Tonight I cleaned out my monstrosity of an inbox (it took over 4 hours!) and found an email asking about agents. For the record, I don’t personally use an agent. Have I had an agent? Yes. That’s why I won’t use one.
Ages ago when I had a regular contract writing job with militarylife.com I had an idea to write The Military Spouses Handbook. It was a genius idea if I do say so myself.
At the time there was no comprehensive guide for military wives and husbands to navigate their new status as spouse. The book was going to be organized like an encyclopedia but retain a friendly and accessible demeanor. Did I mention what a great idea it was? Then I went to a writer’s conference.
There two significant things happened. The first was that I had the infamous argument that resulted in me writing End of Mae. Many people think of writer’s conventions as being quiet, dry affairs where people use big words and look snooty. That partially summed up the last one I attended… except for the part where two writers from opposing genres clashed in the hallway and almost had to be expelled because we both had to have the last loud word.
If I recall I was actually skulking around in empty conference rooms at the end of the day looking for my nameless opponent so we could finish our discussion (by him admitting I was right) when I ran into my future agent. He was also skulking around in empty rooms, apparently looking for writers.
We struck up a conversation and he asked me if I had any book projects so I of course told him my genius idea. He loved it, showered me with compliments and offered to represent me. Everything went rosy as I suddenly saw my future path of fame laid out before me. Of course I agreed to sign.
That night I did some research on him and found out he was a very influential agent who actually had an agency beneath him that represented not only writers but actors and musicians as well. I saw stars and I waited impatiently for the contract. It was signed, photocopied and returned within the hour. Then I had to get to work.
In his defence, I will say that he was an excellent agent. He contacted publishing companies with queries and found one that wanted my book. I wrote a sample chapter on divorce in the military. Hours of research went into it and it turned out well. I had friends read it and they loved the easy to digest presentation of material. I gave it to my agent.
He rejected it. “Too chatty,” he wrote. “You aren’t having coffee with the reader. Make it like an encyclopedia.” I disagreed but rewrote the chapter. When it was done I gave it to different friends to read. The general verdict is that it was very informative but a little boring. I gave it to my agent. “Still too chatty.” I rewrote the chapter.
This went on 8 times. Each time I tried to sound more like a textbook. He wanted graphs and statistics added. I couldn’t get friends to read it anymore. Then one day in a fit of frustration I tossed the mouse across the room and walked out. By now I hated this book. It had changed into something that I nor anyone I knew would ever read. Dry as sawdust and about as entertaining this book had somehow in the signing of the contract become the agent’s book.
The publisher still wanted the book, but now they couldn’t have it until the agent approved it. If I went around him and published it I was breaking contract. Turns out he was a terrible match for my project. He was a perfectionist Type A personality with about as much humor as pocket lint. My editor at the time was comparing me to Erma Bombeck.
Because I jumped at the ego boost of having An Agent and Being Wanted I killed my genius idea. If I wrote anything like it without him I was at risk of legal action. If I wrote it the way he wanted it the book was garbage. Seriously, what 20 year old newly wed wanted to read an encyclopedia? That’s why the internet was invented!
So that’s my story of why I don’t have an agent. At the time I decided I’d probably never have a book published because I was never signing with an agent again, and they were the only way you could get even close to publishers. I thought my dreams were dashed.
Technology returned my hopes with print on demand and ebooks. Now not only is an agent the third wheel, but in some cases so is the publisher. We’ve gone from the writer vehicle being an unwweildy bus full of all sorts of seedy characters demanding a cut to a streamlined motorcycle that stays connected to the road by two things: the reader and the writer.
If the two don’t align properly the motorcycle becomes another casualty on the side of the road… broken spine and wasted pages. When it is aligned, however, it is a thing of efficient joy. Zipping along the road to success, eating the miles with a minimum of resources with writer leading reader along a journey they share.
This is my personal experience. I’m not trying to bash agents anymore then I would try to bash cars. I’m simply pointing out that an agent is not a guarantee of success and they can, as in my case, be a hinderance. Authors have been given more power over their work then ever before. It’s up to us to define the new industry and decide who we are going to partner with… our readers or a house of strangers.