The Power of Words
I’m glad we had a good conversation on the blog yesterday. Yes, a few people got snarky. But I only had to delete a couple of comments. I thought we had some necessary dialogue, and it was enlightening. Do I agree with all the commenters? No. Do I like everything I read? No.
But I always come away with new knowledge and ideas for improving the way I do business. It was from paying attention to the impassioned pleas of writers that I got motivated to try and respond to all queries within 48 hours (unless I’m traveling), and I do my best to keep up with that. It was from listening to you that I decided to try offering some feedback on queries when I can, even though it takes more time. So now I give feedback on 10 to 25% of the queries I reject. Your input also inspired our agency to install an “auto-reply” so that writers know we’ve received the query, and we’ve been doing that since February.
So overall, while the “rant days” are not always pleasant, I think they’re productive. I’m listening. I’m doing what I can to make things better.
Yesterday I was moved by the commenters who expressed how hurtful it is to feel like agents don’t respect them. It’s awful to feel like agents are laughing behind writers’ backs or even contemptuous of them. One person put it bluntly: “I think some–obviously not all–agents are frequently disrespectful towards writers. And it DOES make us feel like s**t.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I know I never feel like I’m disrespecting writers and I don’t feel like I look down on them. Even though my job puts me in a position of perceived power, I don’t feel like I have a superiority complex–more often, I’m in awe of what writers do. But I realize I probably say things sometimes that can be interpreted as disrespect or even cruelty. The fact that I’m up to my eyeballs in all kinds of writing, good and bad, 24/7 probably gives me a cynical edge.
I’ve said things on Twitter that I later regretted; I’ve made comments on this blog that I shouldn’t have. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t admit this but I’ve only been fired by one client; it was when I’d been agenting for about six months and this client terminated our relationship because I’d spoken disrespectfully. I suffered over that for a long time and it changed me. But of course I still mess up sometimes. I have made jokes, along with my agent friends, about things like “crushing writers’ dreams” and even though it’s totally tongue in cheek, I can see how it’s insensitive.
So today I’m determining to be more careful with my words, whether in private or in public or online. Along with that comes an ongoing assessment of my own heart, my own attitudes. I will try harder to ask myself three questions before saying/writing something:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
That’s a high standard but I’ll try to make sure my words measure up. And when I don’t… I hope you will gently call me on it, then forgive me!
Have you ever said anything online that you later regretted?
How’d you handle it?
Do you have any strategies for monitoring your own words to avoid hurting people?