Friday, July 01, 2005

The use and abuse of agents

Those who yearn to be writers spend much time and effort trying to find a literary agent -- someone who will love them and care for them and dry their tears and say There, there; and also, of course, make them rich and famous. Shouldn't be difficult, should it? Given that you're so talented and all.

Well, if you thinking about finding an agent, or are between agents, or are even married to one, it would be a good idea to wander over to Bookangst 101. There you will find a couple of pieces which are essential reading.

The first appeared on 29 June and is entitled 'Misadventures in (mis)representation'. The second piece, 30 June, is entitled 'On choosing an agent'. Both will repay study.

My own comment is that both articles tend to assume that finding an agent is in principle pretty easy. And that if you don't get on with one, you just move to another.

Well, maybe in some elevated circles it works that way. But for most writers, getting an agent even to read something, let alone agree to try to sell it, is a pretty major achievement. Many agents these days are just as picky about unsolicited mss as publishers. In other words, they just won't read the damn things.

Arthur Klebanoff, in his book The Agent, says that agents 'typically get their clients by referral or by soliciting [previously published] authors or celebrities. It is a rare agent who finds his opportunities from the slush pile.'

By 'referral' I think Klebanoff means a recommendation from an editor, or someone in the business. But usually, in order to get anyone in the business to pay attention to your stuff, you have to have an agent. So, er... Hmm.


Peter L. Winkler said...

Well, I had two agents (seriatim, not repping me at the same time) and it wasn't hard to get their representation.

At least here in the US, there are dozens of agents, many directories of them, and most will read at least a query letter and then ask for your proposal.

Getting a good agent-now there's the rub. Most agents are bottom feeders. If they're even moderately successfull, they're making lots of deals for relatively small advances since they don't have stables of star names. They're approachable.

I think Klebanoff has a vested interest in perpetuating the myth of the difficulty of getting an agent. He purchased the Scott Meredith Literary Agency a few years ago. And the Meredith agency was notorious for running a very expensive fee-based reading service. I don't know if they still do.

It's in the interest of most agents to make naive writers think getting an agent is such a big deal. Makes the agents seem special. It also keeps writers from questioning the agent's judgement.

Anonymous said...

No more comment on the 'story of six agents,' Michael? Am I the only person who things the writer tells more about herself than the agent in that column?