Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Curious Case of Writer Entitlement

Picture, if you will, a scenario:

It’s after dark. You’ve just gotten home from working a double shift at the restaurant/department store/hospital. Your feet are throbbing and you smell like burnt cheese/cheap perfume/excrement. You’re too tired to eat but it's probably ok to check your email for a response to your latest query.

The one that’s been rejected almost 100 times.

The one you edited and revised until you were blue in the face, and then you edited it again.

The one you finally, courageously, after three months of fear and waffling, sent to your Dream Agent, who reps your favorite author and writes hilarious tweets.

Yeah. That query.

And look: your inbox has a response. Your palms start to sweat. Your pulse is racing so fast you can feel it in your ears and your heart’s just lodged in your throat, almost choking you with possibility. Terror. Possibility.

You click on the email.

Dear Author…

Your heart sinks. But you steal your courage and continue to read.

Thank you for your submission of “The Best Novel You’ll Never Read.” Unfortunately, it’s not right for our list at this time.


Your Once Upon A Dream Agent

You close your eyes. Behind closed lids, you witness a lifetime of accolades slipping through your hands: the book deal, the signings, the beautiful letters you’ll receive from fans: “I love your books!” “You’re my favorite author!” “Your writing literally changed my life!”

When your eyes open again, your lashes are wet. Taunting words circle around your head: Not right for our list. Not right. Not right.

Not. Not. Not.

You start getting defensive. Your pride is wounded. Your baby has been insulted! You put your heart and soul into this thing. How could they reject it? And, in spite of professionalism, in spite of the subjectivity of the business, you start to think, what would it hurt to send one angry response?

After all, Dream Agent gets 400 emails a day. Is one little email going to make a difference? You’ll get to say your piece, this feeling of helplessness will subside, and nothing bad will come of it.


Well guess what? An agent was assaulted Thursday night. A man tracked her down in her car and attacked her. A man she rejected.

An agent who, as a professional person, as a human being, had every right to feel safe at her job, and in her home, was ATTACKED because she rejected someone’s work.

And it’s really easy to say what she could’ve done to prevent it. It’s really easy to say the guy was a raving lunatic and leave it at that. Everything’s simple, and tied up neatly, and this will never happen again.

Except right now, a dozen writers are electronically lashing out at agents who rejected them. Attacking them personally, calling them names, and makes threats.

Agents are receiving stories detailing the deaths of their family members in response to rejections.

Not long ago, a man claimed he’d kidnapped a bunch of agents' children in order to get their attention.

And ALL OF THESE THINGS are connected.

More and more, there seems to be an odd sense of entitlement in the writing community—an entitlement you don’t see in other professions. Would we expect a restaurant manager to spend hours of his time examining our serving abilities FOR FREE, and then lash out at him if he didn't think we were perfect for the position? Would we send an angry, embittered letter to the guy who didn’t hire us for a sales job?

Dear “Manager,” (if that is your real name)

You don’t know what you’re missing. You just passed up the greatest pre-paid cell phone salesman that ever lived. You’re clearly a hack.


The J.K. Rowling of cell phone sales

Yeah. Wouldn't happen. It wouldn’t happen because we don’t want to burn any professional bridges. It’s just not done. It’s not proper.


So why would anyone, who ever hoped to be a success in this profession, behave so unprofessionally when pursing their dream? What is it about this business that makes people forget it is a business?

People who reject our work aren’t rejecting us as people. They’re not even saying our work is bad. They’re saying that, at the intersection of Things I Love to Read, and Things I Can Sell, this book is a tiny bit south. Or west. Northeast, whatever.

And it’s okay for them to say that. They have that right.

So maybe, as a community of writers, of creators, of lovers not fighters, we can come together, all of us, and say, I’m not going to behave like that. I love my art, and I put my heart into it, but this is a business and I’m going to behave professionally.

Because the alternative is an industry of agents who don’t feel safe responding to ANY query they aren’t in love with, which is going to leave the lot of us with empty inboxes, wondering, what if? Did they even get my query?

Is this somehow my fault?


  1. Hear hear! What a great post, Chelsea.

  2. Wonderful post, Chelsea. I couldn't agree more!

  3. I agree 100 percent! This is horrific and needs to be addressed within the writer community.

  4. Thank you for the lovely comments!! This is my first "opinion" post so I'm happy it's being well-received! :)

  5. I agree. Thank for posting the link to that other writer who made up a ploy like his MC to kidnap agents' children. Um....wth. I think that the most important thing you can do with reject queries and ms's is recognize it could either be your query, your manuscript or that the agent doesn't think it's the right fit for them. I went through 24 or 25 queries, 8 full rejections, 3 partial rejections before I realized it was my manuscript. It just wasn't ready yet. ...And then I joined #revisathon. ;) On a serious note though...all writers can improve. Everything in this industry is a process, a learning experience.

  6. Great points, Rachel!! Even after getting an agent, an editor, a book deal, there is so much more to learn, so much room to improve.

  7. Great post. I hadn't heard of this incident. Or of any of the others. Terrible. Thank you for bringing this to our attention via your debut editorial. Hope you'll write more. Well done.

  8. You're quite right: in almost no other profession (aside from, say, reality show auditions) is it good form to have bad form. You, me, all writers know what those rejections feel like. I know the agents know what it feels like, too. Agents can be really sweet about it -- they'd love to love your book, after all, love it enough to spend countless months trying to sell it. I think because we are putting our soul into our writing that the rejections feel so personal, as opposed to applying for that crappy job in a pizza joint. But part of learning to write is learning to grow a thick skin, and learning when to revise, revise, revise.

  9. I've been a writer for decades, and in the past, such an incident would have been unheard of. The fact that it is happening now is horrific.

  10. Thank you Maria!! That is very sweet :)

    Robin, you are right. Putting our soul into our writing does make it very personal. And YES, agents absolutely want to love our books. Great points!

    Carol, you're right, it is horrific. Hopefully we can all help facilitate a change so this sort of thing doesn't keep happening

  11. Nice job tackling a pretty big topic! The other thing that people sometimes fail to see is that the agent they're querying is just one of the people who will reject them...even if their book is totally publishable and completely awesome. Then there will be editors who will have very good reasons for rejecting that might have nothing whatsover to do with their talent or the story, but more to do with finding manuscripts that round out their lists. And later, readers who will reject it because it's not their taste. If they can't handle agent rejection, they're not even remotely ready for the steps that come next. And if they lash out, I'm afraid that they never will be.

  12. This is so true. I've already been training myself to think "What did I do wrong?" instead of instantly blaming the agent.

  13. Amy, all great point!! As heartbreaking as rejection can feel, it thickens our skin for being on submission, for getting bad reviews, etc.. And often it makes us work harder, which in turn leads to more acceptance and better reviews!

  14. Kaye, I wouldn't necessarily assume you've done something wrong either. It *may* be that the manuscript or query needs more work, but it may also be that the agent just didn't fall in love with the story (or just offered to represent a different book in the genre).

  15. Great post. I'm so horrified to think that someone would attack a literary agent Rejection is part of the game, and always has been. (For agents too!) It will probably never become less painful, but that's never an excuse to lash out.