Friday, April 03, 2009

AgentFail at BookEnds LLC

Fellow writers or those of you who just want to get a good inside look at the publishing business, literary agent Jessica Faust has opened up an AgentFail thread on her blog, BookEnds. The threat is definitely worth a read.

What's AgentFail? It's a listing of the ways and means in which authors feel their agent has failed them. Examples: Requesting a full manuscript, promising to read it within a month and then sitting on it for months. Submitting the manuscript to the wrong editors at the wrong publishers and then when it's rejected (surprise), telling the author, "There's no market for this."

It's the kind of stuff that writers swap privately, but never dare say publicly -- until now. There are hundreds of posts over there, some bitter, many heartbreaking. It's the kind of airing that's good for the soul, though. Agent Caren Johnson has already written a reply. It's heartfelt and apologetic, but she dodges the main thrust of the objections, and focuses on a minor point. (In reading her post, it strikes me that she's not the kind of agent the writers are talking about. The ones they're complaining about are the kind who wouldn't respond with sympathy, empathy or at all.)

Unfortunately, most of the complaints listed are experienced by most writers who stay in the business long enough. I have to see them as part of the emotional cost of doing business.

#AgentFail, by the way, is the writers' chance to respond to #QueryFail, a day on Twitter when agents got to put out (nicely and sometimes not-so-nicely) the things that writers do to ensure being rejected when submitting a query. On her blog, agent Colleen Lindsay wrote that the intent was not to "mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate." The fall-out, however, indicated that many writers did indeed feel that too many agents were of the former, not latter, variety.

To be fair, both sides have valid points. In other words, both sides are misbehaving. Janet Reid has a wonderful post on her blog in which she concedes that it's very easy for agents to become ... well, oversold on themselves (to use my words). However, as many of the comments on #QueryFail show, too many writers are undermining themselves by failing to follow some basic and generally applicable guidelines. They're submitting work that falls into a genre that the agent doesn't handle, typing in all caps, or bragging about how wonderful the work is and demanding that the agent drop everything, but everything that exact instant, to read it. To wit, neither side seems to understand what the other side is up against, which is why such events as QueryFail and AgentFail, no matter how painful, are a necessary evil.

There's also a new thread over at Twitter, called #AgentInspire, where writers can say good stuff about their agents. So far, there's only one Tweet.


Today, Jessica had a feel good Friday -- AgentPass and AuthorPass Day -- in which she gave kudos to writers for their professionalism and writers wrote in to share positive experiences with their agents. A good read.


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