Sunday, September 25, 2016

What's Behind My Agent Antipathy?

I have a well-documented dislike of literary agents, especially as they exist in current form.  Some have asked what I have against them.  Is it that I was once turned down and am now bitter?  Is it that I don’t like that you have to have an agent to get picked up by a major publisher?

Let me first start out with an admission of full transparency.  In my early days, before I knew anything about the publishing business, I had the same visions every newbie author has, to get signed by an agent and hit it big with a major publisher.  I even submitted query letters to a few agents regarding Akeldama.  Several ignored my inquiry, and I got a standard form letter rejection from a few others.  A couple were even gracious enough to give me a personal rejection.  However, nobody took me up on my submission.

At this point, I know many of you will stop reading and write me off as an embittered hack who just didn’t like people telling me I wasn’t good enough.  That’s okay.  If you’re in that crowd, you wouldn’t hear anything else I had to say anyway.

As time progressed, and I did more research regarding publishing, the less I liked the traditional process.  Thirty years ago, there were dozens of presses to get published at; now there are five.  I also started learning things I didn’t care for, like how I found no agent with a background in contract law(most had literary degrees).  Although understanding good literature is great and necessary to sell novels to publishers, appreciation for that is so subjective.  However, contract law is not, and aren’t I looking for someone who knows that so I can get the best deal I can?  How does an MFA qualify someone to know the language behind torts, payments schedules, opt-out clauses, and various other aspects of a legal contract?  Wouldn’t the ideal agent have a background in intellectual property law, with either a minor in or an appreciation of good writing?

Then there’s the inbreeding of it.  In order to stay relevant, agents have to stay cozy with publishers.  That’s great…except I don’t want my agent to represent publishers – I want them to represent me.  This system makes it far too likely that the agent will have the publisher’s best interests at heart instead of mine so they can stay in the group and have continued employment.  It’s hard to get the few publishers that remain to listen to you if you have a reputation as a hardass.

There are other things too, but that’s the basic framework.  Sure, no one likes to get rejected, and it’s entirely possible there’s some personal animus directed to the group as a whole, but I don’t think so.  Were it not for indie publishing, I’d have to swallow my pride and become part of the system, if possible.  However, the changes in the current market make agents relatively meaningless.  I’m sure they work great for some folks, but I’m sure an enema works great for some folks too, and I don’t want one of those either.

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