The problem with literary agents:

“Almost all agencies, he told me, are looking for one of two things: bestseller potential or the possibility of media adaptations…

Let us hope that what that agent told me was a gross exaggeration born out of personal disenchantment. (Everyone in the publishing industry these days seems pretty disgruntled.) After all, good and serious books still manage to get published. Yet after plowing through hundreds of agency websites, I find it hard to believe that many other good and serious books aren’t being stopped dead in their tracks. The nomenclature is the first tip off. Nothing wrong with a little business jargon, but must they call themselves “boutique agencies” or, even worse, “full-service boutique agencies,” which, rather than lending the snob cachet so obviously intended, makes them sound like massage parlors? Far worse than any unfortunate phraseology is the resistance to ideas that contradicts the otherwise high-sounding claims made on so many of the agencies’ websites…

Unlike furiously anti-establishment bloggers, I have no problem with the role played by literary agents as cultural gatekeepers. There are far too many writers out there, and if the good ones are not to be buried by the bad ones, agents have an obligation to recognize and nurture talent that might otherwise go undetected. Economies of scale, to which the publishing industry remains bound, tend to favor the mass publication of trash, and the trash isn’t always so trashy. Only the sourest puritan would disdain genre fiction as inventive as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones saga merely because there are five clichés to a page. But economies of scale also allow for the publication of midlist books supported by all that trash, not to mention by all those indispensible guides to gastro-intestinal disorders, college entrance exams, and the rest.

…As I’ve said, significant books still get published, and there are inspiring literary agents helping to make such works a reality. I’d like to see more of such books, yet the grotesque philistinism of so many literary agencies works against that outcomeand you can’t get to the publishers without the agencies. It’s no accident that much of the best American writing today is to be found not inside the covers of a book but in magazines and online journals.

…So why beat up on literary agencies? Aren’t publishing houses equally risk averse? Possibly so, but in mediating between writer and publisher, the agencies build in an extra layer of exactly what is not needed: more conservatism and caution. Am I naïve in believing that publishing houses might be slightly more receptive to innovation than most literary agencies imagine? A literary scholar of my acquaintance told me he knows of three first-rate studies of W. H. Auden that have no chance of getting out of manuscript. Never mind my book. I want to see the ones about Auden.”

-Stephen Akey. Read the rest.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, and goodreads.]

Advertisements

Add an annotation/comment:

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s