On agents and prostitution

I spent the weekend planning my next assault on the world of publishing and the first step is finding a new agent.  Getting published without one is almost impossible as most publishers will not accept submissions directly from writers.  That’s because most writers are crap.  If this fails, there’s the eBook route but I want to try traditional print first.  So, the writer must walk the streets in fishnets, twirling a handbag, touting for business.  The agents are the pimps (or, to be more accurate, les Madames, as most of them are women).  They nurture their brood and get the business.  The brood does what it does best.

So, what do we expect of an agent?  I know from my experience of the Writer’s Worshop Festival of Writing that agents are committed to excellence and love books above all things.  This is true.  They have decades of experience and doctorates in Eng. Lit. from Oxbridge.  They know the business and get pissed with the right people.  They can spot a turkey from a hundred metres and a winner by its smell alone.   This is why I find it strange that my former agent read Flight Into Darkness, loved it, then pushed it to a number of prominent publishers.  They came back with (minor) suggestions on improving the plot and pace (which I carried out).  Surely, he should have spotted this earlier?  We all strive for 100% perfection; 99.9% is not enough in this game.  Agents have judgement, don’t they?  Rewrite carried out, the revised version was not even submitted to a publisher.  Boredom had set it.  Nuff said.

The Writer’s Workshop has a database of agents which complements the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and, with the agents’ websites, provides all the information needed.  The trouble is that there are over fifty of them and which do you choose?  Well, a good starting point is the ones who specialise in general fiction, ie, almost all of them.  Then there are the ones who attend York – a Good Sign.  Spotting the agents who are looking for new writers is important as many are simply not seeking anyone new.    Another good sign is the agents who have accepted recommendations from Harry Bingham (WW Imperator) and, for me, another indicator of an agent who is living in the same century as me is that they accept submissions by email.  I simply cannot believe that so many still insist on hard copy, posted with loving care in manila envelopes with SAE and in the memory of the rain forests.  Please, people, this is 2012 and email has been around for 25 years.  By the time that sifting is done, the list has reduced to a dozen or so.

Each Agent like to think that she is the only one you are interested in and that you have selected her out of hundreds because she is so good.  In reality, we don’t know them from Adam and shotgun the world because we like collecting rejection slips.  If you do this, however, it is polite to tell them so.   Mostly, they want the same thing in a submission: a letter, brief personal details, motivation, etc, a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters.

So that’s it.  I’m on the streets again.  There are lots of us out there, competition is fierce and there is a war going on; I hope I can make it before I get too old to turn a trick.  Emails will go out today, then it is the waiting game.  Agents get inundated with submissions, as we all know, and it can take some weeks before getting a response.  Some never answer.  I am told that the US agents are rather more polite and usually reply…that’s American customer service for you.  Many UK agents seem to be stuck in a Dickensian timewarp but far be it for me to question their working practises except to say that the general feedback you get from budding writers is that feeling of being like dead leaves left in the gutter.

That’s prostitution for you.


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