Shut Your Mouth! What Writers Should NOT Say

I was checking out a terrific agent blog I just discovered—Pub Rants, by Agent Kristen—and found an older post on what makes her cringe.  That is, bad-mouthing an agent or agency to whom you’ve submitted.

I can’t imagine how it would help a writer to do this.  Manuscripts do get rejected.  All the time.  Agents don’t always write you back.  It’s not because they’re evil or hate you or harbor a conspiracy against publishing your psychic-dog-meets-abused-child tome.

It’s because they’re busy.

Some agents receive upwards of 200 queries per day.  Can you imagine having to go through that many emails / query letters / packets before five o’clock?

This economy is in a funk.  Every industry is laying people off right and left, and that includes publishing.  If they’re anything like most places I’ve seen, they’re trying to make do with less personnel at a time when queries have increased tremendously.  In tough times, some people think they can just write a book and make some money.

WRONG.  Those people have no idea what kind of competition they face.  Competition whose manuscripts are polished to a high sheen, whose queries are brilliantly crafted and targeted.  Even a terrific book with a terrific presentation might still be passed on for reasons that have nothing to do with the writing.

Give ’em a break.  Don’t bust their chops.  Publishing is small and word gets around.  It’s like royalty; everybody knows everybody and there’s apparently a hot grapevine. Besides, who would want to work with someone who calls them a rude, illiterate bastard because they rejected a book for a reason that might make perfect sense to any other human being?

I know it’s tempting to rant on the Internet.  It’s also easy.  Anyone can start a blog for any reason or get on a forum and cut loose.  I’m really the pot calling the kettle black, because in the past, I’ve complained about things that bothered me without necessarily censoring myself, aloud and otherwise.

It’s okay to write about how bummed you are when you get rejected.  But keep the focus on you.  No one cares what you think of Agent X, except your comments might be passed on to that person.

Since I’ve been submitting both to agents and journals, all I’ve had is rejections (so far).  I really appreciate getting something back, even if it’s a form letter.  If I don’t get anything after their recommended response time (check the guidelines—it’s usually there), I mark that one off and MOVE THE HELL ON.

It’s still early in my career.  I have time.  I have things to learn, too.  And more books to write, so when that dream agent asks me “So what else are you working on?” I can say “This, and this, and oh wait until you see this.”

Do your homework, people.  Find out what makes a successful query, find out how publishing works, and for heaven’s sake, polish your writing.  Work hard on it.  You can’t blame anyone for the vagaries of fate.  But if your work isn’t its very best you have no one to blame but yourself.

4 thoughts on “Shut Your Mouth! What Writers Should NOT Say

  1. Great, insightful post! When I start querying, I think I’m just going to remember karma. Badmouthing people who are there to help you… that’ll only result in one big foot-in-the-mouth.


    • Thanks, Lia. I think it’s true of any industry, especially one that is smaller, like publishing, or perhaps within a city. People know each other and word gets around. They always tell you when you interview not to trash your last boss. Although it’s tempting sometimes (!) better to find something good to say even if the overall experience was less than stellar.

  2. When I first got online I was with one of the earliest online communities, The Well. (300 baud!) There they taught me never ever to put anything on the internet I wasn’t willing to see on the front page of The New York Times.


    • That’s good advice, Anne, and I think there are a lot of people online today who need to learn that! I’m surprised by what people say to complete and utter strangers. And I think sometimes they forget those people might pass on their words, or post them somewhere more public.

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