I was sympathizing a few days back with a fellow author who was in despair, because her agent had stopped talking to her, no new contracts were happening, royalties were small… and she written to a new agent and hadn’t had a reply. Now she’s a nice woman, writes quite beautiful prose. It’s lyrical rather than commercial, and not particularly PC and political (so while the useless are often beloved of agents and editors for beating their favorite drum and don’t have to be commercially appealing or successful, this does not help her). Also, to be blunt she is not much good at facebook-and-blog publicity charge that agents and editors also love for the free ride it produces for them.
She’s sold a number of books, some which did relatively well, and got foreign rights sold etc…
And she was at her wits end because some penny-ante agent hadn’t bothered to reply(and let’s be real here, almost all of the agent profession is operating on the smell of an oily rag right now. Any ‘big-name’ of yesteryear is being slowly devoured by the declining mainstream advances, and shrinking sales. Yes, a few are still selling. But it’s not the naughties, let alone the 90, and the 80’s are wild dream.) And she hadn’t queried their non-reply. She’d just been the the good little author of yesteryear, and waited like a wallflower at the ball. Because that’s what a good little supplicant did. Agents and editors, bless their overworked little socks, and wash their tired feet in sweet unguents and dry them with your hair, had to deign to notice you, or you were toast.
Needless to say fairly robust comfort and advice was applied liberally. The general message was you had move on, and query the non-reply, and work your way down a list of agents… and then to a kickstarter project, and failing that to Kindle. Me, I’d pass on the agents and kickstarter and just go straight to Smashwords and Kindle, but any steps are better than none. And times have changed. Agents and editors are slowly going to have to come to terms with the new paradigm: they need to make themselves valuable and relevant or authors will simply disintermediate them. There is still almost complete denial about this, but it’s got to get through soon.
Behaving like you’re still a good little slave with no options but to obey the masters will have them continue to treat you like that. There is no need to be nasty about it, but letting them politely know they’re not the only game in town does improve the terms and treatment you get. And if it doesn’t, selling anyway is the finest payback you could have.
Her reply let me know, particularly, that it wasn’t the difficulties of doing this yourself, or the difficulty of selling yourself that were her fear. She wasn’t confident about those, didn’t think she could, wanted a publisher to do it for her, because what she did well was write stories. Yeah. That’s most of us. I have no real interest in Corel draw and making covers (which is what I was trying to do today). I don’t want to spend my time editing, proofing, and formatting. I suck at self-promotion. But I do these things. I’d rather do them than give up, and having a small independent revenue trickle from the various shorts is very satisfying. But that wasn’t her problem…
Her problem was she wanted an agent to believe in her, to sell her to publishers, who would in turn sell her to the readers.
She needed others to believe in her ability.
It’s a lovely feeling. To be affirmed. To be told you are good. To win awards, to get kiss-up write ups in Locus etc.
But honestly, the only real affirmation is people telling their friends they have to buy your book. Selling 10 copies off your own bat is worth a thousand agents (who, I am sorry, outside of O’Mike who has some taste, and selling what he likes, sell what the publishers like. And the publishers have proved by losing ground in a recession (which as publishing is a countercyclical industry, like camping gear and seeds, they shouldn’t) that their affirmation doesn’t mean people will like and buy your book.
Believe in yourself. And believe that every sale you got without that publisher pushing you, putting you in bookstore shelves, providing editing and covers… is worth 50 of those in affirmation terms.