I’ve started to become disenchanted with the idea of getting an agent. Don’t get me wrong, I still want one at least for my first manuscript to help me learn more of the ins and outs. But I’ve been observing agents still picking up more of what’s out there already, more of the abuse-as-romance and fanfics and fanfics of fanfics. I know a few authors who’ve gotten agents this past year, and even they admit their manuscripts are similar to the stuff already published. In fact, this is a large part of why they think agents have taken them. They’re in “safe” territory that’s been tested and proven successful for a while, and publishers seem less willing to be the first to move onward, even as readers are getting bored (just read Amazon reviews and you’ll find so many that say “Not another story like X,” and you don’t have to look hard to find them).
Where does an empowering novel about a young woman who gets herself out of an abusive situation who them goes on to take charge and save a civilization come on? Even though she’s a character it’s easy to fantasize about being and she has her own romance (which is not central to the story), she’s not waiting to be rescued. I refuse to rewrite her into the “desirable” helpless maiden to appease publishers.
I also admit that the contempt I’m seeing by a lot of agents on Twitter who are panning self-published writers is grating on me. I agree that many self-pubbed books lack much in the way of editing. So do 50 Shades and Twilight, if you want to be perfectly honest here, and 50 Shades doesn’t seem to have had any editing at all. So I don’t think this can be used as a valid criticism.
These particular agents are also using the promoting the power agents and publishers can have, though I’ve gotten them to admit that only some authors will receive any promotion. I know quite a few published authors, including award-winners and best-selling authors, who haven’t had a lick of assistance in promoting their work. I removed an agent from my to-query list a few days ago for her refusal to directly answer a question on how publishers decide which books will receive publisher-paid promotion (saying agents want publishers to promote all the agent’s represented books and that no author complains of too much promotion aren’t answers to the question). If an agent is going to claim that the one right way to get published is through an agent and that part of the reason is the promotion, then writers deserve to know more information instead of non-answers.
I get the sense that some agents, not all, just some, want to control the industry a bit. I understand that agents’ jobs rely on this, but so do the futures of the writers. I am not comfortable with agents who assert that there is only one correct way to publication, and that is through those with a financial incentive. Personally I still want to go this route, but I am uncomfortable with panning another perfectly valid route other authors have chosen to take, so many as their first choice. Agents should support whichever route a writer wants to take. I say this as someone who actively encourages people to learn how to do my day job knowing it may result in me losing sales, and in fact I teach people how to do my job – for free. This is a positive reflection on my business and results in good word-of-mouth that brings in other clients. Slamming on self-publishing, which for me is the equivalent of people learning to make for themselves the things I make, is a clear indication that the ONLY correct way is the one that puts money into agent pockets.
Sure, there are some stellar agents out there who are open, honest, supportive, directly answer questions, and who make themselves accessible to writers, even those they don’t rep (*finger crossed* my favorite agent makes a request because she is exactly like that), but the squeakiest, at least that I am personally seeing (and I fully acknowledge that I may just be seeing the “wrong” agents’ posts who may be in the extreme minority), are reflecting on the industry as a whole.
I know a handful of writers who’ve decided to go the self-pub route after seeing the disrespect some of the loudest agents have toward those who self-publish. I’m feeling more solidarity with self-pubbed authors, and have started giving serious consideration to that route, not because of rejections, but because I am pretty upset that their route is seen as less than valid and as the wrong way. Helping this feeling is that I’ve had requests for my book from complete strangers, and the only answer I’ve been able to give about availability is that I’m still querying, and if I got an agent tomorrow, a very quick on-shelves date wouldn’t be for at least two years. Even well-known writers and celebrities see long delays of a year or two.
It really blows knowing that the people who are interested in an anti-abuse book NOW may have moved on later. The iron is hot NOW, the time to strike is NOW, NOT two years or more in the future in the middle of 50 Shades movie fever. The time to publish and promote is NOW, start building up a dedicated fan base NOW.
An agent could do nothing about getting my book out there this year. But a good agent and publisher could help this IF they chose my book as one to promote. An agent could set me up with a great editor. A publisher could get my book in stores whereas I’d have to foot the bill on my own.
All in all, I don’t know at this point what I want to do. I’ve got a few agents I’d love to work with if they would like to represent and we seem compatible after personal communication, even though it will take a while and there’s still no guarantee of a publisher, but I also really dislike the disrespect toward self-publishers and I really dislike the idea of trying to release during 50 Shades Mania.
I’m leaning against sending out more queries at this point. I’ve already queried half the agents on my short “I Would Love to Work With” list, recently enough that it’s too soon for a reply. All I’ve really decided beyond that is, if I don’t have an agent or a good prospect by the end of the writers’ conference I’m attending at the end of July, I will lean heavier toward self-publishing, and in the meantime, researching promotional methods. Looking at some people I know who’ve been published through agents, it doesn’t seem like they’ve reaped much benefit, and a couple are even constrained in how they can promote themselves, to some great detriment.
In some ways it feels like a coin toss. Perhaps it’s a new form of luck of the draw. I don’t know. But I’m not going to close any doors.