Toast A Literary Agent Day

Posted on 07/21/2009


Okay, I need your help to pick a day.

I have become a huge fan of literary agents. Weird as that sounds. If you think about it, they’re the ones in the business who are at the most risk.  They make their money off whether or not they can sell your little jewel of a story.  They often don’t have the tidy little salary editors get at publishing houses, and they aren’t like you, working a 9-5 and writing at night. This is their livelihood and they only get what they can make off selling your story to publishers. (One more reason to make sure the thing is tip-top) They work long hours for little reward. An agent sells your book and gets you that gigantic 20K advance…remember, the agent only gets 15% of that (and usually only 10%, because 5% goes to the agency coffers). So your bountiful $20,000 nets an agent $2,000.  Who’s laughing now? Think about all the crap he or she had wade through to get that pittance.  It will drive you to drink.  It’s like panning for gold.  I RAISE MY BEER IN HONOR OF ALL THE LITERARY AGENTS WHO SLOG THROUGH THE SLUSH ON A DAILY BASIS.  I would like to create a day dubbed, “Toast an Agent” day.  Whereby everyone in the business raises a virtual drink and gives a hearty pat on the back to agents all around the world. (This includes you, editors, publishers, superstar writers, and you, the unpublished masses)  I will find the best day to do this and let you know when it is. We need to drum up some buzz before hand.

I still hear people bitching about agents because they’ve sent out queries to 300 of them and gotten rejections.  <sarcasm>Yeah, that’s the agents fault all right </sarcasm>  I hear complaints about it’s Them versus Us, and if only they would “read more of my work”, I know they would love it.  Sigh.  Do you know how long others have been spouting the same line of drivel? YEARS!  So quit your bitching and write a better cover letter, synopsis, first chapters, all that.  Seriously.

Think about what agents do. They sit in their offices–or sometimes even their homes–and read query letters all day (and night) from fools who never ONCE read a blog, website, book, tweet, or anything. They just wrote a sucky book and then overheard someone in the grocery store say that they need an agent, got a list of agents from somewhere, wrote up a crap-filled query letter, and sent it off.  Yeah, I know. You’re not that person. Right? They then have to fight through partials, whole manuscripts, often having to send rejections after going through all that. Then, if they DO take you on as client, they have to deal with your prima donna ass and try to sell your story to a dwindling publishing industry.  They have to write up breathtaking letters to publishers, go to lunch with them and play nice, and then hope someone will buy the damn book they were so excited about (but now is starting to look a little tarnished and bruised)  Then they have to go over contracts with a fine tooth comb, wrangle out more money if they can, and get you to agree.  And then they have to do this for all their OTHER clients too! Sheesh. That’ a lot of work. (And I’ve probably missed other things they do on a daily basis too)

And let’s not forget agents getting their ASSES whipped at conferences. All these damned needy writers sucking up to them, always in their faces, wanting to pitch their new cat mystery. 

I met an agent at a conference, we sat down and drank a few beers together.  She was put at ease by the fact that I did not write what she repped, so it was like she was meeting a gay guy. She knew I wasn’t going to “hit” on her about my book, so she chilled out.  We actually had a kick ass time. And she further solidified the one fact most people forget: AGENTS ARE PEOPLE TOO.  She told me something very poignant. She said that new agents have to be in the business for around five years before they make enough money to live on. They don’t get health insurance, they don’t get benefits and yet they continue onward and upward. I sat and watched as person after person came up to pitch books to her and she politely nodded and listened.  I finally leaned over to her and said, “I don’t know why you agents come to these things. They seem like such an asswhip.”  She leaned back and whispered in my ear. “They are an asswhip.” HA! Honesty, I love it.

Think about it. They don’t make millions, they are not superstars (like we sometimes think they are) and they don’t do this for money. They do it because they love books. The very same reason why you should be writing.

Agents fight through slush and more slush looking for something that a) excites them and b) is saleable.  I looked up and found the average salary of an agent is around 50k a year. Not poor, but certainly not rich. (And living in NY on 50K is something I can’t even comprehend)  But yet they fight through it and prevail.

If agents can fight through, then so can we. If they are strong enough to risk not eating or paying the light bill, we can have that much passion. They’re the ones taking the risks, shouldn’t we as writers be willing to take some risks too? And to think, your risks aren’t going to put you on the streets. Their’s might. You owe it to the agent to write something that does not waste her time.

So the next time you receive that form rejection, think to yourself: the agent either didn’t like the story, the plot, the hook, the characters, the writing, etc. Or they did like it, but they can’t sell it. Learn from this. When I get a rejection, I try to figure out why (even if it’s a form).  But I don’t EVER blame the agents.

It’s not their fault I suck. It’s mine. They’re passionate about writing, so shouldn’t I be?

Raise a cold beer or a glass of wine, (of if you’re really hardcore, some hard liquor) and toast an agent. They deserve their own special day.

Posted in: Writing