Guest Post…Literary Agents: Bane or Boon?

I just got an email from a friend of mine who’s also an author. She’s been on the hunt for a literary agent for several months now and was bemoaning the fact it’s been a long time since she sent off a packet to a NY agent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her not to hold her breath. She’s a good writer. That’s not the problem. The problem is an industry where common courtesy to authors–theoretically the lifesblood supporting agents and publishers–has gone the way of the dodo bird. All you have to do is pull up guidelines from any literary agent to see what I mean. There’s a long list of don’ts. I started in this business like most everyone else. I tried to find an agent. That was a little over three years ago. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t bother anymore. Would I like someone who could open NY doors? Sure I would. But I also know when to trim my losses.

At the top of the don’ts list is “don’t call us”. Some are honest enough to tell you if you haven’t heard from them in six weeks (or six months) it means they’re not interested. I do understand they’re innundated with material and probably understaffed since indie publishers and self published authors have taken a percentage of the publishing dollar, but still, the current modus operandi places the author in a serious “one down” position.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I honestly have no idea why one story of mine is accepted and another that I saw as equally well-written, isn’t. Some of it is akin to chasing a moving target. I try to read webzines and magazines and anthology guidelines before I submit to make sure my material is a good fit. Sometimes an editor agrees with me, sometimes not. I’ve  been told that having ten short stories accepted in a little over two years is a great track record. Maybe. But what about the ten or fifteen other stories. The ones I either never heard back on, or where I got nice, polite rejection letters? That is one thing I’ll say for the webzines and magazines I’ve submitted to: they send me very nice rejection letters with invitations to send them more stories. That is way more than I’ve ever gotten from a literary agent.

Generally, my responses from literary agents come in the form of “Dear Author”. I took months of my time to write something and hours of my time to make sure I sent the agent exactly what they wanted and I either get nothing back, or a “Dear Author” form letter. Occasionally, for those agents still insisting on snail mail, that “Dear Author ” letter comes on half a sheet of paper. Guess those rejected authors aren’t worth the quarter penny a full sheet of paper would cost. Or, maybe those agents are being environmentally conscientious. Though, it seems if that were the case, they’d go to web-based submissions. Okay, I’ll trim the sarcasm.

Literary agents have become such rigid gatekeepers that an entire new cottage industry has sprung up. For a fee, they’ll share the secret of how to get an agent to ask for your manuscript. What’s that old saying about a fool and their money???

Kristine Catherine Rusch, a well known and respected SF/F author, says she thinks the industry is running scared. Maybe so. But still, a little dash of courtesy would go a long ways. I don’t mind rejections. I’m still new to this business and know I have lots to learn. But there must be a better way than ignoring authors or treating them as an inconvenience. If a magazine can send me a couple of sentences with something constructive about my writing, why can’t a literary agent do the same? SF/F magazines get just as many subs as agents–maybe more.

This seems like it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Older authors, who became established before the indie rush, didn’t have any problems finding agents. Under the “new” model, agents seem to be working themselves into anachronisms. When I mentioned something about this to the small press that publishes my novels, one of the principals looked at me, raised an eyebrow and asked, “Why would you even want an agent? It’s just one more person to give money to.”

Does anyone besides me have feelings about this?

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Today’s guest post is from author Ann Gimpel and originally featured on her own blog 25th April, 2012.

If you’d like to see more of Ann’s blogging or find out more about her books, visit http://anngimpel.blogspot.co.uk/

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post…Literary Agents: Bane or Boon?

  1. I gave up trying to find an agent about the same time I sent three manuscripts for three novels – all separately packaged, all separate presentations as it were, and got nothing back.

    At the same time, I picked up a magazine about the coming (and now arrived) e-book revolution, and decided to go it alone. I haven’t looked back since. (I’d going to rant about the agent who told me ‘Over the Mountain’ didn’t have a believable narrative voice for a teenager. Which is odd, since the teenagers who read it loved it. Okay, rant over.)

    Agents seem twistedly determined not to give anyone a chance (You must submit separately, on A4 paper, double spaced, no page numbers, no staples, no emails, or no Word 2007 documents, only Word 2003, jump through our hoops like a good dog), and at some point you get tired of bloodying your fists on the castle doors and go and sell your stuff to the villagers rather than just the king.

    Viva la revolution.

  2. This is not going to be popular but here goes… the publishing industry is a business. Agents are considering the risk in selling a author’s novel. Can they sell the novel? How likely is it the novel will sell? Publishers ask the same questions when agents knock on their doors. If they don’t think they can sell enough copies then the risk is too great and the reward unlikely. That’s not good business practices. We authors also take everything personally. I am guilty. [Raises hand sheepishly] Agents are cold because being warm costs them time and time is money. Its cliche but true. Risk and reward.

    Are agents worth anything?

    It is true… Agents open doors and help market the novel, he or she can be a valuable source of advise too. But like you said, Ann, the internet puts the power in the hands of the author. We can market as effectively as a legitimized author with just as much enthusiasm that is infectious to readers. The resources are at our fingertips. It’s hard work but everything is life worth anything is hard. If you succeed, all the profits are yours. The risk is great but you shoulder the risk and earn all the rewards. There is a benefit for going at this alone. And getting enough attention will open a multitude of marketing options available to the big names at Penguin, Tor, Roc, et cetera.

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