Are Literary Agents Outmoded? Should They Be? Part 2

Why accept this rudeness from a class of employee, who might have few skills to evaluate mss, except that they “know what they like.”

Which brings me to another satisfying blog rant: What Literary Agents Can Learn from Girl Scouts. Published author, Mike Wells, quotes a girl scout. “I was the Number One seller of Girl Scout Cookies in our troop three years in a row, and I don’t even like Girl Scout cookies.”

A number of writers who, despite the nasty responses they received from agents, have gone on to fame and fortune, have shared some of the rejections they received. Kathryn Shockett was told by one agent who rejected her enormously successful book, The Help, “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” Really?

Paul Harding, whose novel, Tinkers, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, says agents “would lecture me about the pace of life today. It was, ‘Where are the car chases? Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book.’ ”

I suspect it was the agent who didn’t want to read it.

Do these oracles of literature, who treat their art of choosing books worthy of publication as if it were a science, ever lose their jobs for passing on subsequent major literary prize winners or best sellers?

In some of these posts in which agents roundly slam unpublished writers, all the self-described aspiring writers who comment agree with the agent; not one asks why the agent is growling at her market. Since when did straight talk equal demeaning talk?

This “I’m scared o’ you” mentality makes sense. Some agent blogs I’ve seen warn that a writer who publicly criticizes their profession will be subject to the literary equivalent of “You’ll never work in this town again.”

Do agents wield that much power? Should they?

Clearly agents are frustrated, both by their workloads and the chaos in the entire publishing industry. (Again, writers aren’t?) I’m just not sure why writers are the targets of their angst.

New Roles for Agents?
Since writers are no longer utterly dependent on rude, highhanded agents, nor have to expose themselves to the soul-crushing language of people who are supposed to love literature and appreciate those who create it, what roles are left for agents now?

Perhaps they could help despised authors price and promote their work; choose the best self-publishing routes and outlets; negotiate deals and contracts; consult on book design and formatting.

Oh, and lose the attitude.

My husband Joe (and neighbor in background) underscoring my fierceness

My husband Joe (and neighbor in background) underscoring my fierceness

2 thoughts on “Are Literary Agents Outmoded? Should They Be? Part 2

  1. This is an insightful post for anyone who has struggled, as I have, with trying to unlock the secrets to the mysterious world of literary agents. It’s like trying to please a potential lover that you really like and want to like you…should I be coy, play it cool, grovel, really sell myself, or just give it all away in complete desperation on the first date. Because too often just being your smart, creative, wonderful writer self doesn’t get you very far. Until suddenly you realize maybe the problem isn’t you.

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