So, a few days ago over at one of my favorite blogs, Literary Rejections on Display, there was a hell of a conversation going about literary agents and how we writers should approach them. Not in the “please publish my novel” way, pitching your work and begging for acceptance; we’re talking about talking back to agents after a rejection. One of the ultimate taboos. But the writer in question, Jackson Bliss, dared to write a killer (and, in my view, respectful) response to one of literary agent Nat Sobel’s assistants.
And that’s not even the ballsy part.
When Writer, Rejected (the anonymous author of LRoD) posted Jackson Bliss’s letter (this was back in September), the criticism was immediate and multitudinous: people were appalled at pretty much everything Jackson Bliss and written and done. “I just don’t get a) why you might send anything but a positive, “Gee, I really appreciate all the consideration you’ve given my manuscript!” respons,” [sic] one reader wrote. “For all you know, that agent’s assistant might someday become an editor somewhere. Do you want to her to remember you as an overly picky picky type? and b) why you would publicize your sass on an openly accessible blog?” Another reader disliked Jackson’s comments about the Asian-American “platform” he would use to sell his novel: “Why in the hell to fiction writers need a platform to write fiction. It’s made up. [. . .] God gave me this creative brain and I create what I want with it, “platform” be damned.”
And then, a few days ago, Jackson Bliss fired back, responding to critics of his response to a rejection. And what he wrote is so thorough and fantastic is reads like a freaking manifesto.
“Personally, I’m sick of all the kowtowing that aspiring fictions are expected to do in this industry,” Jackson writes in one point of his five-point reply. “We’re supposed to shut up + just take it until we’re too famous to shut up. But I think we have important things to say BEFORE we ever become famous.”
Later, he comments on the nature of the industry itself, essentially pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz that is our modern publishing industry and showing us the timid little man cowering in the booth: “Prominent agents are scared shitless about publishing fiction from debut authors. It’s a hostile landscape to art, + yet you’re criticizing me for feeling (expressing) that the industry is fucked up + that I have issues with it? That’s insane.”
And, in one of the best passages from the whole piece, he directly addresses his critics and establishes his place in the literary landscape:
For many years, I played the diplomacy game. I took each kind rejection, shut my mouth + hoped that my hard work would be enough, but now I don’t want to + that doesn’t make me dumb, or arrogant. It makes me human. I simply want to express how I feel + not censor myself just because I think it increases my chances of getting it published — I really don’t think it does, by the way. You need talent intersecting with luck intersecting with people with power. There are tens of thousands of aspiring fiction writers who will never be published EVER + it’s not because they’re not talented enough, it’s because some of them give up, some of them lose heart, some of them find other media to publish their voices + only a few actually make it. I’d rather hold on to my stubborn confidence, which has kept me in this game for awhile [sic] now, + by the way, has given me some fantastic responses from agents + some decent publications + a lot of hope for the future. If you disagree with my approach, I can respect that, but to call me arrogant, dumb + irritating because I have the gall to simply communicate anything besides “thank you ma’am” to an agent’s assistant seems very harsh + judgmental to say the least.
Overall, it’s a terrific read, and well worth perusing, both in the original post on LRoD and the follow-up post (make sure to read the comments, too!).
My favorite part of all this, though, is that it led me to Jackson Bliss’s blog, Blue Mosaic Me, which is awesome and definitely a must-read for any literary writer. In addition to his postings of rejection letters he receives (we get rejected by a lot of the same journals!), he has some very cool things to say about the writing life in general, and as in the letter he wrote to the agent and to his critics on LRoD, he doesn’t hold back on any of it.