Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Go appreciate a literary agent

The title's an imperative. I think agent appreciation day was back in December, so I missed the boat, but recently I've come to the conclusion that this group of professionals is forced to deal with more than an unfair share of BS. If you know or have a literary agent, do a favor for me, and shake their hand, tell them thank-you for providing us with avenues and opportunity, and for putting up with loads of crap.

There's a fairly simple vertical hierarchy to the publishing industry: Writers, Agents, and Publishers. Authors create the material, Agents represent it, and Publishers buy it and sell it to the masses. For now we'll toss aside the marketing, distribution, and sales. Make no mistake about it, that hierarchy is still very much alive and kicking. If you want to get a book to market, you still have to pay the toll.

Now, while the industry structure remains rigid and tall, the communication landscape is anything but. My Command & General Staff College buddies know what a huge fan I am of Thomas L. Friedman and his metaphors in The World is Flat. It's his fourth 'flattener', Open Source, which brings me to the title of today's entry.

Friedman's Open Source tenet is all about access. Blogs, websites, social-networking, all of which make it possible for aspiring authors to communicate with experts, learn, and improve. However, communication isn't one way.

I sent my first round of queries out late last year. At first, I viewed agents as adversaries, gatekeepers to a secret world. Since then, thanks to social-networks, blogs, and websites, I've learned there are no secrets. I've also learned that these are decent people. They put their shoes on the same way we do, are always on the lookout for a decent restaurant, and even get excited when they find a marked-down purse or BluRay player.

As a Major, I'm number three in an organization of about five hundred. On a regular basis, part of the job is telling people their work needs correction, isn't good enough, or just needs to be flat-out redone. Sometimes, rarely, I even need to tell people they're just not suited for my line of work. I've seen the disappointment in their eye when someone tells them their stuff isn't good enough. What protects me from reprisal is a system that does not allow my subordinates to send me nasty emails or post about me on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs.

But literary agents don't get that protection. Anybody with a computer and connection can fire off retaliatory hate mail at will. In spite of that, agents stick their necks out there further, promoting themselves, their clients, and the business.

For agents, it's about relevancy. They can't afford to hide. They must represent their writers and at the same time attract the best talent. My point: they're vulnerable. No thin skins, easy targets for frustrated writers who view themselves the victim of unfair rejection.

Via social networking, I've learned tons about the industry and the profession. My personal experiences with agents were brief, but positive. The one who rejected my full-manuscript only provided a singular comment, but it was a remark that changed the direction of my writing in a very positive way.

Certainly, the bad-apples among the aspiring-author crowd are few. I cannot imagine any of my peers in the writing group replying to a rejection letter with strings of angry F-bombs. Nor, to my knowledge, have any of them built websites lambasting the evils of the literary agent profession.

But those people remain out there. So, I wanted to say thanks, I appreciate what agents do. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am, or know where I wanted to go. Without them, there would be no target to shoot for, or a mountain to climb. Writers, don't give me any crap, I'm not trying to kiss anyone's ass. This will be an only-time deal. One of these days, I'll get my agent. Maybe, we'll even share a beer.


Wingin' It said...

I'm astounded that there are such unprofessional writers out there. What these folks fail to realize is that being an agent is not a lonely venture: they talk, as professionals in the same field are apt to do. And, guess what? You put a nail in the coffin of your writing life with every single bad reaction you have.

Always remember my three P's: Professional, Persistent and Polite!

If I were you Ken, I'd put a link to this blog in all your queries! ;-) Couldn't resist. Good piece.


Danielle La Paglia said...

Great post Ken! I've learned an incredible amount about the agent side of things recently and they really are just people out there trying to find the best writing possible. Sometimes we measure up and sometimes we need to keep working.

Angela Addams said...

I second what Ian said. It's a small world and people have long memories. I know that I hold grudges for a long time.

I appreciate my agent. I know she's very busy but she always has time for me (even when she's hacking up a lung due to a cold).

Selestial said...

I try to make a point of telling the agents I talk to on a regular basis how much I appreciate what they do. If one of them would just sign me, I'd appreciate them even more ;-)

Seriously though, some people are just jerks, and sadly there isn't anything we can do about them. The best we can hope for is that agents see the good more often than they see the bad.

Jessica Peter said...

I think this needed to be said. There are way too many unprofessional types out there. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little worried about the "marked down purse" comment, but aside from that ... :-P

Most agents are professional and polite. (Notice I say most. There are exceptions, well publicized on the net who use their position to mock those who dare submit to them.) But most are indeed professional. They use form letters because there's just no other way to communicate. They reject most of what they read, because there just isn't a big enough market for everything, and when all is said and done, this is their JOB. They have to make money, too.

I'd never respond negatively to any agent rejection. Actually, I'd never respond at all. It's a waste of time and effort better spent on writing the next thing so it DOES get accepted.

SusanKMann said...

Excellent post and excellent advice.