Friday, 1 February 2008

LITERARY AGENTS

Well, I have completed my social satire now. It’s out and available on AMAZON. I shall spare you the details. Rumours that I’m in discussion with a New York literary agent for a deal that could be worth $ 1.5, are, I’m afraid, precipitous. But I am obviously hoping for a sycophantic reception. There is much that I never imagined I would submit to paper. It should in my view create the worst possible outrage. Will it be read as much as Alice in Wonderland? I certainly hope so. But I must give my full attention now to the subsequent endeavour. The Moonshine Memoranda, amongst other things, part of a critical survey of the decrepit blogosphere. Which is chiefly interesting to me as an antidote to literary convention. So it’s going to be fun.

First, though, some history.

I came across my first literary agent some years ago, when he was an editor and I was a fashion model with one of the top West End agencies. My image then, was one of teenage innocence. I was so wholesome you could have wrapped me up in pink and produce me as a chick-lit cover. My enthusiasm for the man was undiminished by the fact that he had rejected every MS I ever submitted. I will not mention his name, but if he’d spotted my talent he might by now be one of the plenipotentiaries in the publishing division of Time Warner rather than endure the agonies of a literary shyster.

I have written frequently to this thoughtless man.

I even accepted I might have lunch with him. He begged to be excused.
I tried every angle, including massive elasticity about rates of commission. What was his response to that?
To put the phone down, if you must know.
“Are you going to read my book?” I demanded at my next opportunity.
“It’s too intellectual for me.”
I made no attempt to argue.
“It’s an outstanding script!” I wrote the following day. And clearly, I meant it. But his retort, conveyed to me with none of the restraint which one would expect from a person so sublimely entitled, left no doubt as to my error.
“You’re the only one who thinks so.”
I hung my head.
Here is another gambit I used unsuccessfully.
“I understand you’ve placed a lot of very successful authors,” I said.
“No,” the reply went, “good authors place themselves.”
“I’ll try and remember that,” I said.

Then I met a milk-faced agent. My name meant nothing to him. I gathered that he had yet to place his very first client. He was as doubtful about his role in the literary business as I was certain of mine. More startlingly to me, there was a nice reverence in his matter, as though there was every possibility that I were the women of letters and he was the neophyte.

“Excellent manuscript!” he said.

I was flattered, even surprised. I’d never had anybody say that to me before, least of all a literary agent. I wanted him to expand more upon the secrets of sinuous, sub-claused prose, technical competence, purple prose style and an opulent vocabulary, but he changed the subject right back to sex (He sure knew a lot about it). It could not have surprised me more if he had been a recruitment pimp.

I am concerned. Perhaps he was!

Agents are not, of course, either divine or inhuman; it is, however, worth remarking that we are the people who invented them. The real trouble is, of course, that nobody has the time anymore or the emotional energy to sit down and write a great book. Everybody wants to get published, have great reviews, win awards, and even give lectures. So the result is that agents are perceived as pompous, self-centred, arrogant by expediency and imbued with a sublime sense of entitlement, whereas authors, staggering aimlessly around the literary circuit in search of representation, have little more than creative writing seminars or workshops on synopses as their literary heritage.

Personally I have never felt the need to follow protocol. For me, the charm of writing lies in its freedom from convention. Indeed, I have to admit to a certain dereliction in never even having enquired as to academic procedure. But then again, I am a vociferous supporter of laissez faire and sex in the afternoon (which imposes little in the way of procedural constraint). It is only gradually that I changed the issue into one of literary freedom. And that, to me, is twice as compelling as any manager menace or editorial emergency room.

Write and be damned!

Dreamy

7 comments:

Richard Madeley said...

I find myself incapable of making an experience comment. Agents won’t deal with me. Perhaps it’s the fame of our Richard&Judy book club that has done it, but I’m vilified by agents whose clients we must have refused. I do think that the business of literary agents has degenerated to the point where it has become crazy. Writers do the hard work and deserve more respect. Instead, agents hang out ‘no vacancy’ notices and chase us away as though we’re beggars looking for scraps at their door.

We are damned because we write.

crescent said...

Hi Miss Moonshine - I like the sound of you - you got any pictures of you on your blog or on Flickr,Myspace, etc. :-)

Hey! You an arty type so check out my blog http://sayingsome.blogspot.com

Merci beaucoup mon amis :)

Hi Richard - How is Judy?

Simon

Richard Madeley said...

Yes, Selena. Any pictures of you on Flickr or Myspace? I've bought myself a top quality printer and a tub of handcream just in case there are...

Selena Dreamy said...

you got any pictures of you on your blog or on Flickr,Myspace

I do not believe this is the case, more particularly since I’ve never heard of Flickr, but I do wonder about the effect they would be having on you gentlemen, if there were....!

elberry said...

Richard's quite right, publishers & agents regard unpublished writers as filthy leprous beggars. i can see their point, having waded through dozens of shitty blogs by shitty would-be writers bitching about how they can't get their 'great' novel published; and having read some truly dire stuff masquerading as fiction on youwriteon.com; and some not-at-all-bad stuff that nonetheless just didn't seem quite good enough to end up being published. Even the aged secretary i replaced, whose English i judge (from her templates) as being just-about competent, was apparently planning to write a novel, presumably about her life as a medical secretary; and presumably it would be shit.

i can see that They have no reason to even consider a manuscript that doesn't come with its own PR campaign and a famous name attached, that their lives are probably busy enough just keeping up with the latest shit by Ian McEwan and some London journalist with big connections & no talent. Why should they stay up to 0200 every night skim-reading the slushpile, 99% of which is garbage? - and bearing in mind that of the remaining 1%, maybe only 1% of that they could envisage in book form.

When i was doing bad bad data entry jobs and was dirt poor, the hope of getting my stuff published was my lifeline, so i was rather bitter about constant rejection. Now i've a cushy if not high-paying job, and the blog thing sates my hunger for readers, i'm a bit calmer.

But still, it's a damn disgrace. There isn't a single great writer - not Shakespeare, not Dickens, not Tolstoy, not Kafka, not Austen, not Proust - who, if he or she were writing the 21st C equivalent of their masterpieces, could get a deal today. Even Jane Austen, who would i guess write something you could mistake for superb chicklit if you wanted to, if she didn't have contacts, if she wasn't famous, she'd be unpublishable today.

The hell with it, let's roll over a bank. Selena - you can distract the guards with your long long legs; Richard, you're our dynamiter!; can you get Clarkson to be our getaway driver?

i'll just kill anyone who gets in our way.

Jonathan said...

Some businessmen sell baked beans. Others sell books. When the purpose is profit, you care about people buying, not whether the product is good in-itself.

The issue is what determines quality, and what is 'the good' in art, and why? Is it popularity, that human quantity says through its purchasing that something is what it wants (they might not care if it is 'good'). Or is quality something rooted in objective, transcendent qualities independent of the demand for them by minds and hearts interested in more of what they already know they want.

Publishers are businessmen not defenders and propagators of notions of 'the good' independent of the market.

Do I blame publishers? Yes, I do, but that is because I don't think they should be businessmen, turning products of the spirit into baked beans. But given that they are businessmen, and if we accept that they should be businessmen (do we?), their behaviour is hardly surprising.

What are the criteria of 'the good'in art. If we cannot answer this question, and collectively we can't, should we be surprised that quantity of sales answers it for us?

Selena Dreamy said...

Elberry: They have no reason to even consider a manuscript that doesn't come with its own PR campaign and a famous name attached

Jonathan: Publishers are businessmen not defenders and propagators of notions of 'the good' independent of the market.

Spot on! A good agent will receive up to 400 manuscripts a week. Which materially prohibits any proper inspection at all. And publishers need to be commercialy viable. Hence the grooming of "trends".

It is very hard on prospective authors - including myself - but I'd hate to be a literary agent. Full stop!