In March, there was Queryfail, an initiative in which literary agents Twittered their worst queries ever. The intent was to let writers know where queries go wrong, and while many people appreciated the straight-from-the-source info, others were less happy.
There was some talk of an Agentfail day on Twitter, with authors giving tit for tat. As far as I know, that never came off. However, the lovely ladies at BookEnds decided to make April 1 Agentfail day on their blog. More than 250 comments have been posted so far, and they’re still mounting up…and some are pretty angry.
Nathan Bransford comments on this in his blog, offering some thoughts about why one of things that seems to make writers angriest–agents who have a “we’ll respond only if interested” policy–shouldn’t. He concludes,
I understand that the publishing process can be frustrating and that the people who really ranted in that post are in the minority, and that these responses were all requested. But I just wonder if we could all get along and stay constructive instead of turning agents into pinatas.
I’m often struck by the extraordinary amount of anger that’s directed at agents–far more, it seems to me, than is directed at publishers or editors. I get a lot of email from writers, and bitterness and resentment at agents’ behavior, policies, and presumed motives is a constantly recurring theme.
Why? Well, as Nathan points out, there’s the frustration of the quest for publication. There’s the hope writers invest in their manuscripts, and the pain of having it thwarted. There’s writers’ unrealistic expectations of the agent/publisher process, or overconfident assessment of their own ability. For some writers, unable to snag an agent’s interest, outrage becomes a substitute form of validation.
Beyond that, however, I think the root cause of agent-focused anger lies in the uneven power balance between agents and unpublished writers. Since, query by query, the agent has the power to strike the writer into outer darkness, the agent acquires superhuman qualities. Since being represented is a state of ultimate desirability, the agent is elevated to the status of the Holy Grail. The agent becomes an archetype, rather than a fallible human being doing business the best s/he can. Many writers are very reluctant to allow agents to have any human qualities at all, or to envision agents acting within real-life scenarios (busy office, hundreds of queries, calls from editors, manuscripts to read and edit, and–oh yes–a personal life to squeeze in around the edges).
Of course, agents really do screw up. Or are rude. Or nonresponsive. Or drop the ball in a hundred different ways. Plus, for beleaguered agents–bombarded by queries that are too often substandard or inappropriate, seeing the same misconceptions and mistakes over and over and over again–it’s got to be as much of a temptation to dehumanize writers as it is for writers to dehumanize agents. But the bottom line is that a rude agent is simply a rude person–not a representative of agentdom in general. As Nathan says, getting mad about something like that is like being mad at oxygen.