Yesterday’s little “postscript” about my literary agent querying adventures generated quite a bit of interest, only SOME of which showed up in comments. Allow me to share a few thoughts.
Rule # 1: Publishing is all about money. Please forget any thoughts you might have had about “literary excellence” and/or “literary artistry.” If a book won't generate enough sales to make profits for the publisher, the publisher doesn’t want to publish it.
Likewise, literary agents are in business for one reason only. And what might that be? If you said, “To make money,” go to the head of the class!
Many (not all) publishers refuse submissions from un-agented authors, so an author who wants to sell his/her work almost HAS to be represented by a literary agent. Why are publishers so narrow-minded? (Remember the first rule; “It’s all about money!”) It’s cheaper for publishers to force authors to go through agents, than for the publisher to have to hire extra people to review all those darned bad submissions.
OK, so agents have to screen out all the schlock for the publishers, then go pitch the stuff they think will sell. If the agent makes a sale, then (and ONLY then) he/she gets paid 15% of what the publisher offers for the rights to the book. If he often pitches stuff to publishers they think is schlock, they won’t listen to him any more and he makes no money.
In defense of agents, they do a lot more than just act as a salesperson. Once the publisher is interested and offers to buy the rights for a book, the agent negotiates all the details of the contract (and most authors know NOTHING about these contracts). My opinion is that if I did NOT have an agent and yet got an offer from a publisher to print my book, I would immediately go HIRE an agent to negotiate for me the best deal possible.
Oh, and one thing agents are NOT in business to do is to offer a critique of an author’s submission or query. The vast majority of responses I’ve received from agents have been simple form letters. They are polite, bland, and tell me nothing except, “No, thanks.” My interpretation (remembering the first rule above), is that this agent has at least glanced at what I’ve sent and formed an opinion that he/she would likely NOT be able to sell that book to a publisher.
And that’s fine! If they feel they can’t sell it, they probably can’t!
I’d love a personal response with their reasons, but they don’t owe me that. And there are thousands and thousands of people out there like me who have written a novel and want to sell it. Most of them will never get published, unless they self-publish. They all are sending queries to agents every day.
I was lucky in that the agent I signed with (Lantz Powell) DID actually read and critique my early versions. He eventually thought I made it good enough that he could sell it. He signed me, and tried to pitch the book to several publishers. Four actually read the manuscript, said nice things about it, but passed.
I came THAT CLOSE!! *Gnashes teeth!*
Anyway, actual personal comments from agents who are declining a query are so rare that when I DO get one, it’s frustrating when I don’t understand it. And that agent has no email address (that I can find) to use to ask for clarification.
I assume (yes, I know what that means!) she meant the story was presented as fiction but sounded like a memoir. If that’s what she meant, she’s right! It’s autobiographical! But it is fiction in that about 15% was made up for added conflict and to keep interest.
Ah, well, doesn’t matter. Whatever her reasons were, she doesn’t think she can sell this to a publisher, so she passes.
Remember Rule # 1! (There IS no #2.)