Benefit of the Doubt

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 28 2009

It was probably at least a year ago now, but it’s something that’s stuck with me. At that time, a reader posted a comment on the blog that I responded to and immediately other readers posted to assure me that the first comment was nothing but a troll and should simply be ignored. I wasn’t so sure.

Part of an agent’s job is to give every query she gets the benefit of the doubt. I can never assume, no matter how badly written a query may be, that an author is anything less than deadly serious about a writing career. I know that there are people out there who think they are brilliant for querying agents with a fake query based on a bestselling book just to prove how dumb we all are (although I don’t believe that does anything other than prove that either the idea for the book is now overdone or outdated or this so-called genius can’t write a query), and I know there are people who like to troll agent blogs just to spread their venom, but I also know there are real beginners out there who just don’t know any better, and I think that sometimes, people in the writing community get just impatient enough to assume all beginners are nothing but trolls.

So while I do my best to ignore the really crazy comments I get, I do feel that I need to reply to every query and that, yes, sometimes those crazy comments might even have a bit of merit in them and deserve a reply as well.


17 responses to “Benefit of the Doubt”

  1. A very professional way to approach the business and life in general.

    Whether we admit it or not, most of us want to be treated better than we deserve to be treated. So, I guess the inverse is that we should treat others better than they deserve too.

    I can’t see how a couple could stay married for longer than six months unless both parties are willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Sorry if the marriage analogy seems out of place…all this Jon and Kate drama is messing with my mind.. 🙂

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It sounds like what you experienced (as you describe it; what is the specific post?) was irritating. However, such a post doesn't qualify the poster as a troll. That term more commonly describes behavior which is far more repetitive, aggressive – & disruptive – than what you describe.

    re: "crazy" is a phrase that often pops up in your posts. Not to dip into censorious political correctness but given that "crazy" has so many different meanings for people, using the phrase so casually (as you do), seems not just flip but verges on insensitive to those of us who a) grapple with mental illness, b) have a relative who is grappling with it, or c) see it in passing on the street.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    (Jason Crawford re: Jon and Kate — I side with Jon. Kate is so controlling she treats him like one of the kids. Who wants to feel like you exist for someone else to boss around?)

    Anyway, I really like Jessica’s post. Often when new writers DO stumble on writing sites like this their first instinct is to ask a question, rather than hang out for a while, search the archives, or soak up knowlege from others.

    But being green doesn’t mean you are stupid, nor does it mean you aren’t capable of writing a really solid book. It took me quite a while to learn the terminology alone — partials, queries, fulls, why it isn’t good enough to query an agent that reps YA if they don’t rep FANTASY YA. I never realized all the stuff I didn’t know, until shut up and listened. We were all green once.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Janet used the word “crazy” twice. Both times were to describe comments, not people.

    “Not to dip into censorious political correctness”. Then you did exactly that.

  6. Avatar Dawn Maria says:

    One of the hard things about email and posted comments is that tone isn't always conveyed accurately, which can lead to misunderstandings. I had someone "read" something into some comments I made on an agent blog last week and then he/she made snippy comments based on his/her interpretation of my words. I was very frustrated, but chose to ignore it because I'm not going to have an argument with a stranger on someone else's blog.

    Sometimes taking the high road can leave you a bit winded!

    Jason and Anonymous- LOVE that you're following Jon & Kate. I should feel like pond scum for not being able to stay away from all the details, but…

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    @ anonymous 9:08 a.m., maybe we’re not reading the same blog, but it’s not “Janet” but Jessica (Faust) who posts on BookEnds blog. (Unless you’re referring to another blog?)

    My comment about the use of the word “crazy” – again, if you’re referring to today’s blog post – was in reference to Jessica’s ongoing and (giving her the benefit of the doubt which, clearly, you’re not able to extend) use of the word in multiple blog posts, over time, to describe blog reader / writers. But not you, anon 9:08 a.m., of course.

  8. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Maybe you should post a Text Gadget at the top of your sidebar, something like-

    Got a question? Search the Archives! The search engine for this blog is on the top left side.

  9. Avatar Marty says:

    As a self proclaimed “troll” I seldom comment on your blog, but I must admit that it seems to me that post like this one do open the door for a whispered reply. Yes, there are those that “troll agent blogs just to spread their venom” but most of us “trolls” simply stay below the bridge and try to learn from your (collective) wisdom.

    The agent blogs we follow provide an invaluable service that we someday hope to employee – until then most of us trolls remain hidden in shadows. Remember if you will, it was the three “Billy Goats” that were “GRUFF.”

  10. I really appreciate this, Jessica :). Thank you for this post.

    We newbie writers sweat the small stuff so often that we worry if we do one thing wrong, we’re screwed. It’s nice to know that there is some slack on both ends.

    After all, we all have to start somewhere :)!

  11. Thanks for adding to the positive side of the Are Agents Human? debate I just posted yesterday. I appreciate your always erring on the side of kindness.

  12. Nice post. I think it’s great you approach people in such a positive manner. I think people who assume the best of people tend to be happier than those that assume the worst.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    How about an Amazon thread?

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Since I found your blog a little over a year ago, it has become a must read for me. I like to think that I have learned a lot. Still hitting send is very stressful. I have only had the nerve to send a handful of letters out and those were to agents with websites that offer their expertise in professional manners instead of those that focus on tearing a writer’s work apart.


  15. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    I treasure weirdnesses, neuroses and quirks in others. How could I write about such characters with respect if I did not respect them in real life? People are not always their behavior; there’s a real person in there with real feelings.

    And one thing I learned from martial arts was to treasure beginners for the gift of enthusiasm they are, and to respect them as equals on the path we all tread at one time or another.

  16. Avatar ryan field says:

    I think giving the benefit of the doubt is a good approach. And you go home at night knowing you did the right thing.

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