Monday, May 20, 2013

Hating on Haters :P

If you read my profile on Google+, you know that I wrote my first hate post late week after reading David Gaughran's blog bashing literary agents as the most evil people of all time.  The hatred has semi-simmered away with the passing of an entire week, and now what I'm mostly left with is argumentative confusion.  At first, I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue my negativity and write an entire blog post about this, but I think that this is a big topic of conversation and would be interested to hear if people think I'm crazy or not (although we know that I do have high psychopathic traits).

I do not understand hating on agents.  I always thought that people thought of us as advocates and editors and friends who believe in them and want to see them succeed.  I know that I feel 100% invested in the careers of the authors I work with and their books.  I definitely don't work with people only to take my 15% of the pie (which, by the way, is NOT an exorbitant amount!  I don't work at the restaurant because I like the service industry, people!).  

Me answering phones at the restaurant.

I also think it's silly to proclaim the publishing industry dead and gone just because self publishing is flourishing.  The traditional publishing model is changing, yes, and that is something that is exciting and scary, but just because people can publish without an agent or an editor nowadays doesn't always mean that they should.  For one thing, unless you have the network of contacts an agent has--not just within publishing houses, but with foreign rights agents, film agents, audio book agents, etc.--and also an intimate knowledge of publishing contracts (and you can't cover this base by just hiring any old lawyer who knows about intellectual property rights), you will not always be giving your book or your career the best opportunities.  Mr. Gaughran mentions the fact that David Mamet will be self publishing his next book as a marker that the tide has turned away from traditional publishing, but don't you think that Mr. Mamet can do this and most likely do it well because of the fact that he already has established connections within the industry and a huge readership that was built on his traditionally published works?????

Yes, you can publish on Amazon and with their publishing packages, but do you really think that publisher's marketing, publicity, and sales teams just sit around and stare at manuscripts until it's time to put them in book/e-book form for their pub dates?  One commenter on Mr. Gaughran's blog crows about his self-published book selling extremely well, citing a 20,000 copy world wide sales figure.  I'm sure that the many people who have bought this book have enjoyed it, but the sale of 20,000 copies worldwide for the life of a book is NOT an example of how self publishing clearly triumphs over traditional.  Twenty thousand readers is probably equivalent to the population of Long Island, and when you think of that in terms of the world population, it is a drop in the barrel.  The people behind the scenes at a publisher's do so much that influences the reach and accessibility of your work.

Of course, there are incredibly successful self-published books such as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY that have sold equally to their popular, traditionally-published counterparts.  But when I even mention the title FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, my brain shudders because that trilogy so desperately needs a critical editor it makes my head hurt.  

Which brings me to my final (not really, but I don't want to rant forever) point: You can do it yourself with the help of evil genius Amazon and spurn the agents and editors who you feel you can do without.  But when you're placing Amazon in the shoes of these agents and editors, I think a big question to yourself is why you are replacing people who are extreme book lovers with a faceless corporation?  

We are agents and editors not because we want to be leaching thieves, but because WE LOVE BOOKS!  We love well-developed characters, unexpected plot twists, scintillating romance, and imaginative settings.  We understand that obscure reference to Caliban in your third chapter and also know that perhaps it needs to be drawn out more in later scenes to develop a strong theme that your readers will connect with.  We additionally know (again because we are book nerds) that a YA novel with a similar idea was published recently and might help you brainstorm an edgier take on other Tempest-like motifs so that your book stands out in the market.  

Okay, this post is getting way longer than I wanted it to be, but the moral of the story is that AGENTS ARE NICE AND ALSO USEFUL.


  1. I think what much of this comes down to is there are people out there who believe they can do better on their own, without the facilitation of agents, which they see as interference. And you're quite right about Mamet, and it's the same issue I have with the likes of Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath: if you already have a substantial backlist, and a good-sized following, you're essentially playing with house money. You can afford to do self-publishing 'right'. Many of us can't. Or don't want to.

    I will say, however, I'm leery of some of the relationships that are springing up between some agents/aagencies and some of these 'author services' companies. I don't believe agents are operating with the intent of ripping off authors (with a few exceptions), yet these relationships do require a close examination and careful consideration.

    1. I think that everyone is automatically a little wary when they hear "author services" and they should be! I definitely advocate caution and thorough investigation. But I also think it's silly to make blanket statements about every agent, literary agency, author service company, etc. There are red flags that you need to look out for, but you also can't start imagining them into existence because you're not getting what you want. For instance, I feel like it's pretty common knowledge that if an agency charges a reading fee, you should run away quickly. But just because your book isn't selling well or isn't garnering the worldwide fame you originally envisioned it would, you also can't automatically call the people working with you and on your behalf lazy!

    2. I agree with you on all of this. And I have to add, I can't decide if I hope that folks like Gaughran find themselves in need of an agent someday or not!

  2. Haha I agree with you, Jeff! The agent may not find someone like that to be the easiest client to work with!

    Good point, Carrie. It's so much more complicated than 'lazy publishing people' if a book garners worldwide fame or not. By all usual standards of writing and plot, 50 Shades should never have been such a big seller. And yet, here we are...Love that someecard, by the way.

  3. It's ridiculous to say that literary agents are the most evil people of all time. There were the Nazis. I like the idea of an agent, even one as befuddled as Joey's theatrical agent in Friends. I don't like 15 per cent. I'm old enough to remember 10 per cent. I don't like agents who promise six figures then queer the pitch in an existing relationship between a publisher and an author. It's happened to me. I'm old fashioned. I like the idea of a good lunch between author and publisher. But somewhere in the 60th clause of a publishing contract we lost trust and, for writers, the will to live. So I'm happy to have an agent out there battling for me, even if that's an illusion. I know my place in publishing as the figure the industry despises most - the writer who just gets in the way of carving up the profits. Agents have only themselves to blame if they are not the most loved of creatures. They carved a niche for themselves as go-betweens and it was lazy publishers that allowed this. Now the internet and Microsoft Word has turned everyone in to a writing machine. That, in turn, has made agents suspicious of and sometimes positively hostile towards new talent. I don't want to self-publish but I think it may be the only way to ensure a professional process, then when my book bombs I can only blame myself. None of this is easy - the marketing , the distribution, the PR, the artwork, the editing or, indeed, the agent's role - but we're in a world where everyone wants stuff cheap and where creativity is subordinate to populism. Fifty Shades of Grey was what we deserved, a parable for the whole publishing industry, handcuffed to a bed of its own making and, well, you can imagine the rest.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that you've had a negative experience with agents and publishers. No agent should promise a specific amount for an advance ahead of time...that is not something that we can determine. However, I do think that a 15% commission is fair compensation for the work I do in helping my authors. Also, the agent that you are describing is not me nor is it the majority of the agents I know. We are certainly not hostile to new talent (most of my authors are debut authors) and have in no way inserted or wedged ourselves into the publishing process. And I would hope that I am several steps above a Nazi.