Friday, February 6, 2009

Literary Agents

Many Literary Agents see themselves as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry. The sad thing is that they say this with pride. “We are the ones who keep out the riff-raff. The quality of books being produced by publishers is better because we only allow good books through.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? Too bad it isn’t true.

Talking that way is good for a few people’s egos, but the publishing industry doesn’t work that way. You would think that there is a single point of entry that an author won’t be able to go through until his work is good enough to make it through the quality catches that an agent uses prior to agreeing to represent an author. Going with the gatekeeper analogy, what actually happens when an author approaches an agent and the agent says, “access denied” is that the author goes and finds another agent or looks for an unguarded gate. Instead of one gate, there are many gates. The true gatekeepers are still employed by the publishing companies and they always will be.

A better analogy to describe a literary agent is that of a bridge. The author will have a difficult time swimming across, so she goes and finds a bridge. The agent becomes a champion of the author’s work and in return receives 15% of the deal. At times, this may mean that the agent will attempt to show why an author who crossed at his bridge is better than a superior author who crossed at another bridge. But let’s not focus on that. As I said before, it is the publisher’s job to decide whose work is better. The agent’s job is to help the authors he is working for to convince the publisher that their work is better. That’s what they are supposed to be doing anyway. I shut up before I say what I think many of them are doing with their time.