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People In Glass Houses…

May 9, 2012

So, I wrote what I thought was this inspirational post all about how you should follow your dreams, or at least follow up with an agent after they request pages at a conference.

And I used a real world experience from this past weekend, where the lovely Jessie had dinner with me, charmed me, but then had a mini crisis of confidence where she worried that she had offended me, and canceled her pitch appointment.

So I’ll get to the part about how I really do get it even though I try to explain how not scary I am (and even though I try not to be scary). But first, I have something to say to several of those who left comments on that first blog post.

When I came up with that less than 50% of people I request material from, actually send it statistic, who do you think I was talking about?

Because I was talking about YOU.

Right, I know.

YOU were sitting there at your computer, looking around saying ME?? I would NEVER not send in my material after an agent requested it. Or maybe you were thinking, what kind of idiot backs out of a pitch session, especially after spending dinner with an agent??? Or maybe you said wow, I wish I had been there to take that canceled appointment; I wouldn’t have wasted such an incredible opportunity.

Well I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. So get off your smug, self-righteous high horse and show a little compassion.

Where do you think all these scared writers are coming from?

They’re you.

They’re the writers who are working late into the night trying to write a manuscript while juggling a family and job; they’re the writers on Twitter and in the blogosphere.

They’re the writers who show up at every conference I attend and fully half of them fail to follow up on my requests because they’re too scared to let me see their work.

How dare you judge one of your own.

My story was meant to help you get over your ridiculous fear of agents and go after what you want. I was poking a little fun at Jessie–who I gently teased in person Saturday for skipping the pitch and told her I expect to see her sample in my inbox–in the hopes that other writers will see that the worst that will happen is an agent will turn down your manuscript.

But I’m sorry (and horrified) to see that so many of you were so quick to sell out Jessie and assure me that you would never show a little fear in the same situation. Of course not.

If that were true, then I would get 90% of the manuscripts I request at conferences.

But I don’t. I never have. And neither has any other agent I’ve ever discussed this with.

Sigh.

I get it. I really do. I understand that meeting me (or any agent) feels like a BIG opportunity. I know it feels like you’ve only got one chance.

But you know what? It’s just not true.

There’s always another agent and another manuscript. It’s just about how much you want it.

Well, maybe Jessie will thank you for giving me a reason to send her a horrified apology for a post gone wrong.

As for me, I still hope you all go after your dreams, send manuscripts when requested etc. etc.Β But I guess I hope to see a little more support for each other when you do get intimidated, and encouragement in the hope that maybe next time will be your time.

Because, you know, you gotta be in it to win it.

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36 Comments
  1. I like the name Jessie. I keep meaning to use it in a manuscript somewhere. And I like the name Michelle too. I HAVE used it in a few manuscripts. Yes, this comment has nothing to do with the post. la la la la. Tangent!!!

  2. Wow. I’m so sorry that you felt the need to defend what you wrote on your blog. I personally thought that was a great post. We sit here as writers slaving over every word of our manuscripts, trying to get them ready to query with, all in a lot of solitude. It can be so terrifying to put that manuscript out there for other eyes to see. It’s a fear that is natural, but can be overcome. Your post was so much encouragement to brave that step out of our comfort zones. Thank you for that post.

    A coworker was asking me the other day if it’s not a little bittersweet to be at a writer’s conference, with so much competition there in the room. I told her that, yes, someone in that room might some day have a book on the shelf near ours, but there are so many readers and so many writers it negates some of that competition. Yes, we’re all looking for an audience, but those writers who might be our “competition”? That’s potential audience for me, for that writer, etcetera.

    And, I also told her, that writing is so solitary, if you go into a conference or any sort of interaction with fellow writers with that attitude of “They’re the competition” you’re not going to make the meaningful connections you might be in most need of. I wish that attitude could prevail more frequently.

    Thanks for this.

  3. I can understand the paralysing fear when an agent says, “Send me pages.” After hundreds of queries and dozens of requests, I am riddled with self-doubt and often delay the submission for days or even weeks. I’m fortunate to have a wide network of writers from several groups (Twitter, Absolute Write, Blogger, Book Country) who remind me that I’m not alone with my dread.

  4. Insecurity makes people do crazy things. Writers should know that best. Both posts were great reminders.

  5. Anonymous permalink

    My inclination in reading the first post was to defend the writer. But I didn’t want to offend the agent…

    I think it’s a writer’s prerogative to decide whether or not to go through with a request (or pitch). I’m sorry someone else lost the spot, but that’s how it goes sometimes. For some, pitches are horribly nerve-wracking. I can understand the concept of cold feet – especially for writers (there are a lot of introverted writers out there – right? Or it’s just me…).

    I’ll admit several agents requested rewrites from me when I was querying, and I was too nervous about bad feedback to send them along after they were done. I couldn’t stand the thought of sending in a rewrite that was WORSE than the initial draft. The fear was so paralyzing that I decided to just write another manuscript – and another, and another, until I found an agent. I guess I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to all the agents whose time I wasted, but it wasn’t personal. I was insecure and self-destructive and all those other things that can doom inexperienced writers (I’ve since developed a very thick skin).

    Confidence goes a long way, but for some, it’s a struggle. The more you write, the easier it gets.

    • I’m not offended, and I couldn’t care less about the time I spent in pitches with people who didn’t send me manuscripts.

      I understand that fear and insecurity were driving it too. But that’s exactly why I was so upset when other writers were ganging up on Jessie. I wasn’t trying to publicly shame her. I was trying to use it as an example of how you shouldn’t let something silly (i.e. I wasn’t AT ALL offended by our discussion at dinner) get in the way of achieving your goals.

      Who doesn’t ever have moments of insecurity? And I can live with not getting everything I want. But I don’t know if I can live with the idea that I didn’t get something because I was too scared to try.

      I’m not judging. This is me at my encouraging best. πŸ™‚

      • Aurelia Blue permalink

        This is so great, as a writer, to hear!! And EXREMELY encouraging. I’m also glad to hear you did give Jessie another chance to send her work to you. I wish I’d known that yesterday, when I read your previous post. I worried over Jessie a lot last night, wished I knew her so I could give her a call.

        It is soooooooooo important to suppport each other. Not only as writers, but as members of the human race. How can we expect to prosper ourselves, if we do not prosper others?

        I completely agree that we can be just nuts as writers and artists in general. We have delicate temperments don’t we? Of course that’s how such wonderful stories get told. Personally, I feel like I struggle all the time to balance my writing “work” with my other jobs in life, and I truly envy those who go through life with no compulsion whatsover to tell a story. Their lives just seem so simple. So uncomplicated. So, dare I say, peaceful? I’M JEALOUS, LOL!!!!! In reallity, I do know the lives of others are frought with their own complications, worries and imbalances. And that’s just it: we ALL live in those glass houses.

        I like to say, “Break that glass ceiling, not the walls!” It’s not neccesarily a feminist thing (although I don’t preclude feminism, Sisters! Or brothers, if you are so inclined.), it’s a “prop each other up” thing. A “never leave a man behind”, kinda thing. I want to say right now that I strive to be that kind of gal, even if my writing is not ever known to a wide audience. For me, it’s not just about getting known, it’s about sharing. I think that’s why we’re all here, honestly. I personally invite everyone reading this to reach out to me if you want to connect to someone who is friendly, nonjudgemental, and truly interested in other artists and people in general. I’m on Facebook and I accept all requests unless you are threatening or mean to others on my list. My email is aurelia_blue@yahoo.com. I hope to meet more of you as I don’t recognize any of the names on this blog’s replies. πŸ™‚

      • aviatrixkim permalink

        I think we’ve all been that “Oh, no! Did I offend her!?!?” overthink-y person at some point in a roaring torrent of insecurity. I fully sympathize. And I think the hardest thing about the submissions process is that it feeds insecurity. Suddenly, our success as writers depends on other people’s opinions, something that’s wholly out of our control. At least when we were slaving away on a manuscript, we could control an outcomeβ€”the product itself. But when we send our precious babies out into the world to be accepted or ignored, we lose control of the outcome, and that’s, frankly, a bit crazymaking. But then, what’s the alternative?

  6. You know if Jessie becomes your client, this is going to be THE BEST STORY EVER of getting an agent. Even better than how I called KW and asked for her blessing first. OK, I have to go copy edit rather than babble on your blog.

  7. bjmuntain permalink

    Who, me? Scared? Never!

    Just because I have to pace the half hour before a pitch session, takinng deep breaths?

    Because I couldn’t look an agent in the eye when I was waiting for a response from him?

    Because a friend had to guide me at gunpoint (well, pencil-point, really, but it felt that dangerous) just to talk to an author I admired?

    Scared? Me?

    Hell, yeah.

    But I’ll always remember the sweet woman at the trade booth who saw how nervous I was, and gave me two pens with motivational sayings she thought might help in that situation.

    And how kind and friendly that author was when I finally talked to him.

    And I’ll always be grateful to the friends who pushed and pulled me to talk to an agent or author. And the friend who introduced me to the scariest agent in the bar to show me he wasn’t really scary, even though I spilled water all over myself.

    I’m proud to say that I’ve never skipped a pitch session.

    But I had a LOT of help. Without that help, who knows?

    I only wish I could have paid that forward to Jessie. We all need pencil-packing friends.

    BJ

  8. I ran the pitch sessions for the 2010 and 2011 LDS Storymakers conferences and was surprised when people would cancel. In fact, we were able to get almost everyone who was on the waiting lists in by the end of the day. This year I was scheduled for a pitch with an editor. I wasn’t particularly nervous or worried, just had the attitude of “will this ever really happen for me?” Yes, I’m an introvert, but I’m also diligent and persistent and work hard to achieve my goals. I have a great smaller publisher, but I’m jumping genres, and so need a second publisher. I went to the pitch and the editor was awesome. But after I’m still thinking “will this ever really happen for me?” I have submitted plenty and have been in final committee stages with major publishers, so it’s hard to take another leap of faith . . . with an agent or an editor.

  9. Oh, and one caveat. My surprise at people canceling was because I wondered why they signed up in the first place. It wasn’t until the tables were turned that I understood the self-doubt that can happen as the pitch session inches closer. So good intentions initially can quickly turn sour when the actual reality approaches.

  10. I think *I’m* scared of you now. Ha. (Just kidding, you can’t scare me….anymore.) Here’s the thing, everyone, including the commenters from the last post, just want to impress you. You are the key to our dreams. Or so it seems. I know, so much pressure. And so sometimes talking or typing comes before thinking. I hope nobody meant to hurt Jessie. Because she is a real person. But you are SO right, we all need to be more supportive of one another. This is a tough journey and if we can’t help each other through it, it’s only going to be that much harder.

    • Kasie said it right. Agents and editors become these bigger than life entities when they are the gate keepers for our dreams. So I get it–we go a little crazy. But I firmly…did I say FIRMLY…because I want to stress this. I FIRMLY believe that the best thing that you can do for your writing career (after writing a good book) is to support your peers–to be kind. So Jessie…call me…email. I’ll put your mind at ease about the Wolf. Are you close? We can do lunch. Don’t be shy.

      • Add me to the Kindness Krowd with Kasie and Kim. (Gee, that’s a lot of Ks.) And Jessie, if you’re reading this, Michelle doesn’t bite (… very hard). πŸ˜‰

        Also, humor really helps smooth out the rough edges in this business. πŸ™‚

    • Kasie, I ❀ you, you always say just the right thing! And I agree with you completely.

      I'm so happy for Jessie that she's still submitting and I love this follow up post that Michelle wrote. And yes, Michelle, you can be intimidating. But also so funny and nice. And the same with Jessie, she's beautiful and smart and nice. I kind of really hope you guys do end up working together because it would be the most awesome story ever. πŸ™‚

  11. Dead on post, Michelle. If we can’t support each other, who will? With all the mobs floating around the internet ready to pounce on any writer who utters a wrong word, we’d all be better off remembering this. That said, I think it’s called mob-mentality for a reason and sometimes it’s hard to remember to think for yourself when people believe they are just agreeing with an agent. I think it rocks that you e-mailed Jessie, and Daisy is right–if you end up with Jessie as a client after all this, it would be the BEST “how I got my agent” story EVER. πŸ™‚

  12. Here’s the thing. For my non-writer friends/acquaintances, my standard “what do you do, dear?” answer is: “I’m paranoid and insecure. OF COURSE I’m a writer.” That insecurity and crisis of confidence just comes natural to writers. I don’t know quite why, other than that we’re putting our beloved babies out there for the world to rip apart.

    And, yeah, in earlier days I’ve been one of those who never sent in the ms too. Lots of reasons, none of them good. Comes down to being paranoid and insecure, I guess!

    Sigh.

    Minta
    THE MAGICIAN OF WALL STREET
    Indulgence from Entangled Publshing, available now.

  13. Randy permalink

    Your persuasive writing in both posts compelled me to reply. I get it, all of it. After your first post, I had the urge to let you know and everyone else I would never ditch a pitch. I imagined all the brownie points dropping from the sky and falling into the abyss of my ego, not to mention the phone call where you beg me for my MS because of my obvious enlightenment. I refrained. It wasn’t wisdom that prompted me into inaction it was the nagging feeling that I have been Jessie too many times. Your second post took me over the edge. I understand Jessie, the commenters, and your points. You never have a chance unless you take a chance, but I learned more than just that. I receive more grace than anybody I know, so maybe, I should start sharing.

  14. tbronley permalink

    Well-written!

    The thing about this past Storymaker conference that shocked me was that I actually walked out of their with confidence as a writer.

    Even though I said many times how I sucked as a writer, I had my author friends their encouraging me. And sitting through the panels you participated in, I felt comfortable that I could pitch/query and not feel like I was going to waste your time.

    I mean, really, the worst you can say is, “No.” It’s not like you’re going to take my manuscript and make a youtube video of yourself burning it for the whole public to see. That could be a waste of your time. (Although–come to think of it–it does seem kinda cool.)

  15. Then there’s the other kind of writers β€” the ones who cancan naked across your soul 29/7…

  16. Aurelia Blue permalink

    LOL @ Whirlochre! Is that a GOOD thing? Sounds like a FUN thing. I hope I’m that kind of writer if it is a good thing. πŸ™‚

  17. Yes, yes, yes! That’s why I loved that post–it was a great reminder that hey, everyone in this industry really is human. That understanding won’t necessarily get rid of nerves entirely (we writers are too neurotic for that!), but it will help smooth them over a bit.

  18. pegbrantley permalink

    The last three agents who requested something from me were looking over my shoulder at the next person in line. The numbers game. The when the hell can I get out of here quest. It was far from encouraging or personal.

  19. I fully understand the people who don’t send. It’s scary. We spend all this time dreaming about it, about our first request, our first shots, and when they finally get here it’s suddenly very real. Suddenly the ideas in your head aren’t just in your head. They’re in the hands of someone who could make your career. It’s absolutely terrifying. If it wasn’t for the help and support of my writing friends I would have never tried submitting in the first place.

  20. Cheryl Angst permalink

    This is an interesting discussion (I found it on Twitter via @EgmontUSA). I have to admit, I am guilty of not sending pages after a pitch session. However, and this will hopefully be food for thought for some, it wasn’t because I was scared – it was because after meeting the editor/agent I decided we probably wouldn’t work well together.

    So many people seem to focus on the pitch as being the means to showcase their stuff to an agent (which it is, I get that), but what it also is, is a chance to actually _speak_ with that person and take their measure too. I understand the stress and angst involved in trying to find an agent (I lived it twice in less than twelve months), but I’ve also learned that the best thing I could do for myself was ask, “Is this a person I can see myself working with for the next three, five, ten, twenty years?”

    If the answer wasn’t a resounding, “Yes,” then I didn’t send the requested pages.

    Maybe some of the 50% request-to-submitted-materials ratio has something to do with authors deciding those agents aren’t a good fit for their careers? It’s not just agents who decide they won’t be a good fit… πŸ˜‰

    • GASP!!
      Are you suggesting that there are some people who didn’t like me?!?! πŸ˜‰

      I actually think this is an excellent comment and an important point. In fact, during the conference I did a session with another client, Kiersten White, on the Agent/Author relationship, and we both commented on how although it seems like during the query/pitch phase, you’d be grateful for any agent, a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I firmly believe this.

      I have several clients who have switched to me from other agents who weren’t a good fit (even when those other agents sold books for them) and likewise, I’ve had clients who have found success with other agents when we weren’t a good fit.

      I absolutely believe you should be “interviewing” your potential agents for fit/style, etc. as well.

      However, despite the worthiness of the point, I still feel that the majority of the people who don’t follow up on requests, don’t follow up because they are stymied by fear–whether it’s that they want to revise “one more time” and that turns into 6 months and then a year and then forever. Or they are too scared of rejection. Or a number of other reasons I won’t get into.

      And I understand what *everyone* has said about how scary rejection is. AGENTS face rejection when we send your manuscripts to the editors. I know it’s not quite the same. But believe me, by that point I take it pretty personally. Just ask my clients.

      Again, my post(s) were and are meant only to be encouraging, not disparaging, and I’m glad it’s been read by so many people, even if poor Jessie had to suffer a little.

      Rest assured, Jessie and I have been in touch and we are all squared away.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • I don’t know that a pitch session gives me enough time to interview an agent, so I’d probably save most of that for any conversations we’d have when talk of representation started.

        Though I also do my homework before pitching/querying and try to know as much as I can about an agent’s style and interests before I go in, so that helps.

        And major dittos on the “bad agent worse than no agent” thing. I have several author friends who were somewhat hobbled by a bad agent relationship and have either switched or are in the process of switching agents to find a better fit. I’ve heard enough horror stories to be very careful as I begin this journey for myself.

  21. That’s why I wrote “interview.” because I didn’t mean literally, but rather get a sense of the personality and whether or not you’d get along. Think of the rare occasion where someone’s personality is SUCH a turnoff that even if they are great at what they do, you just feel like they wouldn’t be good for you. That’s more what I meant.

  22. ebonymckenna permalink

    Aha! You lured me here and now I’m commenting πŸ™‚
    These posts hit close to the bone for me. If I were a more sensitive person, I’d be too scared to submit, even after meeting an agent. Instead, I’m one of these elephant-skinned gung-ho writers who sends things off – because the worst they can say is “not for me”, right?
    And although I had my share of “not for me”s, I also broke through in the UK. (And now I’m trying to break through in the USA. I’m a crazy glutton for punishment.)

    I do have writer friends who have been asked to submit something and . . . they haven’t . . . and I’m going to admit now that I’m one of these awful people who immediately thought “Why not fagawdsake?” When really I should have been more sympathetic.

    It has taken me years to realise that not everyone is the same (I know!) Not everyone can lay themselves bare and send their book babies out into the world. Fear of rejection can be crippling.

    Thanks for an awesome blog. May I go back to lurking please πŸ™‚

  23. Hi Michelle, thanks for sharing this. Though it initially surprised me, it reminded of something that happened to me once. An agent requested a partial of my first novel at a conference. I started preparing my submission, but a conversation with a very trusted critique partner (now a published author) made me realize that my book wasn’t ready to be evaluated. The novel needed restructuring and a major rewrite. It took me about eighteen months to write a new draft. Eventually, I sent the partial (and the agent said she remembered me, but maybe she was just being nice. :)) I agree that some writers may experience “stage fright” (we’re an insecure bunch) but perhaps a percentage of these vanishing writers realize their work isn’t ready and may still be revising (so who knows if you’ll get the material you requested in a few years? ;))

  24. Michelle–
    I can personally vouch for the authors that don’t send in–it’s nothing personal except plain fear of rejection.

    Take me for example. Here I am, first day of Storymakers and your second pitch of the morning. As luck would have it, my stomach was dancing the fast hip-shaking Tahitian Tamure’ while my unusually dry palms were suddenly sweating (along with my freshly shaved armpits–but we won’t really go there since the doc says it’s some sort of hyper-hydrolysis thingy, blah, blah–TMI, I know!). I slid into the room–you were totally cute with, like, the sexiest legs–Yep, totally straight–I PROMISE! Suddenly I started my pitch, was instantly tongue-tied, and then laughed as I asked you if I could start over. Eventually you heard about my YA romance set in exotic Hawaii. You smiled and asked for pages. You even seemed a little excited about the idea (multi-cultural, double identity, etc..) After the 9 minutes of pitching–and your requesting pages–I finally relaxed. Then came the knock at the door–only one minute remaining–darn it! Without a worry of rejection, I quickly pitched you my second novel. You sincerely seemed to love the idea. You even seemed thrilled by the idea. “Oh, I really want this one, even more than the other one.” Ecstatic, I agreed to send you pages from both. Practically dancing, I left the room, did a small scream and jump with the sweet girl running the pitch session, and ran off to spread the good news to my friends (Jessie being one of them).

    Luckily for me, this scenario played out with the other two agents over the weekend (although, I honestly wasn’t trying to pitch them, just talking in general conversation and they requested–one even handing me her card before I could tell about the book–she was just excited about the multi-cultural YA). I was much more relaxed because I genuinely like to talk to people and therefore the ideas of my stories somehow made it into our conversations and pages/fulls were requested.

    What’s my point-right? The point to this awesome story is this–negative attitudes. After sharing my exciting news with all who would listen (of my friends :)) this was some of the responses.
    “Well, don’t they kind of request pages as a sort of ‘considerate thing to do’? I mean what else are they going to say?

  25. Rrrr… didn’t mean to hit send (therefore never had the chance to spell check, space, grammar, etc..)

    Also, I heard this, “So, I heard from almost everyone that pitched to Michelle, that she asked for pages. I think that’s just sort of a general thing they do to be nice so it’s not awkward. I would’n’t get too excited.”

    Do I believe that is true??? Well…I’m going to say NOT TRUE! But is it possible? Could these kinds of negative rumors/attitudes be why some writers don’t send of the pages/fulls? I mean, the last thing we want to feel is our manuscript would still be stuck in the slushpile if we hadn’t been awake at 12:00.01am to click ‘pitch session’ when the conference went active online.

    Maybe it’s just ‘jealous writers’, afraid of the competition, determined to bring us down by hoping to scare us into not submitting, therefor eliminating the competition altogether.

    Who knows.

    But one things for sure, this girl ain’t afraid of a little competition–it’s what’s gotten me this far in my life.

    Bring it on!

    And Michelle, if you (or the other agents) really didn’t want pages, then you should all switch from agenting to acting–because your DAMN good!!!

    Cheers!!!

  26. I missed the post about Jessie but I hope she gets what she’s after and I hope you do too. People really can be unbelieavably judgemental.

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