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First of all, this isn’t a rant. If you’ve come here to bash literary agents, rant on your own blog or go elsewhere. There are plenty of places you can go, and while I try to restrain my words, I am not known for being adverse to giving direction when necessary. (For my denser readers: Get out of line and I’ll happily tell you where to go.)
This is a response to Mr. Dean Wesley Smith’s post How Did We Get Here? Mr. Smith heard several unfortunate stories from five different writers, who felt decisions made by their literary agents hurt their writing careers.
Essentially, Mr. Smith provides an article on what literary agents do and don’t do. I do feel the need to speak to two of his points, the first of which is this:
“1) Agents do NOT edit books. They don’t ask you to rewrite a book, they don’t ask you to fix a book. If they knew how to write, they would be doing it and making the 85% instead of the 15%. (Folks, if they don’t like your book, find an agent who will like it as you wrote it.)”
That depends. My first agent was James Allen of the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. Mr. Allen most patiently edited my first novel and spent a great deal of time teaching me, a novice writer, how to structure my novel. The man had the patience of Job, and my novel was much stronger where ever his red pen slashed a word or a phrase. I wish I had been intelligent enough to listen to all his advice.
There are still editing agents in the business, although, I believe there are fewer of them now than there were back in the eighties. There is nothing wrong with having an agent edit your work and help you polish your manuscript. I would certainly hope that if I acquire another agent, that individual will tell me if there there is a technical issue with my novel.
I think Mr. Smith was addressing an issue where an agent might hijack a novel and make unreasonable demands on the writer for changes, but because he doesn’t specifically say that, I can’t be sure. Not everyone who reads either Mr. Smith’s post or this post will be familiar with the publishing industry, and I think we need to be very clear.
The other statement Mr. Smith makes is:
“4) Agents do NOT help you plan a career. They have no right to tell you to slow down, to change a habit, to write under another name or not write under another name. The hard truth is those are your decisions and you have to make them for what works for you. The moment you let marketing and agents and outside voices, like those of your workshop, into your art, you are doomed. The frightening truth is that most agents don’t have a clue what it is like to be a writer, or even what happens in a writer’s life. Get advice from other writers farther down the road than you are. Not some agent.”
Again I feel the need to disagree. I would hope a literary agent would be invested enough in a client to want to make suggestions to help guide a writer’s career. Of course, the ultimate decision as to whether or not to take the literary agent’s advice is up to the writer. A literary agent does not remove a writer’s choices. A good literary agent will help a writer make more informed career decisions. It stands to reason that as my career advances, the agent’s career will advance too.
Perhaps because I had such a good experience with my first agent, I see the writer/agent relationship more in terms of a team effort rather than as an adversarial relationship. Are there bad agents out there? Absolutely. There are also bad editors, bad publishers, bad writers, bad plumbers, bad car mechanics, bad teachers, . . . you get the idea.
If you really want to know what to expect from a literary agent, read the Moonrat’s post What Can I Expect of My Agent?