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Agents Under Attack

By now the fervor over this controversy has died down, but I am still seething.

Just before I went on vacation an author posted a blog in reaction to the rejection he received from an agent. Among other things, what he said was misogynistic and offensive. Rather than give the author the traffic I imagine he was looking for, I’m going to post a link to a blog post about the incident labeled How to Get Yourself Blacklisted.

While the link suggests the concern is getting blacklisted, I don’t think that’s the problem. The truth is there is a possibility this person could get published. All he needs to do is remove his website, submit under a pseudonym and write something publishable. The problem isn’t whether or not this guy will be published. The problem is a society in which he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to berate a young woman for her professionalism and to judge her on her appearance.

My heart bleeds for the agent who was the subject of his ridicule and who was tweeted and blogged about and now blogged about again. She’s adorable and while I don’t know her, I do know the agency she works for and they are incredibly smart and talented people. Any author with that agency is lucky. Damn lucky.

What does this woman’s professional expertise have to do with the way she looks? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And yet we live in a society where some people think it’s acceptable to judge people based on their own opinion of her appearance. Actually, let me correct that, judge women. I’m pretty sure had the agent been a man the outcome would have been different. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve been to conferences where I’ve been told, in a public forum, that as a young woman I would have no understanding of the author’s writing. I was nothing but a young girl. I’ve been criticized for my choice of attire and I’ve been questioned, repeatedly, about my age.

When an agent attends a conference to speak, to take appointments and gives up her weekend, voluntarily, with no pay, she is putting herself out there just as much as authors are. She is standing in front of a room and giving her advice and her opinions on publishing. She will be critiqued, judged and ridiculed if she makes a slip or says something that’s not in agreement with common author beliefs. She will sit next to veteran agents and need to take a stand with her opinions and she will face down, face-to-face, potentially angry or upset authors who can’t get over the rejection letter they received a year ago. There was a time, when I was a young agent, when I actually left a conference early because I feared for my own safety.

I am so terribly saddened by this incident and cannot imagine how everyone at the agency that was targeted feels. I can’t imagine how I would feel had this been one of my agents. I will tell you this though, it would be handled and it would end. Like a mama bear I will fiercely protect my cubs and my team are my cubs.

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15 comments

  1. Jesus, I refuse to believe that people who consider themselves professionals would even do such a thing! Now I’m angry, my blood boils. Trashing an agent or whoever might happen not to have a good opinion about his work is a clear sign that the author doesn’t believe in his work either! Instead of taking advice from these people and thinking what he could do better about the query, the manuscript or whatever it was that needed improvement . . . Maybe his personality needs deconstruction and improvement, someone call Papa Freud.
    Just an anecdote: Before I discovered your blog, I read a lot of Shelley Coriell, and I liked her writing and knew you were her agent. But guess what: I started following your blog AFTER you rejected my query 🙂 Doesn’t matter, I find a lot of value in this blog from other points of view, plus that there’s all that cool book talk.

  2. I would expect nothing less from a man who refers to his wife as ‘Hotlips.’ Gross. I understand feeling frustrated with so many rejections, but can he truly believe the issue is with the agents? Seeing these reactions only strengthens my love for all agents do for their authors and all they have to endure on a daily basis. I wish I could give Jennifer a hug, but she likely wouldn’t need it, having dealt with these buttmunches far too often.

    Pardon my rant.

  3. Sadly this surpasses even agent author run ins and breeds itself straight into the entire publishing field. I remember not long ago, hearing how a reviewer trashed an author. Oh, the trolls came out in droves. Hateful, hurtful rhetoric was spewed, (from both sides) and I decided to go back. WAY back– turns out the “author” had replied to a not-so-bad review in an entirely unprofessional manner.

    The level of hate words flying was sad. Plain sad as I suspect not many of those people would have ever spoken that way, face-to-face.

    I was blessed that my first two pitches (in person) were with two wonderful people in the industry. They didn’t even bat an eye as I stuttered my way though my pitch. I do mean STUTTER! It was horrible. Laura Bradford and Megan Records. (My 3rd was Angela James who is also a doll!)

    While I may or may not ever obtain an agent, (Okay, I’ll rephrase, WHEN I do) so much knowledge is gained from reading, comprehending and LISTENING to any advice given. Not all are standard rejections and offer much needed feedback,

    The best advice I ever received was to 1) research which agents I felt best suited for my writing, 2) follow said agents to learn their likes, pet peeves and gain any advice they may share through social media. Best advice I’d give at the moment, is to GO WITH AN AGENT. The field can be heartbreaking without one.

    On a flip note, I became active on a publishers blog, I was vying for and was utterly humiliated (in an unprofessional manner-and in public) and though received an apology from an editor, still have never resubmitted to them. Not sure that I will. Do I loathe them? Of course not. I made a simple note, that I’m coffee they are tea and both are great but not best mixed.

    I hope Jennifer remembers the many authors she’s helped and were grateful for their interactions with her and blows that scumbag off without another thought.
    🙂
    Bobbi

  4. Jessica, the contrast between your pragmatic professionalism and this author’s abusive, misogynistic attitude couldn’t be greater. Your blog has helped me to understand the real world of agents, something this author has no grasp of (obviously). The information we get from you and the other agents at Book Ends reduces the impact that such ridiculous and offensive opinions can make on the publishing community. Thank you for your blog!

  5. Some authors confuse their self worth with the success of their novels. So, rejecting a query, to them, means self rejection, which it isn’t. Disappointment is natural; anger is a bad interpretation of the rejection.

    In this biz, “no” means “no match” not necessarily “no good.”

  6. I am always shocked that people will post things online that they would never say to someone’s face (maybe they would, hopefully not). I’m a writer and I’ve been rejected a lot. It’s part of the process. Sad that some don’t get that – and it really hurts all wanting-to-be-published authors when someone acts poorly.

  7. We seem to have a surplus of passive-aggressive, self-aggrandizing, pompous jerks with towering egos and not a single clue about tact or civility. For him to have those opinions is one thing, but to brazenly spout them in a public forum is the height of stupidity for someone who actually wants a career in a literary field. Getting rejected 319 times should be a clue to him to do a little self-evaluation and straighten out his act, but his ego, which he seems to be quite aware of and proud of, won’t allow the thought that the problem might be him. Hopefully the publishing world will get the word out enough that he will get put on a brilliantly-spotlighted ignore list and can blather himself into oblivion. A bigger hope is that society will see lessons in the feedback on actions like his…enough to make more people understand that sex or age or looks have nothing to do with capability, and that civility is a whole lot more conducive to success than petty attacks behind people’s backs. Thanks for putting a spotlight on this, Jessica, and best wishes to all your agents and their mama bear.

  8. Last winter at a conference, I overheard a group of older male authors dismiss several younger female agents as being unable to appreciate their work. The authors were upset that the conference hadn’t brought in agents more to their liking (so I don’t understand why they registered at the conference to begin with).

    So when I saw the original blog post, I wasn’t surprised–he was just putting a voice to a certain demographic that usually flies under the radar at conferences.

  9. When I signed with Jessica Faust 15 years ago, I had never met her, had no idea how old she was or what she looked like, but I was impressed with her professional manner over the phone (this was before email was used for submissions) and pathetically grateful that she had actually signed me! This was, after all, the culmination of an almost 20 year search for a NY contract. By the time I finally met her, I had signed with Kensington Publishing and was already referring to her as “my very own personal pit bull.”

    Meeting her and discovering she was about the same age as my daughter did not alter my original perception–she’s still a professional, still working hard for all her authors, and I still refer to her as my very own pit bull. She’s that good, and so are a slew of other young female agents who know this business inside and out and certainly don’t appear to let their authors’ looks, age, gender, whatever, dissuade them from doing their best for their clients.

    My point being, neither agents nor authors deserve to be criticized on the basis of looks, age, or gender in any forum. What’s important is the job they’re doing, not how they look doing it, and ridicule or insults have no place in any online discussion. It’s become much too easy to deride others in a public space, and the Internet has given trolls exactly what they need–a public forum cloaked in anonymity.

    The best we can do is ignore them; unfortunately, I doubt they’re ever going to go away.

  10. I can’t imagine a writing conference where an agent would have to leave because of fears for their safety. I’m sorry that happened to you. But I guess I’m in an unusual situation as the conference I go to is attended mostly by women (about 98% I would guess).

    However, I worked the first half of my career in a male-dominated field and have experienced first-hand this type of behaviour. So I know it exists out there.

    Sadly this is another example of a person saying something on the internet they would (hopefully) never say to the person’s face.

  11. I remember teaching my kids this years ago, my daughter especially had a hard time separating her thoughts/opinions and creations (she’s very good at art) from her as a person. But I’m talking about children not grown men.

    That a grown man can be told the same thing so many times and still not see that he needs to change something is as much arrogance as it is ego. Maybe someone should tell his mummy and she can take his toys away for his temper tantrum?

  12. Kinda full of himself, right? I think Narcissim might be the diagnosis. Spent SO MUCH time going over every blink, breath and body move of the agent. Let it go, guy, let it go.

    Get back to the keyboard and the crit group and the piles of info available in the Internet about genres, current marketing, etc.

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