Top Ten Pet Peeves About Literary Agents
But the annual round of submissions of Tatterdemalion to literary agents, something I hadn't done in a year, has built up a lot of resentment in me. This has been steadily building since I'd made the rounds of literally hundreds of agency websites since late last month when I'd begun the querying process. And these pet peeves of mine aren't just mine and inspired merely by frustration. Others have said the same things I have, including this guy who'd passed on a story about another writer who'd punked 100 literary agents with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr's work and got rejected by all 100 of them.
So these are my top ten pet peeves regarding literary agents, accumulated both over the last 19 years and the last month.
One of the most immediately apparent differences between British literary agents and their US counterparts, aside from openly soliciting the first 30-50 pages of your manuscript, is their willingness to accept email attachments. Email clients such as Yahoo, which had really taken a nose dive in quality and dependability over the last year and a half, often truncate emails. This can be especially galling and embarrassing when US agents insist on your pasting everything in the body of the email and it gets cut off in mid sentence or right after the salutation.
Antivirus software exists. Use it, make friends with it and stop acting as if every author in the English-speaking world is out to give your precious laptop a virus. Automatically deleting unread legitimate submissions based on a paranoia bespeaks of a mindset I wouldn't want in someone working for me.
In the generation since publishers made literary agents a necessary evil and primary gatekeepers, they've gotten so arch and bloated with arrogance it's a miracle these people, for want of a better word, can still find people to have sex with them. Among the manifestations of this hubris and arrogance is the more than suggested perception that they run the show. You do not.
Because in the real world, the person who makes no more than penultimate decisions and makes 15% of the money that's earned is the hired help. The employee. Stop assuming we're naifs who don't know anything about the business. Until you were shoehorned into the publishing process 30 or so years ago, authors like me approached publishers directly, negotiated their contracts and managed their own careers. Our intelligence and pragmatism hasn't atrophied just because you were artificially glued onto what used to be a streamlined process. Again, for clarity's sake, You are the employee, the hired help. You work for us, not vice versa. Know your role and act accordingly.
In virtually 100% of the literary agency websites I've been to, I have had to lean forward and strain my eyes to read pale grey font against a white background. I've even seen yellow font against white. For people who are obsessed with legibility and proper formatting in snailmail submissions, you sure care little over whether or not people can read your ghost fonts. Do all you agents farm out website design to the same sadistic prick?
Also, minimalism make work effectively in Japanese art but not in modern day website design. You want submission guidelines obeyed? Tell us what the fuck they are. Give us something to go on other than your street address and a phone number you forbid us from calling. To give you guys an idea of what I'm talking about, go to former Simon & Schuster senior editor-turned literary agent Bob Mecoy's website to see what I mean (Oh, that Bic pen pointed directly at my left eye doesn't look menacing at all, Bobbo). Or this monolithic, virtually noninteractive piece of shit by William Morris Endeavor that just screams, "Fuck off and (sniff) die."
For people who say over and over again that they want just a brief covering letter consisting of no more than 300 words (and reasonably expecting us to make them fall impetuously and madly in love with our book during this absurd literary speed dating), you assholes sure love to talk about yourselves on your bios. More than once, I've seen agent bios that went far, far beyond the 300 or so words they allot us in droning on about where they were from ("It all started in a little log cabin in the woods of the Pacific Northwest..."), where they went to school, where they worked, what properties they sold, their marital status, their hobbies, how many kids they have, their cockapoodle's name, etc. I am not kidding about this. They actually think we give a fuck about this shit.
We don't. We're looking for business partners and so are you. So act like it. I personally don't give a fuck who's on your client list, what properties you've sold, blah blah because it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my particular property. So please stop making your literary agency's website look like a cheap dating site for avaricious sociopaths.
However evil and collusive the deal made behind the backs of authors between you and publishers, the one decent provision was that it was supposed to continue giving authors a primary outlet for their work. The thought of sending something to a group of people so stupid as to universally reject a classic by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is scary enough but it was what it was. Now, more and more literary agencies, starting with the bloated William Morris Endeavor Agency in Hollywood, are slamming the gates in our faces while telling us they cannot possibly take on new clients, read work that hasn't been invited or referred by another client or read submissions by unpublished writers.
Inserting you as the primary gatekeeper blocking the path to publication was bad enough but now you've gotten so arrogant and bloated with hubris you're acting just like the publishers a generation ago and look down your nose on people who've been kept from being published largely because of you and your ignorant ilk. Do your fucking job because it's not as if the current crop of bestselling authors will live forever. Your short-sighted strategy just produces an Old Boy network where only cool or connected kids get entry into the tree house. Oh, and if you're not taking on new clients or reading submissions, kindly say so before you waste anybody else's time.
As previously stated, one of the most obvious immediate differences between UK and US agents is the former's willingness to actually read some of the work being "plumped." Almost all Brits not only insist on email attachments guaranteeing viability and completedness of sample material but also actually insist on reading the material and making an informed decision. But more and more US agents choose to cut corners either out of sheer laziness or whining about their workload. These same assholes who feel the need to write their autobiographies on a business website insist we cannot cut corners, obey their every idiosyncratic edict, synopsize our work, give them a CV, our credentials and qualifications for writing the book, our marketing platform, since it's fallacious to assume massive publishing houses with publicity professionals to actually, you know, publicize their products, tell them what books similar to ours have been successfully been published in the past, why we want them to be our agent and... Oh yeah, do it in ten words or less.
This is why I call this absurdity and crime against literacy "literary speed dating."
And please stop telling us you have to be wildly, madly, impetuously, helplessly, hopelessly, heads over heels in puppy love before you can sell my book. You don't sell books for the "love of the game" or some such romantic, high-minded bullshit. As you and publishers keep telling us, publishing's a business, period. Please stop trying to make it sound like a process out of the Harlequin crap you help trowel out every month.
One of the things that gets my blood boiling at 1300 degrees Fahrenheit is when arch, arrogant douchebags waste time telling us what they hate seeing from the less conscientious of us when they should be reading sample material or selling properties. When I read pet peeve lists such as this, I get two takeaways: They hate writers and look upon us as cumbersome little door knockers with whom they'd rather not deal and they're infallible.
If you were so damned infallible, then please tell me why 90-95% of the adult fiction you rep never finds a home (a fact admitted on at least one agency website) and why am I writing my own pet peeve list? When I go to a fast food place or a gas station, I wouldn't want to hear constant pissing and moaning from the cashier about why they hate their job and their pet peeves regarding customers. Why should you be given that same latitude? Sure, you have legit gripes. I'm not saying you don't. But I don't care to hear them. And none of them apply to me or other conscientious, talented authors like me. You don't like your job? Wait tables or pump gas. Go the way of Harriet Wasserman, please.
No, you don't.
On virtually 100% of the agency websites I've had to endure these past few months, there's inevitably a little codecil that essentially says, "If you haven't heard from us after X weeks, please accept that as proof we wish you'll fuck off and die", or words to that effect. Citing, again, 300+ submissions a week and limited time, literary agencies are cutting more and more corners while not allowing us to do the same. Some of them even go with an email form, which just invites spam filters, because they're too lazy to read emails from people they've already decided cannot put cha-ching in their pockets.
I've already gone into some of the ways that literary agencies cheat and cut corners while expecting everyone in the business to be hunky dorey about it. But here's a list of how they do this: They want only queries first, not even a synopsis, and had better be more concise than their masturbatory ego trips. Some, hilariously, even ask for just the first page of your novel, reasonably expecting it'll hook them enough to want to lunge at the phone and call you before some other agent does. They have flunkies send off the form rejections because they can't spend the five seconds it would take to disrespect your personalized letter. You don't like "Dear Agent" letters? Well, we don't appreciate "Dear Author" letters or those without any salutation. Show some fucking professionalism, reciprocation and common courtesy. As with you, guys like me who routinely send off 200-300 proposals also work with large numbers. Only I do this in my spare time. You do this for a living. Again, do your fucking job and fuck your bullshit, one-sided self-dealt rules. Hire more agents. Hire more interns. Do what you have to do but ignoring conscientious authors is a big No no and makes authors not want to submit to you again.
Stop saying on your websites you don't read much less rep books about children in danger or about serial killers. That's half of everything Stephen King and John Grisham ever wrote and virtually everything written by Jonathan Kellerman and Andrew Vachss. Are you telling me you'd turn them down on the incredible chance they'd actually knock on your door looking for representation?
I'm not looking for a mommy or someone who winces over harmless written words. For better or worse, I'm looking for a literary agent to sell my book to the highest and best bidder. Again, be a fucking professional and act like it. Oh, and since you keep telling me this business is so subjective, I refer you again to the 90-95% failure rate on your part. Considering how often you fail, which wouldn't fly for a second in the real world, perhaps what's called for is some objectivity. Stop pretending as if your reading tastes reflect, or are reflected by, the reading tastes of an entire nation. Readers let their acumen guide their choices. Yours are run by monetary motives and you're still wrong almost 100% of the time.
Not a single literary classic in planetary history was ever sold by a literary agent. Virtually 100% of the turkeys sold to and published by legacy publishers were. Just because you were handed a protection racket by lazy, scumbag publishing executives 30 years ago doesn't make you all that. We are the people who write the books off of which you and your bedfellows in the Big Five publishing houses profit handsomely while paying us dog shit. Not one person ever bought a fucking book at a Barnes & Noble or anywhere else because of who the publisher or the literary agent who sold it was.
It's arrogant scumbags like you that are the primary reason for self-publishing's explosion over the last 7-8 years. Self-publishing's more than a pragmatic decision for those of us going that route. It's also a necessary and inevitable reaction to being treated like dog shit under your heels because in your ignorant, lazy snap decisions you don't think we can put jingle in your silk trousers or further your career ambitions.
And don't even get me started on Argo Navis...