also don't think that anything short of sudden cardiac arrest is worth the energy of being upset over.

  10. I'm a little embarassed by the fact that it seems that some of the most vocal writers during this whole process were the ones who didn't bother to check the agent guidelines. And, really, if I didn't like something about the agent's guidelines (like they don't respond to rejections) then I just wouldn't query them.

    That said, the majority of the communication that I've had with agents (with ONE exception) has been pleasant and professional.

    By the way - great post!

  11. I like this post, Authoress. I think you did a great job writing it, and I too feel a sense of exhilaration, even from the sidelines, rubbing virtual shoulders with all these wonderful aspiring authors. I find it fun! And I like speaking in "I's."

    And I just finished my 1000 words for the day, and was typing this comment when I realized I burned the beans I was boiling, which filled my kitchen with smoke and set off my fire alarm ... Ahh! The joys of being a writer lost in another world!

  12. I think it is wasted time to complain about agent guidelines or reaction times. They usually are stated for a reason (as far as I know some agents work 10-14 hrs a day): make communication easier on all sides.

    Of course I do have the right to be annoyed if I think my "masterpiece" hasn't been looked at be the rejecting agent but I do not think it is fair to vent my anger on agents in general. If I need to show my feelings there are always activities like chopping wood or running. After that I should return to my work (writing) and try another agent or write another book.

    Rejection is nothing personal.

  13. I am thankful for the tons of information out there on agent, editor, and writer blogs on how to write a query and writing tips in general. It's out there if you look.

    I am frustrated with Twitter because I tried to find the queryfail and just found page after page of useless stuff and only one or two comments of query mistakes.

    I am not upset at agent wait times or guidelines because I start working on something else, and I expect it.

    I am frustrated that a couple hundred or so bitter writers out there vented, and it represented all of us. I'm glad I didn't read all the comments.

    I think an email, or comment box is the worst way to communicate negative feelings - I've seen families and friendships torn apart due to the freedom people take with their words when they are not looking someone in the face.

    I really like fresh strawberries! And its almost the season. And I really love looking out my window and seeing only a few patches of snow left.

  14. I'm frustrated that Agents/Editors don't send little packets of chocolate with rejection letters. I think it would make the entire #Fail thing much easier to take.

    I really wish my car was washed and clean.

    I'm going to sit in the sun and nap today.

  15. I hate query letters. I hate trying to condense 70,000 + words into one page of brilliance that is supposed to knock an agents socks off so they'll ask for a partial. I hate the waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting some more.

    Gee, I feel better now. Maybe. : )

    Seriously, writing is a process, and querying is something writers must endure . . . sometimes endlessly. Still, hope exists, and all I can do is keep on writing, and querying, and hope for the best. I can also continue to be a part of the writing blogsphere and MSFV, so that I always know I'm in good company.

  16. I'm not afraid of the word "fail".

    I certainly realize it is a wounding word, especially when one places it upon oneself.

    However, I've got a texting ten-year-old and a three-year tenure on MySpace comment graphics, so FAIL is just another chunk of slang now.

    I think that if it was called #queryphail it would have been seen more as slang and less as insult. Perhaps. Who knows.

    Always, always, be careful how you phrase anything. A slip of the tongue will make you a hater these days. And haters are EPIC FAIL.

    (Thanks for the "I" fest. I write in first person POV so it's a treat to be asked for *more* sentences that begin with "I" rather than less.)

  17. I have no complaints about agents since I'm working on a novel rewrite that's nowhere near ready to be seen by public eyes.

    I cannot wait to read what others say, and I hope it's a productive day in the comments section.

  18. I like this post. I like your positivity.

    ~Lindsey S

  19. I think there should be a law against kettle chips. An open bag is bad, very bad.

  20. I am bummed David Allen Grier was voted off Dancing With the Stars! ;-P
    I will be very bummed if Allison gets voted off American Idol. (I think I watch too much TV)

  21. I totally didn't get bent out of shape for QueryFail because I got it. And frankly, I give serious amounts of Brownie Points to the agents who participated because I want the highest chance of success I can pull off.

    I've done the 'newbie writer who doesn't have a clue' thing. I'm ready to do the 'as-yet-unpublished writer, armed to the teeth' thing.

    Also, in case one might percieve this as blantant butt-kissing, yeah . . . not so much. I've just decided to be as realistic as possible.

    And I love chocolate, which I can have again (as well as anything else with caffiene in it) at the end of Lent. WHOOHOO!


  22. I was saddened by query/agent fail. I was surprised to see that writers and agents (who pride themselves on voice and tone) didn't see the negative voice and tone of those threads. Or didn't care?

    I believe positivity breeds positivity.

    I choose to be thankful.

  23. I have a sudden craving for a Hershey's bar.

    I feel disgruntled that the agentfail storm has yet to subside. I thought that queryfail was funny and that agentfail ended up meaning than it was originally intended to be. I wish that everyone could let this go.

    I like iced tea.

  24. I find it interesting that so many comments on "agentfail" were made by "Anonymous." It appears that even if one is going to call something out as "agentfail" one would still like to query said agent?

    I also echo the opinions of many who have stated, agents are allowed a life like so many of us.

    So let's just all have a cup of tea (or coffee - whatever your preference), take a deep breath and try to get along.

  25. Authoress, your advice is wonderful. Remembering to couch one's disappointment, anger or other negative responses in "I" terms instead of global terms is helpful in every kind of human interaction.

    Equally helpful is learning to engage in what psychologists call "active listening": Reflect back at the speaker (in a non-threatening and non-defensive way) what you think you heard, in case you misunderstood the speaker's message.

    Speaker: "Dang it! You never cook steaks the way I like them."

    Listener: "So what I hear you saying is that you'd prefer I do more than merely singe the hair off the cowhide before slapping a side of beef on your plate?"

    What I found interesting about both queryfail and agentfail is that if one could set aside the tendency to take some of the comments personally, there were some beautiful nuggets in there -- and quite a bit of humor (though agentfail did degenerate into vitriol pretty quickly). Both encompassed opportunities to learn, IMO.

  26. I agree 100% with acpaul. I felt that both queryfail and agentfail were opportunities to vent and move on...except the fallout seemed to hinder the "move on" part.

    I think this is a really frustrating business. I'm lucky to have a great writers group and close writer friends that I can turn to when the need to vent arises. I think the "fails" provided a community for people who needed a release - no more, no less. It didn't occur to me as I read along to see any of those posts, on either side, as an indication of the poster's personality, professionalism, etc.

  27. I am a mad dog for chocolate (particularly with peanut butter).

    I'm extremely happy to be among this community of writers, agents, editors, publishers, etc. For those who have forgotten the "glow of being a new writer", trust me. Its really fun and interesting learning new things every day.

    I'm positive that no matter how many rejections I get, its like looking for true love - there's really only one that is "meant" to be the one. So I'll keep a smile on my face and keep querying.

  28. I would love to learn the time mgmt skills necessary to keep up with all this stuff, have a life, work, write, etc., etc. Maybe I should start a timefail thing...

    I love chocolate and strawberries, especially together.

    And IMHO, complaining about aspects of the pub business is about as productive as whining about the tax code. Somehow, I still always have to file :)

    Thanks, Authoress, for standing up for positivity and courtesy. And for MSFV!

  29. I'm so going over to Julie Butcher-Feynich's house to raid her box of chocolates.:0)

    I don't mind the wait on my partial. At least the agent hasn't rejected it yet.

    And I'm thankful for this supportive community that gives us thought provoking crits and warm fuzzies.

    Ahhh, that feels better.

  30. I thank you for this post!

    I forgive my non-existent agent for not taking out the trash every day. I have tried to train my cat to do it instead, but that is a #FelineFail! for a different day.

    I hope when I pursue an agent, they understand that the life size cutout of me holding the mock-up I made of the cover of my book is seen as a cute gift instead of an creepy threat. My ex-boyfriend really didn't understand it at all.

  31. I am frustrated that I can not seem to get off this carousel of rewrites. I hope that it will be worth it, though.

  32. I am glad I live in the age of the Internet. Otherwise, imagine how hard it would be to find the support we do. :)

    I like the Internet and I like this blog and I like improving my skills and I like reading about ways in which to do that.

    I, I, I. It's all about me!



    (I feel good!)

  33. I used to feel rejected and disappointed when I recieved a "no" or a "not quite right for us" from an agent or publisher. But I'm past that now. After all, you can only feel disppointed for so long.

    Those days of disppointment have evolved into apathy. I send out the queries and wait, not even hopefully, that my words will spark some hint of interest in the recipient.

    But, aside from that, I still can get excited and look forward to eating cashews and dark chocolate (Ghiradelli and Lindor truffles.)

  34. I, too, agree with acpaul. I think everyone is really overreacting to both events.
    Queryfail was hysterically funny (I followed it at the time) and also pretty educational. And funny.
    Agentfail was not so funny, but MANY of the people who took part either said nice things about agents, or voiced their complaints in very polite and reasonable tones.
    And I think the people who complained more bitterly didn't say anything that agents don't hear everyday. I don't know why they (the agents) were all so surprised. I also think that since agents are always telling writers "It isn't personal," they need to remember their own advice:-)

    I also agree that it is time to move on. Agents and writers are in a symbiotic (albeit sometimes slightly dysfuntional) relationship. To paraphrase someone who died a long time ago: we might as well hang together, or we will surely hang separately.

    I think we should all play nice. And eat more chocolate.

    I LIKE agents. I'd be happy to have one...any day now.

  35. I am amused when Authoress writes such posts.

    I am not a visitor to the queryfail/agentfail twittering so I have no feelings on the matter, though I would think at least some of the information provided would be helpful (at least in the case of the queryfail).

    I feel a slight twinge of disappointment when my work receives a rejection, but it's not the end of the world for me. I understand rejection is part of the process and I'm okay with it.

    I do not think horrible things like, "I'll show you." or "You'll be sorry when my novel, HARRY'S HAIRY HAIR, is a best seller!" or "Are you completely stupid? This is SOOOO much better than the other trash on the market."

    I'm more inclined to think, "Oh well, thanks anyway."

    I think like this because I don't like every book I read so why should I expect agents to?

    I am not upset when I don't get a reply to a query (especially if I've been warned of this possibility in the submisison guidelines) because I understand agents are busy people who DO have lives outside reading work from and responding to authors.

    I feel we can all get along if we try to understand each other.

    I believe Agents are people.
    I believe Authors are people.
    I believe Agents are busy.
    I believe Authors are busy.

    I believe we have a lot in common. ;-)

    Oh, and I believe Chocolate is one of the basic food groups.

  36. I love children's literature and all that goes along with it. I just wish it wasn't such a s-l-o-w business.

  37. I've been following it. Don't forget, though, that there was also Author and Agent Pass, hosted on the same website. I thought that was more constructive.

  38. I'm pleased when an agent asks for more pages, even if she then rejects them.

  39. I have been lurking for a couple of months now. Today I lurk no longer!

    I am in an almost daily quandery as to the most valuable use of my lunch hour. To happily read about writing on such helpful sites as this or employ a measure of self-discipline and actually work on my unfinished MS? Ah, decisions, decisions.

    I am grateful for all I have learned from the many contributors to this site. Thank you much.

  40. I love this blog and although I alternate between lurking and commenting I thoroughly enjoy everyone's participation.

    As an as-yet-unpublished author, I am slightly "deer in the headlights" about beginning the query process. I find myself stressing a bit thinking about writing a query that will gain a prospective agent's attention enough to request even a partial. I think writing the book will have been the easier of the two!

    I love the fact that I'm sitting here blogging while dishes are waiting to be washed and lunches are waiting to be made! :0)

    Eric, I'm right there with ya on the chocolate with peanut butter! Yum!!

  41. I am obviously completely sheltered as I am unaware of this argument. I am happy that I read this blog or I would feel far stupider that I already do.

    BTW I gave up chocolate for Lent... I hate my chocolate-less life.

  42. I like Miss Snark because she is sunny and positive.

    I like agents because most accept queries from unpublished authors and sometimes they ask to read my manuscript. They work really hard and read hours of slush which is enough to make anyone's eyes cross.

    I like agents and Miss Snark for providing free online help to aspiring writers, fun contests, and hours of free entertainment (blogs) to read while working on my manuscript.

    I like fellow writers because they work hard and keep at it even when at times it seems an impossible task.

    I feel bad when I see people being made fun of online. I will not query agents that participated in #queryfail because I think mocking people in public in the guise of professional help says more about the people doing the mocking than those being mocked.

    I avoid query fail and agent fail because I don't like all the mean!

    I, like a few others, like this comment box because I write 1st person POV and always have to edit out the "I's".

    I, I, I, I, I, !!!

    That was fun!

    (And I'll practice it with my husband next time I'm mad.)

  43. I meant Miss Snark's First Victim in the above comments.

    I tried to shorten her name, forgetting that's a different person.

    I still love I, I, I, !!!

  44. I wish I knew what IMHO meant...

  45. Psssst... bleeb...

    IMHO = In My Humble Opinion


  46. Ha!

    Late last week on my blog, I declared that further use of the word "fail" in any title (e.g. queryfail, agentfail) would result in "cynical expressions from your friends, rolling of the eyes from the general public and possible ostracism and excommunication from everyone else."

  47. I am enlightened...

    H.L. Dyer - Thank you!