Monday, August 21, 2006

More Q and A

Here is another group of Q and A type questions that a writer asked us to respond to. Thanks, Shelly.

Q: I don't understand why the issue (rejections posted online without their permission on blogs, writer sites or forums) is a problem.

A: You cannot publish someone else’s writing without their permission. Everything you write, even letters, belongs to the writer and is copyrighted according to copyright law. The person receiving your letter can only show it to others in its original form as it came to him/her, in other words, in the letter form. This does not give the person receiving the letter permission to publish it without the author’s consent, however.

Q: Why don't you want your correspondence posted?

A: We don’t really care if those who write us post our form rejection letter, although, technically, it is also copyrighted. It is, after all, just a form letter and contains nothing that would be embarrassing to us or its recipient. However, there are times when we do give advice or criticism to writers, and this information should be treated as confidential copyrighted information that is being shared between two business people. Writing of this nature should always have a disclaimer attached to it stating this fact. However, even if correspondence of this type does not contain the attached disclaimer, it should always be treated as confidential and should not be shared or posted. What kind of world would it be if EVERYTHING everyone said or wrote was posted everywhere? Oh, wait a minute…*SMILE*

Q: Have the "harsh responses" increased disproportionately?

A: Yes, they have, and there is an explanation for this. More and more people are writing and there are only so many clients each agent can represent and only so many open slots on each agent’s list. Unfortunately, this means that agents have the unsavory duty of rejecting writers—the more rejection, the more frustration that builds up in the writer community.

Most writers understand that rejection is part of trying to get published and do not take rejection as a personal insult. Some, however, take it personally and lash out at anyone who dares reject their work. Many feel that to get even they must comment on my responses, and some of these comments are very insulting and very nasty. One such writer even posted my advice on his blog and added an insulting remark about me for the world to see. Things like this do nothing to help the situation many writers find themselves in. It only makes it more difficult for all concerned. I’m sure, because of this, that individual will never find an agent. Why? Because he has demonstrated that he would be very difficult to work with, something that’s a must in any relationship. Your first response to rejection should not be lashing out or getting even. That simply isn’t considered professional in any business.

We have eliminated most of these comments by using a simple form rejection letter. However, every once in awhile, even though we know that anything but a canned response will generate a blast of frustration back at us, we give a personal comment. For instance, the weakness overcame me recently when I merely asked a gentleman to please reduce his verbiage so I could understand what he was trying to promote. For this I was told that I was the rudest, most unprofessional nincompoop that ever existed (not the exact wording used, by the way).

Q: Did the number of "harsh responses" coincide with your posting of "bad" query letters?

A: No, our receipt of “harsh” responses has not increased since we posted the “bad” query letter. Most of the time we only receive harsh comments if we offer advice on someone’s query or his/her writing. However, there have been times when we did receive a not-so-nice comment even though we only sent a standard reject. This, however, is a rare occurrence.

17 comments:

DanStrohschein said...

I have posted about the idiocy of writers lashing back out at rejection letters before. I think it's a childish thing to do, but I think I can understand where it comes from. Writers who submit hope to no end that this will be the one launches their career into literary stardom.

But they need to be realistic and know that there will be lots of rejections. And that every rejection is a step towards acceptance, but that no one gets a yes on the first agent they query. It's a long hard search to find the perfect agent who perfectly loves your work and has the perfect editor in mind for it. If it wasn't, everyone would have an agent and everyone would be published.

James Goodman said...

The stories of writers lashing out because of rejections never cease to amaze me, especially when they do so in a public forum. I have posted one rejection, but it was with the consent of the person who wrote it. The only reason it was posted was that it was such an unusual rejection letter. It was a personalized response that was worded in such a way, it actually boosted my moral rather just let me know they were going to pass. I couldn’t imagine posting anything negative about someone who took the time to actually respond with more than just a form rejection.

Rene said...

I have many, many rejections, enough to wallpaper a small bedroom. A large percentage are form rejections, the larger portion are rejections based on partials and fulls. In all of those many rejections, only one frosted my cake. It was from an agent and it was the only one to actually send me into tears. As upset as I was, I have never said publicly anything negative about this person. I will never subit to them again and hopefully I will have the satisfaction of meeting them at a conference when I'm a multi-pub. However, it would do my career no good to say something online, it is unprofessional and while I thought the agent's behavior was unprofessional, it doesn't mean I need to stoop to that level.

I'm pretty heavy into the blog scene and I am amazed at what people will put on their blogs. They will spill the dirty laundry about an agent or an editor. While I do not have any pretensions that an editor or agent ever looks at my blog, ya never know. Their assistant could and news travels fast. The Internet shrinks the world and spreads gossip faster than a California wildfire.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Rene,
I'm sad to hear that an agent's comments brought you to tears and I'm even more saddened to realize that I possibly may have been guilty of doing the same to others. The problem is that is difficult and critique evem more so. In writing critism, we often resort over dramatisizing our comments. I know I have. What happens, many times at least in my case is that I know the person can do better and I leap on the problem not thinking about the human side of the writing. I'm looking at the mechanics and I forget that someone's heart is involved. It's easy to critisize but very difficult to do it in a constructive, unhurtful way. We, as agents, see things that are so close, ideas that are so brilliant, and when they are not brought to fruition it's frustrating--and many times this frustration shows through in our critism. I'm sorry someone made you cry. I'm sure, or at least I hope, that it wasn't intentional.

Rene said...

Oh, it wasn't that big of a deal. My kids make me cry on a daily basis and it certainly didn't make me quit writing. I'm a good writer. And no, the agent wasn't being hurtful. The situation was a requested full given on an exclusive basis. When I received the rejection, the agent never referred to my project by name and I could tell they had simply punched up a macro in their word processing program and shot the letter out. I suppose what was paiful is that after requesting a partial then requesting a full I was treated to a stock & negative rejection.

Even though I do think it was poorly handled on this person's part, it certainly isn't something to smear across the Internet. This agent has done a great job for their various other clients. I could have hit an off day. Who knows? I certainly didn't feel compelled to rifle off a diatribe telling them their business and insulting their personal hygeine. I firmly believe in karma when it comes to this business. Write the good book and observe the golden rule.

DanStrohschein said...

WM, you can feel free to criticize my work in any way, negative or positive. I look at it like this - I am new to the industry, like a green sapling. For you to give me any sort of clue on what needs to happen to my work for it to succeed, well, that's like being taught how to punch by Bruce Lee. Personal remarks, no matter what they say, are like gold to me. Forms don't give me any information on what I did wrong so I can fix my work and grow into what the industry needs.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

There are reasons why I don't comment much anymore. The first is that I never know the temperment of reciprient of my comment and secondly I just don't have the time, most of the time, to analyze and comment on every query. So what I have been doing is sending those I reject to our Web site and blog. The answers to my reasons for rejection are all right there. I know this because I keep seeing the same reasons over and over again. If writers would read our blog, we would eliminate probably 75% of the reasons for rejection that we see on a daily basis. It doesn't take much. And what's amazing is that I'm rejecting for the same reasons that Miss Snark and many other agent bloggers are saying they are rejecting for. That's even more amazing to me.

Two things that I'll mention is the fact that I will not go to someone's Web site to look at your work (Miss Snark mentioned this last week). Second is the manuscript size issue. I cannot sell novels that less than 75,000 or more than 110,00 words from first-time writers in the common market (this was mentioned on WritersNet today). There are, exceptions to this, but I don't work with those markets. So if you send me a 50,000 word romance, I'm going to send you a form rejection. If you invite me to your Web site to see some of your writing, the same thing.

Thanks, Dan for all your support. It's really appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand why you'd send out a form letter, as people do tend to take things way too personally. However, if someone were to ask you for a short critique or a reason why you rejected a manuscript, would you give it? Is it at all appropriate to state in a query that critique is welcome? Peer editors are great, but I'd love to hear what a professional Literary Agent had to say.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, your official site looks unprofessional and reads like a childish list of demands. Who would submit their work to you anyway?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

This is for the first anonymous:
However, if someone were to ask you for a short critique or a reason why you rejected a manuscript, would you give it? Is it at all appropriate to state in a query that critique is welcome?

We were mainly referring to queries when we wrote this last blog entry. If we ask for a partial or a complete, we generally, depending on time of course, let the author know why we are rejecting their work. We don't give a complete critique, however. I don't think anyone does that.

Larkspur said...

Oh, I bet I know where Anonymous #2 came from!! Don't you have anything better to do--like write something productive, maybe? Guess not.

And by the way, can't posters just make up a name instead of being so, well, anonymous?

DanStrohschein said...

I've been a professional web developer for over a decade, and I don't see anything unprofessional about the WM website whatsoever. And if anonymous #2 thinks the list of agent requirements sounds childish, he should perhaps, read some of the responses the agents get from authors...

Here's a bit of advice buddy. Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you even walk in the door. The industry is very small, and once it's known you're difficult to work with - no one will work with you. Do some research before you make flippant comments about the professionalism of others.

Wondering said...

If it's copyright infringement to post rejection letters why is not an infringement to post examples of bad queries? I'm just wondering.

Michele Lee said...

I cannot stand this! I would kill (characters, of the editor/agent's choice, amusingly!) to have an editor or agent point out a problem they see in my work. More and more the responses of "It's just not right" are driving me mad. If it's merely a matter of personal taste, well that's fine. I certainly don't like the same things as everyone I know. But if there is a reoccuring problem then I need to know so I can make my stories sparkle (and not just because of the glitter ink pen. A joke, I promise.)I am currently defending an agent over on Absolute Write, but by merely metioning that blasting an agent that didn't accept you on a public forum is bad form I have been personally (and generically) attacked. What are these people thinking?

Anonymous said...

Michele,
I guess I don’t know what writers want. Being an agent, I’m relegated to looking at query letters, deciding if work has commercial value and if it does, looking at a sample of the work. Mine is not to critique or offer suggestions, my job, as defined, is only to look and decide if I want to invest my time to get a writer’s work published. If it has literary and commercial merit (or it is close) I sometimes work with the work’s author to bring it up to speed. If the work does not have these qualities (literary and/or commercial merit) I reject the work. I do this at any stage prior to offering a contract. Sometimes, if the writer is very new, I’ll work with them briefly just to see if they are capable of revising a project. Most of the time this is a waste of time, so I’m doing less and less of this now.

Mine is not to critique a writer’s work unless I’m interested in it. As so aptly stated on many writer’s boards, agents only represent works to a buying entity and for that they receive a commission. Since we do not get paid to do more, this is what we now do. Writers cannot have it both ways. If you want to find out what is wrong with your work, I suggest that you find a critique group or spend some money to get your work critiqued or edited by a professional editor. That’s about the only suggestion I can give.

As far as Absolute Write goes, everyone on there is looking for a fight so one of the best ways to get one is to disagree with anyone.

Anonymous said...

I would have to haphazard a guess as to Anonymous #2's problem. He/she is probably an adolscent with nothing better to do in detention than jump on this blog and others like it for the sole purpose of aggrevating and/or offending as many as he/she can. The simple fact their nasty disposition compells the reader, me, to believe he is anything but one of us.

KajuXian said...

Thank you.

Although from what I've read so far it sounds as though I have a very long trek, I appreciate the Agents at Wylie-Merrick and the other contributors offering this blog to explain the dilemma of both writers and the agents in the market.

As a barometer for where I am supposed to be this blog is proving very helpful and given the probabilities in play hopefully I will take rejection gracefully.