One Thing We Writers Lost By Not Being Polite

In a previous post, I bemoaned the fact that many of the literary agents who I’ve queried don’t respond. Of the agents who reply, almost all use a polite form of rejection that tells me nothing about what they didn’t like or what I might improve. One reason for the lack of feedback is the impressive number of queries an agent has to wade through.

Recently I was wandering through the Twitterverse and I came upon a post by an agent who I’d queried a few months ago and who had sent me a form-letter rejection. This is an agent who I vetted, and I am sure it would have been wonderful to work with him. He explained there’s another reason (besides the sheer volume of queries) that literary agents rarely give personalized responses: writers often take the personalized responses… personally. And then they respond angrily. Agents say they’ve been insulted and even threatened for having failed to appreciate the brilliance of some writer’s query.

Am I the only reader who has started a book and partway in realizes there is no connection with the author or main characters and says, “Meh, I’m done?” I bet you’ve done the same thing. It’s nice that when I don’t enjoy a book, the author doesn’t insult me and threaten me! We have the right to not like a creator’s work. For example, I don’t understand a lot of modern art. If I roll my eyes at a large blue square that some joker painted, even though the label below it says the museum paid $10,000 for this “artwork,” (I’m referring to a real painting, by the way — a large painting entirely one pleasing shade of blue). I am glad that I have the freedom to not like this painting without the artist threatening me with bodily harm.

I don’t expect every reader to love my work. I’m looking for the people who find value in my writing. As much as I would love to find a literary agent to represent me for the duration of my writing career, I don’t expect every query to be enthusiastically received. I don’t expect every agent I’ve queried to go all Hunger Games on each other for the honor of working with me. Therefore, it never occurred to me to respond to a rejection email with vitriol.

Maybe if an agent responded to my query with, “For the love of God, Eric, please never again put pen to paper!” Perhaps then I would reply with a smart-ass remark. Otherwise, I say nothing. I update QueryTracker and that’s the end. Agents often send their rejections from an unmonitored email. I didn’t understand why at first. Now I get it and it saddens me.

I wish we lived in a world where someone with experience could give me valuable feedback without worrying that I’ll go postal on them. I wish I had a secret code I could append to my queries so that agents would know I’m a mature adult, I will listen to their advice and, if it makes sense to me, I’ll follow it. But in any event, I will not insult them or their ancestors.