Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Agent Bad-Mouthing

Back story: I was having coffee and yapping with a dear writer friend recently about the "joys" of manuscript revisions, the process of finding an agent and the whole path to publishing thing. After that conversation, all I can think is although we are alike in many ways, we definitely are not of one mind on the subject of literary agents.

Here's the actual convo (as well as I can recall it):

Her: "I'm just tired of the whole agent thing. From what I can see, and what other people tell me, agents are all about the money."
Me: "I don't know who you're talking to, unless it's some disgruntled writer who doesn't know *hit from shinola."
"The whole industry is just sucky now, and the bottom line is always the almighty dollar, Angie. If you can't practically guarantee you can sell a bazillion copies of your book, you'll never get a top tier agent. All they see is dollar signs...not the actual writer or potential of the manuscript."
"I do agree publishing is like any other business and no business I know of intentionally sets out to take wild or bad risks that'll put them in the red, but I do not believe every agent is blinded by dollar signs in their eyeballs to the point they can't/won't recognize good literature and whatever ingredients make up a good book!"
"You're just naive, then, or you're not wanting to see. Don't you read industry publications, writers' blogs and those agent-outing sites?"
"Yeah, I read a lot, but I'm not gonna steep myself in negativity, and I don't discount that what you're taking for gospel is a lot of sour grapes from writers who've been turned down."
"Hmph. Believe what you wanna, Pollyanna. I'm just telling you, agents aren't human like me and you. It's like idealistic politicians who go off to Washington. After a while, they forget why they ran for office to begin with and start grabbing for the star status and benes."
"Dayum, girl, that's cynical. And you've just lumped every agent into a nasty heap. Want some more coffee...or have you had too much today already?"
"Yeah, fill 'er up. And, no, I'm not a cynic; I'm a realist. I'll put it like this -- I''ll bet you a Cajun surf 'n turf [Rib eye with crawfish topping] that there's not a single nice, "real" credentialed agent left. One who really cares about his/her authors and doesn't just see a manuscript as a money-making 'product.'"
"Now, girlllll, how in the hairy hell am I supposed to prove that to you? Your 'facts' are stoo-pid anyway because there are literally tons of books that don't end up making back an agent's percentage. And I've met really nice agents at conferences, have dined and had drinks with them and I promise you, they are real. I can give you tons of agent blog links so you can see for yourself they've got hearts..."
"Nah, anybody can have a blog persona. Don't mean squat. Just more trolling for money making possibilities."
"Okay, what would work for you? And, by the way, you do realize that this negative mindset of yours may be a self-protection method you employ because you really don't have faith in the merit of your manuscript. Right?" *laugh*
"Say what ya want, wise a$$, but I know I'm right. How's this? get one agent to make a comment on your little blog and I'll reconsider my opinions as to agents' humanity. How's that?"
"Like big agents have time to come check out Gumbo Writer's little corner of the Blogosphere and open themselves up to nuts like you by commenting? Would you do that if you were an agent, Ms. KnowItAll?"
"Sure would. Now, all's I'm saying is two more things on this subject: surf 'n turf.......and........double dawg dare ya! Ha!"
Here I am this morning, swilling my coffee and fuming over that frustrating chat. Not because I think she's right (I don't!), but because I have no way to prove to her that her head's up...a tree. Besides the matter of who's right and who's wrong, I have never once in my life backed away from a "double dog."

So, writerly pals, is my friend right and I'm the crazy delusional one? Please help a sistuh out by leaving a comment, or recap of your own experience with agent(s) and/or by voting in the poll. I'll leave it up until next Wednesday.

Oh, and if your sister-in-law or first grade teacher or manicurist's uncle happens to be an agent...could ya beg 'em to stop by and leave a comment. "ANGIE'S RIGHT! I HAVE A HEART! SIGNED, Lit Agent" or something will do just fine. LOL

I mean..............double dawg + surf 'n turf.......I gotta go for it!
PS. If you missed the contest winners' work with professional edits Monday because you were out celebrating Memorial Day, hop back to the post and feast your eyes. :)


Wendy said...

I couldn't stop laughing. Wow, you and friend sure do speak freely to one another...never pictured the flaming fires of hell...hairy...hmmmm. Anyway, I'm sticking to believing there are some solid agents out there. I believe and therefore I will be represented by one. Take that, friend o yours. What a brilliant way to garner some agent love!
~ Wendy

~ Wendy

Angie Ledbetter said...

Wendy, that's how we roll down here with the free speaking. (LOL, my kids HATE when I say things like that!) Have been friends with said friend for over 10 years, so it's all good. hehe

Thanks for your vote to my sanity, and I love your statement of belief! As for the agent love, the post probably won't be read by any, but it sure felt good to get it off my, the double dawg thing is just a gauntlet I can't ignore, even when it gets me in trouble. :)

Lori Tiron-Pandit said...

I would completely stop writing if I were to believe that agents were only after the money. Making money out of any art is a very difficult matter and one who does that needs to understand well both the artistic value and the markets and whatnot. That's what I think. If agents see only dollar signs instead of books, I don't believe they can do much of a good job.

kimmi said...

Well, Angie, I have but four words for your writer friend. Two Parts of Brave, by Ms. Reid.

hugs, sweetie

colbymarshall said...

The astute part of me senses frustration on the part of your friend, lol. I agree with the others, isn't all about the money, I'm sure, or I wouldn't keep moving along trying to get one of them to love me ;-)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Ooo, Lori, touche'! I'm gonna remember your money-from-art argument for the next time I see my friend. Thank you!

Kimmi, 'preciate it. Going there to read now. Hugs back

You got it right, Colby. We both do. ha

Jill Kemerer said...

I'm smiling because your slang is cracking me up! I can practically see the surf n turf thingy!

I don't think writers realize how much work agents put in. They do not work 9 to 5 jobs. They can't just leave the office and be done. It's a time consuming and pressure-filled job. I don't have an agent, but I'm thankful they exist!

Jessica said...

I'm with the blue dialogue. LOL
Seriously, it doesn't sound like your friend cares about agents as people either. Does she just think they're there to sell her books? To make her money? I'm sorry she's bitter, but I think she's way, way off. She says they don't see writers as people, but she's lumping them all together in the same boat. Kind of like a woman who gets cheated on and then says all men are the same.
I feel bad for your friend and I hope that you hold on to your positivity. In this case, I think you're the realistic one.

Jessica said...

Oh, and I have a partial with an agent right now who I'm pretty sure just asked for it out of kindness. She had the first chapter for like eight months. When I e-mailed her she said, why don't you go ahead and send me a proposal.
Honestly, I think this agent isn't that interested but feels bad for me, knows I read her blog (lol) and so is asking for a partial.
What do you think? LOL!

Rodell said...

If I felt like your negative friend I'd quit pitching and turn full time worm farmer.

As an unwilling connoisseur of tasteful rejection, I can attest that many, many agents are eager to soften the blow with some non-form encouragement.

And now I'm hankering for some Cajun surf 'n' turf.

Michelle H. said...

I'm with you on this, Angie. "Agents aren't people like me and you?" What are they then? Space invaders from the planet Gork?

Terri Tiffany said...

And you both are still friends???lol
I agree with you. I know a man who bashes the whole publishing system but wants his books published--maybe it is a reflection on what he is writing or where he is sending.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

You're right, and I have the wonderful agent to prove it.

Nannette said...

The wimpy answer, but what I really feel is, you're both right to some extent. There are some big agents in it for the money who won't take a book unless they can envision the movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but I signed up to review new books under the Amazon Vine program, and I've read plenty of non-blockbusters that someone saw the merit in. So, I guess since your friend's view is they're all in it for the money, I'd have to say you're right.

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

I think that as with most things in life, there's the good and bad in this too. SOME
are definately after the $$$ just as some think they will get the $$$$ from writing!
Then there are those who write because they
" HAVE " to write, never giving thought to publishing or book sales! There are agents
who "need" to see that work get published! As
with anything, it's a struggle containing both good and bad and " ONLY " the tough survive!!
So I see this as a cup half full depending on what your after?

Deb Shucka said...

Because I believe we attract what we believe in, I'm afraid your friend's view of agents is true for her. I also wonder if it would even begin to change her views if 100 hot New York agents commented here. I'm choosing to trust the perfect agent for me is just waiting for my query.

B.J. Anderson said...

Agents are normal people like everyone else. I've met quite a few at conferences and they just want a good book. It would be destructive for an agent to pick books that they thought would do mediocre in the market. This is their job, and if they don't do it well and pick books they think will sell, then they're not going to make it as an agent. That doesn't make them bad people. Writers do the same thing! I'm sure there's plenty of people who dream their book will do fabulously well and make them tons of money. So what's wrong with an agent dreaming about finding that writer who does fabulously well and makes tons of money?

Angie Ledbetter said...

Jill, what slang? LOL. And I'm thankful too.

Thanks, Jessica. My positivity is indestructible. (did i spell that right?) I mentioned to green friend that she might be projecting just a bit, but didn't put that in the convo recap. :)

Rodell, good for you. PS If you ever get down this way, I'll treat ya to the local surf 'n turf!

LOL, Michelle. I guess so.

Terri, FMTA. :)

Atta girl, Carrie!

Nannette, 'preciate your honesty. I know there are some bad eggs, but they don't stink up the whole carton for me. LOL

I'm in the "glass half full" club with ya, Carol. (Or is it the "half fast" club?) *grin*

Amen and ditto, Deb!

B.J., you've given me extra ammo for my next coffee chat with friend. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Once I stopped laughing I re-read the post. Very interesting. I have to agree with both. There are some that are all about the money. On the other hand, there are some that do it for the love of the craft. Call me Switzerland. (I know...I'm a wimp. Just new to all of this.)


Janna Qualman said...

Just like Wendy said, nothing like being able to talk so freely with a friend, huh?

I tend to agree with you, Ang.

CashewElliott said...

I love that you and your friend not only swear at each other all the time, but that you swear at each other with dollar signs and asterisks.

So, I've never met an agent, I've never really wanted to, and I almost can't imagine ever looking for one. I just don't even understand what one is for, probably because I've never really planned on writing a book. I've always thought I'd just write short works. But lately I've been thinking more of writing a book, so perhaps I should think about it more.

This is one of those things where business is the vehicle that keeps the art alive. It's like, we can't have a successful publishing industry without some good capitalistic muscle. It allows for a continuum of publication models, from completely for-profit, where a bad book makes millions, to completely anti-profit, where literary journals continually drain funds from universities (and brighten our lives) until they lose their funding and go under.

I used to play a lot of poker. A LOT of poker. And poker is like everything. It's about skill and luck. Good cards will lose, good writing will fall through the cracks, but a consistent effort at playing correctly and writing well will, in the long run, pay off. If you want to throw in the towel after your AA loses to someones 2-7 off, that's fine, it's frustrating, but that doesn't mean the deck is rigged. And your little whiny a$$ buddy has the right to quit, but it's his/her loss. (:

Mandy said...

I disagree whole heartedly with your friend, and if you want proof... pop over to my blog. I have a scant 20 loyal followers and low and behold Peter Rubie of Fine Print Lit left a comment on my obscure little blog just TODAY! I was stunned, excited, humbled, and I still can't figure out how he found me. What's more, I sent him a personal email thanking him for his comment and letting him know that I hoped no one took my post the wrong way... AND he emailed me BACK! VERY nice guy, VERY real!!!! Tell your friend she can mail my surf 'n turf to Idaho ;)

Princess New York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
52 Faces said...

(oops posted under my wrong account)

I've only had agents and managers when I was an actor doing the Hollywood thing. One of them stole a huuuuuge amount of money from me that I've all but lost hope in recovering; and the others definitely saw me as purely business ventures. One barely sent me out and focused more on her bigger name, money-making actor.

I sincerely hope publishing is better.

Anonymous said...

Never dealt with agents. They are probably like lawyers. Some good, some bad. Sorry, bad comparison. No advice here except if somebody treats you bad, don't go back. Maybe the message will get across.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Ang, thanks for the kind words on my conversational recap. :)

It's a gift to be able to vent and commune with a good friend on any subject and not fear judgment or rejection, Janna girl.

Cashew, thank you for a great morning laugh! (Next time, I won't be sipping coffee when I read a comment from you.) :) LOVE your poker analogy.

LOL, Mandy. Don't know if she's up for mailing beef & seafood, but I'll sure send her to your blog. And I'll be over shortly myself. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

52Faces, I hope you're right. No comparison between the two types of agents, me thinks. Glad you dropped by, and best of luck in your new career path!

You're right, Oren. As in all areas of life, we teach others how to treat us. :)

Rebecca Woodhead said...

Woooohooo!! That's one heck of a post I missed. I turn my back for two minutes... :)

This is a tricky one. I'm going to start by saying I agree with you, not just because you're in a scary mood but because I do but I'm going play the advocate of the evil one for a sec so bear with me.

Up until a few weeks ago I was a little in your friend's camp. Over the last few months I've seen MANY agents promoting their nastiness through blogs and appearing to glory in looking down their noses at writers. This really upset me because I couldn't believe all agents were like this and yet the evidence outweighed my own optomistic view.

Since then, I've been lucky enough to chat to a number of agents and they've all been lovely.

From my perspective, I used to be a casting agent and I really cared about the actors who were looking for representation. The slush piles and bins full of CVs broke my heart.

The sad/realistic fact is that it IS about money because it's a business. If agents, publishers and bookshops go out of business because they don't care about commerciality at all none of us benefit.

Personally, I'd want my agent to be in it for the money because if all the agents are just in it for charity the book industry will collapse and there will be no bookshops for my books to sell in.

I don't think that money and ethics are mutually exclusive. I want to be a writer primarily because I want to touch people's lives in a positive way but I'd like to be able to pay rent too. I should imagine most agents get into the job because they love books and/or writing and they want to have a positive impact on the book industry but they also want to get paid. Fair enough. Agents work on commission. If they're pushing for the best deal for themselves then they're working for the best deal for you.

In short: maybe your friend is right and the agents are in it for the money but to get the money they have to be doing a great job for the authors they represent and they have to take on the authors most likely to sell which means they have to care passionately about the readers. Even if they don't start off caring about the author, once the cash starts rolling in they soon will.

That said, I'm sure most agents are willing to take a chance on someone once in a while just because they adore their work. I hope so anyway. :)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Double dog dare. Can't resist that.

My experience working with the agents at the Writer's League of Texas conference - they want a good, well-written story. Something new and fresh. They also hope for a writer that is easy to work with - one who will appreciate their expertise and suggestions. They are really just people like us and often don't know how much power they hold for our hopes and dreams.

Reading the daily Publisher's Market emails tell how tough the business has become - experiencing the same downturns as everywhere else. But if you have a good book, there are still readers out there that appreciate good writing. And publishers make a lot of money on crap (like most of what is on the Bestseller lists.) I think that allows for a well-written book that might not have as many readers.

GutsyWriter said...

I stay positive about the whole process because I believe in my work. Perhaps I'm naive, but I do think that the passion I have for my memoir and the legwork that I'm doing beforehand, will pay off in the end. Great conversation.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Rebecca, it was more fun banter than scary serious tones between us. :) Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences!

Midlife, I'm with you on the positive outlook. :)

Write on and ditto, Gutsy! Glad you contributed to the convo.

annie's eyes said...

My mama always said those who can't do teach. (She was a teacher.) I would sing if I had the voice since I hear in perfect pitch, but don't have the vocal cords. But I know a good voice. Likewise, agents serve an important purpose as a mini marketing department for a person that would rather write than promote. That said, neither is in it just for the money. It's too dang hard--writer or promoter. Now the publishing companies--let's talk!

Kathryn Magendie said...

All I keep wondering is who the friend is! *laughing* But, I voted... :)

Karen said...

Isn't everything about the money these days? Does your friend write for the sake of writing, or does she eventually hope to make some money at it? If not, then why have an agent? The agent types have to eat, too.

Labels (Posts, not Peoples)