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Thread: Problems getting an agent and problem agents

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  1. #3
    Possibly A Mermaid Queen Absolute Sage lizmonster's Avatar
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    Jul 2012
    FWIW, I don't think any (reasonable) agent would blacklist you for asking questions, or for being frustrated.

    I've had some...interesting experiences in publishing, about which I'll say three things:

    1) I worked in software for 27 years before I published. Most of the people I dealt with were lovely. I don't believe there are a higher percentage of bad actors in publishing than there are in the software business.

    2) It is a bit of a black box, in part because publishing is a small business, in part because there's something of a power differential, and in part because an awful lot of the agent/author relationship is personality-based, and an agent who doesn't work for Author X might work beautifully for Author Y.

    3) What happened to Foz Meadows was inexcusable and awful, but not the only shocking example I've heard. I'm not sure it's productive to use that as a frame for discussing the publishing business and what agents do/don't offer to authors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woollybear View Post
    When agents don't get back to us on queries or worse, don't get back to us on requests, we're expected to understand that they are 'busy people.' They read queries 'in their spare time' and they aren't paid to do so. They get thousands of queries each year for one signing. We need to understand. They're paid to represent their clients, not wade through slush.*
    It is actually important to understand this, but it's also not always them being busy.

    At a Readercon panel some years ago, someone (think it was Ellen Datlow, but I could be misremembering) talked about why she stopped providing feedback with rejections. In essence, she got too many people who'd take her elaborate R, make the changes she listed, and send the story back, saying "I fixed all these things - you're buying it now, right??" She simply did not have the time - or the heart - to deal with such people.

    This doesn't even get into the area of stalking and threats.

    As for the busy thing? Reading for clients, negotiating with publishers, dealing with other rights/other issues/problems/schedules/acts of God actually takes a huge amount of time. Agents get behind on queries not because they're ignoring them, but because sometimes they can't get to them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woollybear View Post
    What a messy business to succeed in.
    It is.

    It's also worth noting that every book is a reset (at least until you reach, say, John Scalzi stature). Success with one book says almost nothing about success with the next. It's piecework, and it can all go south at any point.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woollybear View Post
    I believe that many of us standing outside and knocking on the windows simply want to understand. At times like this it feels there's a sighting--of the dark underbelly of the beast. We start to wonder what else we wish we knew. I had a few (nothing-to-do-with-BLM-or-diversity) interactions with a couple agents at Red Sofa about two years ago. Both experiences left me feeling disoriented and devalued. I recognized at the time that I couldn't 'give them that power over me' and kept chugging along. I tell you though, seeing this blog post of events happening in 2017 put those 2018 experiences into a new context.
    It seems that particular agency was taking its cues from the person at the top. I never dealt with them, so I can't say. The agents I've dealt with have been more siloed; I've never had interactions with anyone else at the agency. And two data points wouldn't mean much anyway.

    The big issue with trying to get published is supply and demand. There will always be more writers than publishing deals, by a factor of thousands. Good books get missed - and yes, bad actors end up in positions of power, and it's hard to unseat them. What struck me about the blog post in question is how helpless the author felt. Could she have done something differently? Not without being able to talk to someone who had the full, 360-degree scoop. She was trapped in a bad situation by people acting in bad faith.

    That happens. Happened to me in software, too, which isn't an excuse - it's just saying publishing isn't worse than any other profit-based business.

    I think all that can really be done is research. AW is an amazing resource. So is Victoria Strauss. I still think the best resource is your own instincts: if an agent makes you feel bad when you talk to them, run away, no matter how convinced you are they're your only shot at all this. (There's never only one shot, not unless you very publicly act like an asshat.) It may just be a case of them not gelling with you personally. It may be a case of you subliminally noticing something "off."

    And if you don't notice anything and end up in a bad relationship? Still not your fault. But you should still run for the hills.

    I know that doesn't clear up the black box problem. I've got three books in print, and it still feels opaque to me. What I've learned is which questions to ask, and that I'm actually pretty good at knowing when something is wrong, even though I'm new to this business.
    Last edited by lizmonster; 06-03-2020 at 02:13 AM. Reason: no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
    April goals:

    It's July now. Never mind.

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