Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Agents and Editors are People

I know, pretty provocative title. (and not because the correct word is "persons", not "people".) The provocative idea is that agents and editors are mere human beings. How scandalous of me to suggest this.

Sure, I'm being silly to make a point, but I do assert that many writers act as if agents and editors are gods.

Before embarking on this trail toward publication, I was in a fairly high level position in business. The idea that there was anyone I couldn't approach, or that I was too junior to talk to, or any such notion, had been dispelled from my arguably once timid and cautious personality, many years back.

So, imagine my surprise when I started writing, got ready to submit, and found out there was all this mystique around these agent and editor creatures. All this strange protocol about how to contact these beings, how they'll snap and turn on you, how you'll be put on a "never publish ever list" if you make one false step. Some people will insist that editors and agents have special rulers to measure margins and won't read submissions unless you choose the magic font. You can't ask them questions, you must not speak unless spoken to, you must not e-mail unless e-mailed and invited to e-mail back, you can't make eye contact in the halls at conferences, you must bow down deeply whenever in their presence, you must send a SASE with every small note you write them.

Now, some of this is clearly joking... But except for the bowing down one, I've heard most of these on the loops or in workshops.

I've broken all of these so-called rules by now. In fact, the very first piece of writing I submitted (a requested partial manuscript to an editor at a major publisher) I did not include a SASE. GASP! Now, I do know that including such a thing is standard procedure in this industry... but at that time, I didn't believe it. You mean, considering my work isn't worth fifty cents to this major corporation/publishing house??? You've got to be kidding me??? I refused to send one. The editor had asked me to send my work, after all. (I didn't really refuse... I just didn't think it applied to requested submissions.)

On being assured, by people I knew not to be idiots, that the SASE myth (I had assumed) was true, I started to panic that all the other myths were true, too. But my submission did get returned to me (rejected, but obviously read given the specific comments in the rejection letter) on the publishing house's dime for postage. Okay, dollar--the sent my submission back, too. But while editors (in my experience) will respond without a SASE the same is not necessarily true with agents. (Although many respond via e-mail now, making the SASE obsolete.) This seems a bit crazy to me... since from all I can see, the real money in publishing is in agenting... Sure, to make money as an agent, you have to pick the right authors, and be good at your job, and have a little luck, and it can take years of eating expenses and not making money before you do well... But I'm sure, proportionately, there are a lot more agents with big incomes than either authors or editors... but I digress, again.

And I suppose this gets me around to, (finally, I'm sure you're all saying), what sparked this post. The lovely and talented Lauren Baratz-Logsted made a very interesting post to a forum in an on-line writers communitiy we both belong to about agents and authors and respect (among other things). She was asserting that many agents don't respect authors and how many authors deify their agents to the point where they don't question the agent's choices about their careers.

Some of what she said (and what I've rambled on about, above) got me thinking about agents who blog. Now, I LOVE that so many agents blog. It's a fabulous way for newbies to learn about the industry and for writers who are agent hunting to learn a bit about the working practices/personalities/likes and dislikes of those agents who do blog. But I'm wondering if some of these blogs (the belated Miss Snark in particular) don't help to perpetuate the agent as god myth. I think so many writers end up living in fear that they'll do something worthy of being shot by a clue-gun or write something that will score high on a crap-o-meter that they become paralyzed with fear.

Sad thing, I suppose, is that there are a lot of crazy people out there who've written a book or who want to.

It's possible the industry has built up this mysterious wall around agents and editors to deter the crazies. It behooves the rest of us to remember we aren't crazy.

If you know you aren't crazy, if you know you've written a great book, then don't worry about all the myths. Don't think of agents and editors as gods. Just submit. If you're at a conference, introduce yourself. Just don't be crazy. :-)


Molly O'Keefe said...

How can I tell if I'm one of the crazy ones? Is there a test somewhere? I think I might be a little coo -coo.

You know perspective is the first thing that gets thrown out the window as soon as we step out of the vacuum. And considering the number of stories we've heard lately about HUGE agents making not so smart decisions I think everyone needs a bit more perspective regarding editors and agents.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to have perspective when dealing with your book, but perhaps that's part of becoming a professional writer.
Learning to seperate a little from our work.
Hard, but great blog Maureen. No more putting editors and agents on a scary pedestal..

Maureen McGowan said...

My post actually ended up kind of incoherent. Oh well... but it was based on loop discussion. Someone was saying their agent often cries when she gets rejections on her client's work and we should remember (when they're rejecting us) that they often get way more rejections than we do, because they're submitting more manuscripts and proposals than we are...

They are people. They have feelings. They make mistakes. And their opinions may be educated/professional opinions, but they're still opinions.

Anonymous said...

Wow that is an agent seriously invested in her author's books..
I don't cry when I get rejected.. but do I want my agent to?

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