Want to Vent?

by | Jun 27, 2007 | The Writing Life | 44 comments

I think we’re playing a game of blogophone. In just three days we’ve managed to go from a post where I referenced how important it is to personalize queries, to a post where I re-stressed that personalizing is important (and made a joke about sucking up)… and now I’m getting “Dear Exalted Mr. Bransford, Esquire” queries because people think it’s now important to suck up. For the record: personalize, yes. Suck up, no.

Still though, I can understand how people are frustrated that on top of risking their pride, after receiving impersonal rejection letters, following every single little annoying query rule… after all that, I can see how personalizing queries (for the record, not sucking up!!!) can be a little annoying. Submitting is tortuous, takes forever… it can be very challenging, and when agents already are the ones picking teams for dodgeball, bowing to their every wish may seem like one insult too far.

So now’s your chance to blow off a little steam. What’s the most frustrating part of the writing process you’ve encountered lately? Have writer’s block? Have an experience that would make Job think he had a pretty good day?

There are some venting ground rules — if you’re going to reference someone in the industry please don’t name names or provide any identifying details.

Vent away!


  1. Heidi the Hick

    Oh yay, I’m first!!!

    There is massive construction going on a hundred feet away from my house, and my house is shaking, and my cat barfed three times this morning, and I can’t concentrate, it’s so hot outside I can’t touch the steering wheel of my truck, and I’ve rewritten a scene twice and it still sucks.

    Also I am afraid that even though two test readers finished it and liked it, they maybe just like me and the book actually sucks.

    Speaking of sucks…personalize, yes, suck up, no.
    I’m going to hang a sign over my desk. Or is that suckin up too much? Gahhhhh!!!!!!

  2. Liz

    I’ve got a huge summertime slump. My muse, wench that she is, seems to have gone on a vacation. Did you see her sipping tropical drinks while you vacationed?

    My kids are underfoot and hogging the computers. We have 3 kids and 3 computers. You’d think I could get a little writing/editing time between their need to play Webkins.

    Of course, then the motherly guilt rises and I feel bad for grabbing a computer, growling at the kids and ordering them to watch TV for pete’s sake.


  3. Bernita

    Wondering how far one can trust a reader to “get it” without benefit of a 2×4.

  4. Alex Fayle

    Knowing when to actually stop editing and start sending. I read everywhere that it’s important to write well and to make sure that the book is as polished as possible.

    And like Heidi – how do I know it’s good or whether the people who’ve been reading it have just been nice?

    In my blog, I write often about procrastination and editing the book is a great way to procrastinate actually sending it out (as is Facebook – evilly delightful site!).

    My first query letter has been personalized and perfected, but I can’t send it out until I’m done editing.

    So, in other words, editing bugs me – always has. I never know when to stop (kind of like how this comments is going).

    Stopping now…

  5. Fluffy

    I’m happily wallowing in total discouragement. My writing sucks, my plotting sucks, my inventiveness is nonexistent, I’m too young, I’m too busy, and oh, hi, JulNo!

    I think I’ll watch movies in a dark room for the rest of the week.

  6. Lauren

    Lately I’ve been getting paranoid that my writing process is needlessly long and complicated. I know it’s unproductive to compare my process to that of other writers, but it’s frustrating to hear that some writers can do one draft and then a month or so of “editing” and then send their novel out… and actually be met with success! For me, the process has been to write the book, write the book again, write the book AGAIN… and still, after Totally New Draft 3, I worry that I may have to start again from page one, chapter one.

    Also. I’ve met several aspiring novelists who admit to not being readers. Eh?

    AND…it irks me when, at conferences, I meet fellow aspiring children’s and YA writers whose favorite kids’ books are from 40 years ago. I mean, yeah, Harriet The Spy‘s a great book, but if you haven’t read and liked anything in the current marketplace, how do you expect to contribute something fresh and interesting to it?

  7. Robin L.

    It’s so slow. That’s what bugs me the most. SO SLOW! (the writing/editing)

  8. Scott

    I keep getting requests for partials that then get rejected, usually with form letters, so I know my basic story is interesting but my opening needs work so I go back and work on it.

    Of course, that means I can’t work on finishing the project I got to the editing stage while waiting for queries and partials to come back.

    Which means that the next project, the one I’ve wanted to work on for two years, the one I’ve plotted out, gotten excited about, and even false-started two or three times is languishing and growing cold in the back of my head.

    And all of this while working a day job as a tech writer, which has been very busy lately so sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home is write some more, and when I do I feel like I’m neglecting a volunteer tech writing gig for an open-source project, not to mention an idea for a magazine article that’s been eating away at me for months. And it’s been more than two weeks since I wrote in my blog because I just can’t get to it, even though I’ve had stuff to say.

    And then while I’m spending so much time writing and editing that I can’t get around to more writing and editing, I hear somebody say “Nobody’s really a writer until they get published.” If that’s true, why am I three weeks behind on mowing my lawn?

    Hey, you said “vent.”

  9. original bran fan

    The thing that bothers me about writing/publishing is that agents and editors take forever to respond.

    That’s why I like Nathan. Even though he rejected me, his response within hours was a huge blessing.

    But just about everyone else takes months. We writers don’t want much. We just want a reasonable response time.

  10. jason evans

    John Gardner wrote that a story should evoke a “vivid, continuous dream.”

    My pet peeve is that we can expend the horrendous amount of effort and energy to achieve that goal only to be told a novel isn’t deemed to be saleable because the protag. isn’t the right gender or age, or only novels set in Afghanistan are hot, or some other winds-of-the-market reason.

  11. Redzilla

    What’s driving me insane is the “my way is the industry standard” delusion. I believe devoutly in personalizing query letters, and scrounge all around the internet to get a feel for what an agent likes to read in a query letter. (in terms of content, not flatter ;o) I’m always peeved when I discover some agent mocking writers for failing to follow “industry standard” for the contents of a query letter. Ha! Again, I say, Ha! There is no “industry standard.” Some agents want to know what writers you’d compare your work to, others hate that. Some want to know if you have other projects in progress, others despite it.

    So, I don’t have a problem with personalizing, but it drives me crazy when an agent acts as though what she wants is what everyone wants, and has the bad taste to deride writers who have failed to follow her imaginary “industry standard.”

    Whew! Thanks, I feel better.

  12. C.J.

    well, i was going to steam on about how anonymous and arbitrary the whole query process seems, but really this blog and the folks who comment here put a face to the biz. so thanks to nate and all the people leaving comments as well. how’s that for sucking up? : )

    btw, nate – we’ll give you KG for Artest, the 10 pick this year, and next year’s first round pick, you down?

  13. Nathan Bransford


    I’ll cover KG’s airfare and meet him at the airport. Deal.

  14. leatherdykeuk

    I must say that the most frustrating thin was having a well respected agent ask for a partial, then ask for a re-write and then reject it. Fair enough it didn’t fit, and I understand her reasons, but it was terribly annoying.

  15. Dave

    Uh, Nathan,
    I feel like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” screaming “you can’t handle the truth” …
    I just screamed vulgarities at my refrigerator because of politics on the TV. You do not want me to “vent” online. Ever! Mt St. Helens was kinder to my Fridge than I just was.


  16. Anonymous

    Re-reading my almost finished manuscript and realizing how much MORE editing I have to do before its even presentable. Then realizing that I also have an enormous amount of CUTTING to take care of or else it will fall out of my the prime word count for its genre. Realizing that I’m working with a lot of passion and little talent. What else…..being a writer sucks is a poor waste of a lifetime.

  17. Colorado Writer

    Wait times are frustrating. And I am not talking about a month or two. I am talking about 8-9 months on a solicited full manuscript.

  18. Alex

    The most frustrating thing, not getting noticed, sending short story after short story out, waiting 6 months for a reply, getting nice notes from editors but not breaking through.

    Being on the verge of completing a novel, that’s good, but you’ve realized, has no commercial concept, you’ve been told by many readers, “great book” but it’s not commercial, it’s to new, it’s too…. whatever. Understanding that 4 years ago when I took pen to paper and fell in love with magical realism, I didn’t know the market, I just wanted to write, now I have a rich tapestry of a book, going to start pitching to agents very soon, refining my query and scared it’ll fall on silent years.

    If you write a novel in a crowded forest and it can’t grow past the canopy, is it still good?

    The phones at my day job ringing and my ears throbbing from multitasking, yet I still edit.

    There I vented, thanks.

  19. joycemocha

    BTW–I’m not ranting about GVG (I realized it was an oops violation of the ground rules, I love the response time, I really do) it’s just I get really, really excited when something takes a looooong time getting back from that market…

    and then it doesn’t sell. But the vent is aimed more at *my* nerves than his.


  20. Anonymous

    Nathan,I have an extremely successful agent, but he either doesn’t respond to my infrequent email or takes weeks. Do I move on before he starts the submission process?

  21. Nathan Bransford


    I’m afraid that’s one that I can’t really answer. You have to be comfortable and go with your gut feeling, but without knowing the particulars of the situation I’d hate to offer a recommendation. If you are not comfortable, I would at the very least discuss your concerns with your agent before doing anything drastic.

  22. Liz Wolfe

    I’m frustrated with rejections (on requested full ms.) that tell me how much they like my writing, my premise, my characterization, pacing, etc. BUT they just don’t love it enough.
    I know that can mean anything from “I have no idea who I could sell this to” to “I tell everyone how much I like their stuff just to ease the pain of rejection.” I also know that agents will probably never be totally, brutally honest in their rejections. But I would really, really love it if they could. I’d take the pain of honest rejection over the frustration of not really knowing any day.
    Also, it’s frustrating when blogger occasionally makes you type in multiple verification words.

  23. Michele Lee

    People who think and proclaim that the only way period to get published is to use their advice/their contacts/their product/method/brand of pen/etc. Every agent blog I read says “Hey, this is what I like, and sure other agents are gonna be different”. Writers or editors or just people who proclaim their way is the only way and if you don’t play nice with them you’ll never get anywhere.

    I hate that “secret handshake” myth, but not as much as I am irritated by the people who constantly push it.

  24. takoda

    Hey, I came in too late to see which post was deleted by the blog master. Shucks, those are always the fun ones!

    I’m actually pretty happy. And that’s not a suck-up.

    I’ve developed a detailed matrix of which agents respond to queries, which ones respond quickly, which ones have blogs, which ones are vegetarian, which ones are intelligent, and which ones are hotties.

    Visit me on my blog if you would like a copy.


  25. joycemocha

    To Liz Wolfe–

    yeah. I feel the agony of being close…but not making the final cut. I’ve actually come close enough to making it (in short story world) but not making the sale because my story was too similar in theme to a previously purchased story. Sigh.

    Good but not good enough. Breaking over that hurdle is the challenge!

    Which is truly my ultimate vent. Seems like I’ve been on the edge of that breakthrough for years.

    (still whapping myself over the head over a previous slip..).

  26. Gerri

    A huge frustration has been with critiquing. I’m an awesome critiquer. I can put my finger on story points and explain what I think does and doesn’t work. I can’t get critiques back that do the same thing for me. All I’d get were line critiques that objected to some of my phrasing. YARGH. I _hate_ line critiques. If a sentence or a paragraph doesn’t work, just tell me that it doesn’t work! Don’t fix it for me! I have my style, and people who attempt to “fix” my writing inevitably screw up my style. *grrrrr*

    The problems with critiquing led to the next huge frustration: my writing was very good, but not great, and I couldn’t figure out how in the hell to get over that chasm. Worse, I couldn’t find anyone that could explain to me why I was very good, but not great.

    Then I stumbled into Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, and things finally clicked.

    And then the divorce hit, the horribly bad relationship hit, and my writing went *poof*.

    *sigh* But with the awesome second marriage and lots of prescription drugs for health issues, I’m slowly slowly slowly picking up my writing again. And that’s the most recent frustration…the lack of speed.

    *keeps chugging down the road*

  27. Heidi the Hick

    OOO can I still play along?

    It really bugs me that I’ve written more than one of these things which I loosely call Novels, but it looks like I’ve been doing NOTHING. The lawn is too long, there are weeds in the flowerbeds and the house is a mess. This is what is visible on the outside. Inside my head there are whole other worlds, and inside my computer those stories take shape. But it doesn’t really count yet.

    Only one way to solve it: keep working. Which isn’t really a bad thing at all, and I will get over the frustration.

  28. jennie

    My biggest fear and frustration is that I’m spending so much effort working on a story and characters that may have already been done. I can’t read all the novels out there. I try to be original, but I dread having an agent roll his/her eyes at my query and mutter, “Well, I’ve only seen this a billion times. Next!” (Of course, I would never know because I’d just get a form rejection.)

    I would also love to find some good, honest critique partners, but I live in a remote area so joining a writer’s group or going to conferences is highly unlikely. I don’t know how to meet similarly minded folk and I’m jealous of people who can drive a few hours and go to a workshop or conference. Online critique groups are a mixed bag. I would like very much to improve, but I can’t trust my own judgment or that of friends and family. I don’t even tell my friends and family that I write.

    I fear I am doomed to rewrite my first five pages forever because I can’t tell my good writing from my shit. Am I in purgatory and nobody sent me a memo?

  29. Kate

    Rant 1: How do you personalize a query to an agent who has NO internet presence?

    Rant 2: Ridiculous response times, or never responding at all. Mostly journals here, a few agents.

    Rant 3: People who insist on exclusives for anything other than a full novel MS.

    Rant 4: The whole genre thing. My novel doesn’t fit any of the pigeonholes. And the fact that the “literary” world is so incestuous, writers writing for other writers, while the “commercial” side is so maddeningly market-driven.

    Rant 5: I too cannot find critique partners who can help me get from good to great. And all the ones I’ve had that looked promising have petered out.

    Rant 6: That “didn’t quite fall in love with it” response that leaves me wondering whether it’s just not for them, or it’s not publishable period.

    Rant 7: The publishing industry wouldn’t exist without writers, yet it seems like we’re the low man on the totem pole, financially and otherwise. Even “successful” writers mostly don’t make a living. We don’t get no respect!

  30. Loquacious Me

    I’m having frustration issues with my real job, and it is totally killing any creative urge I had. So I sit there and just stare at the blinking cursor of doom, while trying not to justify drinking my sorrows away.

  31. L.C.McCabe


    I’m going to give you a broad overview perspective gripe on the entire publishing industry as it is today.

    I hate that it is no longer enough for writers to simply write a good book. They are also expected to be gifted public speakers, and work tirelessly at self-promotion.

    I say this due to my experience with veteran authors in my writers club that have not been able to keep abreast of the myriad of changes in the industry. Some simply do not know how to have a web presence, nor do they know how to market themselves.

    They believe that publicity should be the responsibility of publishers and do not understand how things have changed in the last decade.

    Many of my fellow club members who are published authors do not have a website. Some have websites, but many of those have bare minimum content that never changes.

    I realize that this is today’s reality and that griping about things won’t make them change. However, I know that not everyone enjoys public speaking, nor does everyone wish to spend time trying to establish a cyber presence and online fanbase.

    It is out of sympathy for my colleagues that I humbly submit this gripe. Why can’t someone who is painfully shy be a success in today’s publishing industry if their skill is with the written word?


  32. David Roth

    This is a simple one. A local publisher looked at a few of my projects and then began to explain all the things she was going to do with them. Then she stood me up for a meeting she called, ignored my emails and phone calls. Then she sold her company. That one I discovered reading her blog, not because she contacted me directly. And the new owners? Bottom line was no contract in hand, oh well. Have fun storming the publishing castle and good luck.

    Love your blog. Maya Reynolds turned me on to it.

  33. PT Barnum meets Hemingway

    LC McCabe, I recommend you read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” with your group. Yes, it’s crazy how the world has changed – but everyone, in every field now has to be able to update, upgrade (and upchuck?) several times over the course of a career to survive. Writers included. I gather you read Kristin Nelson’s blog?

  34. Anonymous

    I get frustrated when it takes me less time to write an entire book than it does for an agent to respond to a query letter.

    I get frustrated when I check on a REQUESTED partial after 3 months and get no reply.

    I get frustrated (and admittedly a little teary) when an agent CALLS to tell me why my ms wouldn’t work and how she couldn’t bring herself to even request a partial. Yes, this was based on a query letter. I’m not in the 212 – why would you waste your dime to insult me?

    I always act professionally and politely, but feel like sometimes I am pushed to the limit. I don’t take things personally, but the biz can be very soul-sucking.

  35. Anonymous

    How did you know I needed to vent THIS morning?

    Lit mag editors! We understand that you sometimes get backed up, but to not respond to a query after six months, a year, two years? We understand that manuscripts sometimes go missing, but three submissions out of seven? (I know: I won’t send there again …) If you lose my ms, would it kill you to say you’re sorry? Or to actually follow through on your promise to have someone read the replacement ms “quickly.” It wouldn’t kill you.

    Also, agents who don’t reply to queries one way or another. And agents who don’t have websites.

    You wouldn’t believe how much venting I cut from the above …

    Thank you, NB.

  36. Anonymous

    oh i have been ranting on this for weeks now…
    1.it takes too long to acquire an agent that
    2.takes too long to acquire a publisher that
    3.takes no time to say no but if they say yes then
    4.it takes only 90 days on a shelf to be a hasbeen

  37. Josephine Damian

    “Dear Darling, Handsome, Brilliant Agent Nathan:

    My 200,000 word fiction novel, about an evil albino is the next big thing…”

    Ok. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. lol

    My biggest frustration is that I’ve decided to go grad school, and can’t possibly write my next novel while I’m slaving over the textbooks and scratching out those 25 page term papers.

    Yeah, I know plenty of famous writers went to law school, worked three jobs, parented eight kids and still found the time to write that break out book, but I’m not one of them.

    My motto is: Focus. Better to do one thing well than to do many things half-a**ed.

    At least in the meanwhile I’m able to write narrative non-fiction piece meal in a blog, and am building up my myspace presence – all that online promotional stuff takes so much time, and I rather do it now in dribs and drabs, while I’m not actively writing my next big project, which will dominate my attention once school is over.

    Still, it’s frustrating to know I have 18 more months of school to get through before I can start writing that novel.

  38. Janniel

    I had an acceptance call from the agency that reps E.L. Doctorow. They requested a minor revision, but wanted to sign me anyway.

    And then I woke up.

  39. L.C.McCabe


    Sorry to use your comment trail to respond, but a previous poster asked me a question and it does not appear that he has a link to his own blog.

    PT Barnum meets Hemingway suggested that I read Thomas Friedman to my club members. Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’m familiar with Friedman’s columns as they appear in my local paper, but I haven’t been too impressed with him as of late.

    I prefer Paul Krugman over Thomas Friedman.

    Another answer is that Kristen Nelson’s blog is one of the other literary blogs I read.

    I personally do not have a problem with public speaking. I have thirty years experience in public speaking in a variety of settings. However, I understand that standing up in front of people and speaking is one of the most common fears people have. I don’t share it, but I know that many people would rather undergo oral surgery with no anaesthetic than speak in front of an audience.

    It is the idea that today’s publishing industry almost requires that all authors be actively engaged in promoting their books is something I recognize as unfair, but a reality.

    Offhand I can think of two successful journalists who wrote books and were disappointing in their television appearances during their book promotions. I am talking about Susan Faludi and Maureen Dowd. Both women are so soft spoken that you feel like you need to turn up the volume on your television set to hear them.

    Maureen is someone who is not quick witted like Jon Stewart, but if you gave her some time to think and turn the phrase over in her head – she’d come up with a line that would strike to the very core and wound someone’s ego.

    She’s got a wicked, lethal rapier-like wit and someone that comes across better on paper than in person.

    Those are two different skill sets and unfortunately, the publishing/entertainment industry today seems only interested in those who have multiple skill sets and that is what I am complaining about.

  40. Anonymous

    Kate, you’re awesome. An honest writer; I’m impressed.

    As for sucking up: it’s what writers are told to do. And as for the “rules”: the more we try to follow them, the more frustrating the process becomes. It’s called publishing Soduko.

    Anyway, when I decided to throw out the “rules” and stop kissing literary butt, I finally wrote a compelling query and signed with an agent. It took five years of “rules” before I figured it out. Somebody slap me, please.

    We only have one page to sell our book. And we can’t waste a paragraph, word or comma on any topic other than our story.

    Common sense beats “the rules” in any business. Ask the rich guys; they’ll tell you.

  41. jjdebenedictis

    I. C. McCabe:

    Personally, I don’t believe it affects a writing career much if the writer isn’t a good public speaker. I also think agents who demand their novelists be brilliant publicists (in addition to being brilliant writers) probably overestimate just how many books get sold thanks to marketing.

    Books become hits because of word-of-mouth, one book reader to another.

    Marketing will convince a person to pick your book up off the shelf and read a few pages. It won’t convince them to buy it or to rave about it to their friends; only the quality of the book can prompt that.

    A brilliant public speaker might excite a few people into buying their book on the strength of an engaging talk, but even if that writer goes to a conference a week, that still only translates to a few hundred books per year.

    That number isn’t going to make or break anyone’s career.

    As Miss Snark said, “Write well.” I suspect the rest is helpful, but not necessary, to success.


  42. sylvia

    I hate hate hate hate hate hate how much time is spent without knowing if I’m anywhere near the right track. So often, it feels like I’m just paddling in circles.

  43. Jillian

    Having just returned from a wonderful vacation, I’m late to the game. But I can’t resist a good vent….

    1. Form responses for requested material. My manuscript garnered a quick response for a partial and an even quicker response for the full (one day!) from a super agent at a top-notch agency. After all that, my rejection was a “Dear Writer” form letter. I expect form responses from initial queries, not manuscripts in which I’ve invested over $7 to ship out to an agent who has expressed enthusiasm. This particular response was a real kick in the stomach (I would have loved to work with this agent).

    2. Long, long, long response times on initial queries and requested partials. I really don’t think it should take 6 months to let me know that you don’t want to read beyond the first 3 chapters. Especially if you’ve requested an exclusive (which I won’t give, anyway).

    3. Exclusives. ‘Nuff said.

    4. The anti-email spirit. I can understand why folks in the publishing industry prefer reading full manuscripts on real paper — easier on the eyes, travels well on subways. But ’tis the computer age, and e-queries are highly preferable to time-consuming, cost-accruing paper queries, especially for aspiring novelists who are living “other lives” whilst pursuing writing.

    5. Non-response to queries. But I’ve ranted about that before.

    And just in case I still have your attention, I’d love if you’d include somewhere in a blog post exactly how long it took you to grow your hair out (you know…the all-one-length thing). My hubby has finally consented to give it a try, and I’d like to give him fair warning as to what he’s in for once the bangs reach below his upper eyelids. I’d hate to have him give up at that point…


  44. A.S. Peterson

    Nothing pisses me off more than browsing the bookstore and reading through the slush that fills most of the shelves.

    Then I go home and submit queries to the agents that represent said slush and get form rejections for a manuscript that many professional and objective critics tell me is one of the best books they’ve read in years.

    It also steams me that to have a chance at snagging an agent I apparently have to open the book with action and conflict, yet almost no truly great work of literature does so. Argh!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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