Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bend Over and Take It Like a Good Little Peon

As if some of my posts haven't done enough to completely kill any chance I ever had in landing an agent, I thought, Why the hell shouldn't I do another?

Rachelle Gardner is considered one of the top flight literary agents out there, and people are clawing at the chance to get her to represent them.  In the interest of full disclosure, back in the olden days - when I thought I wanted to go the traditional publishing route - I submitted Akeldama to her.  I never got a response, but I didn't hold it against her since I know agents get inundated with queries every day.

However, a recent post she made on her site not only further validated my decision to not go the traditional publishing route, but it ensured that I would never seek her out as an agent for any reason whatsoever.  In fact, it made me silently thank God for having not been picked up by her in the first place.  In her article, not only does Ms. Gardner defend the odious practice of publishers trying to force non-compete clauses down the throats of writers, she did so in a manner which reeked of, "You pitiful wretched peasants!  You should just shut up and take it if you know what's good for you like we - your superiors - do."

For the uninitiated, a non-compete clause is one of the more anachronistic throw back contract clauses that publishers try to make writers agree to.  It says, in essence, you can only publish through them, and you can't try to sell work to anyone else on your own, even if that means you can't indie publish.  This gives the publishing house total control over the flow of your work, which they can decide to publish or not.  Decades ago, this was used to make it so that authors wouldn't publish more than one book a year(the thinking being that the public would quickly tire of an overexposed writer...Stephen King famously took this on with The Bachman Books).  However, since most writers don't create blockbusters that sell millions of copies, they need multiple books on the market so they can do crazy things like eat and put a roof over their head.  And since the expansion of POD and the digital marketplace, it is easier than ever for a writer to bypas the yearlong, or longer, process that it takes for a traditional publishing company to put something on shelves.

What the non-compete clause does is prevent you, as the writer, from putting out books on your own timeline.  The reasoning is that you could sabotage the effort the publisher has put into creating your brand and undercut their work.  However, given the amount of effort most traditional publishers put into marketing a new author, this is complete bullshit.  It's a throwback that is no longer relevant in the modern world.

However, Ms. Gardner demonstrates an incredible amount of tone deafness by defending publishers doing this.  The publisher "has an investment to protect" and self publishing something else will just "interfere with the saleability of the brand they're building."  The first part of this argument makes the absurd assertion that readers that come across your books and like them won't venture out and buy other books you've written.

Let's let that sink in for a second.

That's right - somehow getting yourself in front of an audience and having them enjoy your work will prevent them from buying more of it.  You know, the same way that having people eat an ice cream sundae will prevent them from ever ordering another one.

Second, she talks down to her blogging audience by saying that self publishing books will lead to a decline in quality.  You know my thinking on this, that publishers seem to have as much of a grasp on what the reading public thinks is quality as the Detroit Lions have a grasp on what makes a consistently winning football franchise.  In fact, her own mantra is that she and the publishers - the folks who really make this business go(you thought it was the writer?  Pshaw, that's just crazy talk!) - know what's best for you, and you should listen to them because not only are they looking out for you, but they understand quality, and some backwoods hick like yourself won't have a clue about it until you've had years of their tutelage.

But the biggest thing that sticks in my craw here is that she's defending the traditional publishing houses' most egregious power grabs, and she's supposed to be representing writers.  I expect this kind of stuff out of publishers.  After all, they have a business to run and I acknowledge that it's simply natural that they'll look after their own bottom line first.  However, an agent is supposed to be the employee of the writer, and so is supposed to work for me.

That's right - despite all this impressing an agent stuff, they work for you as the writer, no matter what they might want to think.

I have no use for an agent that doesn't get this, which is most of them.  If I were to hire a literary agent, I would expect them to fight tooth and nail for me.  If one of them tried to get me to sign anything remotely resembling a non-compete clause, I'd fire that person on the spot.  Yet here she is defending the practice.  The sheer chutzpah it takes to do so both boggles my mind and shows me she's more interested in staying cozy with her bread and butter, traditional publishers, than she is in fighting for her clients.

Ms. Gardner tried, two days later, to claim it was all a mistake and that she never meant to imply that she didn't work very hard for writers, but this was only after a deluge of negative comments on the subject.  Anyone who has read her blog knows that most of the comments to her posts have been one ass-kissing fest after another, so it was stunning to see the way people let her have it(of course, after this mea culpa, over 90% of her readers once again turned into sniveling weenies that hoped she would be good enough to notice them).  She may even believe it herself, but I don't buy it; not from her, and not from the majority of other literary agents.  I've seen far too many show where their true allegiance lies(with traditional publishers), and that allegiance simply got exposed this time.

Like I said, I fully realize what posts like this do to my chances of ever landing an agent, and if I wanted that, I'd be worried.  However, having moved beyond that, I'm unconcerned.  Much like the horse and buggy, the zeppelin, and Snooki, agents have outlived their usefulness and just get in the way of the writer and his or her audience.
(Like this cactus, I'm sure an agent is useful for something, but I can't figure out what that might be)


  1. Holy crap that's so wrong to require writers to only publish on one sole publisher's term. I think this continues to exist only because there is a fear of indie and self publishing superceding (sp?) the success of publishing houses.

    1. I agree. The traditional publishing world doesn't understand the sea-change that is happening, and agents understand it even less.

      Or maybe they DO understand it and are fighting to try and prevent themselves from becoming totally irrelevant.