So…Who’s the Asshole?

angry-computer-guySomebody I know recently brought to my attention an email. I have to change the name and specific content to protect the innocent, but here’s an approximation.

The email was sent from an author to an editor, and it proceeded thusly.


Dear Editor,

You are a dick. I sent you my manuscript more than a year ago and I haven’t heard back from you yet. I’m gonna self publish my Work of Utter Genius and become a millionaire. Remember, my work is copyrighted. If your plan is to steal it and self-publish the stuff for profit, I own your ass. Go soak your head in a bucket of wombat urine. 

Love and Kisses,


All of my friends who are agents and editors are sharing this around, saying “Dude, what a dick Author is. Let’s none of us ever do business with Author. Screw that guy.”

And they’re right. That kind of abuse and unprofessional behavior (I’m paraphrasing, but the original wasn’t much better) is unacceptable in any craft or trade. Dude broke the rules of basic courtesy, and the rules of observing chain of command (editors outrank authors). He even broke the basic rule of knowing how to talk to people in a position to do you favors.

So yeah, he’s an asshole.

But on the other hand…

A year without contact is a long time. A looooooong time to an author who’s waiting to hear whether or not an editor is interested in publishing the written distillation of his heart, hopes and dreams. I can understand being frustrated, even angry, even though I can’t condone how he chose to express it.

This goes double for the agents and editors who (a) ask you not to send in simultaneous submissions and (b) have a policy of only responding on acceptance. Those guys are being serious assholes. I mean, really. What reasonable human says “Please don’t ask anybody else to the prom until you hear back from me, but I won’t answer at all if I’m gonna say no and maybe wait half a year before I say yes” ?!?!?!?

But that’s what a lot of agents and editors are saying.

So they’re kind of being assholes, too.

But do you know who’s the biggest asshole here?

Us. People. Human beings.

You. And me.

Once upon a time, agents and editors could respond quickly enough to not be assholes. The publishing industry made enough money across the board that agencies weren’t understaffed, and publishers had robust catalogs.

Then we discovered self-publishing and ebooks. And we started reading less and Netflixing more. We forgot much of our love affair with the written word, and started downloading the books we did read. Publishing suffered. Publishers had to cut catalogs. Agencies had to cut staff.

So now we’re in this situation where agents need months to respond to the massive deluge (over 100 per week, according to folks I know) of manuscript submissions they get. That means they can’t respond to your novel query in anything resembling a reasonable frame of time. It means the best way to get your novel read quickly is to meet an agent via pitch sessions, at a bar, or through social engineering. It means they have no choice but to act like assholes sometimes because the resources aren’t there to give them any other option.

It’s not anybody’s particular fault, but we’re in an untenable situation.

  • Agents don’t have the resources to respond to every submitter with anything resembling reasonable courtesy
  • Authors have to wait unreasonable times, which makes them whiny

What’s worse is we can’t do anything about it….other than remember with compassion what it’s like for the other side.