A Really Long Brain Dump
Sorry for this very long post about nothing. I don’t blame you if you want to skip this one, but I had a few things on my mind tonight that I just needed to get out. Last week I spent some time reading the AgentFail post on the Bookends, LLC blog. It’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment—I really want to hear what writers have to say, and I appreciate that Jessica gave everyone a safe place to vent. The whole reason I have this blog is because I’m interested in writers—not just that I want to preach to y’all but because I want to engage with you, I want to hear from you, I benefit from the interaction. I learn so much from you!
AgentFail was no different in the sense that I did learn a lot. But it also made me really sad. Even though the words were not written on my blog, the comments were so overwhelmingly critical of agents that I felt wounded. As you might guess, this was partly because I’m guilty of some of the things writers apparently hate about agents. In fact, I’m going to talk more about those things here on the blog in the future; and I’m also re-evaluating certain processes I have in place, and I’m attempting to become more effective, faster at responding, more communicative, all those things that writers want and need.
I just wanted to say a couple of things in response to some criticisms that were repeated numerous times on AgentFail. First, writers complained about the “hours and hours” we agents apparently spend blogging and Twittering and Facebooking, and others complained about the fact that we talk about personal interests on the social networks instead of just keeping it all business.
Wow. You know, I started this blog when I became an agent because I wanted to be a real person to writers. That’s also one of the reasons I Twitter. I’m intentional about being mostly business on the blog, and mostly personal on Twitter. I want prospective clients to see a whole person, because I think this helps them make a more informed decision about whether I might be the right agent for them. I like Twittering about going for a run with my dog or picking my kids up from school. It’s so normal and everyday, and I want people to see me as a regular person, just like them.
I also do the social networking to stay in better touch with my clients. It’s so much fun to keep up with their daily lives, and I think it makes our relationships better. So the social networks do serve several strong business purposes.
But I don’t spend much time on any of the social networks. Twittering is a few seconds each time. Sometimes more, if it’s not in the middle of an intense work day. Blogging is done on weekends or late at night, and I write one to two weeks’ worth of posts at a time. I’ve written 400 posts for this blog and of those, I’ve only written a couple during normal business hours. So it’s not like I’m “wasting” precious work time, and I certainly don’t spend hours and hours.
I guess I probably sound defensive, but as a blogging agent I felt the finger pointed at me and I felt like I wanted to explain. I really thought writers were, generally, enjoying this unprecedented access to agents and editors via the Internet. Now they’re complaining we’re spending too much time giving them access to us. Hard to figure out.
The other thing I noticed mentioned several times on AgentFail was that we agents apparently complain about our workload and how hard our job is. I have a few responses to this. One of them is that plenty of people in other businesses write about their personal work experiences and how it affects them. This is not just literary agents. Anyone who has a blog or any other venue in which to write whatever they want has the freedom to talk about what’s going on in their lives, including if they’re finding their jobs challenging.
Another response is that I had several jobs and a really busy career for 18 years before becoming an agent. But I’ve never felt so busy, so pulled in so many different directions, so many unrealistic expectations landing on me. Never. This isn’t brain surgery or rocket science; I’m not saying it’s so important or so difficult. It’s just overwhelming, especially when you’re on a learning curve like I am. So if agents are talking about how busy they are, I get it. Like many of you, I work days, nights, weekends; all the while trying to balance it with taking care of my family. You know it’s not easy.
What’s really interesting is that most of the AgentFail complaints landed on the acquisition portion of the agent’s job. Here’s what you have to understand: acquiring new books and clients is indeed an important part of our job, but taking care of our current clients is much more important. If you are not a client yet, you may have all the expectations in the world about how you expect to be treated, and you may have really nice arguments like, “I spent a year writing my manuscript, the least you could do is spend more than five minutes reading it,” but none of that changes the fact that the query side of the job must necessarily be prioritized after taking care of the clients we’ve already said yes to.
I encourage you to visit Nathan Bransford’s blog and enter his “Agent For a Day” contest. Until you know what it’s like to read through 50 queries, choose no more than 5 to request partials, and make a decision for or against representation… all on top of your regular job which is servicing clients, then I think you just don’t have a good idea of what it’s like. And if you go through this experience, you may have a better understanding of the life of an agent.
You’ve also got to understand that nothing an agent does has a guarantee. We trust our gut and our experience and choose projects we think will sell, we spend hours and hours getting them ready, and they may or may not sell. Why do we stay so busy? Why do we have so many clients, and why do we keep accepting queries even when we’re already burning the candle at both ends? It’s because we have to. We’re like rats on a treadmill, running, running, trying to figure out this fickle business, trying to predict what publishers will buy, scrambling for the next deal, and we can’t afford to spend much time celebrating a success because there is so much more to be done. Some of the projects we represent don’t ever sell, or may only sell after a year or two of working with a client. Keeping in mind we only make a paycheck by selling books… well, you can figure it out. A lot of the work we do is not compensated.
I love what I do, and I’m doing my best at it. I’m still learning. I’ve been in publishing a long time, and even so, I never could have predicted how consuming this job would be. Going forward, I’m hoping writers will have a little more perspective on the agent’s job. And I hope agents, myself included, will take it easy on writers, continuing to educate them through blogs and conferences, but cutting out the insults. We all have difficult lives, not just agents, not just writers, but everyone. I hope we can keep talking with each other on social networks, encouraging each other, ranting to one another when necessary, and avoid things getting ugly.
That’s all. If you’re still reading, I apologize for the long venting session!