Nice Guys (and Gals) Finish First!

by Erin Brown

June 2013

Last fall, an aspiring writer asked me to give a short speech on editing to members of her local writers group, followed by a Q&A session. “I’d love to help!” I said with a smile, and we scheduled my appearance for three months later. About two months before my scheduled appearance at the neighborhood library, a scheduling conflict arose. I sent her a very nice email with my sincerest apologies, stating that I wouldn’t be able to give the speech on the planned date, but perhaps we could reschedule. Well, she proceeded to rip me a new one via email. I mean, we’re talking a scathing response (that would’ve made me cry had it not been so clearly written by a crazy person) that was worthy of being passed around to all of my friends, family, and former colleagues in NYC publishing, so that everyone could get in an “Oh my God, is she serious?” I would usually never do something like this, but I wanted to gauge everyone’s reaction—had I really done something horrible to her that deserved such a response? She even cursed my dog, which was really unnecessary (a fish or hamster, maybe, but not my sweet pooch!). I think she still has a suburban posse out searching for me, bats in hand, torches blazing, chanting, “No rescheduling, no rescheduling.”

My point is that this woman’s mean reaction burned a lot of bridges for her. Publishing is a small, incestuous business, and when you offend someone in the business, rage at them, get sassy, seek revenge, or otherwise get all in a tizzy, you are only hurting yourself because no one will want to work with you. You will become known as “that nut job.”

I know it’s very tempting to write back to an agent or editor when you get a rejection, especially one that’s not entirely kind or constructive. But don’t do it. Sit on your hands. Print their name and the email/letter on a red bull’s eye and throw darts at it. Sew a voodoo agent doll. Just don’t write back and tell them off. Bad, bad idea. Your letter or email will end up posted on the conference room wall. Your response will be amusing fodder at lunches and meetings. One thing is certain: you will never cause the agent or editor to say, “Wow, after reading that blistering email response taking me to task, I think I’ll reconsider publishing that writer’s novel. He made a really good point and taught me a lesson I’ll remember forever, right before he called me a nincompoop.”

Another thing to consider is that the agent or editor might just be giving you some valuable advice or insight about your work. Instead of being insulted or feeling rejected, think about how you can use their feedback to improve your manuscript. And remember that publishing is subjective. Not everyone is going to adore your writing or your story. I love certain books that other people hate. And I hate certain books that other people love (rhymes with De Motebook). That’s just how it works. You might even want to resubmit another novel to the same agent down the line, so you definitely want to take their “rejection” with class. Be respectful to the agent or editor, even if you silently curse them. They’re not out to “get you” or hurt your feelings. It’s not personal. All you can do is take the good feedback, throw out the bad, and move forward in your quest for writing superstardom! And the only way to get there is to respect those who can help you along the way. So call off the posse—you never know who will be in the position to help you move forward in your writing career . . . and you better hope that it’s someone whose dog you haven’t threatened.

Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at


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