November 21st, 2006


or perhaps we could ask Miss Manners about social etiquette at conventions

I have been somewhat and rather busy in the last week or so. Plus, it's been royalty statement season. However....

icedrake had asked me something somewhere about whether I was ever concerned with attending a conference and running into people I had rejected. As I recall he felt that I didn't seem to and wondered if I had conquered such a thing or never had it at all. Well. I guess the answer is sort of yes and no. Abstractly, yes, the possibility exists. But, not really, no - it would likely drive me mad.

There has been a story circulating lately as recounted by an agent of my acquaintance who witnessed someone in the audience of an agent panel get up at the Q&A section and begin to give one of the other agents on the panel an extremely hard time about a rejection. As in, this person was so abusive that everyone at her table was physically leaning away from her. This would be a very unpleasant experience. How she thought this was a productive approach in any way is beyond me.

I also once had to have someone removed from a panel I was moderating. The panel members were all editors and the conference thought it quite clever to have an agent as referee. When this person got the floor to ask their question, they proceeded to verbally attack the editors. This person had somehow become convinced that the only reason they were getting rejected was for using the wrong font. I kid you not. They were basing this on an article years out of date from a time period in which fonts were few. The problem wasn't with the question (though basically anything that's readable seems to be fine and everyone was a bit nonplussed). It was with the fact that once answered, the person continued to insist and wouldn't let the panel move on. It escalated to a point where the person was yelling at members of the panel, and so security was called and the person was removed so that others could have a benefit this person was determined to deny everyone in the room. Extremely unfortunate situation and, again, one wonders what the person hoped to accomplish.

But, let's be reasonable. Those are isolated incidents with a near-urban-legend quality. First, there's a logistical issue. If I were to anticipate this at the query level, I might have to be suspicious of every writer I meet. I can't possibly remember them all after years of agenting and thousands of letters. And I know I have a good memory for author/title combos from my bookstore days. I probably have far better luck with regard to requested submissions, particularly those that made a very good impression. Even just those would make for quite a mental spreadsheet, though, so the odds are against me.

That aside, 99.99% of writers that I encounter act in a professional manner and are serious about getting published. They might be frustrated, or have occasional bouts of jealousy or bitterness - but, heck, who doesn't? For my part, I endeavor to treat every submission with respect and diligence. So, I don't anticipate any of these professional writers having a problem with that. On both sides of this particular fence, there's a realization that people are in it for the long haul. There are at least a couple writers on my list that I initially rejected, but invited revisions or new submissions from. I know there are writers who were at the conference in question (WFC) that I had read and rejected (maybe we need a different word for this process) but are nonetheless talented and likely have much to contribute before, during, and after their future achievement of publication. So, from that perspective, we're all part of the same conversations, as it were, and, naturally I'd cultivate a positive relationship in the community sense of the word. And, since agents have been known to talk to each other on rare occasions, it's in the writers' best interests to do the same. Logically, this means the likelihood of running into a person that has lost their grip (as in the previous paragraphs) is slim. It may happen, but anticipating it is only going to cause undue awkwardness in the conference experience. I'd be borrowing trouble and I'd be hanging 99.99% of the population based on the sins of the occasional, and hopefully rare, lunatic. That way lies the Dark Side.

Now, let me turn it back -- does a writer attending a conference feel awkward or worse when encountering an agent or editor who has rejected them?