Monday, February 14, 2011

The Better Part of Valor

I've had a few people ask about my agent, and the process I went through to find her.  (NB: I've even had one imply she either doesn't exist, or is me pretending to be my own agent.  My answer: an emphatic 'no' with a healthy dose of vitriole-curbing self-control).

There's a really simple reason I don't give the name of my agent or her agency:  She doesn't accept unsolicited queries.  At all.  Nada.  Kaput.  She's a busy lady. She doesn't want queries.  End of story.  Do I want to be the reason she's suddenly receiving dozens of unwanted emails?  No.

When we first established our professional relationship last year, she specifically requested I not publish her name or contact details.  Why?  Because writers (and I do include myself in this) have a tendency to... um... kind of expect that my amazing work will be the exception to the rule.  That if only that agent / editor / publisher caught a glimpse of my brilliance, those pesky rules about professionalism and boundaries would fly out the proverbial New York skyscraper window...  right?!

Well, my agent begs to differ.  And, frankly, reading some of the industry blogs I follow religiously, I can see why.  As an as-yet-undiscovered author, I have zero desire to place any barriers in the way of my path to publication. 

The reason I signed with my agent is because she knows more than me.  She can help me.  She has already opened doors I didn't even know existed.  Would I love to shout her name from the rooftops? Yes!  But not if it's going to make her job harder.  And definitely not if it's going to negatively impact on my chance for success.

When I feel antsy or misjudged by other writers, I just remind myself there's a good reason for taking her advice. 

(That and the fact that if - WHEN! - I get a publishing contract and my agent's name is splashed all over Publisher's Marketplace, the aforementioned naysayer can feel free to privately apologize.  Just sayin').

This has raised an interesting point for me though, one which might be worth considering in your own journey:

Discretion is the better part of valor.

Sometimes it's better just to say nothing.  To suck it up.  To wait.  Be patient.  Accept that you'll be misjudged or perhaps treated unfairly.  And worst of all:  to consider that maybe, just maybe,  your perception of what is right, or fair, or even possible might be wrong.

Be it during queries, reviews, critiques, or the editorial process... we all hit obstacles or criticisms we don't like.  But that, my dear friends, is life.  And it's definitely publishing.

If you can steel yourself to accept that now, you'll develop the ironclad skin required to survive this pen-slashing industry.  Then, when the right agent / editor / publisher person comes along, you'll already have proven that you have wait it takes to listen to advice, and to sit on your hands or bite your tongue when necessary.

There are countless examples out there of authors who've stuck their fingers into the professional wasp-nest.  And they've been bitten.  Hard.

What you hear about less are the aspiring authors who made the same mistakes online or via email and it killed their careers before they started.

Check out any agent blog you please - they all mention correspondence with a writer who somehow believes they're entitled to the agent's attention, professional advice and / or representation.  But they aren't.

Think it through: If you haven't sold a book, you haven't made anyone any money.  You've proven nothing.  If your writing is good enough to catch an agent / editor's notice and they google you (which, they will - with impunity), what will they find? 

Beware the rant.  Beware the naming and shaming.  Beware the self-defending or self-rationalizing.  People don't want to work with people who will be negative, scary, or downright self-obsessed.

Agents and Editors are people.  And they want to work with other people who are pleasant, professional and discreet.

If you don't believe me, well... that's okay.  I haven't proven anything to anyone yet.  I get that.  In fact, that's kind of my point.

But if you are listening: take care in the cyberworld my writerly friends.  Your career launchpad could also be your professional cemetary.

Just sayin'.


  1. Good points Aimee. (All of them.) I'd also caution authors, aspiring and otherwise, to not get too overly concerned with stepping on toes. It can make your cyber-persona stale and unoriginal. I read so many blogs that rehash the same opinions, and kiss the same boots that it feels as though no one is allowed to say anything that hasn't been filtered.

    My point: It's okay to disagree, or to occasionally bemoan the business (it isn't always fair--nothing is). After all, a voice of dissent is often the loudest and most relevant.

    However, I would encourage (as you did) people to use a smidgen of judgment, and a heap of tact when airing their grievances in a public fashion. Your post here is a perfect example. You've made a strong point about a topic, but you've done so in a tactful, non-attacking manner.

    Good stuff.


  2. I agree in principle, E.J. I think the problem is (for me at least), wanting to err on the side of caution. One editor's "professional diplomacy" is another's "psycho rant".

    I guess I feel like I don't know the boundaries, so why risk pushing them?

    There's plenty of interesting things to blog about without gettin' all up in the industry grill :)

  3. We were just talking about this in my advanced creative writing class, about how important it is to follow their formatting rules when turning in a manuscript, don't consider yourself an exception, don't send them the entire manuscript when they only ask for the first chapter or a query letter, don't send it in if they don't accept unsolicited or cold manuscripts, etc. It was a good discussion. Especially after how defensive some people got while after having their stuff workshopped. I almost don't want to suggest some stuff to people because I know they'll have something to say about it. lol. In my old class, the author being workshopped wasn't allowed to speak and i think that would be a good tradition to adopt in this new class. They just need to take it all in and work it out later.

  4. Hi Aimee, a fellow crusader here, popping in to check out your blog. A MASSIVE congratulations on landing your agent :) Boo to the naysayers, support her in whatever way she needs! You know, I think agent stories are inspiring, with or without naming names. It's all about the journey :)

  5. Oooh... this is good. My agent (Rachelle) is OUT there and has TONS of authors reading her blog so I have an easy time publishing her name. But, if she asked me not to, I'd definitely respect her wishes because she has opened doors for me that I could've never opened on my own.

  6. I'm impressed by your self control while under fire of false accusations. It's not easy.

  7. Very good an aspiring author and being pretty new to blogging, its good to have more experienced writers giving us tips on how not to kill your dream before you even start. Practicing tact and self-control doesn't just apply to the writing/ publishing world. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Of course you would respect your agent's request. Out of plain old-fashioned manners at best. And also one hopes, out of writer's professionalism. We should all do it, should we be lucky enough to secure an agent.
    Just one question: you mention in your post that she/he has already opened many doors for you. May we ask what doors? I always find it interesting to read what writers' experiences with their agents are like.

  9. This is a very thought-provoking post - how to know where to draw the line, how to be honest and present your opinions without upsetting people. It could be the difference between building or burning a bridge!

    I'm interested in the answers to the questions mesmered above posted, and also to a question of my own - how did you begin your relationship with your agent, seeing as she doesn't accept unsolicited queries? I'm very inexperienced at this, so I don't understand how you get an agent without first soliciting them.

    Thanks for another interesting read, Aimee.

  10. Mesmered / Cally - all shall be revealed soon! :)

  11. Powerful and true. I'd hate to have my big mouth ruin things for me. Or in this case my loose fingers. I'm SUPER curious to know who she is now! And yes, if my agent suggested anything to me I would follow her advice even if it meant keeping our relationship hush hush, which we did for almost a year. This is fascinating stuff and great food for thought!!!

  12. I applaud your perseverance. Tana is right, great food for thought.

  13. First off: bonjour fellow crusader and group member!

    Everyone makes such great points. I do agree that being overly careful can make you seem stale and false, but being the Queen of Tact (sarcastically, of course) will get you nothing.


  14. I think you are choosing a wise path, however difficult it might be. I know that as a newbie to this business, when an agent/publisher/editor/reviewer/reader says something, I think before I tread.

    It's so easy to be rejected already and it truly does take patience and perseverance to "do the right thing."

  15. Hey Aimee,

    I stopped to give a big wave and welcome you on board the Crusade (and squee about us being in the same group!!!), but I've been a little distracted by reading your blog *grins*. Am really impressed by some of your posts, and will be coming back to do some more reading very soon :)

    I admire your courage in respecting your agent's wishes - shame on anyone who is being negative because of that. And you're so right, one needs to be a little careful about what one says in the internet world *nods*!



  16. Hi Rach! Great to see you - and *squee* right back.

    Thanks so much for the Writers Crusade, what a fab idea!


  17. Congrats on having an agent and respecting her wishes. That would be so hard. I can't stand it when people rant about everything from a rejection to how horrible a certain agent or publisher is. Even if you're angry, vent somewhere else. Not for everyone to see it! :) I'm really enjoying your blog, and can't wait to see one of your books in print! :)