Thursday, May 07, 2009

Agents Aren't the Enemy

It may or may not have started with Agentfail, I tend to think it didn’t, but in the past month or so, maybe since the beginning of the year, there’s been some real anger, frustration, and, yes, a bit of a backlash toward agents, and while I’m certainly not going to put an end to it, or stop those who like to post the anonymous, snarky, and, frankly, insulting (to other authors typically) comments on this blog, I do have a few things to say (what else is new?).

First off, I am not going to link to those angry or vitriolic posts or articles. I frankly can’t bring myself to look at them again, but I think most of you, by now, know where you can find them. I also think it’s unnecessary. None of us really needs to read them to know what they probably say.

Second, I want you all to know that frustration is perfectly acceptable and understandable. Heck, I’m frustrated by this business at least 75% of my day. Do you have any idea what it feels like to get the final print run for a book and have it be thousands, tens of thousands less than expected? How about a book that gets amazing reviews, great publicity and fabulous feedback, and yet thousands of returns? Do you want to call an author and tell her that her publisher has decided they no longer want to work with her? I have to do all of this and more. Frustrating, yes, but is the job worth it? Absolutely, because there are few things in life more thrilling than calling a debut author to let her know I’ve sold her first book, or sharing the joy of a bestseller list or the thrill of seeing the book in print. There are few things I love more than publishing books.

The point of all of this is that the anger toward agents, the vitriol (from both sides), has to stop and it has to stop now. Agents are not the reason you’re not getting published. An agent wants to see good books in print as much as you do and agents take risks every day, despite what many of these angry authors are saying. The truth is that agents are here for you. We write these blogs because we want to help simplify and explain this process, we personalize rejection letters and give feedback because we see talent and have faith in what you might be able to do, and we take on new authors all the time because we are excited about a book and yes, because we think we can sell it and turn you into a published author. If we start snipping and sniping at each other we’re only making our own lives and the publishing process harder than it needs to be. It’s tough out there. Publishers are backing off on buying new books and published authors are being let go, so why are we turning on each other? Now more than ever we need to come together.

Are there some crummy, awful agents out there? Absolutely. There’s also a few crummy, awful authors out there who would prefer to blame agents for their lack of success than simply work on honing their craft. We’re people, none of us is perfect. I love authors and I love the community I’ve created on this blog. I have no intention of being run out by a few angry writers, but I don’t want the anger to permeate what the rest of us are doing that’s good. My fellow bloggers are doing great work and I’m continually impressed by the things they are telling authors and often admire them for their candor. The writers who comment on this blog are fabulous. One of my favorite things is when all of you start guiding each other. It is a community and it’s a good one.

So let’s start thinking about the real issue, and that’s that publishing is a difficult business, the mid-list is in trouble, and that just means we’re all going to need to step it up. Authors are going to have to write their little hearts out and really make that work sing, agents are going to need to guide those writers and negotiate the hell out of those contracts. We’re going to need to be one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to our careers and we’re going to have to do it together to really make it work.



Nicole O'Dell said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your post (really!) but I think you could easily swap the word agents for writers in your first paragraph and it woudl still hold true.

I do think it's a waste of time for writers to spend too much energy on slagging off agents, but at the same time, there is a lot of negativity about writers coming from agents at the moment, and more so than the usual 'I get some wacky/bad submissions' level.

Elaine said...

Great post, Jessica. Well-timed too.

In case no one has mentioned it lately, thanks for blogging. It's an incredible resource!


Martin Willoughby said...

Well said...amen...couldn't put it better myself.

Good and bad are found in every walk of life and there are always more good than bad.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Jessica. Thank you for putting things in perspective.

Unknown said...

I think the bigger problem is, the regular readers of this (and other agent) blogs aren't the foolish ones who blame everyone but themselves for not being published.

Chris Stovell said...

Please hang on in there because the usually silent readers, like me, value your blog and appreciate what you do.

allyd said...

Aaaaaand I'm done.

Linley said...

For every rotten apple out there writing nasty comments, please know that there are 5-10 shiny red ones, lurking quietly, appreciating all you do.

Please don't let a few wormy bad guys ruin your impression of the bunch.

Rather than get caught up in the great writer/agent wars, this apple's putting that time and energy into polishing her manuscript, with the aid of all your words of wisdom and much appreciated advice. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

So thank you for your blog! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Interesting post. I've been wondering about this issue as it's developed. I wonder if a *perceived* imbalance of power is not the root of the problem?

The writer's anger/frustration etc springs from a sense of powerlessness(or helplessness) at his/her "place" in the publishing industry (which, after all, has as its foundation the creative work of said author) while the agent's sense of anger/frustration etc springs from feeling unappreciated (or perhaps misunderstood?)at their indubitably significant contribution and efforts.

Ultimately, the relationship between author and agent is a symbiotic one and neither can successfully exist without the respect and co-operation of the other. It's when the dreaded Ego gets in the way of this mutual respect that the harmonious benefits of forums such as these blogs gets sabotaged.

And that's a sad loss of a great writers' resource.

Kristan said...

Right on! (Write on?)

A great post we can all rally behind.

Stephanie said...

I'm writing an essay on this for our June edition and my approach to this ridiculousness is: why would agents, publishers and editors want writers to fail? It makes NO sense.

It's a ridiculous premise and one that I've seen cultivated in one particular place by a few writers who are constantly looking everywhere but in the mirror for the source of their failures.

Anonymous said...

I'm always flabbergasted at the people who think agents are out to get them. No--agents are out to get books. Good ones. Publishable ones. Money-making ones. Do they make calls we sometimes don't understand? Sure, but so does my mother-in-law.

I was thinking just this morning of the agents who won't represent me who I will send flowers (or candy!) to once my first book is sold by my yet-unacquired agent. Including agents who turned my query down flat, including agents who turned down fulls. Agents who helped me, even if obliquely, even if they didn't know it. Because they are in the business of getting books out there, and doing what it takes, every day, to see that happen. For me, and for all of us.

kah said...

As I read your post the Beatles song, Come Together, was playing in my head.
There is a yin and yang to every aspect of life. Including negativity of writers who blame agents for roadblocks (or train wrecks)in their career. Just know there are those of us that don't blame agents. We don't blame anyone. We keep putting one foot in front of the other while learning and trying our best.
As I'm sure most agents do. :)

Unknown said...

All for one and one for all.

Charlie Rice said...

Considering how busy your job is, I think it’s amazing that you and other agents take the time to blog. You care about the business and it shows. I know I’m not alone when I say I appreciate the help and the advice you give daily. Thank you.
When a writer fails to get noticed for his work, it’s the writer that has to correct the situation. They must take responsibility for perfecting their manuscript.

Agents and publishers cannot be blamed for poorly written stories, the economy or the latest trends. If an agent rejects me, it’s my fault. End of story.

Mark Terry said...

Two comments, I guess. First, although I think there are probably some good reasons to be cranky with agents, I rarely see rants directed at those reasons. Probably because those "good" reasons are for people who already have agents and find themselves questioning either their agent's way of running their business or the advice they do or do not get from their agent. Different topic for a different day, probably.

The second one relates, though. I'm pretty sure Jessica would concur with this point: that agents get hit up by tons of people in a totally amateurish way. Now for a moment, let's envision you wanted to get a job with a Fortune 500 company. How would you go about it? Would you write a nice neat cover letter and a perfect resume and send it in? Would you put on your nicest clean suit, knot your tie, straighten your pantyhose (I'm being gender neutral here) and walk into the HR office, fill out an application neatly and turn over a resume? Would you do the same thing in the interview?

So why do so many aspiring writers act like they came in off the street to apply at McDonald's? Why do they think it's okay to send off a sloppy e-query that makes all sorts of assumptions, basically showing up at the HR office in dirty sweats, no shoes and a grease-stained Lords of Acid T-shirt?

I'm usually surprised agents are as accommodating as they are, considering what they see every day.

Unknown said...

So true, so true. Many writers perceive agents as standing in the writer's way, when really, the writer is standing in his/her own way. Write a great book with a great idea, present yourself professionally, and you will find an agent. I truly believe that.

And it's easy to target agents with anger since they're the first "obstacle" to publication... but really, most books that don't make it past agents wouldn't get accepted by a publisher either, so why the fury? And like you said, Jessica, the agent is the person who gets down in the trenches with you, loves your book as much as you do, works had to make sure the book is great and the contract is airtight... someone who's on your side, one hundred percent.

Agents are people. Writers are people. Venting from time to time is healthy, but anger doesn't get you published; hard work does. Redirect your energy.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Jessica, I know its been said before, but I believe the rise in frustration is parallel to the economic woes. Look at the tragedies of fathers who have killed themselves and their families across the country in the past few months. It's totally freaking crazy. Please know, most of us "out here" love you and the host of other respectable, hard-working agents who blog and send kind, helpful rejection letters. Of course, we also greatly love and appreciate those asking for partials and fulls! It's how the game works. You either play nice, or you don't. Some people simply refuse to play nice. Like you, I wish they'd take their toys and go home.

Spy Scribbler said...

It's always seems to be the case that negative people and complainers speak up more loudly and often.

There's lots of us lurkers that read your every post and say nothing. Aside from all we learn, I love starting every day with reading your blog. It sort of reminds me what my focus is. You always manage to pull a positive view on the business from all the frustration, or at least a proactive one, and it's such a relief from all the bitterness and complaining that sometimes swirls around the internet.

For every bitter article about agents, though, there are ten writers pounding away at their keyboards in the morning, having "fed" on your morning post. We're just too busy writing to speak up so much. Plus we don't want to look like brown-nosers, LOL. :-)

Thanks, Jessica! We're thankful for you every morning.

Laurel said...

Lurker here.

I read your blog earlier this week about the huge increase in queries. Obviously, a lot of aspiring authors have thrown their hats in the ring recently and bring with them a lack of understanding about the business, which is probably contributing greatly to this issue.

Many folks who consider themselves creative thinks this exempts them somehow from being business-like. Being a professional writer starts with being a professional, though. Very few people are truly so talented that they will be noticed and successful acting like a rock star before they've published anything other than a manuscript at Kinko's.

I've been in sales of one form or another for most of my adult life and endured more than my share of this type of behavior. If you have a book and you want to sell it, you treat it like a sale. You qualify (research your agent), present your product in the best possible light (clean query, polished MS), and make it easy for people to do business with you. And then you follow through on the your book. Market it.

You are never the one calling the shots when you are trying to sell something. Even the best novel of the century.

Sorry you guys are getting so much of this!

Tena Russ said...

Some times it sucks to be on either side of the desk.
Hostility gets you nowhere, though.

Jessica, your blog is a mitzvah.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you for writing this blog. It's a valuable resource for writers, at least the ones with any sense. Venting is healthy for both sides, but you're right, there comes a time to move on and get back to work.

Anonymous said...

I've posted on this before in a much more long-winded manner, but the essence bares repeating, which Jessican makes clear once again. It's for a love of books and all that comes with seeing them put on the shelves that the vast majority of agents are in this business. That likely goes up through the ranks of publishing. Sadly, it's the 'bad apples' as it were that get the biggest airtime and color the view of aspiring authors who don't have much of a clue about the industry.

I've seen far too much lately relating to this notion of agents as gatekeepers (which they are in once sense) of literary excellence. They get painted as these high-brow know-it-alls who are somehow controlling the content and get to deem what is good writing for the masses to consume. The Agenting profession as a whole is basically full of well-educated, very experienced people who want nothing more than to publish great books (and yes, make some money at it too).

Unfortunately, we get to hear the whining screamfest of writers frustrated by a very difficult process. It's certainly easier to point fingers than to face the fact that their writing just isn't there yet. These writers can't seem to get by the fact that most books can't be published traditionally. You write another book and hope you get lucky. Not getting a book published is not a failure, as most of these writers seem to think. It doesn't mean they suck or that their writing is bad for that matter. It could mean they need to make their writing better. Could just be bad timing. But if they can't get over the notion that writing a good book means you deserved to get published, then they need to go do something else (or POD if they are truly that desperate).

So, to all you writers out there who keep slogging away through whinefest '09, agents are not the anti-christ. There is no conspiracty to keep your fabulous novel from seeing the light of day. If you really want to be a professional writer, write another book and keep trying just like the rest of us writers who understand that it takes not only some talent, but luck, timing, and incredible perseverence. You're a needle in the haystack just like everyone else.

Damnit! Long-winded once again.

PurpleClover said...

People need to treat the agent-client relationship as a team not as a necessary evil.

But shoulda woulda coulda. I don't think the problem will ever be fixed because it relies heavily on personality and disposition. The people that don't get it, will NEVER get it.

Kimbra Kasch said...

I TRY to live by the Thumper motto.

Plus, haven't these people heard that old saying: you bring more flies with sugar than with vinegar?. . .

Unknown said...

The best I can say is for writers and agents not to take comments and criticism personally. There are 2 reasons for that.

First, snarky people tell us more about themselves than they ever do about their targets. (That's wisdom from my mother. She was a smart woman.)So people, write it off as somebody else's problem!

Secondly, there is a great little book by Don Luis Ruiz called THE FOUR AGREEMENTS that encourages us not to take other people's stuff personally, and he tells us how to re-work our beliefs so we can actually do that. If either writers or agents are stuck on the tirades and meanness going on, read it. It might help.

Forthe record, I love your blog. Hang in there! You provide insight and practical assistance to us.

sonya said...

I was one of those angsty, whiny, deluded people who believed agents had no interest in taking on or helping new writers. I spent a long, long time in that state. Ten novels' worth of time. Fortunately, I managed not to make a public spectacle of my angst - but I still felt it.

I read the agent blogs. I was a faithful Snarkling almost from the beginning. And despite learning more and more truths about the publishing industry - from blogging agents, from professional authors, from every credible source out there - I didn't really believe any of it. Everyone kept saying "Just write a good book, and you will get in the door eventually." I remained less than convinced.

Finally, I wrote a good book. And I got multiple requests for partials and fulls, and offers of representation - the process was practically effortless when the writing was finally there. I hadn't even written a particularly good query. I just had a strong book, and that was all I needed.

It's almost easy to conclude that you can't convince a writer of the truth until he or she experiences it personally. However, all the reading and advice-seeking I did despite my Doubting Thomas attitude brought an unexpected benefit. I have a two-book contract with Simon & Schuster now, and because of agents like you and others who have taken the time to educate writers on the parts of the publishing industry we'd otherwise never see, I feel prepared to make the shift to professional author. I'm not overwhelmed by the new rules that come with a contract.

So ... thank you. :-)

Katie Salidas said...

Great post. Some people take their frustration too far. It's a shame. We aren't all haters though.
Most of us understand this is a rough business. Thanks for constantly posting up great information for us hopefulls out there in blogger land.

Sharon Page said...

I'm reminded of a Far Side cartoon (I think) in which some poor, hapless, ordinary guy is selected by the rest of humanity to be the scapegoat for all the troubles in the world. He's shown hiding in his bedroom while mobs are gathered on the street outside his house.

I guess when people are frustrated or feel helpless, as was mentioned, they want a target for their anger. A "face". It's not "professional", and I can't see how those authors will succeed, when they sound so bad to work with. I always remember stories of Hollywood stars who took rejections and turned that disappointment and hurt into the drive that made them succeed. Certainly the economy is affecting publishers' desire to take risk, but that means agents and writers have to work together to present strong, exciting books.

What will any agent tell you to do to succeed--write great books! And I suspect every bestselling author has had proposals turned down. NYT bestseller Lisa Kleypas gave a wonderful talk at RWA's national conference a few years ago, in which she put up a graph of her expected career. A nice upward line with a few small hills and valleys. Then she put up a graph of her "real career", with ups, preciptious falls, areas where she was going backwards, and a few rollercoaster type loops. It was funny and effective. And shows the determination it takes to stay with it.

Its too bad time and energy is lost to negativity.

ryan field said...

I stay away from the nasty stuff that's been going around. I think a lot of them are doing it just to get attention.

Steena Holmes said...

What a perfectly timed post! Really - what else needs to be said? Time for us to all grow up. Stop projecting our anger to those who ultimately are not responsible for it, and instead look inside and find the root of it.
Let's get out of the high school mentality mode here and start working together.

Kate Douglas said...

I'm totally out of the loop on all the negatives, but that's because I see no point in reading that sort of post--what agent would WANT an author to fail? For that matter, what editor or publisher wants to see an author fail? Writers write, agents want good contracts, editors want good stories and publishers want to make money. It's all pretty straightforward, but the weak link in this, IMHO, is the author who wants to blame everyone but him or herself.

It's a good post. I just think it's sort of sad that it's one you have to write.

Anonymous said...


I'm just curious, what brought this post on? Is it from Nathan's post on identities? or is there even worse behavior out there I missed.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jessica,

I guess since I'm posting anonymously, I'm a lurker. However, I read your blog, every a.m. - you're bookmark #1 one - and am always curious what you're up to, etc.

This agent fail thing that seems to have upset (and continues to) you and others, totally passed me by - wasn't interested, didn't read about, don't care.

It sounds like you're working something out: that the original post (s ?) and subsequent ones have triggered something. Since I don't know what that is, at its core, it's hard to give you advice.

I do know sometimes I like eating cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes. I am a red velvet cupcake addict (hence, the anonymity of this post.) But red velvet cupcakes have this way of making me sick. And, at this point, I know it. Sick on the spot (I want to throw up) and sick the day after the fact (I wake up with a migraine.)

My solution: I don't eat cupcakes, red velvet or otherwise. I walk on by the cupcake store. Funny thing is, even though I don't buy red velvet cupcakes, the store's managed to survive and is still in business.

Now, when I need a treat, I get some yogurt. The self serve kind, by weight, with toppings I can sprinkle myself.

Choice, Jessica, choice! Stop reading the haters. They're gonna be there no matter what.

And to the apparent agent haters: there's a phrase, "Rejection is God's protection." No, I'm not Born again anything and I'm not pushing religion. But the phrase has served me well over the years. Ten years ago, in fact, when Jessica et al started out as book packagers, I queried them and they said, No. At the time, my reaction was, 'Eh.' I'd queried so many people, and done this thing - written the next/new Jacqueline Susann book! - that I was plain worn out. I quit. Then, I picked myself up, took a class (three actually), going onto write another book and, all these years later, I do have representation. In retrospect, see that BookEnds would not have been the right agent, for a number of reasons (starting with the fact they don't represent the genre I ended up writing in - not Jacqueline Susann novels.)

Jessica's blogged (I think) about starting out as a book packager and then shifting to agenting: I approached her at one point in her career/process which, as it turned out, didn't align with mine - both our goals have changed, radically to say the least.

Is it possible, agent haters, your goals might not have yet gelled? And that you're blaming the wrong person/ people? Instead of putting your manuscript aside? And starting on something new? Maybe?

Over and out ...

Rebecca Knight said...

Thanks for everything you do on this blog!

I really do feel like this is a community and a safe haven to learn about the industry and to be supported, even before we're published :).

I agree that the trolling writers out there are probably reacting out of fear, and it's not good for anyone. All this talk about authors having to "step up their game" excites me, but I bet it scares the heck out of a lot of folks who feel like they're not going to get the representation they deserve.

We can all benefit by striving for excellence. I'm glad we're doing it together! Excellent writing is what's going to define the publishing industry in the months and years to come.

Dara said...

AMEN! People need to realize that complaining and backbiting isn't going to help them publish their book.

You're awesome for taking the time out of your busy day to post such valuable information for us aspiring writers. I really appreciate all that you, and other agents, are doing for us.

Ellen Brickley said...

Thanks for this post, and all the others.

I recently clicked on a sponsored link that cropped up in my email account that promised a completed novel in 30 days with only 1 hour a day of writing (what can I say, I like a laugh). It was a divine piece of comedic genius - I can only pray it was intentional, although I doubt it - but that's not the point. One of the major 'selling points' of this online course was 'The Ten Secrets of Getting Published that They Don't Want You To Know!'

I sat there, blinking at the screen, thinking 'Why on earth would anyone in publishing not want people getting published? It's how they make their living!' It did strike me as kind of sad, though, that there's enough people out there worrying about the conspiracy of agents and publishers instead of the quality of their work that the get-rich-quick merchants have spotted it.

Anonymous said...


I read your blog regularly, and I have learned so much about how to conduct the business side of my writing from you. I appreciate that you take the time to mentor we up and comers in this way.

I have a topic I am hoping you can address in the future: product placement. I am reading a recent release in a series that is known for an increasing amount of product placement, and it makes me wonder how all of that comes about.

Thank you,

Jennifer Roland

Eileen said...

Well stated.

I can say with no reservations- that my agent has been an amazing business partner. She is a huge part of my career (and hopefully where my career will go)

Aspiring writers can forget that agents spend only a portion of their time on queries. A huge amount of their time is spent on their existing clients. While it might hurt to get a short form letter rejection- when you have an agent you'll be glad they're sending short form letters and spending their time on your work.

Anonymous said...

I really hate it that Faulkner got published so easily! And Steinbeck? Love him, but didn't he need an editor? And let's not even talk about Thomas Mann. Unfair! Who told us it was going to be easy like that? So let's choose our battles. Writing is hard work without all the public sniping (fantastic gossip, right?). It's a distraction. I'm going back to sticking pins in my Leon Uris doll now.

Anonymous said...

Aw, come on, Jennifer. As an agent you know very well agents are all a lot of constipated shitheads who want nothing more than to tweet to HowToMakeAuthorsFail and work out new and more diabolical ways of stunting fabulous, scintillating talent.

Admit it.

You know it's true.

Stephanie Feagan said...

Jessica, I wish you wouldn't let it get you down. I've served on the RWA board the past several years, and no matter what we do, how much we believe we're doing the best we can - for all members - there are always some who are unhappy, who see the organization as the enemy - like RWA is somehow keeping them from realizing their publishing goals. Maybe you need to adopt my mantra - "It's easy in the cheap seats."

Doug Eakin said...

This is a sign of our times (and other times)where it is always someone else's fault . . . or the the famous "they". When times are bad people lash out at others (Wallstreet) instead of looking in the mirror and figuring out what the hell the person looking back can do to improve the situation. Writing is very personal and people have their self-worth tied up too strongly in that endeavor at times. Learn from your mistakes, improve, and hopefully things will get better. Thanks for the sane voice and all the information provided in your blog.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Thanks for all the kind words. Actually none of this is getting me down, what I think I worry most about is that evil words spread faster than good words and I'd hate for newer writers to be reading the anger that's out there and start to believe that over the truth.

What I was worrying about was that agents and writers (primarily unpublished writers) were starting to split into two factions and writers were seeing agents as the enemy instead of friend.

Anyway I eat plenty of cupcakes and am going through nothing other then an fun contract negotiation, the joy of watching my clients succeed and excitement for a few new clients I recently signed.

Life is good.


DeadlyAccurate said...

I wonder if part of the increased backlash correlates with the increased number of queries you guys are receiving. If more people are trying to enter publishing, especially if the vast majority of newcomers have no idea how the industry works, it fits that you would hear more vitriol directed your way by people who are new to rejection.

It's a total WAG on my part, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

jjdebenedictis said...

@ Mark Terry:In all the arts, the final product is what matters. Thus, some talented artists get cut a lot of slack for their bad behaviour.

It's better if you write the perfect query and behave like a professional--but if you've written a fantastic book, that outweighs the presentation.

However, a person who can write a fantastic book can also learn to write a fantastic query, and most of them can even manage to not be raving lunatics when it counts, so I agree with you when you say writers should just figure out how to be professional.

However, I also understand why some of them think they don't have to. In the end, it's the words on the page that matter.

Kimber Li said...

Sure, there are a few lousy agents, but there are also misinformed or even mean-spirited/jealous critique partners, writing teachers/experts who aren't up to date on the publishing industry, and all sorts of other sources of misinformation assaulting already shaky self-confidence. It's crazy.

Storytelling is supposed to be fun!

Best advice I can give? As soon as you launch one novel into Queryland, start polishing up the next. Finish it, launch, start another one immediately, and so on and keep on going.

(Psst, you'll have to do this once you're published anyway, so you might as well get used to crankin' 'em out.)

The more you write the better you get and the better you learn who has sound advice and who doesn't. Best part is all those rejection letters come to resemble mosquitos rather than killer bees.

JMK said...

When times are rough people tend to develop finger pointing to an Olympic Art. Same true in the Pub business. Lit Agents are suffering some of this backlash because of a perception created by the industry that they were the gate keepers to all that is good and holy. I refer to the recent demise of Music Publishers as stand alones. When writers found out they didn't need the "lofty opinions" of Music Publishers the independant publishers gave way to what we called "top drawer publishers" meaning the musican's lawyers acted in the same capacity and since the material was 'self recorded' anyway , who needed the Publishers. I watched great firms, like Larry Shayne Music fold due to the blossoming of self published songs and music. We are all afraid in these uncertain times. No time before have we all faced so much uncertainty. Who's to blame...Pick some body...

KathyF said...

Well, as one of those new and unpublished people entering the field, I want you to know that I certainly do not see agents as the enemy.

They seem like an ally that I work with (once I acquire one, of course). I also think of the editor and publisher as an ally. Bookstores, too.

Places like this blog have helped me to understand the process and prepare for it. I appreciate it so much.

And although I prefer the more constructive comments and posts, I have even found some of the negative critisms helpful. Mostly as an example of what NOT to do and what type of attitudes to avoid in myself. (But I only need to see a few of those.)

Anyway, thanks so much for your blog.

Anonymous said...

I think it has to do withthe fact that writers are starting to realize that, HEY--agents aren't published writers (at least most of them aren't), which means they really don't know any better than the average writer.

Also, more and more new writers are breaking in sans agent, direct to Amazon, who then attract agent attention. So these days, I think the role of agent for the new writer has just become less important than it used to be, and so your'e seeing some disdain creep in.

Anonymous said...

"There’s also a few crummy, awful authors out there who would prefer to blame agents for their lack of success than simply work on honing their craft. "

This is also not the attitude I'd want from my agent.

for a new author, it's not so much about craft, but about marketing. All new;y pubbed authors should be spending their time promoting, not writing. Agents who don't get that are dinosaurs.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the craft versus marketing thing. It's a waste of time to hone craft when no one is going to know you're there.

I want an agent to talk about marketing, not writing. I'm the writer. the reason I need an agent is to sell what I've written. Editors are for feedback on honing the craft. Agents should be for feedback on marketing and promoting the product.

I want an agent who is a marketing genius, not a literary type.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to concur that, if an agent is to place blame on an author for poor sales, it should be for not promoting/marketing the book, as opposed to craft. Craft is too subjective. Marketing is tangible, and the more people who know about the book, the more potential buyers there are. I agree that too many new authors worry too much about writing and not enough about marketing.

The phrase is best-SELLING author, not best WRITING author. From what I've seen, the agents who blog spend too much time on the craft of writing 9which is reallyl the job of editors, anyway) and not enough time on the promotion of books, which is where the key to success lies.

Your craft will develop as you write multiple books, but you will not get the chance to write multiple books unless the first book sells. This is vastly understated in the agent blogoshphere. Forget craft. If you've got enough craft to sell a first book, you're good for now. The best way to improve your craft is by ensuring the book sells so that you get contracted to write more books. During the course of writing those addditional books, your craft will improve.

Wesley said...

To the three posters above, are you crazy? Or are you all the same guy?

In any event, you have a real catch 22 there. I really hope when my first book is published I can tell the literary world "Well, it was good enough to be published."

I think Ann and Jim both give a good explanation on what is going on. These rejected writers and people who bitch about television and should both learn to change the channel.

Publishing is an economic game and it comes down to what the writer brings to the table. Some writers bring supreme talent, some bring connections, and some are skilled at self marketing.

But if no one knows your name, you lack a plastic smile, and your prose can't make Ann Lander's under-sexed fan base tingle in the nether regions, then maybe you should look at your own strategy.

If you don't have a strategy, a plan, or vision of where you want to be and how you want to get there, then what is an Agent going to do for you?

Nothing because even you don't know what you want to happen beyond the publishing of your first book, which amounts to a mere 6 months out of your excruciatingly long existence.

Anonymous said...


You just criticized the anon posters (poster?), but then went on to basically give the same argument that the marketing is most important.

It depends where you are in the game. For unknown writers without any kind of contract, obviously, working on craft is paramount. Even for agented writers who haven't actually sold a book yet, I'd say you still need to keep a full eye on the craft. But for debut authors whose book is being published, I agree that the focus needs to shift from writing to selling.

Anonymous said...

"(Psst, you'll have to do this once you're published anyway, so you might as well get used to crankin' 'em out."

This is also erroenous, No one HAS to do anything. Not everyone here aspires to write Harlequin romances that can be cranked out to the tune of 3 per year.

You choose what contracts you sign.

Anonymous said...

'Who's to blame..."

Each writer can only blame themselves. If you think you need an agent BEFORE you've demonstrated you have a salable book through actual sales, then waste a few years trying to get an agent. Other writers choose to go out and sell on their own. Everyone has a unique path to publication. there is no "right" way.

There will onyl be Your way.

Jill James said...

Jessica, great post. When I feel frustrated I write a nice long letter on MS Word, use all my bad words, then press delete. Tantrum done!!!

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

I remember when, a manuscript finally up my sleeve, I started investigating publication and found that there were these people called agents out there.

I was so happy. I couldn't believe it! Apparently, agents were meant to be there to help me get a publisher, help me through the publishing process, give me advice, and basically be the perfect person to help an amateur writer deal with professionals.

Then I found that a lot of agents blog, too - about interesting, relevant, helpful stuff.

I heard that it's really hard to land an agent, but that made sense to me. Really, it seemed to me just to be the preliminary stage of weeding out the good writers from the bad. And I heard that it's really hard to write a good query letter, but I've read a few submitted queries on agents' blogs now, and it seems to me that if you're a good enough writer, you can write a query letter pretty easily.

I know it's a lot more complex than that, and I'm a little worried I sound a little sycophantic now. But I still have basically that same perception. I haven't tried to get an agent yet, as I'm still polishing both manuscript and query letter, and I expect a lot of rejection - it's just the way things go in this business.

But overall, regardless of whether or not I personally ever get published, it still seems to me that an agent's job helps us all out. Helps out amateur writers; sifts through the slush pile for publishers.

I've seen a lot of anger about agents lately, too. And I'm sorry you have to deal with all that, Jessica! But it seems as if most people here, at least, understand where you're coming from. Thanks for all you do for us!

Melinda Szymanik said...

Great post. Whenever I've felt frustrated or angry about things that have happened in my writing career I remember karma is watching. I want to make good things happen so I try to stay positive.

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Woo, just noticed a few anonymous sour grapes in this thread. Just one comment:

anon 5:33 I want an agent who is a marketing genius, not a literary type.As I see it, agents are - as well as marketing geniuses - people who need to be literary types. They know what sells. They know what doesn't. It's their job. And you don't want a little helpful feedback from an agent on how to make your manuscript more marketable??

I really don't understand the anon posters who say that it's not the agent's job to criticise their writing. While that isn't the entirety of the agent's job, I'd say that's certainly a pivotal aspect of it. And don't you want someone else to help make your ms even better than it was before?

Anonymous said...

Agents are out there every day looking for material they can make money with.

If they reject your material, it just means that they can't see a way for them to profit from it. That's all. It doesn't mean that your work isn't salable (although it could mean that, it doesn't necessarily mean that).

That's why you query lots of agents who handle your genre and who are currently seeking subs.

When I see unagented writers blogging about how much time they spend "researching" agents, it makes me cringe. The only thing you need to "research" is, 1) does the agent handle your type of book, and 2) are they accepting subs when you want to send, and 3) the guidelines for what to send and in what format. That's it! Anything more than that and you are squandering precious time that you, as an "un" (un-agented, un-contracted) writer, need to spend developing your product (also referred to as "craft").

So if yo're reading agent blogs to "get a feel for their nuances" or some other such drivel, you're being counterproductive. there's no need to concern yourself with an agent's track record and all that until such time as they're express serious interest in you.

Query 'em all, let God sort it out.

Anonymous said...

"And don't you want someone else to help make your ms even better than it was before?"

That person is called an "editor."

Agents are business people. Editors are literary people.

Sometimes you'll get an agent with some time to fritter away (when they're done blogging for the day), who'll try to get cute with you and suggest manuscript revisions. You need to deal with these right away. That's not their job. if they can't get an editor to look at it yet, it means that they can't sell your manuscript, which means that YOU need to fix that manuscript until it resembles something that might be commercially viable to at least some percentage of publishers.

Wesley said...


I did not mean to imply that Marketing is the paramount but a factor. One of many factors.

My intent was to say the road to publishing is a deck of cards and you have to stack the deck in your favor and not expect someone else who is not you to do it.

Then again it is all about your aim, the term is Best Seller, Bill O'Riely and Pamela Anderson make that list. If you like that company and be my guest.

Which may seem that I further the marketing angle, but I'm not that much of an optimist.

Anonymous said...

"...and Pamela Anderson make that [bestseller] list. If you like that company..."

Who doesn't?!

Pam Anderson's there's a gig! Oh, wait, she probably write it herself, right?

Leona Bushman said...

Wow... gone for a few days and BAM! I find it interesting how the beginning posts are much more positive in a general sense.

From all the reading I've done, I've seen two schools of thought regarding marketing. One is your publisher/agent responsible for all but signing your books and the other is the author responsible for selling the books.

My guess is that the truth may be somewhere in the middle and that it really is non-sense to believe that improving your craft doesn't help.

If you suck, it won't matter how you market, through amazon or through a publisher.

And... how about everyone start the path to helping each other to not only understand the business but be BETTER writers? It would probably help down-tone the negativity that is prevalent among newbie and not-so-newbie writers.

Presentation is important but so is content. The pretty package won't make it a best SELLER but the well written novel won't get far without some promotion.

Don't forget to bring pepsi and snacks next time you want to have a go-round gossip mongering about agents. As for the rest of us, we'll drink our drinks and continue to read the blogs of those who are kind enough to write them so us non-published types can catch a clue and see the diversity out there.

Thanks, Book Ends for everything.
Leona Bushman

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Anon 8:14 That person is called an "editor."
Agents are business people. Editors are literary people.
I know! Editors help you do it too! It's awesome, isn't it? ;)

I don't think an agent could do it as well as an editor could - but hey, an agent's job is to find a great manuscript and market it. Sometimes the great manuscript needs to be made even better to be marketed, and an agent can help show you where improvements could be made.

(And I'm not going to reply to any more anon posters, because this conversation's just going round in circles.)

For me, I'm just going to write my ms and query letter till they're the best I can make them; send out queries; and start writing the next ms for in case this one's rejected by everyone I query. If I do sell a book, I'll do my utmost with marketing, with everything I can do, to promote that book.

But if it never happens, it never happens. I still love writing. I'm not quitting my day job. (Technically, don't have a day job as my old one dissolved due to the recession, but that's a problem for another day.)

Anonymous said...

I'm guesssing that the polite (and brown-nosing) posts are mostly from the un's--unagented, uncontracted writers, while the not-so-polite, or at least dissenting, as the case may be, posts come from published authors who have been in the trenches with agents before, and recognize their place on the publishing food chain.

Anonymous said...

So, it's my fault that I revised four times over a 10-month period and in the end received a "not as passionate as I thought" email after weeks of silence where I wondered what you were doing with my manuscript.


Melinda Szymanik said...

Nah anon 8.41, I'm agented and published and polite

Anonymous said...


I did say, "...that the polite (and brown-nosing) posts are MOSTLY from the un's--unagented, uncontracted writers..."

Anonymous said...

Besides, everyone knows that the authors/bloggers who use their real names (with clickable links to their blogs/websites, no less), are merely santized versions of their real selves--they're here to advertise to the publishing industry, and that's all. So all we get from them are watered down nicities devoid of any real substance, transparaent ploys meant merely to to say, "Hey, click my link, I'm here, buy my stuff!"

Unknown said...

Hi Jessica, I've been online since 1996, and I think I can say that vitriol on the Internet is pretty much as inevitable as space debris. My first online writing club had a golden period of 3-4 years where teen writers like me found kindred for the first time. It was almost magical then, but without proper self-renewal and the rules and vigilance that online communities need, it succumbed to self-poisoning and in-fighting in the end.

I guess what I'm saying is that opening yourself up to the Internet does to some extent expose yourself to the anger and vitriol out there, especially as tools like Twitter get the word out faster and more furiously than before (small character counts, while neat, also invites sweeping generalisation). As agents' online profiles and blogs become more widely known, thanks to broadcasts and word-of-mouth, this is only going to go up.

I feel it's no use getting upset or angry. While I've always been pacifist, I recognise that it's just as much part of human nature to be antagonistic. These people exist, and they're going to exist. They thrive on war- it's why we _have_ wars.

It's just that in a small community, it's magnified, and feels more painful. In the SFF world, just in the last two years alone, we've seen huge internet fights erupting over SWFA and RaceFail, to name a few. And why they're painful is because we have stakes invested and we can't just walk away.

I can't say that I can see a solution to these, except that I don't think withdrawal is the best way forward, for us and for the industry as a whole. But you have a loyal community of supporters :) Maybe you can mobilise us to stamp out trolls, or enforce the rules.

Anonymous said...

Waaaaaaaaaa, they're saying stuff I don't agree!

Kim Lionetti said...

While I appreciate the clarification of my job description, I think I'll stick to the way I'm doing things. Thanks. I think you'll be hard pressed to find a literary agent that isn't a "literary type." If our only job was to market, then we'd be selling cars or houses or vacuum cleaners.

A lot of agents (like all of us at BookEnds) were formerly editors at major publishing houses. Therefore, we have experience working with authors to hone their manuscript. But I don't think an agent has to have an editorial background to have a great eye for improving a project.

Some authors are looking for an agent that's very hands-on, like Jessica and I. Others just want an agent that will submit their work. You should enter into the relationship that you feel is right for your career.

Anonymous said...

"I think you'll be hard pressed to find a literary agent that isn't a "literary type."

Perhaps I oversimplified things a bit.

Of course agents have an interest in literature. However, my main point is that agents should be first and foremost skilled businesspeople, and that's why you want them, not for their editing skills (although, should they happen to have the latter, it's a nice bonus, but it's not the reason you hire them).

Minions, I have spoken.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Nope anon - I just happen to agree with Jessica. I get lonely writing - its nice to join in the conversation sometimes even if i don't have much to say. Thanks for making me feel welcome.

Anonymous said...

"...i don't have much to say."

That about sums it up.

Jan Eriksson-Persson said...

Jessica, thank you for this post. You're right. And I hope you do move on.

The snarkers are going to carry on; it's all they know how to do. And they're everywhere, on every kind of forum, whether it's current events, music, weather or pudding cups. I'm a relative newcomer to the world of online community -- blogs and forums and such -- and I'm astonished at how just plain mean people can be. I wonder if the anonymity of the medium gives safety for venomous posts. Anyway...

I have come to count on this blog and others like it at the end of my day, as a means to help me learn the in's and out's of the publishing business and how to be a better writer. I like the community. There are good people here whom I assume to not be just a bunch of polite brown-nosers. You write good stuff and it's helpful. But I'm definitely ready to move on to other topics so cheers, hip hip for you!

Thanks so much!

jdsanc said...

Yes. Negativity spreads faster than a Santa Barbara wildfire. But I want to add, it is not reflective of the majority of writers I have met. In fact, except for two or three, everyone has spoken of agents in, at the very least, professional terms. Agents are holding the reins, they are in control, sometimes seen as a wall that must be broken through to move on. It's easier to blame them for our lack of success instead of our own writing. But, big BUT, when the blame gets displaced, the writing doesn't improve.

Kimber Li said...

Whoa, good morning, my empathy for agents just skyrocketed!

Anonymous said...

Right on and well said, Jessica! Thank you for the reminder of how much we need each other to succeed.

Have a stellar weekend!

Anonymous said...

Writers are frustrated and angry because agents and editors seem to hold all the cards. We can't make or change the "rules," we have to live by a people held hostage in a country under occupation.

Anonymous said...

But previous Anonymous, when you say that the agents *seem* to hold all the cards, you're right. They only seem to, they don't "make the rules" any more than the writers do.

What "rules" there are are made by the market, and ultimately the public.

The public is buying fewer books. The public's desire for entertainment is coupled with the fact that solvent people, even those with the money to frequently buy new books, have much less available time to read a book.

And unfortunately, most members of the reading public know what they like, and want more of the same.

That's why it's hard to sell books. Agents can't change that. Most of them would if they could, I'm sure.

Why shouldn't any agent want to sell as many titles as possible? They'd be accepting every single one that came across their desk, if they honestly thought every one would sell.

Robena Grant said...

Jessica said: If we start snipping and sniping at each other we’re only making our own lives and the publishing process harder than it needs to be. It’s tough out there. Publishers are backing off on buying new books and published authors are being let go...

Well said, and thanks for all you do, you are appreciated.

DeBerry and Grant said...

Amen!! We LOVE our agent. We still LOVE our former agent. It's a rough job, and somebody has to do it. We do not want to do what you have to do and we could not do what we do w/o you!!
DeBerry & Grant

Anonymous said...

Agent mak-a-me money! Agent goooood!

David Alton Dodd said...

Here's something for you to consider, Jessica.

I'm going to have to query an agent soon, so I've been latching onto websites like this one, agents that blog, in order to minimize my learning curve. Most of the agent weblogs I follow are not written by agents that I would query; mostly because of their genre preference, and occasionally because I don't think we would get along very well. I preface these points because I can honestly say that I'm attempting to make a fair statement concerning the agent-writer relationship, and that I have no poker in the fire, so to speak.

I don't look forward to the process of finding an agent, I loathe it. Not because I don't like agents, most of you seem to be a swell bunch of people, but more because the process is humiliating for the writer. The humiliation isn't because of rejection, at least for me; I've been writing freelance for over a year now - shorts for magazines - and the rejections don't bather me at all. Twenty years ago, I wrote for a newspaper, I had plenty of articles rejected. Rejection is a part of this process.

The humiliation comes from the attitude of some of the agents concerning the query process. Understand that the writer probably has a day job. He or she wants to make their living writing, not stocking shelves at Walmart. The agent, ostensibly, is already doing what they love for a living. Unless the writer decides to write articles about dog food or go-cart racing or twenty ways to improve your love life or some other nonsense, they are going to have to stay at Walmart until the get an agent's attention.

Some agent blogs actually note their weekly statistics. For example, 157 query's received, 1 partial requested, 328 query's in the slush pile. Most agents that share their statistics have well under 1% of requests from the query. So, right away, writers seeking agents are at a huge disadvantage.

Next, we have queryfail, writerfail, and lots of snarkyness from many of the agents, claiming that all the while they are over-worked and under-appreciated. While some of the criticism is helpful, much of it comes off negatively. It came as no surprise that agentfail brought so many comments from writers that were negative, imagine how frustrated they are!

And, to cap it off, many agents have decided that they need not answer the query. They can't be bothered to reply to a query, perhaps they are too busy bashing writers. This is totally unacceptable to me, and unprofessional. I won't query an agent that has a "no reply means I'm not interested" policy, it's a ridiculous way to do business.

I'm not lumping you in to any of this, just pointing out what I've been reading over the last six months.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Gringo--that's it in a nutshell. Many agents seem to take a perverse delight in telling hopefuls how they're so inundated w/ queires. But oftenyou don't know about their "no-response" policy until onth later get NO response! Worse, when they do request your ms., they're just too damn busy to read it cuz their client list is so full.
But still they keep your hopes up and promise to read it "this week" as the months go by...

Meanwhile, they continue to accept submissions, attend conferences, teach classes and workshops, all the while knowing that 99.9% chance of wannabe writers don't have a chance in hell of getting an agent or getting published...
a tad one-sided?

Aimlesswriter said...

I love your blog. Please! Never stop.
I think agent blogs are a blessing. Tell me what to do and what not to do. I'll take all the advice you got.
My father's best advice: Keep your ears open and your mouth shut!
I think he thought I talked to much :) but good advice over all. Especially when someone is trying to help. Agents want books that sell, we want to sell our books so we should listen to the people who sell them. Simple.

Weronika Janczuk said...


Thank you, Jessica.

Caroline said...

Very good post. I think the problem is that positive, balanced people are often writing and trying to improve rather than constantly posting nasty things on internet. Or maybe we are even living our lives :)

Because of this, agents may get a warped picture of what most writers are really like.

Most of us appreciate that agents are on our side. So - as someone who is often a blog "lurker" - I just wanted to say thanks for your blog.

S.D. said...

(1) Maybe you should disable anonymous posters...

(2) Hear! Hear!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Gringo and May 10 12:44 Anonymous, the agents only put all of that effort into blogging and holding workshops at conferences and, heck, reading queries at all in order to taunt writers. It all makes sense now!

Seriously, if it causes you that much emotional harm to be involved in the process of trying to get published, maybe you should choose another path for your life.

David Alton Dodd said...

Dear Anonymous 10:39 PM May 13:

Why are you anonymous at all? I'm certainly not, nor am I some emotional invalid, nor would I hide from my comments like you are doing. My comments are meant to be constructive. Yours seem to be meant to be destructive.

I am published. So far, I have managed without an agent, but I'll need one soon. I sincerely hope that you aren't an agent, because you seem to share the exact attitude from some that I've read, and I really don't want any part of that.

If you are an agent, I beg you to reveal yourself, I'd hate to waste a query letter on someone like you.