Although many publishers and agents claim to want to champion the work of writers (I am sure genuinely)…
We are told that 98% of agents reject submissions, and without one most big publishers will not look at your work.
Yet the publishser takes a bigger cut than the author, who gets only 8-10% of book sales, meaning that for 100,000 copies, (and all those years of soul inspired work), you’ll get minimum wage. (Agents take their commission out of the author’s royalties).
This is making me ask: why go that route?
I was against e-publishing and pro bookshops, but it occurs to me that it’s book chains who are damaging the book trade. They can discount too far and they stock only what they consider will sell. I know from being a former bookseller that where once the shop staff had the power to order their own stock, this is moving more to head office level. Range is sacrificed to large numbers of sure sellers.
This does not help the independent bookshops who cannot command the same discounts. It also affects small publishers.
And this affects what is written, or allowed to be publicly expressed.
Agents and publishers tell you you need an agent because it gives the agents work and saves the publisher doing it. They tell you there’s no kudos in self publishing, calling it “vanity” to degrade it. Self publishing and e-publishing tell you you don’t need agents; they will remind you of the tiny cut you get, the rights and control you may lose, and how hard it is to be published.
But if 80-90% of submissions are on the slush pile of what agents consider no good, what do those writers do with our talent and hard work?
I think some writers feel that agents are intimidating: there’s a huge disparity of perceived power. You the writer must do exactly as they say and if they deign to chose you, you must remember what gold dust of a chance you’ve been given and be submissive. There’s the feeling that agents are handlers, in every sense of the word.
Some agents want to know if you submit elsewhere. Considering the odds against being chosen and that agents take months to reply – “of course” is the answer! Would I be expected to say if I had applied to other jobs? If I need a job then I will diligently apply for them until I am offered what I want. If I wish to date, I will put a profile on as many sites as a I wish and chat with as many individuals as I wish. It’s only when things became serious (ie an offer is made) that exclusivity and openness cuts in.
Yes, we can only have one agent (though many people have several hats and lots of agents can’t represent acting, scriptwriting, and literature). And we need to get it right. This is a mini marriage, the person that looks after our babies. Which parent would allow a nanny more power and say over their child than themselves? Would they not feel the right to ask questions and withdraw an application if they felt unhappy?
We should never be in any unequal relationship, feeling we are so lucky to have a chance that we have no rights and say.
Agents and publishers need authors to exist. But we can write without them. Just as employers need to market themselves to new employees, so agents need to let writers know why they should submit to them. Yes we as writers need to know what an agent seeks and we need to do our own wooing. But who dates, feeling it’s all about their profile and they should have no choosing power of their own? It’s equally about being sold to, not just selling yourself – and remember the phrase – the highest bidder? That is not just in monetary terms, but care and empathy.
The culture of the agent (publisher/director/producer etc) having all the cards needs to change. With the internet, self publishing of all kinds (including music and video) is very easy and prominent, and understandably so.
It needs to be mutual from the start. And those who do not get chosen, rather than feeling crushed, should find other outlets. No one should be even thinking they have the right to destroy the career and confidence of another. Of course “you are no good” means “I think you are no good”. It is always a subjective statement, but hearing it once or twice can be enough to cause even suicidal feelings.
How many of us struggle to see the worth in a much lauded established piece of work? How many of us, as editors or producers, would’ve passed over something that’s famous?
And how many famous people were constantly passed over?
The crushers need to be more aware and take responsibility for that. Of course, some who hear harsh words end up doing well and then publicly repeat these statements of woe, to the discomfort of those who said them.
(And in case you’re wondering, no-one’s said that to me, not that I would believe them anyway).
Here’s a review of a book that literary agents say they admire. You’ll see I don’t agree