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IWSG: “They’re not your people.”

One of the most freeing things a life coach ever taught me was the phrase, “They’re not your people.”

Bad review? Not your people. Rejection? Not your people. Didn’t get the job? Not your people.

Please don’t misunderstand. Sometimes, a bad review or a rejection contains helpful criticism. But, most often, we’re rejected for some variation of, “Didn’t quite work for me.” Bad reviews often occur because the book wasn’t what the reader was expecting.

As the life coach went on to explain, not everyone is going to like you, or “get” what you do. If you try to please everyone, you’re just going to end up pleasing no one.

A few years ago, I met an agent at a writers’ conference. I was very excited–I had a mutual friend with this agent, and had convinced myself this was the agent for me. Finally, I’d get to meet her in person, and surely it would be love at first sight and we’d go on to make millions of dollars together. I’d completely built her up in my mind as the only possible “perfect” agent to represent my work.

From the beginning, there were warning signs. One of the first events I attended was a masterclass with this agent, and she was…well, to put it nicely, she wasn’t very classy. She wasn’t dressed professionally, and she didn’t treat the other writers well. She was sarcastic, which I ordinarily love, but instead of helping people like she was supposed to, it sounded like she was making fun of them. Some of her comments made me cringe. She had no finesse, no subtlety.

Sure she’s made some great sales, but is this who you want representing you and your work? a nagging voice in my brain piped up. I told that voice to shut it. Of course I did. I’d already decided this was the agent for me. There could be no other.

At first, things appeared to go well. Once she heard about our mutual connection, she was excited to meet me. She asked if I had any writing samples on me, and ended up reading an entire novella during the three-day conference. She spent over an hour talking to me, and requested two full manuscripts. “As long as you don’t suck, you’re in,” she said. Again, not the nicest way of putting it, but I knew I didn’t suck, so I left the conference with that soon-to-be-agented-author glow.

Which lasted until I got her response to my manuscript.

Now, rejections are as common as colds in this business. So if she’d just rejected me, it would have been disappointing, but it wouldn’t have been that big a deal, even though I’d been led to believe we were a breath away from signing a contract.

She didn’t reject me. She eviscerated me.

My protagonist was intentionally written to be a bit rough around the edges. As the story evolves, so does he, becoming a more sensitive, enlightened human being. He was never a serial killer–just a bit brash, sarcastic, and immature.

She hated him.

She told me my 400-page book was like a short story (still don’t understand that one), that no one would ever like this book, or its protagonist. And, in case I wasn’t clear about what she was saying, I wasn’t to contact her for at least a year. So much for the second manuscript request. So much for the perfect agent.

It’s been a while now, so I can’t remember how that rejection affected me. I’m sure I was crushed. But a part of me was also relieved, because I recalled my earlier misgivings about her, and how she wasn’t the person I’d expected at all. Then I got mad, and I set out to find my people–in this case, people who would believe in that book and the story I was trying to tell.

That book now has over a hundred four and five-star reviews. It’s received rave reviews from industry heavyweights like Kirkus, BlueInk, and Library Journal. It’s been a finalist in several prominent contests, and is currently a top-five finalist in the Kindle Book Awards, which blows my mind. It’s sold thousands and thousands of copies and has opened doors for me that I never expected.

And yet, if I’d listened to that agent, it would have been relegated to a virtual dumpster, never seeing the light of day.

Whether you take constructive feedback or not is up to you, as is deciding whether or not the feedback is constructive. In this case, I decided it wasn’t. I believed in that book, believed in the story I was trying to tell, and that agent was just not my people.

Never believe anyone who tells you that you should quit.

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThose who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

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57 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you have the satisfaction of knowing how wrong she was. Because she was very wrong, indeed. =) The timing of this blog post is positively uncanny as I am dealing with similar situations in other areas of my life and I absolutely love that saying “They’re not your people.” That couldn’t be more obvious to me than it is right now and it’s no coincidence how everything in the universe is trying to tell me that. I adore you and your writings and I have a feeling I will be revisiting your stories for years and years to come.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Nikki. I’m so glad this post resonated with you. I believe that we often find the advice/inspiration/people we need at the right time. You are, and will always be, my ideal reader.

      Reply
  2. UGH Sorry you went through that. I’m glad you kept going and realized she was not your people. Constructive criticism is one thing, but I will never understand why people will go out of their way to be has harmful as possible. Do they really think such crass feedback will be character building? Good for you on proving her wrong!

    Reply
  3. Wow! How incredibly unprofessional that agent was! I’m glad you didn’t take her feedback to heart. I guess publishing success is the best revenge, eh? I recently won a 30-page evaluation from a big-deal agent. When she finally came through, her feedback was vague, mostly negative, and unhelpful–on a story that finaled in a big industry competition. Pfft. Chin up, onward. Happy writing in October!

    Reply
    • JH

      Sorry to hear, Sadira. I’ve had similar experiences with those evaluation contests. Frustrating as hell.

      Happy writing to you too!

      Reply
  4. Wow. That was harsh. It is true that we convince ourselves that we’re going to like something or someone and we try very hard to convince ourselves that is true, only to ignore warning signs and evidence that points to the opposite. Good for you to rise above that and continue on to successful writing and publishing. I know I love all your books, that I’ve read so far. Carry on! Great post!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mary. You’re always so supportive. x

      Reply
  5. Wow! She sounds horrible. Good thing you didn’t get her as an agent. Ever wanted to send her a list of accomplishments of that book?
    That’s how I feel about really crappy reviews. They weren’t my people.

    Reply
    • JH

      While it’s tempting, I’m sure it would backfire. She clearly thinks she’s amazing and brilliant, so I’m sure she’d only have a nasty comeback.

      Reply
  6. “They’re not your people” – YES! I am so going to apply this all over my life. 🙂

    Congratulations on being a finalist!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Madeline. It’s certainly worked for me.

      Reply
  7. First response, You friggin’ rock, Moncrieff.

    Second thought, Thanks.

    I’ve been facing a couple, seven, rejections without explanation. “Not my people.” Helps.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna. I’m so glad it helped.

      Form rejections suck, but non-responses are worse. At least you know and can move on.

      Reply
  8. Such a powerful blog post! If I was the kind of person to get tattooed, I might consider getting “they’re not your people” on one of my wrists so I could easily refer to it when faced with criticism. That agent sounds like a real piece of work. You made a lucky escape.

    Reply
    • JH

      I think so too, although I may not have minded too much if I’d been one of her six-figure deal clients.

      Reply
  9. Interesting way to look at the subject of non-acceptance by certain people. Makes a lot of sense. We can get bogged down and discouraged if we let the opinions of others affect us. It’s important to listen, but it’s probably more valuable to our success to be discerning about what we hear.

    I think you did very well.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Arlee.

      Reply
  10. What a great post and great advice. It seems I’m always looking for my people, lol! In any case, I think it shows just have good your instincts are that you knew something was off about that agent. Not getting that agent was a good thing; she just wasn’t your people… BTW- thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Toi. I don’t think we ever stop looking for our people, especially as writers. Who couldn’t use more?

      Reply
  11. Wow, what a terrible story about that agent. I’m glad you listened to yourself instead of her. I needed to hear what you said about not pleasing everyone. I tend to try to do that and have to remind myself over and over, that it is impossible, and a killjoy. Thanks for dropping by my blog!

    Reply
  12. That is an excellent motto. We can’t please everyone.

    You sure showed that agent. LOL!

    Reply
  13. I’m glad you didn’t let her words get to you and pushed forward with the book. Sounds like she didn’t have a good bedside manner. o.O

    Reply
  14. EEK!!! So glad you didn’t give up on that story (or writing) after an experience like that! I love that motto – and I think it’s going up on my bulletin board!

    Reply
  15. I think this is one of the hardest lessons for young writers to learn, but so essential. And huge props to you for going forward and getting that book out there! Shame on her. Can you imagine the damages she’s caused to other writers along the way? Yikes.

    Reply
    • JH

      The ones she rejects or has in masterclasses, yes. Her clients, not so much. That’s why I wanted her to represent me in the first place. For some unknown, unfathomable reason, she’s pretty good at selling books.

      Reply
  16. When I first read the title of your post I thought it said, “They’re not people,” which is either the setup for a creepy horror story or something that came out of the mouth of an American politician.

    Either way, I’m glad I kept reading, because your post was lovely and stories like that are always inspiring to keep us all writing our silly stories. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, CD. I’m glad you kept reading, although “They’re not people” could apply in a lot of cases as well.

      Reply
  17. Well sometimes people “aren’t your people” and sometimes people are just assholes. Your gut warning you not to work with the asshole is right on, even if she is successful. Lucky for you she is completely wrong about your writing – it is terrific! – and you can continue to search fo a person of quality to represent you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Lee. You always know exactly what to say.

      Reply
  18. I agree with Lee Lowery. Yikes. Like that “not your people” I will have to remember that. Happy IWSG Day.

    Reply
  19. Wow….she sounds like a Walmart winner. She showed you what you don’t want and I’m glad you didn’t listen to her diatribe. I wonder if she is still in the industry..probably not.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, but she is. She’s landed a total of nine six-figure deals for clients. When it comes to selling, she appears to know what she’s doing, which is why I wanted her as an agent in the first place.

      Reply
  20. John Locke has a similar phrase for those who hate his books: they simply aren’t your audience.

    Stephen King’s wife dug CARRIE out of the garbage and made him submit it. Aren’t we happy she did!

    I think I know the name of that agent, and she did a number on me as well. Luckily, I know the statistics on how many dysfunctional people there are in every hundred you meet. Don’t ask. You’ll sleep better!

    Reply
  21. Wow, you sure had a lucky escape here. Even if she had loved your story, would you really want to be associated with someone so unprofessional?
    I hope you filed her comments away where they belong – in the B.I.N file 🙂
    Debbie

    Reply
  22. Yay you for not letting someone elses misery dim your dream.
    The same advice your coach gave you, mine gave me. It is so true. I’m a while in and and I’m loving my tribe.

    Reply
  23. What an ugly experience! I’m so glad you didn’t listen to her. Sure, it hurt, but you rose above it. Congrats.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane. The fact that she was so tactless and cruel kept me from taking her comments as seriously as I otherwise might have.

      Reply
  24. Staggering how some people behave towards others. I’m a firm believer in being truthful, but you can do so without destroying a person. Had a similar experience whilst training to be a counsellor (go figure!) and am now a life coach instead. It took a lot to recover from the first experience but I’m content I’ve now found my right place (and my right people). Still, kindness is a hugely undervalued quality.

    Good job on proving her wrong in the best of ways!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Deb, and welcome to my blog. I’m glad you were able to find your right place and people too.

      Reply
  25. Wow! That sounds like a TERRIBLE agent! I’m glad you found your people and a place for your story. And congratulations on your finalist ranking – that’s awesome!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, James. I’m pretty excited about it, though I think this is as far as it will go.

      Reply
  26. Constructive is the word to use. This agent was abusive. I’m glad the book did so well – that is the best revenge. Great you could tell the difference right off. Now look at you, winning awards and all. Yes, never follow advice from anyone who just tells you to quit. The perfect audience – people – are out there waiting on your next release. Congrats.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Dolorah; I agree. Although, even out of the nastiness, I found some useful gems. Her feedback inspired me to get a few more eyes on that book, and as a result, I smoothed some of the protagonist’s rougher edges. My beta readers’ comments ended up inspiring me to turn that one book into a series. It got much bigger than I ever could have imagined.

      Reply
  27. “Not your people” really is great advice. We all want the world to love our book babies, but there’s no such thing as a universally loved book. Very healthy attitude to take towards criticism, while leaving yourself open to learn from the helpful bits, even if they sting.

    Reply
  28. So glad this story has a happy ending. Your experiences are very helpful and insightful, JH.

    I think most of us will experience that desire to make everybody happy, one way or another. As we mature and learn through experiences and gain self-confidence and believe in our own strengths, we realize the “They’re not our people” is just a part of life. Mark and I learned this the hard way with our business and the products we sold for nine years. That’s how long it took us to finally give up on trying to make everyone happy and be stressed while at it. In regards to my book, I know it will not be for everyone and I have come to terms with that.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wise words as always, Liesbet. Thank you for your kindness.

      Reply
  29. What an excellent post! And that agent sounds ridiculous. I’m so glad I read this today, it’s exactly what I needed. Thanks for posting this!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, P.L. Glad it helped! Welcome to my blog.

      Reply
  30. Great post, and great story! I like that reminder, too. “They aren’t your people.” Yeah, that’s so often true when the criticism is vague. Just the wrong audience and they don’t have a good reason for not liking the story. When criticism is specific, it’s much easier to look at it and make use of it.

    Reply
  31. Wow. She sounds like a bully. Glad you managed to escape that potentially terrible situation!

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too. She’s great at selling, but we clearly weren’t a good fit. Best to find that out sooner rather than later.

      Reply
  32. What a story (behind the story)! Glad you didn’t let that rejection stop you or your book from finding your people. Thank you for sharing this with other writers. I think these kind of reality checks are so helpful for writers who venture into the wild world of querydom and get lost in their high expectations.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your kind words, Tamara. My hope is that these posts will be helpful to someone.

      Reply
  33. In helping to run a local writer’s conference, I’ve met a couple bad agents that people talked up ahead of time. Agents who were downright cruel to the optimistic writers hoping to make something of themselves. I’ll always remember who those people are, and will never submit. Being on this end of things has brought a lot of clarity to me about industry professionals. The good thing is, the agents, editors, and authors I usually deal with are overwhelmingly good people. That’s something I can carry with me.

    Reply
    • JH

      True, Shannon. I’ve encountered both, but definitely more good than bad. It’s actually shocking when an agent is openly rude or cruel to writers, but I’d rather that than have them hide it. Better to find out before you sign with them.

      Reply
  34. This is useful and even amusing, considering a rejection I received a couple of years ago that still smarts: like, and in its entirety, “It just didn’t do anything for me.” I might have taken it better had it not come from a fairly prominent writer/guest editor who was known for giving thoughtful and encouraging feedback. Not my people indeed! I’d say there wasn’t even anything I could learn from a rejection like that, except that it has led me to steer my efforts in other directions where I might find my people.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good for you, M.F.! Success is the best revenge.

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply

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