Offline Sir Nessun Dorma

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« on: October 18, 2020, 02:40:29 PM »

I have been trying to break into the literary world for a little more than a year now (with a few months break due to the China virus), so far without success.  During that time I have had occasion to formulate a few thoughts concerning the major monkey wrench in that process—the literary agent.

Before submitting a query I very carefully check out their credentials on their website—when I can find it.  Quite a few simply hang out a shingle declaring themselves open for business.  But, to their credit, a great many are educated in their craft, with degrees in English Lit, journalism, and related subjects.  And, this is key: a fair percentage have had books of their own published—but not all!  A certain percentage have never participated in the process of creating a work of literary art, never sweated blood and tears trying to get the dialog exactly right, never had an original idea for a novel.  And those same individuals hold themselves out as critics of your work, deciding what fits the publishing world and what doesn’t.   It absolutely slays me that people who have never painted a canvas in their life regard themselves as art critics, or those who have never been behind a motion-picture camera take on the burden of criticizing films.  Let me decide what movies I want to watch, which works of art inspire me.  In the same wise, let the public decide what they want to read, not someone who rewards your best efforts with a flippant “This doesn’t meet my needs,” or “This is a pass,” or, worst of all, doesn’t have the time, graciousness, or courtesy to reply at all.

I do not accept the sophism that agents simply do not have the time to respond to queries.  They knew what they were getting into when they took the job.  It doesn’t take any great effort to prepare a few generic rejections.  Hitting a key on your keyboard take less than a second!  At least the inquirer has the satisfaction of knowing that his query was actually seen and judged.  That’s better than no reply at all—though just marginally.

Finally (I could go on and on, but will end here), there are those who insist each query be absolutely perfect, without blemish, as though a misplaced comma could be the basis for rejecting an entire manuscript, even if it is a work of genius and could probably win the next Nobel Prize in Literature.  “Remember—polish your query, edit it, edit it again, and then re-polish it if you want a chance with our agency.”  What a crock.

Finally (I promise, this is the very last ‘finally’—I had to slip this in), though queries do not absolutely require personalization, it never hurts to kiss the agent’s tukas in some small way to get extra consideration.  Queries are supposed to be masterpieces of tight writing and succinctness, so who has the room for an extra sentence or two of gratuitous ass-kissing.  If I had to write a book on the subject, it would be entitled I LOVE ME—THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A LITERARY AGENT.  Honestly.

So that’s it.  Agree or disagree, you have some food for thought.  Let me know your thoughts.

Offline Tabris

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« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2020, 04:19:58 PM »
THought wise, I think this is the same post you put up a year ago. :-)

Having said that, though, I don't think an agent needs to have written and published a book in order to be a good judge of fiction or a good editor. Agents are primarily salespeople. They're in sales. It might actually be a detriment to the financials to be too wrapped up in the artistry. They need to know which books are going to move six figures in order to keep their mortgages paid.

I agree they should respond to queries, even with, "Pass."

The majority of agents say they don't mind stray typos. Yes, they'll tell you to polish it a million times, but having seen some of the queries that agencies get--? Just trust me that YOU are not the person they're directing that at. I've also gotten requests off query letters that had the wrong agent name in them or the agent's name misspelled.

I stopped adding the personal sentence at the beginning of the letter about halfway through the process the last time I queried, and I didn't notice any effect on my request rate.

You sound frustrated and angry with the system. I get it. I tend to think traditional publishing as it's set up now isn't sustainable, though.

Offline littlewritings

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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2020, 04:33:45 AM »
I agree with Tabris. An agent doesn't need have written a book to work in publishing. (And how do you know they haven't? They might have and it never got published or it got published under a pen name.) When I look for an agent, I'm not looking to hire a ghostwriter, I'm looking to hire someone who understands the market, who knows which editors my book should be sent to and knows how to negotiate a contract. My agent needs to know what is going to sell.

I don't think agents owe anyone a reply. When an agent says "no reply means no" I know exactly where I'm at. Often they'll even say "If you don't hear back within 8 weeks, it's a no" so after 8 weeks I know it's a pass. I don't see the point in querying agents with that policy and then complaining that you didn't get a reply. You knew what you were getting into. Many agents switched to that policy because querying authors sent them rude emails because they didn't like getting form rejections and wanted feedback. It's not always about not having the time. It's because entitled writers ruined the process for the rest of us. Agents are people, too. I understand it's frustrating and I've also sent full manuscripts and never got a reply to those, but then that agent wasn't the right one for me anyway. If something an agent does enrages you like this, they weren't the right advocate for you in the first place.

I suppose you might be querying a different genre than I did, because I would say that 99% of all the agents I dealt with were polite and kind people. I got requests even with typos in my material and even though I didn't usually personalize my queries. I understand some agents would like to hear why you're sending them a query, but they do not want their ass to be kissed. They want to know if you've maybe met before or if they've requested material from you in the past. There's no need to fabricate a connection when there is none and there is no need to sing an agent's praises if you don't want to. (Although, if you don't like the work an agent is doing, why are you querying them in the first place?)

The system, the market, the querying process and publishing as a whole are extremely frustrating to deal with. There are many things wrong with how the system works, it's rigged against marginalized creators and it most certainly doesn't open up opportunities for every kind of story, but that's not necessarily the fault of agents. Agents don't control the market, but they need to sign authors according to trends that are currently developing. It's their job. They often don't make money until a book sells.

I don't have any advice for you on where to go from here, since I'm not even sure if you want an agent, considering that you don't speak highly of them. Some big publishing houses and some smaller publishers do accept unagented submissions and there's always self-publishing if you want to get your book out there without an agent.