Friday, May 21, 2010
Dean Wesley Smith and the Agent Debate
Dean Wesley Smith is a long time writer with over 90 books to his credit. Smith writes in various genre, under various pen names. In "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" he makes several points that wannabe writers should consider before they attempt to market a manuscript to anyone, publisher or agent.
Dean's first point: the writer employs the agent.
The purpose of having an agent is to negotiate the terms of a contract between the writer and the publisher. (If the writer doesn't have a contract, then s/he doesn't need an agent.) Dean asserts that the 'terms of power' switched. Writers are no longer in control of the relationship – the agent is in charge. (Yes, I'm aware that the agent has become the 'gatekeeper' a term that implies the 'unwashed masses' need to be kept from the hallowed halls of publishing. Stay with me.)
Dean's second point: The duties of the agent should not include marketing. He asserts that most agents are editors who have lost their jobs. If said agent was an editor then that person's business relationships are limited to the one or two companies for whom they worked. This rings true, since most agents want to know to whom your work compares and in which genre it fits. (Writer beware, if you don't know the market for your book, you are in trouble.)
Here's an info bite I heard on the Litopia Podcasts – last year, at a British conference, there were more agents present than authors.
This may look like good news on the surface. Are former editors automatically qualified agents? The modern agent spends their time reading a pile of queries – modern slush piles transferred to them. Agents look for trivial editorial issues to reject a query letter, as former editors they would have exacting standards. Most agents are interested in your qualifications to write the book. There is no certification or qualification to be an agent. Buy some stationary and put your name on it, put up a webpage, and if you want to be a superstar – blog about yourself.
Also, many agents want to know your marketing plan for the book – before they even look at a synopsis. This implies a limited view of the publishing market. Marketing experts in other industries tend to have a broad view of what's 'out there.' Publishing is a rather small industry compared to say – electronics. If the agent doesn't know the market, are they the right person to handle marketing? We don't take our cars to the dentist if they don't start. Agents are for negotiating (large) contracts. No contract? No agent required. If your book needs edited, hire an editor, not an agent.
My point is simple – You know the book inside and out, empower yourself, take control of your career, market your book. You'll save yourself a lot of time, a ton of frustration and maybe some money.