Sunday, December 21, 2014

Agent Qualifications

Since my conversion from traditional wannabe to indie fanatic, many have noted my antipathy for literary agents.  I have little use for them, and I consider them to be more an obstacle than a help in publishing.  Lately, I started wondering at my disdain for the crowd.

As I sifted through my thoughts on the matter, one theme kept coming up - they're simply not qualified for the job they profess to do.  Yes, most agents are great lovers and readers of literature, although their ability to discern talent is hit or miss at best.  But are you looking for a fan to represent you to a publisher?  Would Lebron James want a great basketball aficionado to lead contract negotiations between him and potential teams?

Most agents I've run across have a degree in literary studies, or were an English major in college, or just got an MFA.  This certainly qualifies them to give criticism on what looks good on least the pretense of qualification for it.  And if that was the only thing an author needed out of an agent, then these folks would certainly be the most qualified bunch we're looking for.

However, an agent has to be so much more than a lover of literature - they need to understand business, contract rates, business law, payment schedules, and a load of other things that almost none of them have an understanding of.  Rather, most of them have relationships with those they're trying to sell to, and that could work if not for the atrocious deals they work for clients not named Patterson or Koontz.

Were I looking for an agent, I wouldn't give a shit if the publisher liked them or not.  I'd care more about what kind of deal they could get, and what the legal technicalities of that deal were.  Why could that person not get me higher than a 15% royalty rate?  Why am I only getting paid twice a year?  What's this Exclusivity Agreement bullshit?  Define "out of print" for me.  If the publisher offered a deal less favorable to me, would you fight on my behalf, or would you press me to sign a deal I don't like so you can maintain a cocktail party relationship with that publisher?

I don't care if an agent has a love of books.  Literary taste is subjective, and all your degree does is put your foot in the door, as well as possibly help me fine tune my work.  However, fine tuning my work isn't your job - getting the best possible deal for me is.  I want someone with business and legal savvy more than I want someone who knows the finer points of Moby Dick.

Until writers are willing to demand more of their agents, or are willing to seek out agents truly qualified, they'll keep getting the shaft on contract terms.  You get the deal you deserve.  Don't you want your agent to be qualified to give you the best deal possible?

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