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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Anonymous Agent Speaks Out

Agent Anonymous said...
"As a literary agent, I can only speak from personal experience here and I know that there are as many opinions on this as there are grains of sand. But to put my (admittedly subjective)thoughts out there: first off, I think this blog is A GOOD THING. Frankly, it doesn't matter whether the aim is to vent or change the industry or simply to get published. It's interesting enough, debate is always healthy and I'm pretty certain that the legions of the rejected will draw comfort in a There-Despite-The-Grace-of-God-Also-Go-I manner rather than hurl themselves off a cliff. However.... Last week my office received 273 unsolicited submissions by post, roughly 90% of which were fiction. We have an employee whose job it is to do a first trawl through that pile (which this week fills three large mail sacks). Often enough, he will arrange for those sacks to be delivered to his apartment where he works on them further over the week-end. He has no other job. At the end of each week, he will send us a list of recommendations for titles to be looked at further, which generally consist of between 5 and 10 books in every 200-500 submisssions. The hard reality is, however, that none of our seven staff, myself included, has time to read during work hours - as we are busy sending out submissions, drafting and checking contracts, sorting out publicity tours, meeting foreign publishers or film people et al - which means that we then have to evaluate the best of the unsolicited material at week-ends and in the evenings, and to balance doing so against the demands of our partners, children and friends. That said, I am a firm believer in the fact that the cream always rises, and that great - or even just good - work stands out. But like everyone else in this business I also know that I regularly turn down work which goes on to sell, and sometimes to sell for huge amounts of money. That's fine (although it may occasionally rankle) as we all know that this business is about mapping one's own personal taste onto the wider background of a market which is itself always in a constant state of flux. This is a gambler's business, after all, and all we can do is to set our hares running. That said, about 2 to 3 times a year we will take something on that comes to us unsolicited - unannounced, knocking randomly on the door - and some of our best clients have come to us that way. Two such authors have won the leading national literary fiction prizes of their publication years; and another has become a big household name in the commercial fiction arena. So it happens, believe me. And I know that I have turned down people who have done just as well with other agents and publishers and, in the main, have no problem with that. But the flip-side is that in a few weeks' time we shall probably have to send all 273 of the writers who kindly sent material in last week a rejection letter. We will probably send each of those 273 writers a polite rejection letter which is carefully written so as not to invite its recipient to enter into a dialogue with us. We are not, and cannot purport to be, a writing school and thus to engage in that sort of editorial debate would be to the detriment of our existing clients. A handful of unsolicited writers will, however, receive an individual letter which will offer some advice, encouragement or suggestions. And very, very rarely, as this week-end, I will sit down as I did on Friday night with a typescript of a novel fulsomely recommended by our reader and finish it, as I just have, and know that I am looking at pure gold. This was novel which brought me alive, which spoke to me on some deep, deep level, and so well-written and all-round good that I now find myself utterly frustrated in a nail-biting sort of way to discover that its author is away and cannot be contacted for a week. But that feeling of discovery, and unalloyed joy, is why we are all in this business - lightning can strike us all."

I hope she gets to represent the vacationing author, and I hope lightning doesn't strike her (or us), because she sounds pretty great. Anyway, mice, what do you say now?


Anonymous said...

Being an agent is hard work. I don't know who this one is- but whoever gets her as an agent will be lucky.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymice, what do you say?"

I say that anybody who supports your bias is "exemplary" and anyone who challenges you is "mean."

Mean Anonymous

Writer, Rejected said...

Mean Anon:

Dude, this isn't Standard & Poor's. It's practically my diary. So, yes, it's true, the labels are subjective and biased. I thought that was the point.

Anonymous said...

Is this for real? Who is the agent? It doesn't read like any agent I know -- and that's a good thing. I'd like to know who this agent is.

Anonymous said...

Who is anybody to tell you that your blog is "good" or "bad?" As if agents are entitled to, yet again, pass judgment on your work?

Bull crap.

This is a wonderful blog that shows writers that they are NOT alone in getting those horrific yet inevitable rejection letters. It's cool to see some of the juicier, weirder ones you received, but it's also cool just to see the "normal" ones.

Writing is a lonely endeavor. Submitting your material 1000 million times to unappreciative (and yes, often overworked) editors and agents is a lonely endeavor. It's nice to have a little company out there.

People in the creative professions are often viewed as misfits, aliens, criminals, etc. by their immediate family/friends, who haven't a clue what the writing world is like. So it's nice that your blog counterbalances that -- allows us to feel connected, ever so slightly, to another fine writer out there quietly plugging along, doing her thing.

Anyway, agents -- your opinions aren't needed here. For once - in this particular context, anyway -- we don't give a rat's patootey what you think, and don't care to read your opinions. This is the place for the blog writer's opinions and experiences. And we appreciate those!

Thanks for your blog.

Anonymouse Rex