Writers and literary agents need to go to couples therapy if either one is to understand, appreciate, and work more smoothly and productively with the other. Right now, there is a huge chasm between expectations, needs, and desires between the camp of writers and that of literary agents.
Literary agents are a mystery to many writers. Would-be authors simply do not understand why they can’t get even one lousy literary agent to represent them, and should they be so lucky as to get picked by one, they feel further frustration when that agent can’t bring home a publishing contract.
Authors have many questions:
** Why do so many publishers depend so much on agents, without giving writers a chance to contact them directly? Isn’t it possible the agents are wrong, biased, or not so talented?
** Who the hell are these agents that they in essence get to pick what America reads? There are no licensing, educational, or legal requirements to be an agent. Heck, you can become one even if you are on parole for a violent crime, have dropped out of high school, or smoke crack.
** Whatever happened to publishing pure writers with real talent — and not making publishing decisions based on one’s tweet frequency? Sure, marketability is important, but doesn’t strong writing count for anything? Would Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or George Orwell even have been published if today’s marketing standards were used to filter potential authors?
Literary agents have many frustrations with writers who seek their representation.
** Why can’t writers follow simple instructions and follow the submission guidelines on their website?
** Why don’t authors understand they need a platform, to establish their track record of viability?
** When will authors embrace the tools and resources available to them, such as hiring a publicist, building a mailing list of readers, using social media, scheduling speaking engagements, and calling upon their networking circle to build a brand?
** When will some writers realize they are not as good as they think, and even when they are, that they need to be both marketable and active as a marketer?
Agents and authors want to work together and to help each other. They also want to tell the other to fuck off. Sounds like a solid marriage, huh?
Literary agents compete against other agencies and even amongst themselves. Around 375,000 books are published by traditional publishers annually. Another 1.6 million are self-published in that time. Roughly 80 percent of all submissions to get published are rejected, assuming all of the self-published tried and failed to get published.
Writers can’t merely write what seems to be just as good as most books; it needs to be better. And whether a book is great or mediocre, it will get published when the promise of marketing is obvious, either because of one’s track record, sizeable brand (number of social media connections), and/or commitment to put resources toward its success, such as a commitment to hire a publicist to support a publisher’s efforts.
So, yes, some writers need to put up or shut up. The era of a writer who is lazy, whiney, egotistical, delusional, or marketing atheistic -- and who believes they deserve to be published -- is dead. Writers need to embrace their role as not just a writer, but a writer-marketer.
However, agents you are not off the hook here. You need to be willing to be open to working with authors that are such good writers even if they abhor twitter or fear public speaking. Many books can be marketed well even if the author is not doing as much as a publisher would hope for. You need to make the case to a publisher without just relying on the fact an author has a decent social media following. Think bigger and bolder. Stop playing it safe and demanding writers do all of the heavy lifting. Prosecute the case to the publisher on merit and talent and opportunity— not just based on an author’s blog having a good following.
The book industry needs fresh indie maverick publishers who have balls and experiment and work closely with their authors and train them while also helping them. I have yet to see a traditional publisher in this century who truly collaborates with the author in a meaningful and strategic way.
We are still in a gate-keeper publishing world. Nearly 90 percent of Publishers Weekly bestsellers come from the Big 5 — and almost all are from traditional publishers. Self-published books, on average, may sell 150 copies; hybrids a little more. All of this comes at a great expense to the author who spends thousands on reviews, ads, blog tours, book displays, giveaways, etc. The authors, for all of their bravado of having editorial freedom and being entrepreneurs, crave being published by a publisher that validates their writings and actively supports them.
So, even with all of that said above, the simple truth remains: The path to an author’s success typically has a better chance through a publisher.
To get a publisher, you likely need to secure a literary agent. To do that, you need to play the game and shape your proposal and query letter to meet their needs and expectations.
But the one thing you can control is your writing and your marketing efforts. You are in the minor leagues now, and need to prove to others that you are worthy of being elevated to the Big Leagues.
Literary agents and writers must come to a better understanding of what it will take to truly collaborate with one another. Anyone for group psychotherapy?
Brian Feinblum, the founder of this award-winning blog, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org He is available to help authors promote their story, sell their book, and grow their brand. He has 30 years of experience in successfully helping thousands of authors in all genres.
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About Brian Feinblum
Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2022. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This blog, with over 4,000 posts over the past decade, was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” For the past three decades, including 21 as the head of marketing for the nation’s largest book publicity firm, and two jobs at two independent presses, Brian has worked with many first-time, self-published, authors of all genres, right along with best-selling authors and celebrities such as: Dr. Ruth, Mark Victor Hansen, Joseph Finder, Katherine Spurway, Neil Rackham, Harvey Mackay, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Warren Adler, Cindy Adams, Susan RoAne, Jeff Foxworthy, Seth Godin, and Henry Winkler. He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America, and has spoken at ASJA, IBPA, Sarah Lawrence College, Nonfiction Writers Association, Cape Cod Writers Association, Willamette (Portland) Writers Association, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. His letters-to-the-editor have been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Post, NY Daily News, Newsday, The Journal News (Westchester) and The Washington Post. He has been featured in The Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. For more information, please consult: linkedin.com/in/brianfeinblum.