November 30, 2011
An Open Letter to Agents–Open Your Minds or I’m Leaving
An efriend of mine had a very public self-described ‘meltdown’ over her lack of progress in finding a publisher. Her words were heart-rending because they reflected the fears of every low- and mid-list writer I know. We all worry that we won’t
find an agent or our agent won’t find a publisher, that the words we struggled over into the wee hours of the night will not resonate with the gatekeepers. You never forget your first kiss or your last rejection letter.
But I have a different conclusion than my friend and I want to share it with you. If I as a writer can dial down my frustration for the next five years, my day will arrive. Your world, dear agent, is changing. Where you historically held a vice grip on my future, now you are just an option. For some of my fellow writers, trading print and digital control of their work for the right to claim your representation is worth it. To have you bestow your imprimatur for them is akin to being the front runner in a marathon. Yes, they know we as authors can self-publish, but the legacy of books like Gone With the Wind and For Whom the Bell Tolls makes that voice inside them ask, “If it’s good enough, why doesn’t an agent take it?”
Here’s why and it has nothing to do with the quality of my work:
- These days, you and your publisher friends are stretched economically as is every other American business. As a result, you want the rainmaker. Wouldn’t I love to write a million dollar book the first time? Statistically, it’ll take 3-5 books under my writer’s pen before that Big One hits. It used to be, you signed me to be there when the big money day came. Now, you want that day to be today.
- My goals as a writer are different from yours. You want the Big Story. I write to make a living doing what I love. I don’t need to get rich at it; I just need to get by.
The inevitable end to these different goals is if I buy into your historic power, I get discouraged and give up when I’m not an overnight success. You hope I don’t notice that there is a huge appetite among readers for niche volumes. Lots of books you turn down find digital audiences. You seem to consider that a trend that will go away (which is what the business leaders said about computers as I recall). Let me see if I can explain why that’s happening in terms you will understand. The engine of American business is fueled by mid-level employees with a spouse, a modest house, 2.5 kids, lots of mortgage and twice as much hope that they’ll do their job well enough to earn a big promotion. The writers are the fuel for your publishing engine. We write because we love it, want to see our name in print, are happy to give you much more of the money than it seems you deserve, because… Well, I’m not sure why, but it seems OK to many of my fellow writers because we enjoy writing. It’s our passion, our ace in the hole, our lottery ticket. We’d love to make thousands a month, but are happy with hundreds.
Therein blow the winds of change: You don’t want that midlist book.
I leave you with a thought. I won’t stop trying. Well, I might for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but soon, the keys will be back under my fingers and I’ll peck out some thoughts, a couple of chapters, wordsmith those scenes so they work. I CAN’T quit. You miss the point of why I want to be published. I don’t need to get rich. I just need to get by doing what I love.
So, when you turn me down, I’m going to thank my god that I live in a country and a time when self-publishing is an option.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s seeking representation for a techno-thriller that she just finished. Any ideas? Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.