Off The Cuff

The agent search continues.  What can I say about this?  Authors rely on agents to represent their work to editors.  Agents supposedly know the market.  That’s their job, right?  To know what’s trending in publishing, which editors/houses are looking for or would be interested in a specific work?  For this, they get 15% commission for whatever they sell the work for.  The author gets 85%.

There’s virtually no way an author could keep up with all the markets, publishing houses, house-hopping editors, lay-offs, advance numbers, essentially every business detail you’d have to know to do what a good literary agent does and create at the same time.  Since authors are the creative side, that’s where I think they should focus their attention.  Let the agents handle the business side.  Give up 15% of your income to them.  That’s the conventional wisdom.

BUT, agents are picky, picky, picky.  Publishing is a buyer’s market.  EVERYBODY is under the impression that they can write a saleable book.  Agents are flooded with submissions and they reject the majority of what they receive with a form letter.

I’ve received a couple of those in the last couple of days, which is nothing new.  It is incredibly difficult to get others to see your vision for your work.  It’s time-consuming.  Even if you have an interested editor from a reputable house already looking at the manuscript.  Even if you’re already published.  it doesn’t matter.  If you’re not a known name, if you don’t have a track record and sales numbers and the other twenty things an agent is looking for, I think they hit the button and send the “thanks but no thanks” form right back to your in-box.

So…for someone like me, who admittedly didn’t plan her writing career very well, I must look like an abject failure and why would they want to deal with me?  It has nothing to do with talent or good ideas or interested editors.  I’ve sold three books to small publishers in the last ten years.  While that’s an accomplishment in the eyes of my friends, family and the non-writing public, in the publishing world it means bupkus.  I could, in fact, be one of the fiction world’s best writers ever.  I could be (am) a future bestselling author.  But an agent isn’t going to believe that based on my current track record.

You can’t explain to an agent in a query (well, I guess you could, but they wouldn’t be interested and they’d hit that form rejection button even faster) that you’ve spent the last almost twenty years writing.  That okay, yes, periodically you queried agents and editors.  That occasionally you got one or the other or sometimes both to request a manuscript.  That you never really cared whether you sold or not.  That you lost interest in querying for long periods of time and concentrated on writing.  They don’t care that all that time you were raising your kids and working another job and living your life and getting published sort of had to sit on the back burner because there are only 24 hours in a day and you had to prioritize.  It isn’t important to them that you didn’t need a writing income so you weren’t driven to make money from your work.  So I would imagine most of the agents I query now are scratching their heads (if they even bother to do that when they read my query) and think, well, she hasn’t done much in the last twenty years.  She doesn’t look very motivated.  Her idea’s not bad.  Nice that she’s got an editor looking at it.  But I think I’ll pass.

And so, oh well.  My track record is what it is.  I can’t change it.  I can only move forward and believe in my own ability and my own talent.  And based on the e-mail received in the past couple of days, I ask myself this question:  What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t find an agent?  There is no worst thing.  I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing.  There’s nothing to say I can’t negotiate a contract by myself.  Even though I think an author that does might have a fool for a client.  Even though I might make mistakes an agent would have caught.  So what? 

My book still gets published.  People will still buy it.  I’ll still have proven what I set out to prove.  That I have talent.  And drive.  And ability.  And a saleable product.  Because I couldn’t convince an agent of that doesn’t make me any less successful.