Monday, May 10, 2010

Magical Thinking About Agents

The creatures from the Magic Kingdom of Art, specifically writers, want to attract creatures from the Kingdom of Business called "agents." A great gulf separates the two. Because agents are few and remote and do not care to bridge the gulf, and because we writers are so creative and so broke, we have myths about them. Thus almost everything writers believe about getting an agent is a misunderstanding.

Getting an agent is not "the next step." Just out of school? Just completed your first book? The real next step is to develop grit and a professional attitude, because for the next several years you will have to learn how to act as your own agent, pitching and querying, knowing your market, and selling your own work, and maybe self-publishing it. When you have a track record and your work commands five figures, then getting an agent is "the next step."

"It's almost impossible to publish a novel without having an agent" is untrue. Three times in the past year I have seen first novelists, writers I personally know, get published because they looked for years for publishers, not disdaining small publishers, and they had manuscripts good enough. The hard truth is that most of the time if you can't get a manuscript published it's because it's not yet ready for publication.

Or, you may write very good manuscripts indeed. But agents want manuscripts that appeal to large, established sectors of the book-buying public, and not "writers" as we know them, but writing machines who can crank out similar manuscripts every 18 months or so, if not faster. They get paid only when you do. They don't want to get paid only once.

"I want an agent so someone else will take care of the business stuff so that I can write" is a rosy illusion indeed. An agent has many clients, is not at your beck and call, and is not necessarily accountable to you. What you are really asking for is an accountant.

"A starter agent" is not necessarily a boon. Researching the only agent who asked to represent us, my writing group discovered that he was a newbie, the largest part of his career having been spent in Europe coaching kids' soccer. We decided it was not good business to accept his offer. Later, however, he did develop a track record. We contacted him again, but by then he did not want us. I am so glad we didn't sign on with such a fickle creature.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, it makes a lot of sense and makes me feel better.