Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Agents and writers Part II

And if the YouTube video in the previous post wasn't enough, the Literary Rejections on Display blog drew my attention to this post by writer Steve Almond on his website, entitled "Are Agents Necessary?". He says:
after all, the role the agents play is fundamentally parasitic. They do not do the dogged, lonely work of writing, or editing. They merely usher art into the gilded halls of commerce. They broker.

Thus, agents profit by the illusion that, without them, writers would be helpless; and, whether consciously or otherwise, they foster this illusion.

These words speak to me, as someone who "had" an agent for almost two years, but that agent did not do anything for me. She was very nice, she seemed to enjoy chatting to me whenever I was in England, but it appeared that the only topic she didn't want to discuss was my writing. So in the end I sent my work to a publisher myself. And, incredibly, I got a book deal, a fact I am still having trouble accepting. However, I can't get it out of my head that I somehow need an agent. Writers have agents, right? Well...
Almond goes on to say:

My own sense is that the publishing industry would be better off without agents, that young writers would spend more time focused on their characters, and following their instincts, rather than taking the counsel of people who—this must be said—see them, at least in part, as potential revenue sources.

They would, in addition, be compelled to learn more about the economic realities of the publishing industry, and to demystify the process by which a manuscript becomes a book.

Likewise, publishing houses would be forced to deal more directly, and candidly, with writers, about everything from contracts to marketing strategies to royalty statements.

To be clear: I don't view agents as willfully harmful. The best of them work hard on behalf of their clients, and earn their cut. As noted, there are many writers who, understandably, seek to insulate themselves from the business side of publishing, who have no phone manner, or don't want to worry about getting ripped off. They are happy to surrender fifteen percent of their hard-earned dough to agents, and well they should be.

But the bottom line is that agents do not serve an essential function in the creation of art. That burden resides with writers and editors. And it is the creation of that art—not its sale—that we should celebrate.

(Full article here.)


Sarah Hilary said...

I agree, 100%. But the cruel fact remains that so many of the publishing houses, especially the big ones, have learnt to rely on agents to slog through slush piles and shortcut them to publishable stuff. Some publishers won't even look at work direct from the writer (and this includes small independents like Serpent's Tail, alas). That said, your post has made me rethink this agent thing. I'm going to take a shot at pitching my new novel direct to a publisher, cheating somewhat as it will be to an editor who used to work at for an agent and with whom I had contact in the past.

Tania Hershman/The Short Review said...

Absolutely true, that is the situation. But good for you for sending your novel straight to a publisher - I think if you have had contact with them, you're in with a good chance. Keep us posted!

Kerry said...

Thanks for posting this Tania - I still want one though...I can;t help it's been conditioned into me that of you are a proper writer You Must Have An Agent. At least I won;t feel so inferior about approaching them following the Mitchel and Webb vid though!

Anne Brooke said...

I've had my agent since 2005, but the two commercial small publishing deals I've gained since then were both gained entirely by me. He did make the most recent deal better for me, but it was me who got it.



Tania Hershman/The Short Review said...

Kerry - I know how you feel, I can't get past that wanting an agent urge either.

Anne - that's very interesting, that you still did the "legwork" so to speak, but your agent made the deal better. Are you happy with this arrangement?