Can’t Get No Respect?

Never take a person’s dignity; it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you. ~Frank Barron

I’ve been reading a terrific book, The Power of a Positive No. It’s by William Ury, one of the world’s most talented negotiators and author of several books including the negotiator’s bible, Getting to Yes.

One of the most powerful concepts in this book is the idea of treating people with respect. You can’t take away a person’s dignity and then expect them to deal kindly with you. But if a person feels respected, they can accept whatever comes—even if it’s a “no” they don’t want—with grace.

I’m in a career where I have to communicate “no” to a lot of people. I say “no” to people querying me every day. I say “no” to writers with great potential who just aren’t a fit for my client list. And, perhaps hardest of all, I have to share bad news with people I care about—my clients.

As I’ve pondered all of this, I thought about how often writers lash out at agents on the web. Sometimes it’s in response to a personal “no” they received on their project, more often it’s in response to some kind of blanket “no” explained by an agent on a blog or on Twitter. (No, I don’t want your query if it doesn’t meet our guidelines. No, I usually can’t give feedback on queries. No, I don’t rep YA or children’s books.)

I realized one of the reasons writers may be responding in such frustration: perhaps they feel disrespected. They don’t feel heard. They feel disregarded and shamed and stripped of dignity.

This was a big wake-up call for me. It doesn’t matter that I adore and respect writers, individually and as a group. If I write or say things, publically or privately, that communicate a lack of respect, they’re not going to feel the love.

One of the goals of this blog is to help writers understand an agent’s point of view so rejection won’t feel so personal. But even when I try to do that, writers still often feel disrespected.

So hear me now: For all the times I’ve made anyone feel a lack of respect, whether on the blog or on Twitter or in a personal communication… I’m truly sorry. For the times it may seem I’ve stripped an author of their dignity, I apologize. It has never been my intention, but as we know, intentions mean nothing if our actions don’t convey them.

From here forward, I’m going to endeavor to match my actions to my intent. I’ll be working on showing writers the respect I actually do have for them. And when I feel disrespected (I hear “no” a lot too), I’ll try to remember that we’re all human and perhaps others, like me, don’t always say exactly what they mean.

→ Thoughts?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  6. Kathryn Magendie on October 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >One of the most difficult things for me to do is send rejection letters to writers. I’m a writer so that makes it seem as if I’m ‘on the other side’ -the ‘dark side’ – it is not a comfortable feeling, even when I send encouragement . . . it’s hard to show respect and encouragement through a rejection letter, but I hope we do that, hope we show how honored we are the writer submitted to our journal.drives me crazy to go on agents or writers blogs and see them making fun of agents/writers – I step away from it, want no part of it.

  7. Anonymous on October 14, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    >JM Lacey: I hope you apply that to agents as well. If they put their energies towards reading their queries instead of mocking them on Twitter and blogs, then maybe this whole biz would improve and mss. could be read and published.

  8. J.M. Lacey on October 14, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    >And one more thing to add…

    If writers redirected their energies they waste on complaining into revising, editing and researching, that would be better use of their time and help them become better writers.

  9. J.M. Lacey on October 14, 2010 at 11:02 AM


    I hear what you are saying and I appreciate your comments. Frankly, as a writer, I feel the writers airing their dismay via public forums is immature and unprofessional. I would never do business with someone I can't trust.

    As far as the rejections are concerned, I certainly can understand how disheartening it is to have your baby "rejected." How many of us would dare tell a mother her baby would be handsomer if he didn't look, well, like he does? But as hard as it is to learn an agent doesn't want to represent our work, it is business. Writers have to pull themselves away as much as possible to look at their manuscript objectively. If it is receiving a lot of rejections, maybe it isn't ready. Maybe you're querying the wrong agents. Maybe you haven't found your voice. It isn't personal (unless an agent tells you to find another line of work. Then again, that agent isn't for you, either).

    We really live in a society where people are getting very comfortable with the "want it right now, want it for me" mentality. "What's in it for me," instead of "how can I give to someone else?" Writers are more concerned with pumping out 5,000 words in an hour, rather than the quality of the words.

    With all that said, as long as both parties remain professional (agents and writers), people remember that, and you never know where your kind, professional behavior and attitude will land you.

  10. Anonymous on October 14, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    >I attended a writer's conference recently and many writers pitched to editors and agents during the 3 day event. I did, too. I was requested as was a friend. I found it interesting to read the agents' tweets on twitter in which they openly discussed their frustration about certain pitches and the genres pitched. I could have chosen to be offended (though the pitches they dissed weren't related to my genre at all but to many of my peers'), but instead I looked at the tweets as rather informative about the genre in question. Would that information impact my stories in the future within that genre? Perhaps. After all, we're in this to get the "yes" and not the "no."

  11. Sharon A. Lavy on October 14, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    >Writing groups are the place to go to get the pick-me up we need from rejections. That is not the agents job. In my humble opinion.

  12. Blue Pelo on October 14, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    >I really appreciate the post. It's rare that I feel disrespected by an agent. I'm much more prone to turning that negative energy on myself. Now, if you could come up with a way to help writers pick themselves up after multiple rejections — a few are OK, an onslaught is different — that would be extremely helpful.

    But, thanks for the post. I'm much more frustrated with the industry than I am agents.

  13. KJ Bain on October 14, 2010 at 5:24 AM

    >Rachelle, I don't think I've seen you treat anyone with disrespect. Your straightforward and honest. That's good. We need to hear the truth, no matter how much we might not like it.

    There is a difference between being honest and being disrespectful. You have always showed integrity.

    But thank you for the reminder to us writers. I know the way we sometimes treat agents and publishers who reject us is not always with the most respect.

    I guess we all need a wakeup call on this every once in a while.

  14. Jeannie on October 14, 2010 at 2:20 AM

    >This post doesn't really sit well with me; most posts of this type don't. The reason: I don't like to see nice people apologizing for offending the entitled, the immature, and the just generally nasty–and promising to try to be even nicer. What I would love to see is for all of us to get our big-kid panties on.

    Of course there are rude agents: Don't query them.

    There are busy agents: Don't query them unless you are a grown-up who has the patience to deal with publishing.

    There are sweet agents who bend over backwards: Don't pick on them unless you want the rest of us to give you a virtual smack.

    Rachelle, you're not the only agent I see apologizing like this. I grant you have every right to do so, but I'm not sure there is, or ever will be, a point in catering to bad behavior. Not everybody is going to be happy, no matter what you do. Unfortunately, prolific complaining is now a classic feature of the Internet.

  15. Wendy Bertsch on October 13, 2010 at 11:17 PM

    I've been spending a lot of time online, these days, working out a marketing strategy for my book, and this is the most universally helpful posting I've seen anywhere. About anything.
    And expressed with humility and grace.
    Thank you. I'll be sharing it. A lot.

  16. Old Salt on October 13, 2010 at 11:12 PM

    >This sounds like the perfect time to send a query!

  17. Dorci on October 13, 2010 at 11:10 PM

    >I completely agree with your assessment and I appreciate your thoughts.

    Putting our thoughts and ideas and sometimes our very hearts down on paper (or a monitor)for all the world to see is a very personal and emotional process. And maybe when writers hear no it's taken more personally than, say, a truck driver would.

    The same sensitivity that allows for good character development and deeper thoughts also shows itself in the real life of the writer.

  18. Judith Robl on October 13, 2010 at 11:08 PM

    >I learned the art of reflective listening many years ago at a seminar. Our leader had erected a poster with a monkey hanging from a limb with one arm and scratching his head with the other hand. The caption read:

    "I know you think you understood
    what you thought you heard me say.
    What you don't know is that
    what I said was not really
    what I meant."

    We all have communications glitches from time to time. We just need to learn the art of verifying what we thought we heard.

    I can't imagine anyone hearing or feeling disrespect from anything you said or wrote, Rachelle.

  19. Sana Quijada on October 13, 2010 at 10:50 PM

    >really nice post. thanks. …i will too!

  20. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on October 13, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    >Covey speaks of the emotional bank account — that moments of bad behavior can be forgiven if the overall intention and pattern has been one of respect. For what it's worth, your post the other day in which you publicly acknowledged your staff, earned you a million-dollar deposit in my books.

    As for other people, anger is often rooted in fear or completely unrelated circumstances. In the end, all we can do is change our own behavior and do our best not to amplify their pain. Oh! And we need to respect ourselves, too. Sometimes that means not taking on their guilt trip.

    Thank you for this! A lovely post. If we all followed the code of respect, we'd have a better world in more than just the literary sphere.

  21. Anonymous on October 13, 2010 at 9:17 PM

    >Rachelle, you seem to have your heart in the right place. But some agents clearly have such disrespect and disdain for writers (remember queryfail?) that it can taint even the nicest person with the best intentions. And when reading certain Twitter feeds, I get turned off. As they say, birds of a feather….Maybe you'll be a good influence?

  22. passinglovenotes on October 13, 2010 at 8:55 PM

    >It seems clear, with the effort you put into this blog, that your intentions are very kind indeed.

    Heck, I don't even write what you rep, but I visit this site often. I participate too. Why? Because your blog offers much-needed advice, free of charge.

    So it's no big deal if your words/actions sometimes don't match your intent. You're doing writers a service every time you post. Thank you for your good intentions.

  23. passinglovenotes on October 13, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    >If I may be so bold as to disagree with an agent on her own website, I think your intentions DO matter.

    True, they can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings, but God knows your intentions. And when this brief puppet show (we like to call it "life") is over, and we find ourselves in the eternal, our intentions will truly matter. Perhaps much more than our deeds and/or words ever will have.

  24. Gwen Stewart on October 13, 2010 at 5:27 PM


    I thought about this so much today. And then this happened at the end of my day:

    My teaching schedule got switched this year, and two classes I had previously taught were given to another music teacher. Due to standardized testing schedules, I had those two classes back again today. The kids asked why I wasn't their music teacher anymore, and I gave a kid-friendly answer about scheduling, planning time, etc.

    One wide-eyed girl raised her hand. She said, "Did you pick our class to get rid of?" Her eyes filled with tears. I teared up right with her as a hush spun through the room. In explaining the unimportant stuff–the stupid schedule–I had left off the important stuff–how much I care about them, how much I believe in them, and how much I enjoy them.

    In my opinion, the key word in your post is "endeavor". I messed up today, but a little girl set me straight, and I was able to tell my students that I would NEVER have purposely chosen to "get rid of" them. I truly believe God gave me the opportunity for a redo because I pray, often, never to forget that–though my job is not very consequential in the big scheme of things–my words matter to my young students.

    I'm endeavoring with you, Rachelle, running the race marked out for me but not with anything near perfection, believe me. God bless you today.

  25. Michelle DeRusha on October 13, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    >Sounds a lot like grace and love. And that's a message that never gets old.

  26. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on October 13, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    >Hi, Rachelle;

    The lesson of respect is most easily learned at home – although it is not always lived there. I find it depressing that our culture has gone so far off the road of civility that someone sees the need for a book about it.

    In your case, making a change toward being more respectful simply improves an attitude you already display.

    When you sent me two rejections, last year, they were short, to the point – and respectful. That exceeded my expectations because Wordserve's policy informed me to expect no reply if you were unable to represent me. To me, the fact that I received a reply implied respect.

    As I'm sure you know, regardless of the degree of respect you give some people, they never get it. Respect is one of those experiences that takes one to extend it and one to receive it. You can only provide half of that equation. Cheers to you for being respectful in a society that seldom values that.

    Be blessed,


  27. Julie Geistfeld on October 13, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    This is an interesting and insightful post.

    As it relates so much to the post on Why, Oh Why, Did I Get Rejected? I felt compelled to leave a comment here. I think you got a lot of backlash for how you responded at that time, from other writers, not me. It surprised even myself how so many of them took so personally that ‘no’.

    I think the one thing that probably makes it harder for the querying writer to listen to ‘no’ in a constructive way is the newness of our contact with each agent. We send one query, or ask one question, and feel instantly put off or rejected. But if you turn that around to the agent’s perspective, they have heard and answered that same question countless times; they’re tired of the question and tired of having to answer it. The relationship, therefore, is strained from the beginning.

    It is hard to do, but the easiest way I find to deal with that kind of rejection is to try and look at the other person’s perspective. Kind-of cliché probably, but it really can work. If I know that someone’s tone was harsh, yet I can also tell that their intent was positive, not negative, then shouldn’t I overlook the tone and listen to the meaning instead? If you are trying to share a perspective or impart knowledge, then I need to be willing to try and understand your viewpoint. That’s the only way any of us will learn or grow.

    I think this post shows that you are willing to look internally for answers to communication issues. Wow, if only we could all do that. Because it’s not really about agreeing, it’s about respecting. And, that is something we should all try and do.

    Thanks for the continued insightful posts!
    (Will link to this one on my blog.)

  28. Sharon A. Lavy on October 13, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    >Thank you.

  29. Kim hanks on October 13, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    Thanks alot for the post.This a one of its kind you have posted this month!!! CHEERS

    Keep it up Mum:)

  30. Susan Bourgeois on October 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    >No, Rachelle, I've been reading your blog for a few months now. There's nothing about your manner that comes close to coming across as disrespectful or unkind to others.

    It's nice to know you're concerned about a person's dignity or feelings and that you want to try your best to consider people's feelings.

    There are many people who simply don't care and everyone's feelings should be important.

    This post is a good reminder for everyone to always consider the importance of dignity and respect to all of the people we encounter throughout the course of each day.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  31. Jan Cline on October 13, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    >This is such a universal concept and one that we all need to apply to our communications, whether to friend or foe. I have said many times in my comments here that I think you have a very difficult job, but to hear you say that is not an excuse gives me a wake up call of my own. Dignity and integrity are a treasure to each of us. Thank you for seeing the value in all of us. I value what you do for us and Im blessed that you would say these things.

  32. Ken on October 13, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    >Thank you, Rachelle.

    Beyond the impact of hearing (and saying) "no", you've touched the heart of all misunderstandings. However, your assertion that we all know "intentions mean nothing if our actions don’t convey them" is generous. I believe most of us scratch our heads, flummoxed at how we could be so completely misunderstood. Few recognize the disconnect between our intentions and the habitual words and actions with which we express our lives. To hold that notion in the front of my thoughts, I've adopted the mantra, "Let my apologies change my life."

    This blog post was my introduction to you. I like your soulful approach to representing others. I am shopping for an agent, and after I've carefully read your submission guidelines and article on how to write a query letter (might as well get it right the first time), I will ask you to represent me. But hear me now: whether you say 'yes' or 'no', I will know that it is in the best of interest of BOTH of us.

    Ken Crump

  33. Scooter Carlyle on October 13, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    >@Timothy Fish: Actually, I have to disagree. Saying, "You can do better…" usually gets an agent a proverbial smack in the chops. One has to have a real relationship to offer that kind of critique. The bar does need to be high, but, let's face it, an agent is screwed either way when giving out rejections.

    Do some do it better than others? Absolutely. Jessica Faust at Bookends did a post this morning describing an email exchange that occurred after she very kindly stated why she rejected. Agents don't have the corner market on disrespect.

    Rachelle, I've never felt disrespected on your blog, either personally or professionally. Now, Slushpile Hell…that's another story.

  34. LaylaF on October 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM


    I've been reading your posts for some time now and I have to say…

    You are a scholar and an intellect with heart. Thank you for your humility and thank you for your post.

    with high regards…

  35. Walt M on October 13, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    >One question I'm often asked is whether or not I've been offended by anything anyone has said about my writing or in my trying to get published. My answer has been the same for the last three years. Only once.

    It's not that I couldn't find more things to be offended about if I tried hard enough. However, I decided (as well as heard many times from published writers) that I need to treat my writing as a business and understand that publishing is a business.

    And with that concept, I have to think of myself as a salesman as much as I am a writer. I've got to be willing to do the cold calling, be respectful to the businesses I'm calling on, and understand that some businesses aren't interested in my product and move on afterwords. If I still think a business is a good fit for my product, then it's incumbent upon me to turn that entity's "no" into a "yes." That's the job of a good salesperson. It's my job as a writer.

  36. V on October 13, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    >Rachel, you're already being polite and respectful to the clients. If you weren't, you'd be sending out rejections that contained phrases like "I'm sure there was a point to this story, but I couldn't find it." or "I will only accept queries that follow the directions stated on my agency's web site" or other pithy, pointed rejections.

    Every writer needs to know they will face rejection after rejection. If not yours, then the publishers. If not the publishers, then the reader who looks at the book then puts it back down on the store shelves.

    People who get upset at being told "no" in business language, aren't professionals and don't know how to conduct themselves professionally. Everything I've found about getting published is a business and needs to be treated as such.

  37. T. Anne on October 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    >I think you’re sweet! And respect you for all you do for struggling writers.

    I’d like to share an incident that happened to me that exemplifies respect and lack thereof.

    Every year I host a craft fair for the moms at my children’s academy. Yesterday one of the mom’s who participated last year came up and proceeded to tell me how “dumb’ the fair was. She used many interesting derogatory words to express her vitriolic opinion right in front of my children. She walked away irate without so much of an opportunity for rebuttal.

    My kids were very upset. I let them know if one good thing came from this it was the fact I never want to vent my anger the way that woman did. (For sure not in front of anyone’s children, but regardless). Then I proceeded to tell my kids that last year it took her longer to set up than anybody else and longer to pack up. She sold one item for all her efforts and it was to me. She brought her pottery, which is her passion in life to the table, and it was rejected by just about everyone. Her prices were too high and she never welcomed or smiled at anyone who bothered to look at her stuff. A bad attitude coupled with rejection over her hard work filled her with enough pent up rage to make herself look like a grade A imbecile in front of everyone within earshot. I’m not sure if it made her feel better, but I doubt it.

    I made one thing clear to my kids. When people come at you with that kind of unwarranted anger try to come at the situation with pity rather than matching them mood for mood. Usually in life you get out of it what you put into it. In situations like these you get more than you ever bargained for.

  38. Nikole Hahn on October 13, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    >You're firm. But so far as I have been following your blog, I've never gotten disrespect from you. Exasperation maybe, but not disrespect.

    We writers tend to think our work is some kind of art and every word untouchable. We can be as bad as an artist sometimes. LOL. Thanks for being transparent.

  39. wilhelmina-d on October 13, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    >I've been reading your blog for quite a while, though I think this is only my first, maybe my second comment ever. I just wanted to say that, unless you are vastly different in person/in business than you are on the blog you have nothing for which to apologize.

    You are consistently – in comments, in posts, etc – kind and helpful. You go out of your way to be supportive and generous in spirit.

    I'd like to offer one other point of view.

    "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -Eleanor Roosevelt.

    No matter how kindly or gently you let people down, because they have so much of their ego tied up in their work, some are going to take it personally. That's *their* issue, not yours. As long as you're not out kicking baby bunnies while using the slushpile as a bonfire to roast puppies, I think you don't bear the responsibility of those people's feelings. It's their responsibility to be grown-up and realize that the industry is what it is and what it is includes a heck of a lot of rejection.

    So, in a long-winded way I'm saying I don't think you have anything for which to apologize.

  40. Daryl Sedore on October 13, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    >A.C.Townsend said it perfectly.


    All I've ever said in the past is about a respect. That's all I've yearned for in exchanges on Twitter and blogs. We're people too. Some of us, if not most of us, are professionals elsewhere. To come to the table and be disrespected is astounding at times.

    It's a two-way street though. Each side should be respectful.

    So I'll start now: Great post today by an agent who chooses to constantly grow by reading material that relates to her business acumen. Well done, Rachelle, well done.

  41. Anne Lang Bundy on October 13, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    >I enjoy the good natured snark from you and Chip MacGregor. I've probably blown off as "hypersensitive" those who are offended by it.

    But you make such an important point that I'm willing to accept less snark. If my laugh comes at the expense of someone's dignity, I'll gladly forego the laugh.

    And your response to Carey was good enough for its own post. Though you've said these things before, you've nicely summed them up in a manner that doesn't become old hat—at least not for this reader.

  42. Girlfriends Book Club on October 13, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    >This is such a lovely, heartfelt post. I hope the attitude of respect and kindness spreads across the internet.

  43. Huntress on October 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    >Excellent discussion!

    Lookit, it may be simplistic to say it, but here goes:

    We are all human. No one with a speck of humanity likes saying no to other respectful people.

    And no one likes seeing their 'baby' rejected.

    No matter what, there's gonna be hurt feelings so it is a matter of growing and maturing. Or finding lots of chocolate.

  44. Mira on October 13, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    >Thank you.

  45. katdish on October 13, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    >Thanks for taking the time to write this post. Writers are always told to have thick skin, which is hard to do when some of the best ones wear their hearts on their sleeves. Respect and good manners seem to have fallen out of favor, and it goes way beyond the world of publishing.

  46. Katherine Hyde on October 13, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >You're exactly right, Rachelle. Respect makes all the difference between a "no" that crushes us and a "no" that helps us move forward.

    Lack of response is another thing that makes writers feel disrespected, even more than a form-letter "no." It seems to say we're not even worth talking to.

  47. Cindy R. Wilson on October 13, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    >This is an interesting post. In the past, I've thought about the reason why writers lash out and tried to put myself in their shoes–still without really understanding. I have been treated disrespectfully in this industry (in an indirect way) before and the reaction wasn't to lash out, it was to learn more about the publishing industry and grow as a writer.

    So I'd have to agree with Anthony's comment about feeling entitled. Most of us writers go into this journey with expectations of how it's going to be but there are many that have done their research and know the reality of the industry. And those are the ones who are going to see rejection or lack of personal attention as what it is–which most of the time isn't meant as disrespect, just lack of time on an agents part.

    That said, I think most agents including you, Rachelle, don't come across disrespectfully on their blogs. In fact, having a blog almost specifically for aspiring authors shows how much respect you do have for those who are trying to get their foot in the door.

  48. PatriciaW on October 13, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    >I get what you're saying and agree with most of it. But there's probably some small minority of writers who don't feel disrespected. They simply want what they want, and never learned to accept a "no" when they want a "yes". I guess that could make someone "feel" disrespected but in truth, the problem lies within them.

  49. Ishta Mercurio on October 13, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    >I love the quote you open with here. It reminds me of the way so many people deal with children: by making them feel bad about what they are or what they have done, instead of helping them see how they can make it right.

    This was a wonderful post. It is so important that we are respectful in everything we say and do. Thank you.

  50. Rachelle on October 13, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    >Carey: I hear what you're saying and I hear your frustration. Perhaps it stems from a misunderstanding the nature of mass communication, of which movies, TV, newspapers, magazines and books are all a part. Those businesses aren't based on artistic value alone (although artistic value is a factor). They exist to serve the customer.

    You said agents are, "living a reality that is completely removed from the majority." Actually, it's the opposite. Commercial publishing, and the role of agents within, exists to serve the majority.

    You asked, "where are the agents that stand up for art?" Honestly, I think almost all agents do this, but we can only do it in small ways since we're in business to make a living, we're not running 5013C philanthropic organizations. Every agent I know takes on a certain percentage of projects they know are "long shots" precisely because we are championing great ideas and great writing. We often spend a lot of time and energy trying to get them published only to have to give up.

    Also, I think the idea that all the books out there are "lowest common denominator" is greatly exaggerated. Walk into Barnes & Noble and begin seriously perusing the shelves in every category and genre. You will find literally thousands of high-level, well-written, well-researched literary achievements.

    I've read so many great books in the last few years—books that stand outside the mainstream perception of what's "popular." I don't read vampires or fantasy. I read literary fiction mostly; and I read a lot of fabulous memoirs and biographies, as well as thoughtful and challenging theological and social-issue books. It would be laughable to look at my reading pile and then accuse the publishing industry as a whole of being "lowest common denominator." My nightstand reading certainly is not.

    If you feel literature is demeaned today, the blame for that goes at the feet of our culture in general. Publishing as an industry (if it is to remain an industry) needs to sell books, and what people are buying in high numbers are not the high-end literary offerings (which are plentiful in bookstores) but easier and more "fun" genres and categories. We must serve our customers, all the while balancing that with continuing to serve the high ideals of literature, art and scholarship. It’s not an easy balance. To put the blame on agents for something that is a major cultural issue is to misunderstand the power agents have.

  51. Anonymous on October 13, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    >When a writer tries to follow all the rules of querying–write a personalized letter, describe your project in two graphs or less, keep it to one page, etc–but they're ignored, that shows disrespect.
    How do we know if the agent even rec'ved the query if they don't bother to reply, even with a form rejection? Frustrating.

  52. A.C. Townsend on October 13, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I wish all agents would read that book as well as your post.

    Receiving rejection letters has never made me feel disrespected. Whether form letters or personal notes, they have all been polite. Some were even encouraging. Rejections are the “business end,” if you will, of being a writer.

    Disrespect occurs when I read an agent’s sarcastic, demeaning, insulting diatribe about unpublished authors who keep bothering him/her with their pointless, stupid queries. Disrespect also occurs when a writer comments on an agent’s blog and the agent rips the writer for that comment. And disrespect occurs when an agent behaves like a demigod looking down on all the peasants eager for his/her attention.

    Respect starts with the atmosphere of the agency’s web site and the agent’s blogs, because that is how many authors meet and get to know an agent.

    We would all do well to remember God's golden rule. Thanks for an outstanding post on a subject of utmost importance. Have a beautiful day!

  53. Laura Maylene on October 13, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    >I think you're being too hard on yourself.

    I'm sure in some cases, writers might be justified when they feel disrespected by agents or editors. But in the majority of cases, I think they lash out because they don't understand the business, feel entitled, expect the path to publication to be easy, or are unable to see any flaws in their writing. It's not necessarily anything the agent did wrong on her part.

    Basically, I agree with Anthony's comment.

    I'll also add that years ago, I queried 60+ agents for my first novel. I didn't end up with an agent at the end of the process and you know what? I didn't feel disrespected in the slightest by any of them.

  54. Terri Tiffany on October 13, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    >I've never felt you have been disrespectful in all the posts I've read from you. If I thought that, I would not query you. I know many writers who have you as their agent and speak so highly of you.
    But saying what you did today is one of the kindest posts I've ever read from an agent.
    Thank you.

  55. Marla Taviano on October 13, 2010 at 7:56 AM


  56. Carey on October 13, 2010 at 7:29 AM

    >This is a welcome post and a welcome idea – the animosity between some writers and agents is palpable and painful to witness. Still, I'd like to add that I think the reason some writers (self-published and otherwise) show such vitriol against agents isn't due to previous rejections or assumed rejections, taking it 'personally' – but due to a complete change in the publishing dynamic. Agents are seen as unnecessary – and when (some) agents behave in a holier-than-thou manner, this only underlines, for some, the end of their usefulness.

    We all want dignity and respect, but we also want to know that what we do is valued; how do agents help us determine value? Agents are part of the marketplace that has seen literature demeaned, lowest common denominator work is what sells and where are the agents that stand up for art? We read all about the craft, the business, but where are the ideas that will encourage writers, rather than insist they conform to a set of rules that they do not believe in?

    Self-publishing is the increasing answer to this problem and with it, the end of the usefulness of the agent. To some, the agent is a glorified pimp for the industry, seeking out 'what sells,' holding to rigid guidelines, fortifying their position above the rabble – living a reality that is completely removed from the majority.

    This isn't always a fair idea – agents can be victims of the system too – but they can also be the ones who stand up to it and make the argument that publishing has become too narrow, too limited and give their support for greater diversity, for seeking out the rare, the original voices that would otherwise never be heard. I cannot name a single agent who has been brave enough to do this.

    When we see agents fighting back, demanding better, loosening up their own ties as it were, we might see respect returning – on both sides.

  57. Wendy Paine Miller on October 13, 2010 at 7:08 AM

    >I echo Em-Musing. Your humility sends a beautiful message.

    Hoping it is received by all who visit here today.
    ~ Wendy

  58. Christi Goddard on October 13, 2010 at 6:52 AM

    >I've always thought you've been pretty respectful. I follow your blog for your helpfulness and insight into publishing. I'm never going to query you because you don't rep my genre, but I don't take that as a 'no' or a rejection. I would rather have an agent be upfront about what they enjoy because then I'm not wasting their time or mine by querying them.

    I think it's human nature to find a scapegoat for failure. We blame others when we're late for work, when we don't get promoted, when we have credit problems, and whatever else happens in our lives. For hopeful writers, the agents are the easy scapegoat. They become the wall that stands between their book and being published.

    One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that none of this is personal. A rejection is not a rejection of the work itself or the author, but an answer to a question. "Can you sell this?" "No, I don't think I can." It doesn't mean the book doesn't deserve it or the agent isn't qualified. It just means they aren't a good fit. There has to be passion in publishing, a true love of books.

  59. Sheila Lamb on October 13, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    >@Jeffery made a good point about "the customer is always right" philosophy that leads into a sense of entitlement…to the extreme. Actually, no, the customer is not *always* right and sometimes wants free stuff 😉

    Agreed that respect goes both ways and so far, in my minimal query process, correspondence has been polite and timely, which helps. Even an auto-we-received-it helps(Not a huge fan of no answer at all but I understand people are busy).

  60. Jeffrey Beesler on October 13, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    >Everyone has had such wonderful comments and insight, but Anthony's struck me as the most profound. Working in fast food, I see the bane of entitlement going overboard by leaps and bounds. Customers are quick to treat fast food employees with disrespect, even when it's unwarranted. It's like the worker is beneath the customer, and I think it stems back to the expression, "The customer is always right."

    If there's one thing we're all entitled to, it's respect. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be enough of that to go around these days.

  61. Heidiopia on October 13, 2010 at 5:54 AM

    >Such a heartfelt post, Rachelle. Those of us that read your blog regularly know how much you love what you do, your clients, and writers in general– it shows in how you are always striving to be constructive in your posts. Good luck with your goal! The nature of your business (and many of us are business people, too) is that "no" is a given. Your epiphany will undoubtedly help you to be even more constructive in your "no's".

  62. Jessica Nelson on October 13, 2010 at 5:54 AM

    >You're such a kind person!!! Thank you for this sweet post. I hope I respect others too, in all the areas of life.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  63. Timothy Fish on October 13, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    >The thing agents do that seems the most disrespectful to me is when they patronize their potential clients. I know some agents don’t like telling people that their writing is terrible, but it shows more respect to the writer to say, “you can do better” than it does to say, “this isn’t for me.” The bar should be set high and every writer should be expected to cross it or go home. If the agent believes the writer can go work through some things and then come back with something of the right quality, that is true respect. If the agent is just choosing words that don’t make the writer feel like there’s no hope, that isn’t respect at all. And while lack of respect may cause a writer to be upset, respect must be earned. A writer who hasn’t earned respect needs to be upset. Perhaps that will be what incites him to make the changes he needs in order to achieve his goals.

  64. Em-Musing on October 13, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    >Your humility is humbling.

  65. Pk Hrezo on October 13, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    >I love that you bring this up. It makes such a difference. AFter all, agents need writers and vice versa. Why is there any animosity at all? We should always treat one another with diginity and respect.
    The form rejections I receive from agents who made the effort to add some bit of enocuragement (altho generic) mames such a difference.

    Kudos !

  66. Aimee L Salter on October 13, 2010 at 3:29 AM

    >I think all the agents who blog are doing those of us still finding our feet a huge service. This blog is one of my primary points of advice.

    But I'll admit to discomfort at times when it seems like naive or uneducated (and yes, sometimes self-entitled) writers are mocked or derided.

    I appreciate your blog every day, but I particularly appreciate moments like this when it's clear you're working hard to be a good human being, as well as a good agent.

  67. Nicole MacDonald on October 13, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    >A good post and very timely 🙂 Treat people the way you want to be treated. It's an oldie but a goodie!

  68. Micah Maddox on October 13, 2010 at 2:50 AM

    >Since I do not know any other writers, rejected or otherwise, I cannot speak for anyone else. As I prepare to embark on my own round of queries (and the certainty of some measure of rejection) I have to say the listed reasons for frustration are pretty far off the mark from what I know. Of course, I wouldn't waste time belittling agents either, but that is neither here nor there. *shrug*

    Admittedly, words like respect, dignity, and shame are foreign and empty to me. Like monopoly money and opinions they only have value if one sees them as valuable. The context implies one's identity can be granted or taken away–which is not the case. No one else can really form the God-given self or encroach upon the image.

    Writers–especially new writers–are bound to create works that are, to some degree, expressive of themselves. It follows that rejection of such a novel may feel like a rejection of the person as well. At the same time it could be a judgment on the quality of the work, or any number of reasons unspecific to the writing or the author (as you noted).

  69. Anonymous on October 13, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    >"I thought about how often writers lash out at agents on the web."

    Writers aren't the only ones lashing out. There are agents doing it as well. I'm frustrated by the lack of professionalism and mutual respect on both sides of the table. Personally, I've never lashed out on the web and will never regarding my pursuit of publication. Also I don't condone those who do.

    For the record, although I don't agree with everything you post here, I really respect you and believe you truly do have a mutual respect for the writing communty.

  70. Morgan Dempsey on October 13, 2010 at 2:28 AM

    >I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and I don't think I've ever commented. But I felt kind of compelled this time. So I just want to say:



    Sometimes I feel like there's a lot of disrespect getting lobbed around on both sides. Authors pissed off about "gatekeepers" and tearing apart well-intended personal communication on their blogs. Agents/editors getting snarky and posting naive submissions, dissecting them to revel in their own cleverness and gain a few followers.

    It's easier to dehumanize the other side. Makes it less soul-crushing, to toss a rejection in the bin, or to deal with the never-ending onslaught of queries. But from what I've gathered, this is a people-oriented business. Helps to remember that.

    Long response was long. Sorry. <3 I'm glad you're saying this though. Makes me wish I write what you rep.

  71. Rochelle Barlow on October 13, 2010 at 2:07 AM

    >I love this post. I agree, they don't feel heard and possibly embarrassed. I know when negative, embarrassing, and rejecting (is that a word?) things happen to me I tend to stupidly lash out at others to try and hide my feelings from them and myself. Thankfully, I've never done that to anyone in the professional world. Usually, it's when I fall on my face in front of people. Or am asked to stop being so obnoxious.

    I think if we all learn to say No with respect and to take the No with respect and with equal, if not more, understanding a lot less offense would be given and taken.

  72. Anthony on October 13, 2010 at 1:48 AM

    >Rachelle, I am sorry, but I do not agree with your assertion:

    "I realized the reason writers are responding in such frustration: it’s because they feel disrespected. They don’t feel heard. They feel disregarded and shamed and stripped of dignity."

    This may happen a bit, but, I sincerely believe that those lashing out felt entitled to something they didn't earn: a professional's time and efforts.

    When the real world meets the fantasy of entitlement, sparks fly.

    That's kind of a harsh thing to think of my fellow upset writers, but there it is. I see it all the time. Over and over again. I go out of my way to avoid the blogs and forums where it is on display.

    For the most part, many writers I talk to strive to be professional or if they falter are simply new and don't know where to start. But, unfortunately, just as the interweb tubes bring us the good, it also paves the way for people who learn life's lessons the hard way, or not at all.

  73. Carol J. Garvin on October 13, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    >I can't imagine you being disrespectful, unintentionally or otherwise! Sometimes no just means no — nothing rude, disrespectful or inconsiderate intended or conveyed. In any other business an unsuccessful applicant would get a straightforward 'no' (if he received any feedback at all) without any commiserating or hand-holding. Do you think maybe we writers are a little too sensitive about our creations and need to grow up a bit?

  74. Meagan Spooner on October 13, 2010 at 1:16 AM

    >This is a wonderful post.

    I think you've really put your finger on why writers lash out. And I do think some agents more than others go out of their way to make certain writers don't feel disrespected. It's not in your job description to make us feel better, after all. But it conveys such a love of the business, of books, of writers.

    I think writers could learn a thing or two from this blog post–the feeling of disrespect goes two ways. Maybe "no" comes from the agent, but it's also affected by the way we as writers receive it. As writers, we can choose to realize that we're in control of how we accept rejection.

    Every post of yours just makes me wish I wrote within the genres you represent! I will have to settle for just loving your blog. 🙂

  75. Keli Gwyn on October 13, 2010 at 1:13 AM

    >I can't pass up the opportunity to be the first to leave a comment. Ah, the joys of being a night owl on Pacific time. =)

    I can't begin to imagine how tough it would be to have to be the one saying no as often as your job requires it of you. That must be one of the hardest parts of being an agent.

    One thing I do know is that those who are represented by an agent aren't exempt from hearing a "no" or other tough feedback. How well I remember the day I learned that 3/4 of my story had to be scrapped and completely rewritten due to a major plot problem. The news wasn't easy to hear even if I knew it was true. Thankfully, it was delivered with the utmost respect and compassion because that's the kind of agent I have.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for all you do for so many, including me.