Can’t Get No Respect?
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.
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent