So the other day I had a long convo with a fellow editor buddy who has a small indie press [like ours] in another state. We usually play catch up and exchange gossip before hanging up and resuming our lives within our respective bat caves. However, little gossip was exchanged because she was frothing at the mouth about agents – those evil harbingers of literary destruction.
Holy bleeding contracts, Batman!
Frickin’ money grubbers!
Her main lament is that agents are responsible for the out of whack advances that accompany the big blockbusters, or even the solid mid-lister.
Eh, I think it takes two to play that game. The idea of “How badly do you want this story?” is the foundation of competition. This impacts small publishers because they don’t have the same budgets as the big guys, so they can’t compete.
Well, um, duh.
Reality Check: Face it, life is a money game, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in LaLa Land. Until we devolve into buying groceries and paying our mortgage with walnuts, money is going to be the incentive that fuels most business deals. Since the author has turned to the agent to represent her literary interests, it goes to reason the agent will seek the best financial gain. I think my friend sounds a bit complainy.
We don’t get to see the best works
Oh Lordy, my friend practically singes my ear with this one. Yah, ok, I get that. Since it’s a money game, there are many manuscripts we’ll never see, and this really frosts my friend’s bananas.
Reality Check: And yanno, what’s so wrong with that? Did anyone say life is fair? Or remotely balanced? This is a world of competition, and those who can, do . Those who can’t create a niche for themselves. I don’t remember the Great Cosmic Muffin promising anyone a rose garden just because we’re small presses.
And furthermore, this isn’t entirely true. No, we small fries aren’t going to see the John Grisham’s of the world, but many agents bring their fabulous clients to a smaller indie press for any number of reasons. Maybe they need the book to get into the marketplace faster than the current two year wait time. Perhaps they realize their client will get a much better edit job with a smaller press because the small fry has the time to do it right – which is a whole other post in itself.
And most importantly, the agent may realize their client will get a lot more individualized attention than they would with a large conglomerate, where they may blend in with the white noise. It’s that bigger fish in a smaller pond thing.
My friend is convinced agent’s are the gatekeepers of the publishing industry and control what editors see – thus adding to their sheer evilness and ultimate power. After all, no one should have that kind of power. My friend believes agents are driving the marketplace and telling the editors what they want to see.
Reality Check: I’m of two minds with this notion. Agents are people whose lives are given over to nothing but understanding the marketplace, reader interests, and keeping their fingers on the pulse of what publishers want. They are another side of our industry whose opinions we’d be codified boneheads if we didn’t listen to what they have to say.
HOWEVER, and this is the flip side of my friend’s whining argument, we are always letting agents know what we’re looking for. We know what floats our boat and what we’d rather let sail on into the sunset. I see the agent/editor relationship as symbiotic, and we each fulfill each others’ wishies.
But I also see where she’s headed. Because of agents’ power, they’ve sealed off access to the big house editors.
Agents only take the authors who have blockbuster potential…
… which leaves a lot of great books unrepresented.
Yes, I do believe there are a lot of great books that will never see the light of day for a variety of crapitude reasons, but that’s hardly the agent’s fault anymore than it’s an editor’s fault when they have to reject a really good book. The marketplace is what drives our particular bus. And that means agents accept works they believe will sell. Period.
Yes, there are some agents who will only accept the hoo ha writer, but there are more who will take a work they believe will sell, regardless of the size of the publisher. Their ultimate goal is to see a good book find a good home. That said, agents can’t pay the rent with small fry sales, so it has to be a balance.
Reality check: All publishers have taken a huge financial hit, but none more so than the big guys. Their editors are still being given their walking papers. Since the large conglomerates are beholden to their corporate masters, they really need to bring home the bacon in a much bigger way. And this is where the big blockbuster only idea came into being. Agents knew this and were forced to switch their focus so they wouldn’t find themselves living under a freeway underpass.
Not all authors were created equally – and neither are their agents. This means that not every author is conglomerate-worthy – meaning their books may be quite good, but they aren’t going to see the 50-100,000K sell throughs. The midlist author has taken a hit in finding a good home, and this is where agents are looking to smaller, solid publishers.
I suggested to my friend that she drink some blood, meditate on a bed of nails, and call me in the morning. Agents are NOT the evil harbingers of doom and failure. They are the wonderful vehicles who make our lives worth living on many levels.