Monday, September 05, 2005

Is It Time to Kiss the Agent Search Good-Bye?

I stumbled across Agent 007 on Publishing and I'm glad I did. She writes about sheparding quirky books along the path to publishing stardom vs. taking the safe route with "can't miss" titles.

You may be forced, as I was, to sit in a conference room and revisit every failed book of the year in order to determine “what went wrong.” But most of the time, there is no one answer, just as there is no one secret to the surprise hits. And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because scoring with a sure thing is fun.. but only for about 15 minutes.

I left a comment there that I'd like to repeat here, because it will likely be lost amid the 21 previous comments, and because I'm not in a strong position to question any agents about their deeply-held convictions. Still, I've made a point in saying what's on my mind here, and I won't stop now. In any case, here's what I said:

"I'm in a different arena of IP rights, and it surprises me the way the literary biz works: basically it's about 'loving' a book and then trying to get it published. That's very noble, and I respect those people as artists, but it seems crazy as a business model. If I represented properties based on this success rate, I'd be looking for another line of work.

"Of course, it's a good thing for our culture that agents and editors are willing to take these kinds of risks, otherwise we'd have nothing but 'safe' choices. But what puzzles me is when the agents and editors will ignore trends and ideas for what they believe is 'well-written,' usually based on previous experience. It's probably one reason that there are so many who doubt the current publishing system will endure, especially as more young people turn to other media. I know this warning has been sounded before, but I see so many books being stubbornly clung to in spite of their weak sales. The whole National Book Award brouhaha last year is a good example. Is that a noble stand for culture, or an elitist shot across everyone else's bow? How many editors and writers even read The News from Paraguay? Perhaps history will show that stubbornly sticking to that book was the right choice, as your 'failure' still seems to you.

"I'm glad to know that books without best-seller audiences are getting published. What surprises me is that the business seems to be bifurcated into these two extremes: 'can't miss' books to pay the rent so that companies can take chances on dark horses. So what's in between? Not much from what I can see. Certainly the small presses are swamped with writers; several prominent ones are no longer accepting unsolicited queries, much less manuscripts.

"Because of the negatives that seem inherent in the business, I decided when I finished Beyond You & Me to help the process along. That's because several agents said they liked the book, but not enough to take it on in what they all called 'a tough fiction market for new authors.' Being an experienced marketer, I decided to jump-start the process by putting parts of the novel on a web site/blog. This made sense at the time, because the novel is told in a diary form, much like a modern blog. I read about agents & editors who are enamored of the Internet, and think it will be the source of tomorrow's authors. My experience is that few of them seem to have the time or much understanding of how it works, but that's another topic.

"I digress. It seemed at the time that building an audience for the story couldn't hurt. Publishers, strapped for cash to promote their wares and driven into sticking with safe, conservative choices in 'can't miss' authors, should welcome a chance to let me do some of the heavy lifting, right? 50,000 visitors to the site later, I'm still waiting for them to take any notice.

"In fact, 756 Agents & Counting later, I have pretty much given up on the commercial route, which requires an agent. Instead I am busy looking for a small press that would like to combine my marketing abilitie with a book that has resonated with readers, many of whom return regularly to find out more about the story and its plucky heroine.

"I have no particular issue with agents or publishers, though I remain surprised at their almost willful disregard for what the public may want. I suppose this is a noble stance, as when Jack Scovil turned down my query by saying 'BEYOND YOU AND ME is just not the kind of book I represent. I loathe Anais Nin, which will give something of a clue as to why'(the novel has been compared by some fans to Nin's journals). He's earned the right to represent whatever he wants, though I marvel at they way taste becomes the arbiter of culture. I presume that's a good thing, though I'm not sure how or why."


Blogger mapletree7 said...

Here's my theory: They don't know. They just don't know. They don't know! Who could have guessed that Who Moved My Cheese would become a million-copy best-seller? Or The Da Vinci Code (grumble, grumble, piece of shlock). All this talk about 'commercial' versus non is just camouflage.

3:21 PM, September 08, 2005  

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