Over the last month I’ve watched with a sort of horrified fascination as Queryfail morphed into Agentfail, and all of the agent bashing that has occurred as a result.   I’ve resisted blogging about it because I didn’t  want to get caught up in the sound and the fury, but here I am this morning anyway, because the storm seems far from subsiding and has given me pause for thought.

In my day job, (and often night job) I work as a Mental Health Crisis Response provider, dealing with people who are under duress.  One of the things I have noticed, is that powerful emotions bring out the ugly.  It’s easy to begin slinging mud; to distance ourselves from a perceived threat by spewing vitriolic blame.  And the natural reaction, when somebody spews vitriol at you, is to either suit up in vitriol proof armor, or sling it back.

The result?  Nobody hears what anybody else is saying, because everybody is on either the offensive or the defensive.  

What I hear, when I take a step back to listen, is this:

All of us, writers and agents, are human beings.  All of us are in this business because we love books. All of us are splendidly flawed and carry emotional baggage, and here is where I think it all blows up.  Every human being on this planet sees the world through a unique lens created by experiences, emotions, and beliefs.  Which means that there is not One Reality, but many, and when we try to communicate we always assume that we are talking about the Same Thing.

Usually we are not.  Some of us live on adjacent planets, so to speak, and we manage to come close enough to a common reality to have a meaningful exchange of ideas.  Some of us dwell on far flung solar systems and the frame of reference between one galaxy and another is so vastly different, that although we use the same words we are not speaking the same language.

When you look at the comments somebody has written with shock and disbelief, and find yourself asking, “where did that come from?”, my guess is, a place far, far away from you.  One insightful blogger, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, made a very apt point: many authors want to see agents as larger than life, archetypal representatives of something.

They are not.  They are not archetypes, but human beings, and they have problems just like everybody else’s:  they have kids and pets, car trouble, financial difficulties, and complicated schedules.  Most of them receive hundreds of queries a day, most of which do not follow recommended guidelines, some of them not even written in acceptable English; many of these queries are sent by writers living in a far flung reality with a language all it’s own.  I’m not surprised if agents feel a bit snarky from time to time about the junk they are expected to wade through in search of the occasional piece of gold.

As a writer, I sometimes feel like I’m playing the lotto when it comes to publishing.  I’m guessing it feels a lot that way to be an agent.  In all honesty, after following Queryfail and reading the Tweets of various agents, I feel less hopeful than ever about getting published:  I’m honestly amazed that with the onslaught of trash that agents are expected to deal with they are still speaking in complete sentences and able to uncross their eyes to read the good queries when they come in.

The good news is, I no longer take rejection personally.  This system, like the social services system that I work in, is entailed in unsolvable knots (to quote Dr. Seuss).  It’s a miracle that writers manage to complete a manuscript, given all of the forces that work against creativity and writing time.  It’s a miracle that agents find and recognize the rare jewel in the trash heap.

Agents are not enemies, they are allies.  I hope, when I find representation, to have a partnership with respect on both sides.  I hope, when my destined agent and I finally connect, that we can work as a team, that our worlds lie close enough together for us to have meaningful conversations and get books published.  And I think that is the whole point of the query process: finding the agent who speaks your language.

That said, I’d better get back to writing, or there will be no queries for me to add to the slush pile.  And while I’m writing, believe me, I’m looking for the alchemy that makes my manuscript the chunk of gold that someday makes some agent’s day.

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