My Awe of Literary Agents

I’m 95% convinced that literary agents aren’t human. They are some sort of genetic hybrid combining the telepathic abilities of mind readers and the inhuman strength and perseverance of superheroes. What makes me draw such fantastic conclusions, you may ask?

I’m glad you did, because I have answers.*

In case you’re unfamiliar, a literary agent is basically a member of society that holds the key to the gateway that is traditional publishing. They guide the complicated path of book deals, keep writers (both debut and experienced) from drowning amidst the dangerous waters of publishing houses, contracts and foreign rights, and make it possible to start the quest that results in finding the Holy Grail (that Holy Grail being your published novel in your hand).

By this description, I’d actually argue that they are more like wizards.

You can get by without a literary agent, through routes like self-publishing, but I think the benefits of acquiring one outweigh the work–and inevitable rejection–that is required before you connect with one. Personally, I am absolutely stoked for the day that I get to announce, through a lengthy and probably incoherent (due to excitement), GIF-filled blog post, that I’ve found representation. That’s almost the bigger dream than getting published, at this stage, because I know if I can find that agent, then my dream of being read will follow, in time.

You see, a literary agent is so much more than a knowledgeable resource of the publishing world (as if you need more than that; that’s worth it in itself). They are the people who go to bat for your work. They are the ones who always stand in your corner. They are the ones who see your potential, even when your draft isn’t 100% there yet. They are the ones that help your draft get to that 100% (or even surpassing your expectations of where you thought you could go), putting in hours of work, pointing you to numerous resources and constantly being your rock throughout the entire writing process. An agent is a stable foundation where you can build your entire career.

Obviously, I think you can see why I cannot wait to sign with one.

Less obviously, you might still be unsure on how these people aren’t actually human, but are instead alien-inspired super robots.

They obviously are superheroes. Everything I mentioned that they are able to do (and that’s just what I’ve seen or heard talk about doing; I don’t even fully realize the full potential of their power), they do for every one of their clients. Every author they represent, they represent 110% of the way, with 110% dedication. They must somehow have the ability to warp time or have inherited Herminoe’s time turner.

They are obviously telepathic mind-geniuses because they have to be able to predict what the market is going to enjoy years before the books that are going to be in said market are published. If I signed with an agent tomorrow and somehow my book got picked up by a publisher in a warped-speed-like process, my book still wouldn’t be getting published until 2018-2019, maybe even 2020. Yet the agent is the one be taking a risk by believing that readers are going to enjoy my work, even if it is years from now. And they are going to put all that work into my story, despite that risk.

So I think I case rest my case. Literary agents are superhuman.

But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether literary agents are simply extraordinary people with amazing talents or super biotic organisms that blend in with the human species. Regardless of either reality (I’m rooting for option B, personally, but I’m just weird that way), one truth remains:

They deserve better.

I follow a lot of agents on Twitter, which is the closest thing I have to interacting with them. Most of whom I follow represent the genres I write (SF/F), but I also follow some that I know I’ll never query, but love to learn from, regardless. And I’ve discovered, especially recently, that despite all the amazing things literary agents do for us writers and authors, that we always don’t show the gratitude and appreciation that we should.

Usually, it’s when unagented writers get rejected.

I won’t sugercoat it. The query process is difficult. Battling in the query trenches is grueling. I’m made my fair share of mistakes and am still learning how to navigate those waters. And yes, it sucks to get rejected. It sucks to be told your story isn’t ready yet, it won’t sell, it’s overdone, it isn’t right for the market, they’ve already received nine queries about a Shakespearean-retelling featuring puppies, so yours just isn’t going to cut it. Yeah, that’s a bummer. But that’s reality, also.

And it’s no excuse to be an ass in return and publicly humiliate or shame an agent. Or respond to their email with complaints and name calling. Or personally attacking their person, personality or appearance, i.e., things that have nothing to do with the quality of your novel. Or bitching to all of  your followers about how horrible these agents are and why you’re going to go self-publish.

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a handful of writers who have done just that: called out the agents who they queried or pitched to at conferences and personally attack them. I won’t link any examples. They don’t deserve the attention.

Because that type of response and treatment is ridiculous.

Aside from the fact that it’s a shitty thing to do to anyone and reflects poorly on you as a person, to respond so immaturely, it blows my mind that anyone could feel anything but gratitude and awe toward a literary agent and what they do. Their career, the sole purpose of their work, is to find writers and stories they connect with and help get those stories told. They take a risk with every author they sign. And it is a job. It is a business and literary agents are people, too (despite probably enhanced with extra awesomeness). They need to get paid so they can live, just like anyone else.

They have a right to be picky. They have a right to turn down stories that don’t make them jump up and down with excitement, because they are going to spend a lot of time working on that story. Not only that, but do you realize how knowledgeable these professionals are? Sure, I may love my trilogy that hits every fantasy trope in the book, with one cruel twist, but I’m not following the trends in the market (even though I should). I have no idea how I would figure out whether my book would be successful or not. Agents do. That’s their job.

You’re willing to trust the agents you query to represent your work. Why can’t you trust them to know when your work isn’t ready?

Though I crave to find my partner in crime, I am so thankful I have been rejected the past two querying rounds I’ve done, because that book wasn’t ready. And even though I wished I could understand specifically why, so I could improve–as most rejections were form letters or silent rejections–I understood why the rejections came in those forms. Because on top of everything agents do for their existing clients, they also have to make time to find new ones. That means reading queries and pitches and synopsis’ and pages; attending conferences and pitch slams; requesting partials and fulls. And, of course, all of this is on top of actually, you know, having lives.

So an agent wants to reject my work through a form email because they don’t have time to personally respond to every one? Yeah, that bloody makes sense, because their lives are busy and I should respect that. Not respond by mocking them or calling them out or writing passive aggressive (or downright aggressive and vindictive) blog posts talking about those rejections.

Who am I to talk about this subject? I’m a passionate and stubborn writer, unpublished but working to change that. Yeah, I don’t have an agent myself and a lot of what I’m responding to is based on what I’ve observed and witnessed, mostly through social media. I may be a nobody, in some regards, but I realize this: the job of a literary agent isn’t easy, it isn’t for the weak and it isn’t without risks. A lot of risks. And while I know there are so many of us writers out there who appreciate and are grateful to these agents for doing what they do and being the person that make our dreams come true, there are plenty more who hide behind keyboards and treat such an amazing and talented profession with petty disrespect and harsh reflections. And I just think there should be a bit more positivity surrounding these agents, instead of this whirlpool of negative thoughts and personal attacks. That’s all this post was meant to do: shed a bit of positivity and gratitude back to the professionals who help the writers that I love, the writers I haven’t yet discovered, the writers still dreaming and one day, hopefully myself, tell the stories we were born to tell.

Thank you.

Cheers.

* And by answers I meant observations, because all of my information is based off of creepy stalking harmless observation, as I’m not lucky enough to be signed to an agent. Yet.

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About Nicole Evans

Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. She has five completed manuscripts: a trilogy about destined heroes that fail anyway, a science fiction standalone that pits the natural desire to love against the natural instinct to kill during the extinction of the human race and a new series about a writer who can't get published and gets the chance to live a life that all writers dream. She also has two scripts done. Currently, she is about to start writing the second of a nine book series while planning two more. (If you can tell, she really likes this whole writing thing.) Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works part-time as a supervisor in a library at the University of Kansas. View all posts by Nicole Evans

7 responses to “My Awe of Literary Agents

  • Akaluv

    Hmm, I’ve seen one of the posts you are referring to attacking agents. It’s sad people feel they neeed to attack agents who rejected them.

  • Jessica M

    Well spoken dear. It definitely seems like a very hard job to do… having that responsibility of crushing someone’s hopes, yet also being the one to redefine someone’s life and fulfill their aspirations. Until a writer has a writer/agent relationship, I think it’s hard to understand that the agent is doing their best (well, most of them, anyway. We always hear the horror stories of the ones who never respond after taking on a client).

    The way I see it is that it’s a dog-eat-dog world; agents need to bring home a paycheck, too, just like anyone else. A egomaniac writer can’t expect an agent to fall down and begin to worship them from a single query — and I highly doubt the agent is getting off on rejecting a query like some sadist. But they sure are made out to be that way sometimes!

    But anyway, great post!

    • Nicole Evans

      Thank you, my friend! I know, I didn’t even get into the fact that a literary agent signs up for the job knowing that a lot of their job is weeding out those projects that are ready and those that are not, which has to be emotionally draining. I think there just needs to be mutual respect between the writers and the agents, as publishing is a hard industry to crack and we need all the support we can get!

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