A Literary Agent Says Agents Have the Tough Job, Not Writers.

Status
Not open for further replies.

nighttimer

No Gods No Masters
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 4, 2006
Messages
11,629
Reaction score
4,103
Location
CBUS
I don't know if this is the right forum for this post, but it feels like it is, so I'll let the Moderators decide if it's not.

A literary agent named Savannah Brooks launched a Twitter thread you should read first and then decide for yourself:
Brooks makes it pretty clear from her perspective that it is literary agents who have the really tough job while writers can afford to be amateurish dreamers.

Y'all, being an agent is a profession, not a series of value judgements. We are salespeople. We need to sell because this is how we pay rent and feed our families. That is a difference between being a writer and an agent, and I know writers hate hearing this, but it's true writing a book is a passion, and whether or not that books succeeds is enormously personal, no doubt, but given that no one contracted you to write the book ahead of time, the success of that book does hurt your ability to buy groceries. That is not the case for agents

We only make money when we sell books, so we need to pick up books we feel capable of selling. That's the judgement: Can I sell it? Y'all are assigning so many cruel, misguided, point-blank wrong intentions behind what is, for us, a business decision—not because we're callous and greedy, but because that's what it needs to be. We decided this would be a job—a way to make money—the same way people decide to be accountants and doctors and plumbers. Being an agent is not a passion; no one can afford that.

By pretending we're all making choices because we think writers are scum (which, y'all, I could be making $120k/year using my marketing degree right now, let's be real, of course we're obsessed with authors), you're creating demons out of regular people, and no one benefits.

Speaking for myself I have this weird belief the relationship between a writer and an agent is mutually beneficial if it all works out. Are there more writers than agents in the world? To be certain, writers are still going to write regardless even if every literary agent in the world gets body snatched by a UFO tonight.

:transport:

What good is a literary agent without someone to write literature? It's like saying a car dealer is more important than the automaker who builds the car.

Perhaps if Miss Brooks finds her current profession so chock full of pesky ingrates who don't appreciate how hard her literary agent gig is she should pivot and make her parents proud by cashing in and using that marketing degree they probably helped pay for.
 

onesecondglance

pretending to be awake
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 2, 2012
Messages
5,359
Reaction score
1,664
Location
Berkshire, UK
Website
soundcloud.com
To expand upon my previous post... if we take at face value Brooks' premise* that the agent is an interface between a business relationship (publisher to agent) and a "passion" relationship (agent to author), then it is implicit in that premise that said agent will have to deal with the emotional impact of business decisions.

I think there are plenty of authors out there who might take issue with the implication of the premise, that all creative work is done for the passion and nothing else, but even within her own logic she's failed to understand the nature of her role.

If her point was simply don't send me pissy emails when I reject your stuff, that's a well-beaten horse, and her phrasing has left herself open to a lot more criticism than perhaps she intended. Which, for someone who deals with the written word day-in, is not a great endorsement either.
 

Brigid Barry

Under Consideration and Revising
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
9,040
Reaction score
14,556
Location
Maine, USA
I want to say that I get where she's coming from, 100%. Part of the problem is the industry, that a lit agent won't be able to pay rent or buy food of they don't sell something, and what they're selling isn't necessary* like a doctor or a plumber. But that's an industry issue, and one that she was aware of when she woke up one day and decided to eschew a six figure career to become a literary agent.

This kind of "you people are so mean to me, woe is me!" stuff is incredibly unprofessional. Authors are expected to suffer the slings and arrows silently and without blowing our social media up over it, I think agents can be held to the same standard. Frankly, given how the industry ended up changing (no more personalized feedback) over social media (agents getting dragged), this kind of behavior is a little shocking.

ETA: *lit agents provide an invaluable service to authors, reviewing contracts and advocating for their best interests within the industry, but they're a convenience for a publisher so they don't have to have someone there slogging through a million query letters a year. Because the publisher is the one who pays them, it's a benefit to the author to have someone do this stuff when it would cost them money to hire an attorney to review contracts.
 

Brigid Barry

Under Consideration and Revising
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
9,040
Reaction score
14,556
Location
Maine, USA
Oh, the irony is hurting me. Bolding mine.
This is no call for censorship—live your life, you know?—but I promise you'll be happier if you step away from this punitive interpretation of publishing decisions. Twitter is not real life; this is not where real book business happens and it's not where real publishing issues are solved.
 

Fi Webster

May 21-25 waxing crescent 🌒
Banned
Flounced
Kind Benefactor
Registered
Joined
Jul 7, 2022
Messages
3,708
Reaction score
5,393
Age
69
Location
Texas originally, now living in Maryland (DC area)
Website
www.ipernity.com
Not surprising, I suppose, that she's so condescending and emotionally tone-deaf, if she thinks "We decided this would be a job—a way to make money—the same way people decide to be accountants and doctors and plumbers. Being an agent is not a passion; no one can afford that." I don't know any agents, but I have close relatives who are plumbers and accountants, and I'm a doctor myself. All three of those professions are passions, for those I know who chose them. If being an agent does not have at least some passionate quality, I would think she's a lousy agent.
 

Sonsofthepharaohs

Still writing the ancient Egyptian tetralogy
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 17, 2010
Messages
5,297
Reaction score
2,754
Location
UK
From my own personal experience of my agent, this is not even close to how she views her profession. She loves books, she loves writers, and she loves her job. Yes, she's in it to make money, but with her skillset she could easily have made money doing a hundred other things. She chose to be an agent because it is her passion, and her passion is what makes her bloody good at it.

She offered me rep when I'd only written 3 chapters of my novel, and she stuck with me for 4 years until it was finished, offering me feedback on pages, letting me bounce ideas off her to shape it into something we thought would be more appealing to publishers. Unfortunately it didn't end up finding a home, so she made absolutely nothing back from that huge time investment. But she understands that sometimes you strike out, no matter how passionate you are about something. And if you're good at your job, you can roll with those punches and not resent the failures, or think they were a waste of your time. She never made me feel like that, anyway.
 

Mevrouw Bee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 27, 2022
Messages
1,722
Reaction score
1,587
Location
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
"Being an agent is not a passion; no one can afford that."

That doesn't even make sense. She's making it sound as if writers are privileged trust-fund babies who sit in cafes all day taking hissy fits because she rejects their queries. Most can't afford to make writing their passion either but still consider it a profession in which payment is deferred many years into the future. And many do write for a living already, just not books. Some have been self-published. Some cobble together freelance gigs copywriting, tech writing, screenwriting, ghostwriting, editing or in content management. Some have already been agented.

I mean, does she not read the bios at the end of the queries?
 

ChaseJxyz

Writes 🏳️‍⚧️🌕🐺 and 🏳️‍⚧️🌕🐺 accessories
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2020
Messages
4,524
Reaction score
6,203
Location
The Rottenest City on the Pacific Coast
Website
www.chasej.xyz
Ah, the old oppression olympics, where everyone tries to out-do each other and say they have it worse.

It's so hard being a book seller, you have no say when the next Stephen King book is coming out! And you can't tell the printer to make more of the Jenette McCurdy memoir that everyone is clambering for, you're LOSING SALES and there's NOTHING you can do about it!

It's so hard being a printing press, you have no say when the next Stephen King book is coming out! And you can't control which books will sell well and which will suck! You get told what to print and that's it!

It's so had being Hoku Book! The academic publishers keep creating new schemes to eliminate the secondary market! And so many kids aren't going to college anymore because of all those macroeconomic conditions!

It's so hard being an online retailer! All your customers are mad because your shipping prices are up and your packages are late, but that's because the USPS sucks because the president hates it for some reason! You can't make the mail carrier go any faster but also not crush packages by going so fast!

It's so hard being a library! Rakuten is shutting down Overdrive, now all your patrons have to learn a new service for checking out digital materials! And also people hate you and want to burn your books and give you less money, and also people keep OD'ing in the bathroom but the city/county/state doesn't want to put any money towards helping people with substance use disorders!

There are so many moving pieces in the book industry. There are so many people who do different things, and most of us get fucked over by Amazon at some point (RIP Book Depository)(RIP Amazon textbook rentals). But we all need each other. Agents need writers, publishers need agents, printers need publishers, stores need distributors, distributors need publishers, resellers need used books, college bookstores need resellers, it goes on and on.

But going on social media and saying "well, *I* have it harder than *you*!" doesn't accomplish anything. Well, it doesn't accomplish anything positive. It's good at damaging B2B relationships. I sure do have Stories about some CEOs that were horrible behind closed doors and people don't want to work with them anymore. But making a spectacle in front of everyone is ??? does your company not have a social media use policy. Do you not have a shred of Professionalism™️ in you. There's a reason why only one of my gay furry friends has their company listed in their Twitter profile, and that's because he created the brand's voice, which is "gay furry."

At the end of the day, we all live in a capitalist hell and every decision has to be a business one. It would be cool if every book ever was free and "in print" (whether it be an eBook or POD or whatever) and anyone in any market can get a hold of it...but that's not the world we live in. Even the poor people who work at Amazon deserve to be able to pay rent and feed their families. But posting on a Professional account is also a business decision, so you have to ensure your business communications don't start shit that can hurt you. Yes, we do not have crystal balls and can see perfectly into the future, but also saying inflammatory stuff doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that it'll piss people off.
 

Jean P. R. Dubois

The great dabbler
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 31, 2023
Messages
371
Reaction score
602
Website
www.acx.com
I'd say it s a mutually benefical partnership. Without writers they wouldnt have anything to sell. But I do not envy the position agents are in, presented with reams of pages and trying to find the diamonds in the rough knowing not all will be selected. I've directed shows before and the Auditioning process can be painful for that side too. There are some actors who are amazing, just not for that specific role and not getting the callback can be similarly frustrating when you know you are decent.
 

Jazz Club

It's not wrong, it's dialect
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 18, 2021
Messages
4,043
Reaction score
6,238
Location
Northern Ireland
Y'all are assigning so many cruel, misguided, point-blank wrong intentions behind what is, for us, a business decision.
I admit I don't really know what y'all means in this context. I assume it means the writers who get pissy and write back to the agent complaining about a rejection? I can see why that would be annoying for the agent. But plenty of writers take rejection, if not in stride, at least not as a personal attack.

Yeah, I think it's the word y'all I'm objecting to. But maybe she didn't mean it that way. It's not like I've never posted something that should've been worded better 🤣
 

Fuchsia Groan

Becoming a laptop-human hybrid
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 27, 2008
Messages
2,870
Reaction score
1,400
Location
The windswept northern wastes
It’s definitely a bad thread and a bad take, but I think it evolved out of a context of Twitter discourse that most people who are seeing the thread just now aren’t aware of. For several days before this agent’s tweet, I’d been seeing tweets about how agents are unconscionable gatekeepers, agents’ advice to querying writers is enforcing bad norms, MSWL isn’t useful because agents won’t always rep a ms. that has every item on their wishlist, etc. Basically, a lot of writers were saying that agents do indeed make value judgments on their manuscripts and that those judgments are unacceptable, which is why she drew a contrast between value judgments and market-based judgments.

I think the thread started off as a way to say, “Hey, publishers obviously cannot publish every submitted book, so agents have to make judgments of some kind. That is our job. It doesn’t mean we hate you. Everybody is just kinda guessing what will sell here. That’s the best we can do.” But somehow it turned into a rant that infantilizes authors as fuzzy-headed creators who aren’t mature enough to handle hard economics.

I can’t help but sympathize with agents in this conflict just a little. I spent years querying, but I also deal with a slush pile of sorts (a random cross-section of self-published books of wildly varying quality). Every one of those authors expects to see a long, positive write-up of their book in their local newspaper. I have to explain that this generally isn’t going to happen because of the sheer volume of submissions. Agents these days seem to deal with the slush volume by ghosting, which is obviously not great. But saying no over and over, and dealing with followups from those who refuse to accept the no, is not fun either, especially when it’s not the job you’re actually getting paid to do.
 

ChaseJxyz

Writes 🏳️‍⚧️🌕🐺 and 🏳️‍⚧️🌕🐺 accessories
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2020
Messages
4,524
Reaction score
6,203
Location
The Rottenest City on the Pacific Coast
Website
www.chasej.xyz
Agents these days seem to deal with the slush volume by ghosting, which is obviously not great. But saying no over and over, and dealing with followups from those who refuse to accept the no, is not fun either, especially when it’s not the job you’re actually getting paid to do.

So I get ghosting when it's an email or your own online form system...but for querymanager? I just checked and it's literally 2 clicks to send a form no. It's 1 extra click to decline a query AND ALSO not send an email to the author that you declined it. So for the agents who almost never respond to querymanager queries, why? That's the thing I don't get. You can even have it do template literals so you don't have to type in the person's name or title of the sub or anything.
 

Undercover

I got it covered
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Messages
10,432
Reaction score
2,054
Location
Not here, but there
She said agenting isn't a passion? I always thought it was. I'd want my agent to love my work and be passionate about it just as much as I am. Sounds like she's more worried about money, stating that she could make 120K a year rather than doing that.

And yes, writers make money from doing this. It can in fact be a professional job. It's disrespectful to writers for sure. Whether she didn't really mean it, it came across with every word she chose to tweet, as condescending towards the very people that provide her with money. If she doesn't see it as an equal partnership, she's not the agent for me. And I'm glad she came out about it. I'll make sure to cross her off my list.
 

Mevrouw Bee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 27, 2022
Messages
1,722
Reaction score
1,587
Location
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
So I get ghosting when it's an email or your own online form system...but for querymanager? I just checked and it's literally 2 clicks to send a form no. It's 1 extra click to decline a query AND ALSO not send an email to the author that you declined it. So for the agents who almost never respond to querymanager queries, why? That's the thing I don't get. You can even have it do template literals so you don't have to type in the person's name or title of the sub or anything.
At the same time she was having her meltdown, an editor tweeted asking whether agents would prefer a rejection email regardless of how long the book has been out on sub.

And every agent piped up with, "Yes! Even just a no! We need closure!"

I struck a couple of agents off my query list who had a less than 5% response rate on QueryTracker and no indication on their website how long one should wait before assuming their query had been rejected.

Many would do well to realize we are seeking business partners.
 

Brigid Barry

Under Consideration and Revising
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
9,040
Reaction score
14,556
Location
Maine, USA
I don't think the context of the thread made it any better. I only had Twitter for my writing so I had mostly writing tags. It was a cesspit, nothing like AW at all. I wasn't a social media pro by any means but if someone is hurting your feelings, going off isn't the way to go. Especially when you have a high(er) profile account. Twitter had some helpful bits back in the good old days, but it was still toxic even then.

As far as MSWL goes, I have found it to be particularly useless. Agent posted looking for a Cinderella retelling with an Ever After vibe. I got very exciting because guess what? I have that! One of the antagonists is partially modeled after Angelica Huston's character even. Got a reject within 12 hours. I didn't go on a rant about it, just added it to the list and moved on with my life.

My understanding is that agents like Query Manager because it gives them control over their inboxes. Responses are easier for the agent and it's harder for the author to respond. I think a rejection (even a form rejection) is just courtesy, and a timely rejection is more so. I hate CNR, but I hate getting form rejections months after I figured that the agent wasn't going to be asking for the full.

And on Query Tracker: a lot of the data is user input, so it may not be accurate. Recently (within the last year) QM has made it an option to enter your QT login so it's all entered automatically, which will make it more accurate over time if enough people do it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Mevrouw Bee

Mevrouw Bee

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 27, 2022
Messages
1,722
Reaction score
1,587
Location
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
I don't think the context of the thread made it any better. I only had Twitter for my writing so I had mostly writing tags. It was a cesspit, nothing like AW at all. I wasn't a social media pro by any means but if someone is hurting your feelings, going off isn't the way to go. Especially when you have a high(er) profile account. Twitter had some helpful bits back in the good old days, but it was still toxic even then.

As far as MSWL goes, I have found it to be particularly useless. Agent posted looking for a Cinderella retelling with an Ever After vibe. I got very exciting because guess what? I have that! One of the antagonists is partially modeled after Angelica Huston's character even. Got a reject within 12 hours. I didn't go on a rant about it, just added it to the list and moved on with my life.

My understanding is that agents like Query Manager because it gives them control over their inboxes. Responses are easier for the agent and it's harder for the author to respond. I think a rejection (even a form rejection) is just courtesy, and a timely rejection is more so. I hate CNR, but I hate getting form rejections months after I figured that the agent wasn't going to be asking for the full.

And on Query Tracker: a lot of the data is user input, so it may not be accurate. Recently (within the last year) QM has made it an option to enter your QT login so it's all entered automatically, which will make it more accurate over time if enough people do it.
I find MSWLs useless. All my full and partial requests had little to do with MSWLs...just the genre they repped. In fact, an agent requests a full a couple of months ago...and a couple of days later, updated her MSWL to say she DIDN'T want books about the exact thing my book is about. Still haven't gotten a rejection...
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Brigid Barry

Fuchsia Groan

Becoming a laptop-human hybrid
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 27, 2008
Messages
2,870
Reaction score
1,400
Location
The windswept northern wastes
I did a little more digging, and I think this current author-agent Twitter conflict may have started when an agent tweeted that she kept getting submissions of books that involved grief and she didn’t want them and didn’t think the market wanted them either:


Okay, so the agent stated a personal preference and implied it was an overall market preference, as agents sometimes do. Personally, I hope she’s wrong. I read and hear about tons of popular books that involve grief; it is a universal human experience. But at the same time, I do think it’s her right to state her preference, and I don’t find that inherently offensive. Writers with grief books can now cross her off their lists, because she clearly doesn’t know how to (or want to) sell them.

The agent who wrote the recent thread was obviously wrong to feel personally attacked by this larger writer discourse and to conclude that writers don’t care about the market. But at the same time, I think writers need to avoid taking agents’ preferences and pronouncements so seriously.

An agent is just one person trying to guess what will sell. They have direct experience with editors, which is great, but they’re still influenced by their own subjective biases. My first agent told me not to write in present tense because I couldn’t “pull it off.” I looked at the market and saw present tense was the norm in my category. My second agent sold my present-tense book.

So if an agent says, “No grief books for me,” that doesn’t make your book bad or your lived experience of grief invalid. If your book is published, you can probably count on getting Goodreads reviews that say much worse things, and that still doesn’t make your book bad!

Sorry, hope this isn’t too far OT. I just think that social media have given agents a lot of power, and some agents have used that power to grandstand, and now we’re seeing the backlash, and maybe it would be less stressful to take everything agents say as coming from one person, not Publishing. It doesn’t change the fact that agents are the gateway to Publishing and they ghost most queriers, a situation that is inherently unequal and stressful for writers. But agents are not a monolith.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.