Knowing the Publishing Industry

Just came across this on Agent 007‘s blog:

Some [agents] even go so far as to say that they don’t want to take on anyone who doesn’t understand publishing. From one such agent: “It becomes my thankless, frustrating and largely UNPAID job then to coach you about the industry if I were to take you on.”

This baffles me. First of all, how can agents and editors expect authors to understand this industry when most of us in it are still trying to figure it out.

What she said! (I’m assuming Agent 007 is a she.) Yes, someone looking for an agent should do research on how to do so, but how can a newbie writer be expected to know how returns work, or advances, or royalty statements, or why in some large publishing houses editorial and marketing and publicity operate like separate little fiefdoms with little knowledge about what goes on in each other’s dominion?

I’ve known many published authors, editors, agents, publicists, booksellers and etc. for more than a decade now and I’m still pretty hazy on many of the finer (and not so fine) points of the publishing industry. Having now had two books of my own published has taught me a tonne more, but I’m still flummoxed by royalty statements, the language of contracts, how to approach publicity, and many, many other aspects of the trade. And I still really, really don’t get why the returns system hasn’t been dismantled.


  1. Anonymous on #

    I agree. However, I understand the frustration that would lead an agent to such an utterance. As an agent I can tell you that some of the clients I manage are far more ignorant than you can imagine. Oftentimes they make no effort to educate themselves on even basic publishing industry mores and traditions. They will not listen to explanations which would enable them to make important decisions. They expect their agent to be their big daddy and take care of them. It is not easy to work with such clients. It would be a lie if I did not admit that I find it easier to work with the more knowledgable clients.

  2. Justine on #

    Hmm, I guess that must be kind of a pain, but surely you don’t have that many clients like that? They must be in the minority, right? All the writers I know are obsessed with how the publishing industry works.

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