Friday, April 17, 2009

Writers vs. Agents: Thunderdome!

I won't claim to have read every queryfail or agentfail post, nor every post of the same ilk that seem to pervade the internet lately. I try to follow the big discussions and get the gist of things. But the writers' side of the (it isn't a debate, but perhaps "trend" works?) writer vs. agent trend has a new addition, this "Talent Killers" post by a writer of three published books.

Her basic Letter to Editors seems to blame agents for not accepting manuscripts which are considered mid-list literary fiction. Thus writers like herself don't get their mss. to editors, who then cannot publish these novels. The comments are long, but there are writers who agree, writers who disagree and a few agents who have included their two (or ten, or more) cents. Nathan Bransford has a lot to say (with humor, too, which I am enjoying--one can only wonder where the yearly agent conspiracy meetings are held, and whether they have cake), along with Colleen Lindsay and Janet Reid. The writer, Mary, specifically linked to two of them (NB and JR). Jodi Meadows, Jenny Rappaport's assistant, also commented with her own blog post.

Mary said that she wrote the post knowing it would start a flame war, or at least opposing comments. What I wonder is what she felt the benefit would be to post it? Many fellow writers pointed out how the post could hurt her chances of future publication. I can empathize with the frustration of not getting published, but to blame agents and then post about it bitterly (I try, when it comes to posts like this, to keep a more objective perspective, but I can't help but agree with others' comments regarding her tone)--well, it isn't something I would do (not that I am any kind of voice of authority).

Likewise, many have told her writing is a business, and she's had as much chance as anyone. [I know I was going to continue that thought, but then I lost whatever I was going to say. Alack. Wait, no I remembered. She mentioned how one of her books needed an editor who will help improve/edit her book. Am I wrong in thinking [if] she referred to a publishing company editor, that those editors don't do line-by-line edits? And she also mentioned being a big attendee of writing groups, so I wonder why those groups didn't help with the smaller stuff? But that's just my random thought in response.]

My sense is that complaining online, however articulate the complaint, will not help one get published. (Although she doesn't seem very concerned about that.) My other sense is that it's too generalizing to blame a single aspect of the industry for not getting published. True, many agents may pass on a query for literary fiction, but some may take those writers on, and it's the editors and publishers who then pass. And even if one is published with a large publisher, if that book doesn't sell, there's a good chance one won't have a subsequent book pubished. Everyone is impatient for books to make it big. Just like a lot of television shows aren't getting brought back for a second or third season (all the ones I love, too), many books of various genres, including lit fiction, aren't earning out their advances or going into reprints.

Anyway, there is my one cent of opinion, with a handful of links to satisfy the curious.

I for one think agents are indredibly useful as a go-between for writers and publisjers/editors. And they are people too, with their own passions and busy lives. Just as writers must make time to write, so much agents (whose days are filled with work for the writers who are already their clients) make time to read the queries from strangers looking for a chance. Agents do the best they can, just as any writer worth the air they breath tell the best story they can.

Now I am off to bed, because I've decided to go with my brother to campus tomorrow. Apparently the lecture he has to attend is part of the Celebrate Reading Program, which they do every year to stimulate reading among middle school, high school and college students. Kate Elliot will be there, as will be Christopher Moore. Also, a few professors and students in the English Department whom I know will be performing. I am enthused (as long as there is no pre-reg, so my sister, a Moore fan, and I aren't thrown out--then we would cry ;) ).


writtenwyrdd said...

It's true that in an inherently unfair universe some talent is overlooked. However, in publishing, it isn't about mean agents or stupid agents. Sometimes things just happen like that. Call it karma or whatever, but the author can't blame agents for not wanting to rep her book. It's a business and the mysterious X factor that is needed for the book sale to happen sometimes just doesn't--even with an agent.

Good post.

Sabrina said...

Thanks. I agree.

I'm sure (though I don't have the foggiest idea what the numbers might be) that many agents pass on books that they love, too, because they don't think they can sell it to editors/publishers.