Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Reader Rants and Breaking the Rules

There's a reason I haunt the pages of my stat counters. I find links to blog posts like THIS. With a tip of the hat to Screaming Guppy.

Aside from colorful language choices that wouldn't find their way to my blog, I nod my head in emphatic agreement with the author. In fact, I had to chew the inside of my cheeks for a day or so before typing this. I didn't want anything to come out, yanno, overly snarky.

Because I love my blog readers. I do.

But I have to say this, so bear with me.

The inboxes of agents and editors are littered -- LITTERED -- with inappropriate queries. By "inappropriate" I mean unprofessional, unresearched, neophytic pieces of poo that SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN SENT.

No, really.

And because of this poo overflow, the professional, carefully researched queries are buried in the muck of why-did-I-take-this-agenting-job-in-the-first-place. Imagine, if you can, the difference between reading a good query with FRESH, INVIGORATED eyes, and reading a good query with TIRED, I'VE-READ-A-BOATLOAD-OF-CRAP-ALREADY eyes.

You KNOW not to send your query to an agent who doesn't represent your genre.


And you KNOW that I trust you to follow the same rules on this blog. Not because I'm "special." Not because I want to be an agent when I grow up. (I don't.) But because IT'S THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE IN THE PUBLISHING WORLD.

If you think it's okay to bend (or ignore) the rules in a blog contest, might you be tempted to do the same when you start querying? Or have you (gasp!) already begun to do the same whilst querying?

If you think you're successfully sneaking in a snippet of your unfinished manuscript just because you're dying for some early feedback, might it have escaped you that YOUR FLOPPY WRITING WILL SHOW?

And if you somehow grab the attention of the Secret Agent with your UNFINISHED MANUSCRIPT, do you think the agent is going to break into an exuberant happy dance when you tell her you haven't actually finished the story yet?

My blog has an honor system attached to it. There is no way I can police you; no way I can determine whether your manuscript is actually finished when you decide to enter the contest. If you break that trust, make your own rules...well, I can't stop you.

But as a fellow writer, I've got to point out that this is So. Not. Cool.

Think about it. Most of my contests fill up within the first ten minutes or less. I have to turn people away -- people with POLISHED, FINISHED MANUSCRIPTS who deserve a chance to have their carefully edited, I've-followed-the-directions work seen by the Secret Agent. If you get in with your unfinished work or I've-fudged-the-genre-just-to-squeak-in excerpt, YOU HAVE TAKEN THE PLACE OF SOMEONE WHO QUALIFIED FOR IT.

And that's what happens in agent inboxes. Every time an aspiring author breaks a querying rule (if you don't know them, LEARN THEM), it takes valuable time and energy from the agent doing the reading. And the agents can't stop the behavior, either. They just keep wading through the poo.

My agent empathy level has risen exponentially. And I don't even have to send rejection letters.

Well, unless you count the horrid "I'm sorry, the contest is full" emails I need to send. HATE that. Really hate it.

So. Learn to follow the rules EVEN IN THE SMALL PLACES. Like here. If you can't do that, what's going to stop you from breaking the rules when you're ready for the big query leap?

Honor. Integrity. Professionalism. It's all a part of being someone WITH WHOM PEOPLE WANT TO WORK. And along with writing a great story, you need to be one of those people.

Feel free to purchase a copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED right now, to assuage your guilt. And if you're not guilty, and haven't gotten your hands on a copy yet, grab it anyway. You'll be glad you did. It's agent-endorsed, reader-loved, and it's got my SECRET HISTORY in it. (No, not my name. Just my history.)

The collective potential here is ASTOUNDING. I mean that. And I want each of you to rise to your own. It's an honor to be a part of your daily blog reads and your journey toward publication. Step up, raise the bar, and be even better than your best.


  1. I'm sorry you've had ickyness to deal with in the blog contests. I think anything you open anything up to the public, that will happen. It's unfortunate, but true.

    Thanks for the blog to visit here - I love being part of the aspiring writers community!

  2. Very nicely said, Authoress. I think I would have been less political about all this.

    The heartburn I have with people not following the rules here, besides the obvious things that Screaming Guppy pointed out, are the people who enter month after month with the same material, despite the gentleman's rule not to. For some reason that really chaps my hide.

  3. The contests you hold here and the information you share are great opportunities.

    You and the agents/professionals that volunteer time and effort are incredibly generous.

    Even though I'm a bit new, I'm very thankful (and careful to read the rules). :)

  4. I can understand that someone who is really new and fresh might be so excited that they don't pay attention to the rules, maybe, once. Then they know better, and hopefully do better.

    The people who think that the rules don't apply to them drive me crazy.

    Contests like this one are the carrots that compel me to finish revising my manuscript. Every month I wish I was ready to enter!

  5. Whoa! Dang, I take a little bit of time off from the blogsphere and Hades emerges from the Elysian Fields and walks the streets of Authoressville!

    I'm always amazed at the audacity of a select few who break the rules without realizing the consequences to those that follow the rules. The rules weren't made to be broken - okay, the don't end a sentence with a preposition rule can be tweaked from time to time.

    Even though I have a completed manuscript, I haven't entered the last few contests because . . . the Secret Agent didn't represent my genre. It was in the rules!

    I once had an English professor who always told us to read the instructions before starting the test. The instructions might say 'circle your name' or 'answer only question 12', or 'you don't have to take this test'. Yeah, some people actually took the whole test. If they'd paid close attention, they would have read the note that stated "if you answer even one of these questions, you will get a zero"!

    Hopefully, in the future, your devoted followers will pay closer attention to the rules and not waste your time, that of the Secret Agents, or take an entry spot away from someone who is following the rules.

    Just in case you don't hear it enough - thanks for all you do!


  6. I can't believe this is even an issue. I mean, sure, I can't wait for the day when I can submit for a contest, but the fact of the matter is, I AM NOT DONE YET. So I read the rules like the literate person I am and followed them.

    Being new is not an excuse for illiteracy. Rules exist for a reason, and breaking them only ticks off people with the common sense to follow them.

    Thank you for hosting the contests anyway. You are a saint.

  7. Somebody has to be the Norma Ray on this topic! It's you! (Gee, does that date me too much?) I hope you continue to host these contests. I was a spectator on the query contest and learned a lot just from the comments of others. :)

  8. Dude.

    I honestly didn't think of the novels being unfinished... because I'm one of those imaginative worriers who could see myself in the winner's circle and expected to send a full novel in, of which I only have 3 chapters polished (the rest are extremely rough and such I haven't even show my family!!!). *shudders*

    Definitely guys, don't put yourself in that position. Because if you win and can't send the book in to the agent in the end (because the book's not written) it may discourage other agents from putting their time in here. Or it might make them less likely to request material even from the winners.

  9. I'm sure you've noticed my complete absence from your blog lately. :(

    That would be because I'm currently writing, editing, revising, rewriting... all that jazz, and I'm just not ready to enter your excellent contests. I was ready awhile ago, then realized really wasn't. It's such a learning process.

    Authoress, I think you put so much effort and work into everything. It's a privilege to take part in something that you've raised the bar to. I just hope writers will live up to that expectation and make all of this worthwhile - for the agents and the writers.

  10. Yes!!!

    And thank you for posting this in such a kind yet straightforward way.

    Kudos to you, Authoress.

  11. I agree whole-heartedly. It's not fair to think of this blog as a beta reader or critiquer! Revise first--then revise again--then re-read and revise some more...and then you're ready. As a teacher I've had summer break for the past three months--but instead of lounging by the pool, I've been working more hours on my book than I did while teaching *just* so I could be ready before school started again.

    I almost didn't enter because I'd been planning on reading once more through the ms. to catch typos. Instead, I stayed up all night the day before the contest and re-read & revised then so that I could be ready by time--and when my partial was selected, I stayed up another night and read it *again* just because I'm paranoid about sending something unprofessional out in the world. It still boggles my mind that some people prioritize these contests as a critique instead of a professional opportunity.

  12. You're absolutely right -- there's no excuse for thinking that the rules don't apply to you, or knowing they do and deliberately breaking them. There is an excuse, I think, for thinking you're ready when you're not, because let's admit it -- it's an easy mistake to make, especially when you're new to the whole thing.

    Anyway, thanks for all the wonderful opportunities -- I have been, and probably will be, spending a while not taking them, since I know I don't have anything ready for them... yet. =]

  13. Thanks Authoress.

    I considered posting my thoughts in the comment section during the contest, but decided that it wasn't really my place to try and police your blog. You do a wonderful thing here – a wonderful thing that you wouldn’t be able to keep doing unless you ran things on the honor system that you do. Seeing people take advantage of your hard work and the reputation of this blog was irritating to say the least (in addition to my own personal frustrations).

    Hopefully, hearing it directly from the horse’s mouth will make a difference.

    I hope everyone who takes part here remembers that what Authoress and the Secret Agents do here is a gift – one that could easily be taken away if people fail to respect it.

    Basically, if you screwed up, learn from your error and learn the rules of the business, just like Authoress says above. Anyone can mess up. The key is not doing it again.

  14. Thanks, Screaming Guppy.

    Like Lady Glamis, I have been away from this blog and most of its contests because I don't have anything ready. As much as i want to participate just to get reactions, there are other and better places for that, like online critique sites.

    Authoress has set up her blog and her competitions with certain ideas and standards, which I applaud and respect. And I'm not even mentioning the agents who volunteer for these competitions (oops, I just did). If you have a blog, you wouldn't like others to undermine it.

    Once I'm ready, I'll be back with a vengeance. :-)

  15. Well said. I haven't entered one of your contests yet because either the genre didn't fit or I missed the deadline. In either case, I wouldn't dream of trying to squeak past the rules. I could go on a full-blown rant about the people who do, but this isn't my blog.

    Anyway, thanks again for everything you do. I love stopping by here every morning and having a coffee with your blog. You rock, Authoress.

  16. I enetered one of your contests and although my novel was done it wasn't the best it could have been so I haven't entered any more.

    keep up the good work.

  17. My story:
    I had a completed (although tinkering with the ms. is typical practice), critiqued, grammared, and styled ms., but was new to queries. I went to the library for books on queries, had my query critiqued at a writers’ group, followed all the rules, but in the end my query sucked like a tornado. I had a feeling, I wouldn’t win but there was hope, not because of the ms., but because it was my first query…I had to be missing something. I learned so much from the critiques and Jodi, that I rewrote me query, finally ‘getting’ what I missed. I also tweaked my first page a little (a couple words). Then I sent it out, got a rejection, tweaked a little more, they don’t tell you what they didn’t like. Sent it out again, and got a request for a partial. So, I want to thank you Authoress, for all your efforts. The moral of my story as I see it, is: we should all follow the rules and submit to the best of our ability, at that time.

  18. Aside from my agreement with Screaming Guppy (but in cleaner language) and many other commenters, I just want to thank you, Authoress. Following your blog has been an awesome experience for me. You do us all a great service, as do all the Secret Agents you have forged relationships with on our behalf. Kudos!

  19. Dear Authoress,

    Speaking of following the rules, I did win an opportunity to have Jenny Rappaport look at my ms several months ago. (She passed.) Does having won said opportunity mean I should sit back and let others have their chance in the sun? I am more than willing to do so - I obviously have! LOL. But since I haven't yet found my magical agent, I'm also still looking and thought I'd ask. Thanks!

  20. Great reminders about the horrors of poo wading. I linked to this post from my blog - you're so right about astounding collective potential from great aspiring authors. I'm sorry that the need for shortcuts spoils the amazing service you've offered writers in this blog.

  21. I'm kind of annoyed, because I have a finished novel, and I didn't make the cut for the contest. My query sucks.

  22. Dang, I must be naive, because the thought of someone submitting without following the rules never even crossed my mind!

    I remember coming across the SA contest a while back and feeling a bit sad that my manuscript wasn't quite there yet...I would be terrified to get a request for an unfinished story - it's nerve-wracking enough getting requests for the one that IS done!

  23. This is very interesting to me. I submitted to the contest and my MS is finished, but my writers' group, which is lead by an award-winning author with 95 novels to his name, gives different advice. They say that you polish the first three chapters and go on to your next book. You polish the remaining MS when it is requested. My group meets tonight and I'm giving everyone this website address so they can check it out.

    Authoress, thank you for the wonderful contest. I learned a lot.

  24. Patty:

    The advice your author friend gives would drive me batty. Maybe the industry was like that 95 novels ago, but now? When I request a full novel off a partial, I don't want to wait months to get the rest of the manuscript.

    And what if I request a full off a query?

    If it's not completely polished, I don't want to even know about it. If I don't get the manuscript within a week of requesting it, I'll assume you don't want to send it. Period.

  25. The question isn't whether breaking the rules is right or wrong. Rules are meant to be broken. Its authoress's promise to the agents: what I have here is better than the slush pile.


    But agents bite the apple (it's the old greener pastures syndrome!)

    This is a blog written by an agentless unpublished author. She doesn't have a big name to draw agents. All she has is her promise of "better".

    The breaking of rules isn't the problem. People break rules, agents know this. And they have a slush pile to prove it.

    But for this agentless unpublished author to attract agents she needs the rest of us agentless unpublished authors to follow her rules so her promise of "better" isn't just smoke and mirrors.

    Because that could make the contests go bye-bye.

    Also it's really embarrassing to promise something and not deliver.

  26. The more I learn, the more I know I have to learn. I'm learning there are some 'cheats' that others do for contests, that end up screwing me over also.

    So anyway - I've decided its easier to be honest.
    All good things in all good time.