Angry Wild Legends

Writing, authoring, publishing, literary stuff of all kinds – plus anything else!

Authors, Agencies, and the Digital Age

I’ve read a number of articles in a number of publications over the past few years where writers who believe they have talent (in whatever field or genre) bemoan the fact they cannot find a literary agent to represent them. I myself am in this boat, so I do not decry their complaints. In fact, they have my most sincere sympathy. How on earth is one to bring to the world stage the greatest work ever written? Vanity publishing is always an option – but who would really want to compromise their artistic integrity by pursuing such a route? On-demand publishing is a new method that is gaining attention and favour with a large number of people – but even here, unless you are prepared (and able) to subsidise the promotion of your work the results can be disappointing. E-publishing is also an option, but that is a market still in its’ infancy, and until the technology of providing adequate download speeds improves, and/or the mass of the reading public decides that screen-based reading is an acceptable alternative to a good ol’ fashioned book, I suspect it will always be a poor relation to the mainstream. 

Most writers will follow the tried and tested formula of presenting to a literary agent. Indeed, most reputable publishing houses will not countenance direct approaches from wanna-be’s any more, so an introduction through an agency is just about the only avenue available. But there are problems. How do you get an agency to take notice? 

The traditional method is to write or telephone a potential agent in the hope they might have a slot in their list into which you might fit, but the responses received (from those agencies that bother to respond) is invariably negative (though usually polite). Simply sending in a manuscript cold is a waste of time; agencies have so much work being submitted with their permission that unsolicited work is invariably consigned to the waste bin without a second glance – and who could blame them? So there is a huge barrier, and that barrier is resource. The agencies don’t have the resources of time and manpower to review all the potential talent that is out there. One reason for this is that there is an insistence that writers send their submissions in hard-copy. This inevitably results in a veritable mountain of paper passing through an office or across a desk. Maybe if that mountain could be reduced a little, by the agencies becoming more open to alternative methods of receiving submissions, then a wealth of new talent would become visible. 

Of course, even if that were to happen, there would still be the hard realities of actually persuading a(ny) publisher in a competitive marketplace, with limited (though still large) resources, that hard cash should be spent in promoting a given author – but at least the pool of authors would be so much greater to choose from. Maybe, even, an increase in available talent would encourage an increase in the number of publishing companies, the smaller enterprises that could make money on the sidelines (and lets be honest, it’s money that’s at the heart of any publishing body). Who knows? 

But I digress. How does one increase the visibility of that talent? Well, one method is to persuade the literary agents to go and look for it. Does that sound ridiculous? It really isn’t. Why, you may ask, would any agency who is already inundated with submissions bother (let alone need) to go out and hunt down some more? Well, it’s a two way thing. What if, instead of each individual author writing to each individual agency, hoping against hope that there is a vacancy in their books for a bright, up-and-coming talent, the authors made their submissions (the usual 3-chapter requirement) to a single location, a portal that literary agencies could visit and navigate and discover the written gems that lie within? I’m talking, of course, about the ubiquitous internet. 

Consider the benefits. To the author there is no longer the need to spend time and money on speculative phone-calls, postage, return postage, paper, inks, other consumables, &c. (which has a secondary benefit, in these ever greener times, of reducing the call on natural resources like the forests, felled to produce paper). To the literary agency (one-man/woman shows and giants alike) there is the increased freedom to manage their time more efficiently. Who knows better than the agent when they have a vacancy? Who knows better than the agent when the market will be ripe for a particular writing style? Who know better than the agent when they will have the actual time to spend in reviewing works from unknowns? 

Nothing is ever easy, and everything has negative aspects, of course. Two detracting factors are lethargy and trust. For an author, it’s most likely trust. If you send your submission into the ether, how can you know it will  still be yours? How can you know it wont be snatched away and used without your knowledge, claimed for themselves by some infidel? The answer really is that you don’t submit everything at once. As for plagiarism, that is a reality faced by every writer, as it has been since the first mark was scratched on a rock! 

For the literary agent, though, lethargy may be the biggest problem. We all become comfortable in our ways, and the thought of change is often resisted. Yet change happens all the time. It’s the human condition, indeed the natural condition, and it’s called evolution. In these modern times, I find it hard to imagine that any business can afford to stand still. The world wide web has shaken the music industry, and it will shake the publishing industry likewise. Perhaps it has already begun to do so. Either way, any company that fails to embrace the technology and methodologies now emerging will be doomed to sink in the foundering seas of progress. Some agencies have taken the first steps, and already signed up to the concept of new ways for finding literary talent. Those who do not will not survive.

June 6, 2007 Posted by | General, literary, publish | 1 Comment