Last week writers were invited to vent about agents at the Bookends literary agency blog. I assumed it would be published writers ranting about their bad agent experiences. I have never experienced bad agentry, but I have heard some scarifying stories. However, it was mostly unpublished writers. Some of their complaints were totally legitimate and made a lot of sense. But many of them were, um, somewhat astonishing.
They mostly boiled down to aspiring writers not understanding what it is that agents do. They seem to think an agent’s job is giving them feedback on their work and teaching them the ways of publishing. That isn’t any part of an agent’s job. Agents who provide that kind of feedback are doing it out of the goodness of their heart.
Even more aspiring authors seemed to be convinced that the main part of an agent’s job is finding new clients.
No, the main job of any agent is to look after their existing clients.
Which involves negotiating deals in multiple territories, for audio, media, electronic rights etc etc. That’s a LOT of contracts. Then they’re dealing with problems that come up between publisher and author. Bad edits. Bad covers. Late payments. Late manuscripts. Inaccurate royalty statements. Client’s editor being laid off. Their imprint dissolved. Book remaindered within less than a year. No paperback edition of hardcover. Author going crazy and turning in a book written in crayon on vellum. Editor going crazy and demanding all characters be changed into echidnas. Etc etc and so on.
My agent, Jill Grinberg, starts work early in the morning and keeps going till late at night. I’ve sent her emails at 10pm her time and she’s gotten back to me instantly. She’s had phone calls with me at all sorts of ungodly hours because I am in Sydney and she in New York City. Remember, I am just one of her many clients and no where near her most successful.
Yes, agents want to find the next big thing. But their pre-existing clients come first and take up the majority of their time. Trust me, when you have an agent you will be glad that’s how it works.
I get how much rejection hurts. It took me twenty years to get published. There was a lot of rejection on the way. It frequently made me furious. I was enraged by form letters. (I am not just a number!) I was enraged by personalised rejections that detailed what was wrong with my work. (Why are they so stupid and blind?!) I was enraged when the rejections took ages to come or didn’t come at all. (Why are they torturing me?) I was enraged by quick rejections. (What? It takes seconds to decide my work sucks? They can’t have actually read it!)
But really I was angry about not getting published. I saw lots of crap on the shelves. My book’s better than that! Why wouldn’t they publish me?!
It’s great that I believed in my writing even in the face of all that rejection. I encourage you, too, to believe. But I also know that many of the people rejecting me were right. My writing wasn’t ready. One of the rejections that hurt me the most was by an agent who said they thought I had talent and originality but they just weren’t enthusiastic enough.
Reader, I cried.
I know now that that agent was right to pass. I have writer friends who were signed by agents who weren’t enthusiastic enough about their work. In each case—after much unpleasantness—they wound up with a different agent. Ever been out with someone who wasn’t really into you? Not fun was it? It’s even worse when you’re with an agent who’s not that into you. Because they’ve got your dreams and hopes in their hands and they don’t really care.
An agent who passes cause they’re not sufficiently in love with your writing is DOING YOU A FAVOUR.
I know that’s hard to believe. But a good agent is going to be with you for the long haul. You want them to believe in your writing as much as you do. That’s what I have with my agent. It is a wonderful thing. When you find an agent that’s what I want you to have too.