Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who is the Employee?

Regular readers of this blog, both of you, will no doubt have noticed the shift in my tone regarding traditional publishing over the last year, especially when it comes to literary agents.  I probably need to stop thinking so much about it because all that happens when I do is that I become even more firmly entrenched in the anti-literary agent camp.
(I can be as stubborn as a high spirited horse)
I know that lots of folks out there will disagree with me on this, but in today's day and age, a writer doesn't really need an agent to be successful in the world of publishing.  The only true requirement is some writing talent, and so long as that's present, the rest is how much business acumen you have.  The publishing world used to be closed to only those who could get a deal with Random House or Penguin, but new avenues like Kindle and CreateSpace have made it a lot easier for an author to reach the public.  Coupled with the demise in large bookstores, the market is shifting, and indie writers can make gains once unheard of in getting to the masses.

It's in this environment that I think literary agents and the fawning writers that fall all over themselves to get noticed by them have missed the boat.  I have a basic philosophical problem with the relationship between agents and writers - which one is in charge.  I believe it's perverted the way it's set up now.  The writer is supposed to be the client, relying on the agent to get his or her work into avenues where it can sell, much like the Wal Mart distribution channel is supposed to get products to market.  However, I've heard far too many horror stories where the agent is taking charge from the writer, setting writing/editing schedules and demanding that writers sign contracts that are favorable to few but the agent and the publishing house.
(Who is riding who?)
Some of you will say, "But RD, you're just bitter that you couldn't get an agent."  I can't talk to those people because they're a lost cause.  They won't listen to how I sent out a grand total of ten queries well over a year and a half ago before I had my change of heart and decided to go full bore into indie.  Instead, they'll write me off, and that's their right.  It's wrong and shortsighted, but such people haven't gotten that far into this anyway.

When I hire someone - and as a writer, you are indeed hiring an agent - that person works for me.  That means that I expect them to follow my schedule, not the other way around.  I expect that they'll keep me informed and have my best interests at heart when negotiating contracts rather than ingratiating themselves to an industry that's more worried about itself than its stable of writers.  It's one thing for an employee to make suggestions on how to improve a product, but it's a whole other ballgame for that employee to demand I do what they want, and lots of friends of mine have confided that's exactly what they've encountered in agents - they get indignant if you don't make the changes they want(prior to even submitting to a publishing house) or upset if you question their procedures for monetary accounting.

I get that all of this is predicated on talent, but if we grant that for some folks, then the agent needs to remember who their boss is.  Yes, I can be demanding, but I expect results if you expect me to fork over some of my hard earned money.  I expect value for what you get from me, and the fact that you have an MFA doesn't mean squat to me.  What does mean squat is how vigorously you work on my behalf and how much you can get me - that's the way capitalism works.

There are some hard working folks out there who do have their clients' best interests at heart, but a growing number don't.  They are worried about an industry changing in ways they don't understand, and rather than adapting, they dig in their heels and hope that'll hold back the steamroller of history.  Please keep sitting on high and thinking writers work for you rather than the other way around - it'll make the echo all that much more sweet sounding when you discover one day that the only control you retain is over the dark you're shouting into.

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