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!

Q4U:
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?

.

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  • Owlhaven

    >I grinned when I read your 'True, kind, necessary' standard. All these years I thought my mom made that one up! Guess not.

    Just found you via your 'Words Move Me' profile, as I was setting up mine there.
    Nice to 'meet' you!

    Mary Ostyn
    author, FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK

  • Gehayi

    >I don't know about that standard, at least in publishing. It's often quite necessary for agents, editors and publishers to say things that are true but not in the least kind.

  • Mira

    >Rachelle,

    You are gracious and professional in the best sense of the word. It's truly admirable. Thank you.

    This is going to sound odd, since I am a strong writer's advocate in almost all ways, but it doesn't bother me if agents joke about writers in private. Well, I wouldn't want to listen to it, and I hope agents would be considerate enough to make sure writers don't hear it, but it's understandable.

    I've met few professions that don't let out steam in some barbed jokes.

    That said, I really appreciate your resolve to be careful. But I understand where you were coming from in the past; I think it's human nature to vent alittle.

    Of course, where I do take issue is when agents and industry professionals don't do it in private. They do it on the internet or in front of writers. That's extremely hurtful.

  • Aimee LS

    >One of the greatest gifts about being a Child of God is that the ultimate responsibility for my life (and writing career) belongs with Him.

    My job is only to do my best. If He doesn't want me published, it won't matter who lays eyes on my work. It won't matter if I'm the next shakespeare.

    Being happy in His place is the key to contentment. It think if we all depend on Him to guide us through, we can take any kind of rejection required. Without being wounded by it.

  • Mira

    >Oh, and thank you for sifting through all of that emotional and complicated discussion yesterday, and listening. And then resolving to change some things.

    I don't know how to say this without it sounding sort of weird, but you are truly a class act, Rachelle.

  • Danny Lucas

    >I am not a writer, no axe to grind here, no kissing up to the blogger, and I'm making my first comment here, after reading RSS Rachelle for about 2 months now.

    It isn't the profession that attracts me; it is the blog topic and relatively respectful responses. Blogs are ubiquitous; comments are atrocious at too many sites.

    I am often amazed at how far off the tangents rise and meander, but that's blogging.

    I cannot link to specific comment in a blog, so I choose to answer your query of posting "words of regret", and how it was handled.

    Below, I will enter the series of statements (as I have no other way to link or I would).

    The woman began a long ramble on crime in town.

    I facetiously answered her final line, with a fictitious line from the Bible (Leviticus 29:40 does not exist).

    The woman responded with a tremedous, sincere, new long SOLO paragraph, when what I was asking, was for her to CONSIDER using a paragraph. Her words were hard to read because there was no break.

    I ate humble pie in a follow-up comment, admitted the Bible verse did not exist, regretted her "researching the Bible for it", and gave multiple reasons for breaking up what she writes, into edible bites for the audience.

    Here is the series, including MY error in words, and my correction of that mistake. I regret the length, but that was the issue:

    For your readers, skim over the lengthy comment by Daria, see my "regret entry", then read the rest. Words can hurt, but words can heal too.

    Merry Christmas to all of you!

    Part 1 comment:
    (If I am breaking an unknown rule here, simply delete me. No offense taken from me, and hopefully from you).
    The query intrigued me.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • Danny Lucas

    >Part 2 comment:
    The Damage.

    Daria
    April 28th, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Mike, a bit of old Erie history for you ( hope you don’t mind Dale ! ) those bars that are located around town in the lower income areas such as my home used to be family owned and operated joints.The families often lived upstairs from the taverns or next door. A shot n a beer if you will kind of place. They were opened by families back in the days of the factory workers, when factories flourished in the City of Erie and alot of the men and the single guys would go there to grab their suppers too! If you notice the names like Sophies, Sophie was the proprietor there. Back then after a hard days work the guys would take care of their own. If there was a problem they sure wouldn’t let it be at Sophie’s ! ( Boy am I showing my age ! )Being from a blue collar middle class family I am familiar with the way life was back then. A swing set in the back yard, a grand parent always at your house or you at theirs. Carefully planted garden beds, and a corner tavern. Such was the way of city life. You could hear the whistles when the shops let out but you also could hear the bong of the church bells sounding out the noon hour prayer. We played freely on our city side walks then while our grandma’s swept them clean, and it was nothing if you misbehaved to feel the bristles of that broom on your little bottom!! If you picked a flower from a neighbors flower garden with out permission you better bet you were looking at big trouble buddy! Now most of those taverns are owned by folks who no longer even live in the Area. The owners of the Starlight for example, live in the county in the area of Wattsburg I believe. Sure they want the cash, but they certainly don’t want to live next door or upstairs! And Jim, I do agree we do have to take responsibilty and we have tried. We work closely with the police and LCB and Crime Watch Programs to be involved in our neighborhoods. The Police force and the Fire Dept both have excercised programs to entice the minorities of all venues to join to no avail. But you are correct when you state that those positions receive little respect. There was a time when growing up to be a police officer or a fireman was a dream for many young men and women. ( See Mike Crotty’s story ) I can’t say I have given up hope in our young people though. My own son for example and the kids that Sean Candela employes at Sara’s every summer. The kid you see working the counter at McDonalds who also attends Gannon College. As we all have noted, the problems begin at home. Not with our police force. Not with their response time…. but in their ability to control what has already blossomed. Income doesn’t always equate with the lack of respect. That is one thing that is hard to remember when we are viewing these neighborhoods. Many of the homes are now owned by landlords who have not even registered their homes with the City of Erie. Many of these homes are just money makers for their landlords. Maybe we should have access to the landlords names and addresses? Then we we have problems instead of calling the police at 2 or 3 a.m we can call their landlord? Sadly enough we all recognize the problem and relate. None of us have yet to find an answer. Taking pride in your home, your neighborhood but mostly in yourself is a lesson that seems to have gone by the wayside, and those that have left the City of Erie don’t want to look back. They simply have had enough, and I can’t say I don’t understand. What I will say in closing is if you can, on a nice blue sky day take a walk along West 10th Street, or West 6th Street when the trees are in bloom and look at the beauty there. Those are the times that I try to remember why I stay here. When I can look over at the blue of Lake Erie, and see the boats setting sail and the sun closing on the Lake, I wonder, how can we not appreciate what God has given us?

  • Danny Lucas

    >Part 3
    My words of hurt.

    Danny Lucas
    April 28th, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I wonder, how can we not appreciate what God has given us?
    —Daria

    “I have given thee the paragraph, that thou may understandeth MY grand concepts in palatable portions.
    Use the gift of My paragraph, abundantly.
    One is not sufficient”
    —God, Leviticus 29:40 (the unwritten paragraph)

    Daria
    April 28th, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    Danny, I have come to find I can always rely on your replies as ” food for thought and inspiration “…….

    [Here, a lengthier, solo paragraph ensued. My regret at what I had done follows].

  • writer jim

    >AIMEE LS:

    I just LOVE your comment. I just LOVE people like you…because people with your attitude is what makes GOD HAPPY. And God ENJOYS responding to people like you. He also gets great pleasure watching you work faithfully FOR Him, toiling away. Then finally, one day; His time comes for you! I've seen God do such as that for people for over 40 years. So often, God does it suddenly/unexpectedly. Frequently He does it in precise timing to a date you recall: Like if you remember starting a book a certain date after your supper…He may have you recieve an "IT"S SOLD!" call from an agent just after your supper… 10 years to the very hour.
    Some may think what I'm saying is ridiculous…but is "the ways of God." It is a normal occurrence.

  • Sarah N Fisk

    >I don't often say things that I regret, but that doesn't mean I think I don't say anything hurtful.

    I don't comment much on blogs, but I wanted say with complete honesty that your commenter wasn't talking about you when she said some agents make us feel like s**t.

    I, like the commenter above, don't have a problem when agents joke and gripe in private about authors. That's a part of any job. I don't even take issue with the occasional public complaint (as long as the identity of the author is kept private). HOWEVER, there are some agents that take this to the extreme. For these people, it seems like every tweet or blog post is an angry tirade, slashing at writers and making generalizations as if we're all exactly the same. They bi**h all day about writers and then throw a hissy fit if a writer publicly vents (and with great cause) about a single issue. I can only think of two agents who have gone far enough to make me not want to work with them, but they do exist and they do make us feel like s**t.

  • Danny Lucas

    >I felt awful she was Bible hunting through my words. I responded with words to heal the mess:

    Danny Lucas
    April 29th, 2008 at 5:16 am

    Daria,

    I usually like just coffee for breakfast.
    Today, I am having an extra large slice of humble pie along with the coffee.

    Your words to me are kind and gracious.

    Your words to this audience are insightful and a way for all readers to grasp a part of our collective history.

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no Chapter 29 in Leviticus. Leviticus ends at Chapter 27. Hence, Chapter 29 is a “missing paragraph”.

    Your walks down history remind me of Larie Pintea in the Morning News (better of the two shifts of newspaper at the time. The Times-News always claimed to have two newspapers, but everyone knew they were just joshing and had two shifts of workers at the same paper).

    My note above on “paragraphs” is a spoof.
    However, the spoof is on me.
    You are a trusting person that what is written is truth.
    For that I am grateful. Forgive me for denting the trust you have, with my spoof above.

    It is a request for paragraphs from you.
    The eloquence and charm that you draw out of penmanship cannot be recalled in a single paragraph of expression. But a single paragraph it is.

    The very best of music has a “rest”, a moment of catching up with all that is being taken in.

    The very best of meals has sorbet, a break between courses to cleanse the palate, and enjoy the burst of pleasure about to come next, to its fullest.

    The Bible we speak of, has 67 books within. Each is divided further into chapters, and again, divided into verses.

    Each of our days have a specific cadence, yet we break for meals, work, family, relaxation, hobbies, and contemplate the sunset. We artfully craft each moment of our lives.

    Imagine a song with no stop, no break, no moment to contemplate what is being planted in our hearts!

    Imagine a meal of ONE gulp!

    Imagine a Bible with no books, chapters, or verses! Just a beginning, and an end; an Alpha and an Omega!

    What you are crafting from your memory, heart, and soul require moments of digesting, as surely as the finest meal.
    The legacy you craft requires paragraphs so that we may recall morsels one at a time.

    I may be biased since I was raised not too far from where you write desciptions of my past. I read everything you write.
    Last fall, I drove my Alzheimer mom down to the foot of Liberty and pulled over. It was one of two spots, in all of Erie, that we drove all day where mom chatted the years of her life the most.

    I love to do photography. I took a picture of the chains in link at Liberty St. walkway. It was an unexpected serendipity as I had never seen the walkway. They are an unusual assortment of links. I positioned myself directly above and pulled my toes back to get a picture at 90 degrees without my toes in the edge. I really do not need the camera to recall the shot. For the view went through the lens, into my eyes, into my brain and settled into a ready-access chamber of memorable moments.
    God looks down from above and that is the angle of His view. Each chain is unique, but linked.

    As I can recall the scene at the walkway, I want to recall the scene of your reminiscence. I cannot, for it is a sole paragraph. Keep the unique chain of words you draw from memory so well, but link them with a rest, a paragraph, that we may savor the pleasure of the next paragraph to the fullest.

    Even the word to describe a trip down memory lane with you can be easily recalled when broken down, instead of chewed whole. Reminiscence is nothing more than three small parts: “recall”, “mini”, “scence”, a re-mini-scence.

    Time for coffee and pie.
    Consider the paragraph, Daria and have a great day!

    Best regards,
    Danny Lucas

  • Sande

    >Rejection is definitely easier to take with a dose of empathy. All those writers will be more courageous to approach you for sure.

    As for regretted words; at the rate I live with my foot in my mouth, to exist, I try to live without regrets and live in liberal grace. Identifying and pulling out the greatness in others keeps me fairly innate though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406004261 Robinson

      Now ya got it Scotty,keep that line of thought mvniog and by year end the Toronto Sun will be a weekend insert.If something should ever happen in the new hometown of Woodstock I will be happy to report it. In fact once I get over the CHRISTMAS festivities and all the bah humbuggers hibernate I have something coming your way related to Woodstock of the 60 s.Y’all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  • The Voice

    >After being teased and ridiculed a lot as a child I pretty much try to monitor what I write and say publicly. I go by what I taught my daughters.

    Words can cut like a knife and stay with you forever. You can forget a slap, but whatever criticism or praise uttered you will not forget.

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Yes. I always say things I regret, but such is the nature of who I am. I'm a people-pleaser and I'm self-conscious, and I'm always second-guessing everything I say or write. I think things like, "Did I just sound like a moron?" or "Did I just offend her?", etc., etc.

    And then when I'm bringing my fretting to a ridiculous level, my husband usually snaps me out of it by saying something like, "Kate, honestly, nobody's paying THAT much attention."

    I'm racking my brain here, trying to think who wrote this post yesterday on her blog. It was about judging others too quickly. The point of the post was that as Christians, we need to extend grace to one another. We need to give one another the benefit of the doubt. I like that.

  • Jody Hedlund

    >Your honesty and forthrightness are the things I appreciate most about you. I have enough people who pat me on the back and give me praise. I need my agent to tell it like it is, and you've always done that kindly.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I wish I could say that I am always gracious in my online communication. I am not, though I think most of the people I have actually offended are people who had their bloomers in a knot already. I considered giving an example of something I have said online that I later wished I hadn’t, but I think I would regret it if I did. The thing that has helped me the most is that I started signing my name to my comments. I try to make it my personal policy to never use the Anonymous button. I find that if I’m saying something that I wouldn’t want someone to know I said it is probably hurtful.

    But the nature of this business is that we are sure to offend someone. I wrote a blog post the other day about a particular problem I see in Christian fiction. I simply couldn’t make the point without pointing to a specific example, so I picked a book and pointed out the problem in it. The author didn’t like that very much and took it personally. But how can we fix a problem if we don’t talk about it?

  • Shelby

    >Answer for you.. Yes, I've said things I later regretted.

    How to handle it.. realize I'm human, I make mistakes and move on.

    Don't dwell on the mistakes.. just move on and do better.

    Be kind.. That's the ticket.

    Cheers! :)

  • Krista Phillips

    >Oh, I LOVE this post. Granted, I've never found your blog/twitter posts offensive, but I think it's highly respectable and commendable that you want to make an effort to "watch your words" even though, again, I personally have never been offended by them:-)

    Have I said things I regretted? Yep! And it royally stinks not to be able to take them back, but nobody is perfect. I'm like Katie, too, I probably fret way too much about the things I DO say. I can't tell you how many blog comments I've made then spent an hour beating my head against a wall (figuratively) worried that I sounded like a complete idiot.

    :-)

  • Amy Sue Nathan

    >We're all human. Everyone makes mistakes – writers and agents included. I think the fundamental issue writers have with agents is because agents are the gatekeepers to the world of publishing. With power comes ego. But writers have egos too. Ever spoken to someone who writes literary fiction and asked them what they think of romance novels?

    I think if we stop and think how we might feel if someone said "that" to us, we'd be more careful.

    How would an agent feel if he overheard a publisher joking around about crushing agents' dreams?

    It's hard to walk in someone else's shoes – but it's good to try.

  • Heather Sunseri

    >Rachelle, I believe you do a wonderful job of being honest with your readers and with writers. I can't imagine you being anything but 'kind' and 'true.' Necessary? That is a very difficult standard to live up to when you're having conversations all over the internet. I think it is hard not to regret saying things online at times, but that's part of putting yourself out there. When I blog, I hope that I have at least a day between time when I write the post and actually publish it so that I can make sure it's what I mean to say. Twitter is much more dificult. That is more of a conversation, and sometimes what we say in 140 characters or less can be misunderstood. That's a risk we take.

  • DL Hammons

    >It's blog post such as this (and the previous one) that instill in me the want and desire to become the kind of writer who could be represented by someone like you!

    Excellent words and even better self-advice.

    Thanks.

  • Jessica

    >This is a very sweet post. :-)

    I've said SO many things I regretted. I hate it. It's a horrible feeling to know that while I can apologize, I can never erase what I've done.

    Your questions remind me of a bible verse about thinking only on things that are noble, good, kind, etc.

  • Robyn Campbell

    >I have written things on my blog, because I was hurt over an agents cool response to my fabulous MG novel. But.

    Then before clicking on publish post, I just delete it. It makes me feel better, because I released my hurt and frustration. Only.

    No one knew but me.

    Everyone says things they don't want to say. It's part of life. We're only human. God knows that we really DON'T know much of what we're doing down here.

    It's okay. We mess up and then we try to do better.

    Life. Thanks Rachelle. :) God bless you.

  • james

    >Have you ever said anything online that you later regretted?
    Many times

    How'd you handle it? I simple sincere apology. Not one of those that goes like this," I'm sorry I said that, but you made me mad by saying that first" this is not really a sincere way to apologize.

    Do you have any strategies for monitoring your own words to avoid hurting people?
    If the conversation is one that can get ugly, or if I have to say something crucial, I will type the response, save it in the drafts and re-read again in a few minutes. This will allow me to make sure that I am sending exactly what I want to say. Emails have no tone or infliction, they are taken very literal and should be written as such.

    Also, there is a difference bewteen being brutally honest and telling the truth in a manner that helps and not hurts.

  • Connie Brzowski

    >I've never knowingly said anything online I've regretted.

    Definitely come back later to find my comment could be read more than one way– and that someone standing on the other side of the looking glass interpreted my words on the flipside.

    Once upon a time I made some snarky remark about Texas, intended to highlight our superiority over all other states in the Union, forgetting no one knew I both lived therein and considered my statehood better than theirs. A half dozen people jumped to the Lone Star State's defense before I realized what happened.

    Terminal shortsightedness on my part.

  • Amber

    >Don't be too fast with the query letters. You don't want to skip over a gem or two in your haste to get them finished in 48 hours.

  • Scott

    >Here's what I learned long ago: the written word is more easily misinterpreted than the spoken word.

    Example: my boss and her family (parents, siblings, everybody) were planning their annual trip. Emails went back and forth. My boss misinterpreted the written words of her sister and typed up a very hateful response. She was so angry. Luckily, she had somebody else read her sister's email before she hit send. Luckily . . . since she had totally misinterpreted her sister's comment.

    As for me, yeah, I've written and/or said things I almost immediately regret. Life happens. Anger takes over. I've learned one simple word that helps: sorry. I've learned to step up to the plate and say "Hey, I handle that the wrong way . . ." Those words are hard to say, trust me on that, but they help the situation.

    In this cyber world, face to face communication happens less and less. Written communication has its downfalls. Perhaps the greatest thing a person can do before sending an email or posting a comment is to wait about 30 minutes, read the email/comment again, and think about how said person would feel if they were the receipient of said email/comment.

  • mary bailey

    >I actually regretted responding to a question you posed several months ago, Rachelle. If I remember correctly, you asked what aspects of the writing life we found particularly discouraging, and I answered that I found all the emphasis on continuing education and attending writer's conferences discouraging b/c of how difficult it was to do on a tight budget.

    Well, I went on my merry way and didn't check your blog again for a couple of weeks and when I did, I found that you had used my comment to write an entirely different post on the subject of writers learning the craft on a tight budgets. I had no problem whatsoever with your post and found it very helpful.

    It was the comments that people left that really grated on me. I felt that people took a very high & mighty tone with comments like, "Well maybe some people need to realize they're not as serious about writing as they think they are!" and "Eat peanut butter sandwiches so you can save the money!"

    Some of the comments were very biting and hurt me. It all brought me very low, all because of a very innocent comment and then a corresponding post you wrote, all attached to my fictitious name. I learned a lot about comments from that. Yes, I know we cannot always "read" the tone and inflection in someone's voice when they leave a comment so when I say the comments were high and mighty, I'm sure that was not intended. How things are perceived is very important, however. Now, I constantly ask myself "Is this necessary?" and "Is this helpful?" when I think about leaving comments on blogs.

  • Andrea

    >We should ALL be more careful with our words.
    Blessings, andrea

  • Jason

    >Great post…anyone who's been married for more than 5 years (consecutively) knows that forgiveness and humility are key to a successful relationship.

    We all say things that hurt and we all get hurt sometimes when we probably shouldn't be. But I think your approach works Rachelle…just try to figure out what YOU can do to learn from conflicts/rants. If others choose not to learn, then they are the worse for it.

    Kudos Rachelle…you have an awesome blog!

  • Marybeth Poppins

    >I don't know how I feel about this to be honest. One of the reasons I like you is because you are honest and you aren't a saint and you do say a snarky comment here and there. Believe me, compared to some agents on twitter you are practically a saint.

    I tend to look at things from both perspectives. Being a writer is very hard, I'm sure you know that. But I can imagine being an agent is just as hard if not more. You have to be the one that crushes hundreds of dreams a year (I'm shooting low, it makes me feel better) and I can't imagine that is fun. You have to sit back and read queries from people who have done absolutely no research and are completely oblivious to your agency rules. I can only imaging how irritating that gets especially when you have a website designed to spell out all your qualifications.

    Do we all need to be more careful with out words? Absolutely. BUT please don't stop being you. Personally I can't imagine you saying anything offensive enough to lose a client, but that's just me.

    I think you are a wonderful agent and you should keep up the good work! Writers are going to rant and going to complain, its what we do. But that doesn't mean you have to change everything about you.

    I myself watch everything I say and do on blogs and on twitter and if I had to be honest, sometimes its irritating to hide who I really am just to appease everyone else. I really hope you don't have to feel the same way I do :)

    Good luck! Continue to be the awesome agent that you are! I could only be so lucky to have you representing me!!! (Sadly I don't write your genre….sigh….)

  • Jason

    >…and YES…I'm always saying things I end up regretting. Putting my foot in my mouth just might be my greatest talent! :)

  • Rowenna

    >Wow–and all this time I thought you must be holding to a creed of "true, kind, necessary" on this blog already! I've always found your posts kindly worded, honest, and, when on a difficult or potentially off-putting topic, on something that I could tell you felt was necessary to bring up. Thanks for that!

  • Matilda McCloud

    >I left a comment here I regretted and later felt awful about it. I emailed Rachelle and she graciously accepted my apology. That was before I knew how to delete my own comments! If I feel "hot and bothered," I usually wait before commenting and try not to say anything hurtful, or don't comment at all.

    I've also taken down a couple of my blog posts a day or two later if they seem too negative or could be interpreted the wrong way.

  • Lydia Sharp

    >There are few things that get me so emotionally riled up that I feel the need to vent. Online, that is. I vent to my husband about things, even minor things, on a daily basis.

    But it has happened, and usually, I'll let it sit on my screen for a while before I click "submit" or "publish" and allow my emotions to settle. I try to think of how I'd feel if someone had directed those words toward me. And most of the time, I end up rewriting it, or deleting it altogether.

    In my experience, there aren't many things in this world worth making enemies over. And you never know when you'll need a friend in your corner, someone that perhaps you didn't even know was a friend. Better to take a small hit and walk away than throw yourself into a full-blown fight. You might not recover.

  • Rachel

    >I've had to apologize many, many times for things I've said. I've been performing in a particular chamber orchestra for about ten years, and I was just thinking back to how I've learned to be slower to speak and MUCH slower to take offense from working in close contact to a group of driven, highstrung, creative people. Harshness abounds. I used to consider quitting twice a month, after all the work to get in. Ha! Musicians and writers are a dicey group of people (and I'm in both categories). By nature of the job, we're always offering ourselves up for critique, yet we're the least successful in handling criticism. We tend to feel slights and rejection (and even neutral, sideways glances) very deeply. I think it would be a bit of a land mine for agents, etc. Thank goodness for Jesus. And thanks for being so candid and genuinely kindhearted in this post.

  • mary bailey

    >I'm guilty of hanging around a blog sometimes to catch all the comments on particularly controversial topics, or even when some Anon says something to stir the pot.

    Thinking of the power of words today makes me think of what is right. Not right, because it's morally correct but right because of WHO says it's right.

    "Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up…." 1 Thessalonians 5:11

    I have to practice the above verse every day online and in real life. I'll have to practice it a lot Thursday night at the ladies' Christmas party at my church. I have to practice it with strangers in line at the grocery.

    Thanks for your helpful and honest post today, Rachelle. Blessings to you.

  • Andrew

    >I've said a lot of things online that I've regretted. I'm way to quick with the 'send' button sometimes. My wife has suggested that I first write everything in Word, and then transfer it to whichever online medium I'm using. As usual – she's right!

    The only remedy is

    -own up to the damage I may have done without trying to justify it

    -repair what I can through apology or explanation, and accept forgiveness

    -accept that some things can't be unsaid or undone

    -learn from these things

    BTW, I've been away from contributing for awhile due to a serious illness that really discouraged me. But…I missed you guys. I missed your voices – Rachelle, Writer Jim, Timothy Fish, all of you. Thanks for being. Y'all bring life.

  • Marybeth Poppins

    >So this post got me really worked up. If you have a chance, I decided to post about how awesome I think agents really are!

    On Agents…

  • Rachelle

    >Andrew, thanks for the comment, I'm glad you're back, and I hope you're healthy again. So sorry you were ill. And thanks for mentioning the community we have here. What a great group of voices – I miss everyone when I take a blog break, too!

  • Anonymous

    >I think it's ironic that the very forum (the Internet) in which we're most likely to say something we'll regret later records what we say . . . forever.

  • Lisa Jordan

    >Rachelle, you're human. We're an imperfect lot. Every single one of us is guilty of saying things we later regret, but we need to apologize and then let it go.

    I read yesterday's post and shook my head at some of the comments made. I love your blog and read it daily, but I don't always post a comment. I've learned a lot about the industry and you as an agent. One of the things I really like about you is your transparency. You're real and approachable. If that makes me a brown-noser (which is a gross term if you really think about it), then I hope the brown never washes off.

    This world is full of nasty people. As Christians we're to strive to be like Jesus. Of course we fall short. It's that human thing again.

    Keep doing what you're doing because something is obviously working judging by your growing client list and sales.

  • Sherri

    >I beat myself up too much over slips of the tongue (or fingers). Most of the time it was only regrettable in my own mind, and no one else noticed. If they did notice, I'd delete the offensive passage if possible and apologize. Since we are only human, it's all we can do. Most people are more forgiving than we expect, I've found.

  • Teresa

    >More than once my alligator mouth (or in this case, pen) has shot ahead of my hummingbird butt. I’ve found the best course is to apologize immediately. I don't believe anyone is ever 100% successful in never being snarky or angry.

    I was (and still am) extremely fortunate to have a dear friend who once pointed out to me that I have a very strong personality. Now that is the understatement of the year, but she is always kind. She said that while she understood my intent because she knew me, other people who didn't know me might derive a different interpretation from my writing. It was she who first taught me to temper my words in my correspondence.

    I've tried to carry her philosophy over into my work life and into my blogging. Sometimes I forget myself and snap off a quick reply without thinking it through, but those days are becoming rare. It takes practice.

    When it's an issue I feel strongly about, I write a response and save it in Word. Then I wait at least one day, perhaps two, before I re-read the post or response. Often, I end up editing the response to soften the tone.

    I can understand why some people might like to post anonymously, but I make it my personal policy never to post anything online that I wouldn't post under my full name. That personal policy has tempered many of my responses.

    I like measuring my words, and I think now when I do say something, it has more impact.

    Thank you, Rachelle, for a wonderful topic.

  • Roxane B. Salonen

    >Rachelle, I'm sure I have, though nothing specific is coming to mind so I must not have said anything too regrettable. However, what I've found is that, in blogging in particular, negative energy takes on a life of its own. I think we have to be careful. Positivity begets positivity here in the blogging world. So, I think the trick is to stay real and honest, but positive enough that our little lights shine out and come back to us. And I do find that — when I am encouraging, gracious, etc., that's what I get back. This was a very nice followup post to yesterday, Rachelle. You've balanced it nicely and honestly.

  • Rachelle

    >BTW, I wanted to mention the strategy I use to avoid sending emails I'll regret. Some people compose their message in Word. I just compose it in email, but I make sure there is NO address in the "To" field (so I can't accidentally send it). I type my message, then click "Save as draft." Usually when I go back to it later, I realize the email isn't even necessary and I end up deleting or completing rewriting it.

  • Arabella

    >Well, I did have a comment deleted here once. Not that long ago, I had an e-mail argument w/ a local writer that was really stupid. That's about it for the internet. I must admit, though, I say things I regret all the time.

  • Maribeth

    >I have definitely said things whether it be online or in person that I later regretted. Usually I have to be provoked to say something harsh.
    I look at it this way, I want my words (written or spoken) to help someone become the best they can become. I think everyone is looking for that one person to believe in them so they can believe in themselves.

    Another good conversation.

    Maribeth:)

  • Erika Robuck

    >You are a true professional. We could all learn a thing or two from you in our daily dealings.

    Thanks.

  • Lori Benton

    >Aimee LS, I couldn't agree with you more. Even when disappointments come on this writing journey, that bedrock of knowing it's God who opens and closes doors is the foundation of peace.

  • JDuncan

    >I'm one of those types who hates offending anyone or looking like an idiot, so I try and pay attention to what I say. Basically, say it respectfully or don't say it at all. That said, you also don't want to have to be walking around on eggshells afraid you're going to crush the fragile writer's ego either. Sometimes the truth isn't all warm and fuzzy. Sometimes the respectful thing to do is to tell someone they aren't doing things right or that their writing really needs some work. Some writers also need to have a little more sense of humor about the life of a writer.

    Our work isn't the be-all-end-all thing of our lives. It doesn't define us. It's not a great work of art that nobody has any business scoffing at. Writers do a lot of questionable if not downright dumb things, for a variety of reasons. You need to be able to poke fun at yourself in this industry. It's a hard realm to work within, and humor can go a long ways toward helping to manage it on an ongoing basis.

    Agents poking fun at queries is one thing that seems to get the goad of some. They aren't personal attacks. They are meant to educate about what not to do, as well has provide a bit of humor. Besides if one can't follow directions or bother looking up information about an agent, then they kind of get what they deserve. If you can't laugh at yourself for looking foolish out of ignorance or just plain laziness, writing likely isn't the best career choice.

    So, to all of those writers out there who are feeling disrespected, Lighten Up! The vast majority of agents/editors out there know this is a hard business to be in, and have a great deal of respect for those who try to make it. Work hard, write better, and be willing to laugh a little at the craziness that goes on around here, even if it is you who is being the crazy one.

  • Tamika:

    >I do say things I regret. I'm learning to scrutinize my words. Speaking the truth in love is the best advice I can heed. It will bless others and me.

    Words linger and prick long after they have escaped my lips. Part of being sensitive makes me aware of others.

    In your business brutal honesty is necessary, but knowing you care makes it easy to accept.

  • Dara

    >Hmm, well I probably need to develop better strategies to monitor my words, but I tend to be one of those that lets the emotion take over rational thought…

    I try to count in my head when I'm angry but it doesn't always work. More recently, I've tried to swallow my words and then once the situation is over and I'm by myself I vent about it to no one :P It helps me to get the anger out, even if it makes me look like a crazy person yelling at myself.

  • Rose McCauley

    >Your three questions do set a high standard for all of us Rachelle, whether as an agent or a critiquer, but they are also very scriptural. (Phil 4:8) I, for one, want you to keep telling us the necessary truth as we need to hear it. A comment you made in June on my first chapter has caused me to do a revamp of my women's fiction novel, and one of the characters I added now plays a major role in a sequel! Thanks for the "tough love" advice!

  • writer jim

    >THE POWER OF WORDS

    We can be USED by and for our wonderful God with the power of OUR WORDS.
    There is a man of high regard and success in the publishing business…sorry I can't remember his name. He used to work in the secular, as a boss over many. He often used God's name in cursing loudly. The lowest little old lady under him–she expected to be fired– said "You should NOT use God's name like that!" The big boss was shocked at her courage: He got saved as a result, and serves God in publishing now. He is sooo grateful for those few words from the little old lady.

    All thru my life I've had similar things happen. I've said a few words FOR God… and often didn't know they accomplihed anything until years later.

    The other day I was in a neighboring town at a store. A lady was crying and trembling…she finally walked up to me and asked "Can I hug you?" After her tight hug; she told me her husband was the meanest of the mean for over 20 years. She told me 4 years ago I came to their front door one day and told her husband how to be saved…and told him some words of warning. HER HUSBAND CUSSED ME OUT AND RAN ME OFF: but God used my words: The next Sunday for the first time ever, her husband went to church with her, and got saved!…and has been the sweetest loving mate ever since. After she told me, I remembered the occurrence. I had stopped at their house in obedience to the still small voice of God.

    Some months ago I was filthy dirty working in a field near a road. An old man and his wife stopped and came hurriedly hobbling across the field; they both began hugging all over filthy sweaty me. (A similar thing had happened between us, as in the above story.) The man had laughed about my witnessing; but when Sunday came, for the first time ever, he went to church with his wife and got saved. NOW GET THIS: That incident happened over 20 years earlier…and as soon as they noticed me in the field they still recognized me. I would have never remembered them…but after they told me where/when it happened I remembered. That man has long been active in a powerful Christian ministry.

    We should each one use all opportunities to speak out for Christ. If you do, you are laboring together WITH God; and that means BIG GOOD RESULTS. YOU could posssibly accomplish more FOR God with a few words…than you could do in many years… of being too timid to witness for our great God.
    …. Bad writing, but hope it was understandable. THANKS.

  • Heather

    >I've never been very tempted to write nasty stuff online. However, being blessed (cursed?) with a sharp, sarcastic wit, I find it difficult sometimes to curb it both mentally and verbally. I find that venting to my private journal helps a lot–and if its particularly nasty, I can always write on a separate sheet of paper, then burn it after I've cooled down.
    And thanks for all this advice, Rachelle–I've learned so much from your blog, I don't know why people should gripe about agents because in my experience, they've all been very helpful and encouraging.

  • Sharon Mayhew

    >Rachelle,

    I think it's wonderful that you had such a lively discusssion yesterday. Hopefully you weren't the only one who took something away from it.

    I am sure it will be appreciated by the writers who submit to you, when you give feedback. I wish everyone had the time to give feedback. I've gotten several personal handwritten rejections, supposedly that is good, but they never seem to include any suggestions. (Other than keep sending material to them.) I would appreciate being given a snippet of advice. You can always suggest someone taking a writing class to help them continue improving their skills.

  • Kristie

    >The book of Proverbs has much to say about the power of words; in fact, I think your three questions, which really get to the heart of the matter, can all be found in Solomon's writing. So you are in good company, Rachelle, and I think I'll join you and use these too.

  • T. Anne

    >Great standards. I think all too often we forget writers and agents alike are human, each with h/his own hopes, dreams and personal stressors. Great post Rachelle.

  • Christine H

    >Rachelle ~ I get in trouble for things I say a lot. It is an occupational hazard of being a teacher, as well as someone who a)is verbally oriented and b) has strong opinions.

    My mother taught me to "live it down." No matter what you've said or done, if you apologize graciously and then continue to hold your head up and act confidently, people will gradually forget about it. Probably sooner than you think.

    I have an article about this on my blog, from long ago.

    Tattered Wings

  • Chris Morrow

    >Rachelle,

    Your honesty is certainly one reason why you are in such demand as an agent.

    Please don't lose your wit in an effort to be TOO gentle to writers. Writers (and I'm one) are often times overly sensitive. Some of us need to learn to take a joke.

    I enjoy your sense of humor.

  • Anonymous

    >I think the word we need here is DIPLOMACY. It doesn't do writers any favors by leading them on or putting them off, esp if agents don't want to be blunt, but a nice word or two works wonders. We all get our feelings hurt but a little TACT, esp w/ a rejection, goes a long way. Feedback and compliments always help too.

  • Terri Tiffany

    >Your post choked me up. I mean it. I am new to this query journey and have been reading some of the agent blogs.
    I admit, I've felt that way at times, that writers were being made fun of etc. Yeah, it hurt but also made me leary to submit my work to anyone. I have feared being one of those that are used as a bad example even though I've tried hard to do my very best.
    Your post today has changed my opinion. Thank you. I might just get up the nerve someday to submit to you:) Blessings!!

  • hannah

    >Rachelle–thank you so much for addressing my comment honestly and gracefully. I really appreciate it.

  • David

    >"Have you ever said anything online that you later regretted?"

    You bet! I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, as they say, so I've certainly got off quite a few blasts I quickly regretted.

    "How'd you handle it?"

    I learned from it. I felt pretty bad about it, but I learned from it. It doesn't mean I'll never do it again – making mistakes is part of being human. But it makes me try harder.

    "Do you have any strategies for monitoring your own words to avoid hurting people?"

    I try to put myself in someone else's shoes the best that I can. As a writer, one of my goals – other than to simply entertain the reader – is to give the reader something to think about. If I invoke a negative emotion from the reader, then they aren't thinking, they're feeling. All I can do is to try and keep this clearly in mind and edit accordingly.

  • Miss Meg

    >I think that letting people know you're listening to what they're saying and actually thinking about it, even if you don't agree with them, is a really GREAT way to show respect to writers. You've just earned a lot of respect from for this post and for really making the effort. I know you've probably dealt with a lot of unpleasantness, but the fact that you're engaging really encourages me and speaks a lot for you as a professional, an agent, and a human being.

    I remember when the first round of the AgentFail/AuthorFail thing went around earlier this year, and while some writers really were beyond the pale in their complaints, I felt really disappointed that the legitimate complaints and concerns weren't being listened to.

    The autoresponder thing, honestly, would fix my only really big problem with how a lot of e-query policies work these days. I don't mind if no response equals no so long as I can be assured the email actually landed in the agent's inbox. That's all I really want to know. If the agent rejects it via silence, I'm okay with that. I just want to know that the silence from the agent is a rejection and not a sign that my email got caught in a spam filter or lost on the way.

    One thing I think might also go a long way is if agents made sure, when handing out complaints or criticism, not to generalize about ALL writers.

    It can be hard when you see an agent saying, "I hate it when writers do this!" or "writers just don't understand that!" – and here I am, a writer, thinking. "I'm a writer, and I don't/would never do that. I understand what you're talking about. Don't group me in with those other people!"

    Talking about writers as a group is like talking about women as a group or Christians as a group. Blanket statements can cause anger. For example, saying "I hate when Christians do this" is a bad statement to make. While one subset of Christians may do something you dislike, there are millions of people who identify Christian. They don't all do that thing.

    So criticizing "writers" for doing something often feels like an unnecessary backhand to those who really are trying hard to be professional.

    I can say that this post went a long way towards making me feel better. Even though I doubt you and I will ever work together (since you don't rep what I write), I hope that other agents will look to your example and see that some respect and maybe some more careful wording really CAN make things easier for us and for themselves.

  • quillfeather

    >Excellent post Rachelle.

    Spoken like the true professional that you are.

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >Have I regretted things I've said online? Not often, because I tend to read and re-read them before clicking the 'send' button. However, having you post on this subject today must be God's way of confirming the niggling that I've experienced, feeling that my comment yesterday was insensitive. All that 'gongs and cymbals' stuff? It would have been sufficient to say I don't appreciate anonymous comments. So if the particular Anonymous contributor that I referenced is reading this today, I do apologize for being snarky. It was neither kind nor necessary.

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Another great post. Thank you Rachelle.

  • Anonymous

    >We post Anon comments not to be mean or snarky but to protect our IDs while our mss. and queries are circulating. It's just practical, not deceitful.

    Often it's too easy to forget there are real people behind the words online, with real feelings and opinions. Sad but true.

  • Gwen Stewart

    >Hi Rachelle,

    Yes, I've let my mouth run ahead of my brain from time to time. *Sigh* I hate being fallible and hurting people. But what can we do other than apologize?

    I'm sometimes upfront about my faith online, and some people find that "intolerant", even offensive. But if I apply your questions:

    Is it true?
    Is it kind?
    Is it necessary?

    I find Jesus to be the Truest, most necessary lovingkindness to ever grace the universe–so I keep speaking and typing about Him when the time seems right. If that renders me "intolerant", so be it. Or, in the words of Esther, if I perish, I perish. :)

    BTW, I use that email trick all of the time–no "to" address. :) Love it!

  • Anonymous

    >I used that 'count to 5' after the other person stops talking, before you respond. What happened to me was that my wife always started saying something else when I hit 4. Any one else have other things happen?

    I'm a regular commenter, by name, but chose to be anon on this. There are millions of OK reasons people choose to comment anon. Haven't some of you noticed that not all anon comments are mean?

  • Sheryl Gwyther

    >I'm an Australian author and found your blogs very interesting, Rachelle. How you get your job done as well as keep up with the huge list of comments you get, I don't know.
    Just a comment from me: On strategies for monitoring words to avoid hurting people, and being an athiest, I try to follow the scripture of 'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman – if only our world leaders would do the same, we'd never have wars.

  • Steve

    >Occasionally I find myself unable to resist something similar to trolling, which is to express one of my own predjudices, perhaps somewhat exaggerated, in opposition to the general tone of an online discussion. Sometimes this may even have a constructive impact, but somethimes not.

    I question, in retrospect, a comment I made anonymously on another blog where there was a discussion of the Harlequin controversy. I took the ocasion to let fly with my opinion of romance as a genre. With some difficulty I'll refrain from quoting myself here.

    What I said arguably had an element of truthfulness, but it lacked kindness, and was proabbly not strictly necessary.

    Although it was great fun at the moment, I probably shouldn't have done it.

    -Steve

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