1. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Let Off Steam About The Author-Agent Power Dynamic

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Tenderiser, Apr 24, 2016.

    I'm taking my own idea from another thread:

    ...since I think it's a shame that a few good threads have been sidetracked by this.

    The author-agent dynamic is a strange one. We make the money and agents take a cut of it - without us they would have no income. So it feels like we should be the ones with all the power and control, choosing from a pool of agents all clamouring to represent us.

    But because there are so many wannabe authors, the tables are turned. Agents are the ones in demand, able to pick and choose from around 30,000 queries a year when they could reasonable represent, what, 50 authors at any one time?

    Naturally this breeds resentment, frustration and bitterness among authors who want to be agented but aren't.

    Discuss?
     
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  2. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    *raises hand* Do you believe that finding an agent has mellowed you on this power disparity?
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It hasn't for me, I don't think.

    But I was publishing with small publishers before I got an agent, so I think I already had a bit of--I don't know, I guess a sense of myself as an author and of how I fit into the business? Like, I had a fair bit of confidence in the product I was selling, because I'd already sold a fair bit of it, so there was no sense of personal rejection or risk when I submitted to agents. I just thought I'd check and see if they thought it would be worthwhile working together. It was less stressful, because I knew that agent or not, I could sell my books to someone who wanted them.
     
  4. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Wait... you mean that other people don't have hordes of agents emailing all the time? Must just be me.

    ...of course, all the emails are form letters regretting that they did not connect with my manuscript.


    In all seriousness, it is an interesting dynamic. As I dropped a few queries earlier today I was reflecting on how nice it is that we all come to them. They have to read all our queries, though.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Most of my frustration and bitterness came from a belief that I wasn't going to get weeded out from the slush and my writing was going to be forever unpublished because of the way the odds are stacked ridiculously against authors.

    I still think the odds are stacked ridiculously against us. I still think the whole querying process is nowhere near a perfect system for finding the best unpublished manuscripts. In fact, it's a crap and hugely inefficient way of finding the best unpublished manuscripts. But, try as I might, I can't think of a better one. At least, not one that's actually workable. In an ideal world we'd scrap the query letter and agents would simply read the manuscript: if it didn't keep them reading til the end they'd reject it. If it did, they'd rep it. But ain't nobody got time for that!

    Now that I've corresponded with many agents--not just mine, but ones I didn't go with--and now that I see them as industry professionals rather than evil gatekeepers, I see that most of them are kind; optimistic; in it for the love of books and not the money; hate rejecting authors; and trying to do their best. They're constrained by the shitty querying system just as much as we are. All of them want to find the next Harry Potter and rejection is a byproduct of that. They don't enjoy it.

    I mean, there is the odd bad cookie...

    Having spent several months going through the Amazon slush pile to find good books (before I wised up) I am incredibly grateful there are gatekeepers. I would be seriously devastated if traditional publishing went away and all we had was self-published books on the market. I realise I can't have it both ways--if I want gatekeepers I need to accept that my work is gated just as much as anyone else's.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like the notion of gatekeepers, and you're right. If there was no traditional publishing, we'd need to sift through the dreck ourselves, looking for a gem. However, the gatekeepers don't get it right all the time either. We've all read traditionally published books that don't really hit the mark.

    I think the complaining about agents comes from the notion that the gatekeepers are perhaps looking at the wrong things, or not looking at the right things. The notion that they don't let anybody through the gate who doesn't look just like everybody else who came through the gate before.

    I think a huge part of the problem comes from the advent of wordprocessing and the internet. I don't have statistics, but I'd be willing to bet that 30 years ago agents didn't get flooded with stuff the way they do now. Plus, of course, back then you had to send stuff on paper, through the post, so you didn't do it lightly. I can certainly understand how agents (who want to spend most of their time representing the authors they have on board) must feel overwhelmed by all the wannabes.

    I don't know that there is a single answer to the problem. I know what I would do if I were an agent, but obviously it's not everybody's method.

    I would let it be known what kinds of books I represent. I would ask that a writer submit their name, contact address, the title of their finished MS, a notion of the genre—and their entire MS. This should be easy to do and will cost nothing if it's done online.

    I would eliminate any genres I don't want to represent. Then I would simply read the first few lines of the MS.

    That would eliminate the inept and ungrammatical writers fairly quickly (which a query letter may not.) It wouldn't take any longer to read than a query pitch, but I would be looking at what I need to sell to a publisher, not some concocted 'trailer' for it. If I like the opener, I might skip ahead and dip into later chapters as well, to see if the writing standards are maintained. I'd check dialogue passages to see if they work, and descriptive passages to see if they are interesting—stuff like that.

    By then, I'll know if I want to continue. End of. If I do want to continue, I'll let the author know, and perhaps ask more questions about the book, or request a pitch or summary of the plot. If I don't want to continue, I fire off the rejection notice.

    In a way, that would work kind of like the critique pages do on this forum. You go to the section you're interested in critiquing—novels, short stories, etc. You may eliminate ones that obviously aren't your thing (you hate horror, the author says it's horror, so you don't read it.) You start to read what they've posted.

    Now obviously in a critique situation you may well stick with something that has problems in it, and give feedback. If you were an agent, however, you wouldn't bother. At this stage, the writing has to be good. If it's not already good, you just move on.

    Here on the forum we don't require a query and pitch before we start to read a person's offering, do we? Is it that much more difficult to take the same approach to an author's completed MS?

    Really, it would take up no more of an agent's time, and would be much less stressful for the writer, who may be a good writer but a bad salesperson. And most importantly, every author would have a chance to impress an agent with their actual MS. And the agent would be accepting or rejecting an actual MS, not a pitch for it.

    Authors would be happy knowing the agent has actually looked at their work. And agents will be more confident that they're not rejecting a masterpiece.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think your first point here is true. For me, much of the frustration was that an author's ability to write a "good" query letter in no way corresponds with their ability to write a good novel. I thought my novel was good. I thought my query letter was awful. I was simply (and still am) unable to write a good query letter: summarising 100k words in 250 words is a hugely different skill from producing a 100k novel. I have one skill but not the other.

    It still fills me with horror that authors are judged on those 250 words. I think pretty much all agents are aware of this problem too but, like me, can't come up with a better system. I mean, what do I do when I'm looking for a book to buy? I go to the section of the bookshop with genres I like, pick up books and read the blurb. How frustrating would the shopping experience be if you had to open every book and start reading, with no notion of what the plot was about? That's what agents would be faced with if they did away with the query letter. For me, reading something in the workshop is different (and even then, I find it irritating when the author hasn't indicated the genre). I've rejected hundreds of books because their blurbs weren't compelling so I can't really be too arsey with agents for doing the same thing.

    I don't know what the answer is.

    I didn't have that notion that I had to be like their other authors, because I'd seen so many say "I've rejected MSs that were too similar to others I represent." I knew my book had to be sellable, because otherwise I can't expect a publisher to pump money into producing it and offering it for sale, but I don't think that means being cookie cutter. I know you're very convinced that you have to offer comp titles and be similar to the agent's other authors, but most of the advice I've seen (and my own personal experience) doesn't support that.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think what I'm proposing is to give agents a 'look inside' feature. I don't rely on blurbs much, myself. I do pay attention to genre when I'm buying a book, and interestingly the cover art as well, but less attention to blurbs—which I often don't read. (If I have the book in front of me, I usually start thumbing through it.) However, you're right. Some people do rely on blurbs.

    Dunno.

    As a person who plans to self-publish, I will need to write a good blurb myself. Ack....
     
  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're pretty rare. I'd say most readers look at the blurb before they look inside. But who knows? :)
     
  10. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I've seen submission guidelines that specifically say your pitch shouldn't be written like a blurb. I still don't know what that means.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there may be an element to the query of looking beyond the novel to see what the author's OTHER communication skills are. There are a some brilliant eccentrics who can get away with writing and never communicating with anyone else, but for most authors, publication involves a lot of work other than strictly writing (even when working with a publisher). So if an agent is looking at two equal quality manuscripts, both good not great, has room on her list for only one, and one came from a curmudgeon who refuses to follow the "rules" of querying, can't summarize her plot, etc. - the agent should chose the other author, the one who seems like she'll be easier to work with.

    Both @Tenderiser and I got our agents with query letters we weren't thrilled with. They were serviceable, but nothing special. Nothing brilliant. Honestly, I think the obsession with perfecting query letters is just one more way authors are trying to work through the unworkable--there's an element of chance to the process, a huge amount of subjectivity, and no query letter in the world is going to work for all agents. So we need to put something together that does its job, but we can't obsess about every detail of it.

    (Note: All of this gets even MORE frustrating when you actually have an agent and start looking for publishers, by the way. I've gotten feedback from two different editors about the same book on the same day, one saying she loved my voice but the plot didn't work for her, the other saying she loved the plot but she'd been hoping for a more distinctive voice. It's all SO subjective. Best to ignore the whole process and focus on writing the next book.)
     
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  12. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    What disparity? I'm an indie - I look in a mirror and tell my agent exactly what I want done!

    But as a less tongue in cheek aside, I just had my latest book picked up by a small press - no agent. Simply because I've become an established indie with a track record. It helps. Put out enough good quality product (grief I sound like a marketing exec!) get enough sales, and suddenly the power dynamic reverses. They come to you.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's exactly the conclusion I came to. I know why agents give so much query advice (because they genuinely want authors to succeed) and why they stress how unlikely a query is to succeed (because they don't want us to feel bad when they reject us) but it does build it up into something way more stressful and pressurised than it needs to be.

    All you need to do is make the agent want to read your pages--that's it. They all love books. They all want to find good books to sell.
     
  14. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Unless that book involves a prologue?
     
  15. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, they're looking for good books and they know that prologues more often than not precede poor books. :)

    Could you troll another thread though? There's no need to take another one off track with goading and obtuseness.
     
  16. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Didn't you make this thread to complain about agents being obtuse?
     
  17. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No. I made it so people whinging about agents wouldn't keep derailing good threads. But you've carried on in those threads and now you want a fight here as well. That's trolling.
     
  18. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Lighten the fuck up. It's a joke, ok?
     
  19. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I must say, the rejections I have received so far are so delicately worded and, in some cases, so downright encouraging, that I have a hard time feeling bad about them. It's like having my own little celibate cheerleading squad. None of them want to sleep with me, but at least they want me to get to sleep with someone.

    I'm beginning to sound unbalanced, aren't I?
     
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  20. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Tenderiser; There really should be a better system that's more efficient at quickly separating the crap from the potentially good to increase response time and improve a writer's chances to be noticed. The issue is, how could you ever know the quality of the content without reading it? With unlimited time and strength, it could be done but... Agents have the better part of a New York Minute to make up their minds.

    And the worst part is that agents and publishers are needed.
    Without them, bookstores would be nothing but terrible fanfiction and you'd never find anything of actual quality.
    I like to think of them as curators (Or gatekeepers like you said). They make sure literacy won't become a ridiculed thing ten years from now.
     
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  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah you sound real light-hearted!

    I had one reply so encouraging and sweet that I'm going to send her a copy of the book when it's out. :p It wasn't really a rejection - I'd had an offer of rep and she was unable to read my MS and make a counter offer in the timescale I gave her - but she said my book was just the kind of thing she'd buy to read for pleasure. Whether she was just being polite or not, she's getting a copy!
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    For some reason the quote isn't showing up but @123456789 asked in another thread:

    I'm replying here so another thread isn't derailed with agent talk.

    Firstly, I didn't tick any of those boxes except that I'm willing to put significant time into promoting my book--and even that isn't something my agent required or even mentioned. I just want to do it because I want as many people as possible to read my book.

    I knew nothing about the agency or the books they represented when I queried. I didn't mention any other books or authors in any of my queries, let alone compared myself to any. Agents are all different but I had a 20% request rate with my bare-bones query, and 10% is considered a good rate. Maybe some of the 80% who rejected me outright wanted comp titles and all that, but overall I didn't need them.

    Today, I saw the pitch my agent is sending to editors. In it she compares me to another author. She didn't need me to tell her I have a similar style to this author, because she knows the genre and saw it for herself when she read my work. I am a little skeptical of agents who need authors to do the comping for them, not least because an author can't evaluate their writing nearly as well as a third party.

    Secondly, an agent's primary role is to sell your book to editors. They may also help with marketing once it's published, because the more sales you make the more commission they get, but it's not their job per se. Their greatest value is getting you into imprints who don't accept unagented submissions and/or negotiating a better contract than you could get for yourself. They also handle foreign rights and audiobook rights and film rights and all those things most authors wouldn't have a clue how to do themselves.

    Depending on your goals, they may or may not be worth the 15% they take, and I think it's true that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. Personally, the more I found out about the publishing industry, the more I wanted an agent. But not enough to personally research 70+ agencies and the books they represented. ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    EXACTLY. As far as I'm concerned, let them take 15 or even 20% and then let them do every single thing for me except write the book.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
  24. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    This does not bode well for me. I have not received any requests whereas I have received about a dozen rejections.
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    These days it seems you're expected to do an increasing share of your own marketing as well.
     

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