I've realized of late that I’ve been reading a lot about agents, and about the hunt for them, about submissions, about their all-round necessity in the publishing process. I don’t know when the thought occurred to me, but I had decided a while ago that I’d do without, thank you very much.
How successful has it been for me? Well, not so much, but I’m going with that half-assed approach to seeking publication and hoping that will work well for me. Part of my issue is that I’ve got a manuscript that I’m not entirely sure I believe in that I’ve been sorta shopping around. I won’t get into what I perceive are the story’s flaws here, but I’ll just say that I’ve got other stuff I've written that I like better. The reason I’ve been shopping that story instead of trunking it is that I still really like it (and it's finished, more or less). The execution might be lacking, but then again, I don’t know, maybe it’s genius and the folks who control the publishing world will fawn all over it.
Regardless, I’m not here to talk about that, my subject is Agents, and why I don’t want one. Here is the story of agents, as it has been relayed to me via a few sources, which I’ll try to link to at the end of this short tale.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a writer you lived in New York City, so you could walk down the block and have lunch with your editor, hash out issues with your story, discuss your contract, pitch a new book, whatever. But as the business grew, and City living didn’t always agree with every writer, an intermediary was needed. After all, if I wanted to live out of town, did I really need to go talk to my Editor in person about every little detail?
Those early agents really served as contract negotiators, they weren’t yet in the game as pitchmen and slush readers for the publishing houses, they were employed by the writers to represent them to the publisher.
A few enterprising individuals started offering more services for their clients, since they were already there, hanging out with editors anyway, why not pitch that next book – heck, they could help manage your money, right? It worked out for everyone. Well, as publisher’s got bigger (i.e., corporate), and real estate more expensive. Publishers were trying to cut costs as agents were finding their own rent too expensive to continue like they were, all those assistant publishers that were reading slush were out of jobs and individual agents were teaming up to form agencies, since they had the ear of the editor anyway, why not pitch the story of an unknown author too?
Publishers found their new slush readers, which they no longer had to pay for, and agents found it helped them out because they were attracting more authors, everyone wins again.
Of course, at some point in all that, agents quit working for the authors and began working for the agency – and in a backhanded sort of way, the publishers. I’ve heard several stories of wonderful, ethical, and caring agents that were forced to do things that were not in the author’s best interest because it might damage their relationship with the editor, or publisher, which of course wouldn't have mattered at one time because the agent worked for the author, but since they were going to be pitching the same publisher or editor some new novel ideas in the future it didn’t make sense to burn bridges over one measly little book contract.
Please, someone tell me you’ve been listening to Adventures in Sci fi publishing. It is a podcast started several years ago about a guy who was desperately trying to break into the industry as a writer, over the years the podcast has changed some, but the original vision, figuring out how to get published, is still at its heart. You must listen to the latest episode (linked here) where Kathryn Rusch advised new authors not to seek representation – and about how publishers are much friendlier now to non-represented authors than they have been in a very long time.
For now at least, I’m sold. I’m not querying agents. Those insider stories I hear are chilling. Publishing is big business, and one that’s changing so rapidly that following a model to publication that’s only a couple of years old might not be right way to do it now.