Author Topic: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2  (Read 1721 times)

Offline Sir Nessun Dorma

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A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« on: August 22, 2019, 02:37:37 PM »
It’s a treat to read all your squawks, observations, and frustrations regarding literary agent attitudes, comportment, requirements, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.  Your posts and replies are spot on.  According to Wikipedia, ‘literary agents fulfill a useful role as gatekeepers to publishing houses.’  Translation: They filter out and impede more deserving manuscripts than they promote; they hinder more than help.
 
Let’s have a show of hands.  Who has read and enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities?  If he tried to publish today Charles Dickens would’ve been shot down faster than green grass passes through a goose.  Imagine the conversation: “Well, Mr. Dickens, is it the best of times or the worst of times?  Make up your mind.  I’m afraid your manuscript gets a pass.”  It would’ve been just as bad for Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “A story about an Englishman raised by gorillas?  Try down the street.”  James Joyce?  “I started to read your submission, Ulysses, and decided ancient Sanskrit would be easier.”
 
Sooo…by what evil alchemy did literary agents come into being?  How did they set themselves up as the final arbiters of good literature vs. bad literature?  Who delivered into their hands the power of deciding who gets published, and who doesn’t?  I can’t think of a more subjective profession.  Engineers are ruled by mathematics, which is not subject to a panel discussion.  Physicists are governed by inviolate universal physical laws—not opinion or subjectivity.  Imagine the merits of a treatise on high energy propulsion systems being judged by a dangling participle, a misplaced comma, two split infinitives, or improper use of semicolons.  Such is the province of the literary agent.  How do we fix this imbalance, how do we get more eligible manuscripts into publication?  I haven’t a clue, but I commend the courage of those who’ve decided to publish nontraditionally.
 
Now, if a manuscript I submit in point of fact does fall short in terms of grammar, content, innovation, interest, character development, or what have you, I would flog myself mercilessly night and day to correct it.  But now it seems there is a new species in the publishing bestiary: THE PLATFORM.  It’s not enough to slave around the clock to write the best manuscript you are capable of, now to be considered for publication you need a social following.  This is not graven in stone as of yet, but it’s getting there, folks.  One more hurdle to conquer.  There’s even a certain literary critic in Pittsburgh, PA with the initials C.Y. (name withheld) who won’t even consider you unless you have at least 100,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, or some other social network.  What’s next, go out and buy a printing press?  I am willing, after I am published, to promote my book as best I can.  After all, it’s in my best self-interest.  But I am not willing to devote hours and hours to building a social following when there exists a good chance that I may not be published in the first place.  Enough already—there are enough hoops to jump through in today’s publishing world.

I would like to finish by leading you all in a song composed for the purpose of exalting the literary agent.  Sing to the tune of I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Weiner.
 
                                      I’m glad I am a lit-er-ary agent,

                                          As jobs go it is the (pronounced thee) ee-pit-o-me.

                                          And  ‘cause I am a lit-er-ary agent,

                                          All of you must bow and scrape to me!

Offline Tigerlily1066

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2019, 04:51:43 PM »
Look, I get it. The gatekeepers are frustrating. It is somewhat baffling to me even now that one woman's opinion (my agent's) determines whether my manuscript moves forward or not. Her opinion, however considered and knowledgable, is definitely outsized in the whole process. The truth is that no one really knows what sells books. Not me. Not her. Not even my publisher when you get right down to it. But I value her expertise and experience and thus am on the whole satisfied with our relationship. If I weren't, I would get another agent. Or self-publish.

You absolutely do not need a huge social media following to get an agent or have publishing success. I have a very minimal social media footprint and am contracted with my big-five publisher through seven books. No one rides me about doing more on social media. They only care that I deliver my manuscripts on time.

What will absolutely 100% stop you from getting an agent is letting any of this contempt seep into your public persona or your correspondence with those in the industry. Like it or not, most of us writers are a dime a dozen and agents, editors, publishers, etc. need little incentive to move on from an author they find problematic.

Finally, while there are bad agents out there (derisive of authors, poor connections, poor communication, egotistic) the majority are good, hardworking people who are just trying to sell books. They know what editors are seeking. If they reject your manuscript, it doesn't mean it's bad. It may mean they can't find a market for it because timing isn't right. It may also mean your manuscript isn't ready and they are not in a position to hone it with you. Having seen a large number of unpublished manuscripts now, I believe most of them fall into this category. They're just not ready. Of course agents sometimes make mistakes and pass on a golden opportunity. Most bestsellers were rejected more than once. But the author perservered and found an agent who believed in their book. That's all you can do. Keep going. It's hard, I know, but it's all there ever is, even after you are published. Keep going.

Offline mafiaking1936

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2019, 07:18:03 AM »
I think agents are looking to artificially reduce their workload by imposing more and more arbitrary filters like social media following. Job recruiters do the same thing. I think they also see the odd superstar sell books like mad with no effort and think that's the standard now. A youtuber I occasionally watch just put out a video the other day about his first book which sold 11,000 copies in its first month, because he has 700,000 subscribers. He was talking with Brandon Sanderson, who said his first novel sold less than that in its first year back in the day. It's hard to argue with those numbers. but again, those are the superstars, not the standard.

Offline Tigerlily1066

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2019, 08:04:44 AM »
Eh, I agree that agents look for anything they can to filter their overflowing inboxes. That's why good personalization, if you have it, often helps a query. Also, if they have two identical-seeming queries from similar authors and one has no social media following while the other has 700,000 followers, then hell yeah, they will take the 700,000 followers.

But mostly, the author's social media does not sell novels. Or rather, it can sell dozens, maybe a few hundred books in really excellent cases. Chuck Wendig is a good example of this. Huge social media following, only moves a few books this way. Social media BEST moves books when the book is closely aligned with the social media content (think: food bloggers making a recipe book). Selling your novel on social media is an iffy proposition at best.

My first book also sold about 11,000 copies in its first month (most books sell the maximum of their curve in the first six weeks after publication; the book has sold about 18,000 copies in the 20 months post-publication). Again, I have no real social media presence. I am not a star by any means. I am solidly mid-list. But also, there was nothing I did to control the book's relative success, which is both extremely frustrating (I can't replicate it with future novels) and kind of freeing (the only thing that matters from my end is the book).

There are so many things that can make you crazy in publishing. Feeling like you need billions of followers to have any kind of success shouldn't be one of them.

Online Tabris

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2019, 09:53:59 AM »
If you really need to build up a social media following, the two years in between the agent selling your book and the book hitting the shelves is a lovely time for that to happen. Do you know how many followers you can get in two years if you're constantly working at it?

Twitter doesn't really sell books, is what I'm understanding. Mailing lists do, but how many people are going to sign up for a mailing list for a writer who hasn't published anything yet?

Yes, it's an arbitrary thing. I also think 99.9999% of agents know exactly that and aren't going to ignore a potential client because she's not on twitter or because she only instagrams pictures of her cat and her only follower is her grandmother.

And finally: if you hate literary agents, that's your choice, but then go indie and be done with it. I fail to see it benefitting anyone to come here and crap all over literary agents.

Offline klclou

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2019, 10:06:59 PM »
The social media thing is a really draining aspect of writing today. Let's take a bunch of probable introverts and force them to promote themselves relentlessly! Recipe for success! But the game has changed.

I read a comment from someone earlier that the agent they approached asked for a full and came back with 'this is marketable, fresh, etc' then finished with 'I just didn't connect with the writing'. I find that kind of feedback frustrating. Does 'I didn't connect to this writing' actually mean anything? So many agents say it's about what they can sell, and this book was described by this agent as marketable. If you can market a novel, should it matter whether you connect with the writing or not? Why not just say 'I don't think I can sell this'? It seems to be so based on personal taste for some agents.  I get it - I'd have a hard time promoting Dan Brown's novels because I don't connect with the writing, but I'd be making a grave financial error if I turned them away. It's a risky business for all involved, I guess, but if I had a saleable novel in my hands I'd probably give it a whirl.

Online Tabris

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2019, 06:42:20 AM »
Quote
Does 'I didn't connect to this writing' actually mean anything?

No, it's not supposed to mean anything--deliberately so. You're not supposed to be able to argue with it.

I had an agent who completely did not get or connect with my second book. She treated it like crap, shuffled me to the side rather than deal with it, totally didn't pitch it the right way (I helped rewrite her pitch letter after I saw what she was sending out) and never followed up with it. To me, THAT is not connecting with the writing. It's much better that an agent just be honest and move on and give you the chance to find someone better.

Offline 217mom

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2019, 04:16:27 PM »
Look, I get it. The gatekeepers are frustrating. It is somewhat baffling to me even now that one woman's opinion (my agent's) determines whether my manuscript moves forward or not. Her opinion, however considered and knowledgable, is definitely outsized in the whole process. The truth is that no one really knows what sells books. Not me. Not her. Not even my publisher when you get right down to it. But I value her expertise and experience and thus am on the whole satisfied with our relationship. If I weren't, I would get another agent. Or self-publish.

You absolutely do not need a huge social media following to get an agent or have publishing success. I have a very minimal social media footprint and am contracted with my big-five publisher through seven books. No one rides me about doing more on social media. They only care that I deliver my manuscripts on time.

What will absolutely 100% stop you from getting an agent is letting any of this contempt seep into your public persona or your correspondence with those in the industry. Like it or not, most of us writers are a dime a dozen and agents, editors, publishers, etc. need little incentive to move on from an author they find problematic.

Finally, while there are bad agents out there (derisive of authors, poor connections, poor communication, egotistic) the majority are good, hardworking people who are just trying to sell books. They know what editors are seeking. If they reject your manuscript, it doesn't mean it's bad. It may mean they can't find a market for it because timing isn't right. It may also mean your manuscript isn't ready and they are not in a position to hone it with you. Having seen a large number of unpublished manuscripts now, I believe most of them fall into this category. They're just not ready. Of course agents sometimes make mistakes and pass on a golden opportunity. Most bestsellers were rejected more than once. But the author perservered and found an agent who believed in their book. That's all you can do. Keep going. It's hard, I know, but it's all there ever is, even after you are published. Keep going.

What Tigerlily1066 said. I just thought it bears repeating  :up:

Offline Nabokov258

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Re: A FEW OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING LITERARY AGENTS--PART 2
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2019, 11:11:23 AM »
Obviously "A Tale of Two Cities" is one of the greatest novels written but there's a good chance it wouldn't see the light of day in today's market. Dickens may have to publish it himself. Not much great fiction published these days. In my estimation, calling agents "gatekeepers" is too flattering. They're more like barriers. The entire concept of querying is quite absurd. The more logical thing to do is have a writer submit a synopsis and about 25 pages. If the agent finds these intriguing, he or she should ask for one third of the book. If they're still satisfied, sign the writer and work with him/her on the book. Great writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald worked with Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Scribners. There were no agents. These days a writer may find themselves rejected by a college student who's working with an agent for the summer. Years of hard work rejected by a virtual neophyte! There's hundreds of "successful" queries displayed on Query Tracker's other site. In my opinion, the books being pitched are often ridiculous; nonsensical tripe. If that's what agents believe will sell, today's would-be Dickenses and Hemingways have almost no chance of getting their masterpieces published unless they self-publish. What passes for music and movies these days is also usually quite awful and, like quality fiction, it's only going to become rarer.