In the modern era, our lives are on display. From Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, there is a plethora of social media platforms to choose from. On Twitter, there is a thriving community of writers, agents, editors who enjoy the solidarity from their fellows and are able to encourage, inspire, submit their work for consideration, and make meaningful connections that at one time were unavailable.
It’s become insanely simple to research potential agents and to determine their dream #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List). Writers can reach out and have a serious discussion on what an agent might like to see and what they are currently searching for. In the span of a few short minutes, a writer can make the call on whether an agent is the best fit for them. Or they may get lucky during a #PitMad Event and get picked up by an agent. With a tag for every writer, is it any wonder that writers, publishers, and agents flock to Twitter? But like any social media site, it does have it’s downsides. As agents are more visible online, it makes it easier for malcontent writers to take their anger out on agents in a very public way.
If the comments towards agents weren’t bad enough, the handle of Dr. H.H. Holmes @CastleMurder gives everything a sinister tone. For anyone who doesn’t know, Dr. H. H. Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett, was an American serial killer during the late 19th century in Chicago. During his murder spree, Holmes killed nine people but confessed to killing up to twenty-seven and claimed that his body count was in the hundreds. These claims remain unsubstantiated to this day.
Using a handle as such with those remarks is a clear sign of intimidation. This Dr. H.H. Holmes, better know to the Twitter Writing Community as Gary, is part of a darker side when it comes to querying and writing. He is a troll who has zero qualms to making abusive comments to agents. Such a person gives a bad name to writers and makes it harder for the rest of the writing community to make a connection with an agent.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Tia Mele, a junior agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, about abusive and toxic writers.
As an agent, I’m sure that you’ve had your fair share of unruly writers who don’t take rejection well as we have seen in the past with the infamous Gary. What advice can you give to writers who seem incapable of handling rejection?
- My Best advice for authors who don’t take rejection well is to take a deep breath. I think a lot of the rude/mean replies are done in the heat of the moment, right after receiving a rejection. Let yourself cool down, and decide if the email really needs a response. If you’re not great at handling rejection, instead of actually responding, write out what you would say in a separate email and don’t actually send it.
Is there any occasion that you can think of where it would be appropriate to air grievances towards an agent? And if so, what route would you suggest?
- It’s a judgement call, and I think my earlier recommendation to clear your head before responding will help you make that judgement. I don’t think that simply rejecting a project is cause for a response, unless the rejection is discriminatory, in which case, absolutely respond to the agent and call them out for discrimination. Always do this kind of thing over email, though. If the agent does something ethically or morally wrong during your email exchange, or they seem dubious, then after trying to work things out over email, you can take it public. But I really believe this kind of thing needs to be done over email first.
Social media undoubtedly plays an enormous role in connecting agents with writers but it can turn abusive as Gary has had six Twitter accounts revoked for inappropriate behavior. What change would you like to see in account policy for repeat offenders?
- I think the one thing I wish Twitter would do for repeat offenders would be a one strike and you’re out policy. If someone comes back from being banned before, they should only get one chance. I know that means they can still come back again but I think Twitter leaves accounts for way too long despite repeated abuse. It would be nice to see a policy in place that is harsh on repeat offenders.
What advice would you give to your fellow agents who find themselves the target of abusive behavior online?
- To my fellow agents: you do NOT have to accept abuse on or offline! I think seeing more agents fight back would be great, but I absolutely think agents should block the abuser if fighting back isn’t an option. Also, don’t take it personally. 99.9% of the time, online abusers are angry people who will attack anyone they feel like it. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
What is the number one item you want writers to know when the receive a rejection letter?
To all the lovely writers out there, we don’t like sending out rejections. It’s really hard for me, and other publishing professionals, to send out those rejections. It really isn’t personal, it’s just part of the job. We aren’t trying to hurt your feelings, we just have to be picky. Also, remember, that we get rejected, too. I’ve been rejected by authors and editors. We know what it feels like, and it sucks and it’s disappointing, but we just have to file those rejections away and move onto the next thing.
Rejection happens to both writers and agents. It’s painful and it sucks but as Agent Mele said, ‘It’s part of the job’. It becomes easy to focus on one person or a community as a whole as to why you’re not successful but will never help you out in the long run.
Special thanks to Agent Tia Mele for the interview.