Sunday, December 30, 2012

You Do Not Need a Literary Agent

     What follows is a long comment I left at a literary agency's website earlier today. Every once in a great while (like, once every couple of years), I'll go to Janet Reid's website and she usually never fails to satisfy and validate my cynicism of agents in general when she misrepresents her profession, its MO and mouthing pieties she knows we authors want to hear. Note the epigraph I used below, the closing line of a post she'd written early this month.
     By way of illustrating exactly what I mean about agents being an unnecessary evil, let me relate a story that had occurred just before Janet Reid wrote that post in which she misrepresents agents and their actual intentions.
     Earlier this year, my intermediary exhaust pipe had become disengaged from the muffler. fearing the pipe was corroded and an expensive fix, I decided to continue driving the car until such time as when I had the money to fix. I took it to a mechanic whose boss had taken over the same service station at which I'd worked off and on for eight years and I thought I'd get a fair deal.
     Without putting the car on a lift or even a portable hydraulic jack, the disinterested mechanic pronounced the intermediary pipe was corroded and needed to be fixed immediately (although how he could've seen that when I myself couldn't get a good view of the pipe is beyond me). I asked him if he could find a matching pipe from a junk yard and he dismissed that idea out of hand as not being worth his time. He said a new pipe would cost me about $180, without labor, which was exactly $10 more than I had in my wallet. When I told him that, he just walked away as if irritated by my very physical existence.
     I drove to the local Auto Zone and explained my situation to a young Hispanic kid behind the counter. He was the honest sort and told me what I needed was a collar, likely a 4" one, that I could slip into the flanges of the intermediary and the muffler. He said Auto Zone didn't carry that kind of stuff and recommended I drive to the local NAPA Auto Parts. In about 45 seconds flat, they found precisely what I needed and the 4" collar and the two clamps that it needed came to $11 and change.
     I took it to another mechanic who, even though I'd dropped it off near the end of the day, then put the connecting collar on and my car was silent again. After $40 in labor, the total fix was $51+ and my car was once again inspection-ready.
     Now, I tell you this rather uninteresting tale in order to illustrate that just because someone says you need them and need them in a certain capacity, it doesn't make it so. True, I needed a mechanic to do the half hour's worth of work that I could've done had I a jack that would've given me the elevation I needed but $40 flat is a far cry from the $220+ the guy across the street was quoting me.
     Literary agents will tell you the same thing over and over and over again. "You need us. You can't get your foot in the door without us. You can't negotiate a contract without us, blah blah blah."
     Just remember why literary agents like Janet Reid tell you such bullshit. They have a vested financial interest at stake. Maybe not $80 an hour in automotive repair work, but in their case 15%. 15% of a huge runaway best seller could mean millions down the road for an agency, especially if their client is a coddled, naval-gazing little teeny-bopper like Lena Dunham whose Oberlin-educated opus sells at auction to Random-Penguin for a $3.6 million advance.
     Other professionals will tell you the same thing. Plumbers will say, "Don't fiddle with your pipes, let us do it." Contractors will tell you if you want your drywall hung right, let them do it. And in many cases, especially regarding electrical work in your house, they'd be correct. Sometimes you do want an expert to do the job and take the headache away.
     But I've done minor plumbing in my house. I've hung sheet rock before and have painted and hung paper and I've learned how to lay down floor tiles and all sorts of contracting skills. I do basic maintenance on my car and, if I had the right jack, I could've clamped that collar on myself. And I certainly know how to negotiate my own contract and query publishers. By extension, if I can learn to do these things, so can you.

Quit fulminating about gatekeepers. We're not. We're your first step on the road to success, and we're looking for you every single day. - Janet Reid, literary agent

     Oh, man, where does one start? And it's not even my birthday. And I know this stands a Chinaman's chance in hell of getting by the censor but here goes...
     Literary agents aren't gatekeepers?! Are you kidding me, Reid? That's precisely what you guys are. Or have you forgotten about the scummy, collusive deal that publishers began striking with your colleagues about 30 years ago when they decided they didn't feel like doing their jobs, anymore, and hired you agents out as their unpaid slush pile weeder-outers? The whole idea was to stop getting so much dreck from authors and wouldbes and to foist off the job to agents without adding anything to their overhead expenses. In return, they promised them guaranteed income of 15% or whatever percentage they mutually decided to siphon from authors by telling them, "Ain't no one not repped by one of you guys is getting through this front door." But something strange happened "on the road to success" which neatly dovetails into your insistence on trying to get us to believe that you're looking for us "every single day" (except for weekends, holidays, vacations, August, when you're jetting off to the Frankfurt Book Fair or any number of conventions and fairs):
     The younger agents coming up forgot about that "gentleman's agreement" that was collusively signed between their predecessors and publishers (while forgetting to send authors the memo). Some of the veterans of that bygone day and age when authors actually interacted with their publishers (such as the aforementioned Binky Urban of ICM) have also forgotten about said collusive deal. Many agencies, both big and small, have long since closed their doors to tiresome little doorknockers like us. Now they work by "referral or invitation only", meaning their new business model of skeeving perfectly good and publishable authors depends entirely on serendipity (and where does say just because an author is referred by another or is invited to submit by an agent actually has a higher chance of success for both agent and author than cold-querying?).
     If you're a genre author like me, that leaves, after weeding out the fee-charging agents, those that don't rep fiction or your particular genre, the scam artists and the ones that have slammed the door shut to brilliant unpublished authors like me, perhaps a few dozen agencies to which one can make a calculated pitch.
     And Janet Reid, far from being the agent she presents herself as here, has imperiously ignored or form rejected through flunkies I'd never addressed several of my novels.
     Literary agencies are set up to make you fail whether you deserve to or not. Agents look for reasons to reject you, not to sign you. They're solipsistic, greedy, stupid and arrogant. It's rapidly getting to the point where the only people who can get inked to a deal are those who've either made it or those who are connected. It's turning into an old boy's network.
     Folks, you don't need a literary agent and stop listening to people like Janet Reid who try to fool you into thinking otherwise. I've reached acquisitions editors, senior editors and even a publishing executive or two by going over the transom and just writing out the middle man entirely. And if I can learn how to get their interest and if I can learn how to negotiate a contract and what to watch out for, so can you. 
     I repeat: You don't need a literary agent. They're fast becoming as relevant as buggy whips in the age of POD publishing.

1 comment:

  1. As a literary agent, I endorse this statement. ;)


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