I’ve been reading Janet Reid’s archives – less for education at this point than for sheer entertainment, to be honest. But this post got me thinking. (It is very short, and yes, you have to read it for the post you’re now looking at to make worthwhile sense.)
I’ve encountered agents and editors online and IRL who struck me as … let us say, not self aware. It is not the world’s deepest challenge to find publishing professionals saying things with all the facile and vacuous brightness (and, indeed, the very words) of a stock character in a Hollywood movie about Hollywood. Discussing art and creativity as business translates, and agents have become a trope, be they authors’ or actors’ pit-bull/chihuahua advocates.
More often than evil, the implications tend to go for comedy. Nakedly driven by business concerns, or sometimes almost (… almost …) adorably by dreams, real life Tweets and interviews and so on make clear the expectations and motivations behind “I’m looking for THE NEXT SUCH-AND-SUCH BESTSELLER” or (cringe) the old “this-meets-that” uber-shallow Hollywood pitchery. Expectations and motivations that other stock character, the long-suffering writer, endures to their emotional travail.
It is to sigh.
The point relating to Janet’s post is: I can comprehend the idea of someone who has long worked in publishing getting sneery about the industry and the people in it. Exposed, more than I ever have been, to these dynamics, sooner or later those enamored of their own integrity may feel themselves in need of feeling “better than that.”
Authors, by the way, do this too. Some of them out loud, or in print. Some of them do it in query letters; why else would so many agents have to explain on blogs and in interviews, “When you say ‘all the books being published now are trash’, THAT IS INSULTING” … ? We think my genre is better than your genre – or, more tellingly, my genre is more IMPORTANT than yours is – or reader categories – or other particular writers. And I don’t pretend I haven’t don this, though I have tried to be nonspecific when moaning about querying or reading or what have you.
But most of us learn to keep certain thoughts to ourselves, or at least not to name names – and we all move along.
Which is where Janet’s old post above comes in.
The thing about moving along is, in publishing and in life and in Hollywood and at any job in the world, what it usually means is, dealing with the people we find annoying or inferior, getting it over with, and then dealing with OTHER people.
Because: there are other people in publishing. There are always other people than the annoying ones. Always.
It is no more reasonable to consider “all agents” as possessing any one property than it is to paint every member of any particular gender, race, political party, or age group as a single, monolithic whole – homogeneous, and uniformly good or bad, or rich with nougaty goodness, or perhaps a little too salty with my high blood pressure, so I’d better hold off.
When I was actively querying (and I am still toying with research here and there, though nothing’s been sent of late), I queried GOOD agents. People for whom I have respect.
If I want to participate in this industry, I *need* to respect it.
The idea of considering it a dirty thing on the face of it, but “a necessary evil” is not merely bewildering to me, it’s confounding. To consider my work as product in no way demeans it, to me – if selling art was good enough for Michelangelo, it's good enough for me. As hellaciously painful as it’s been to watch my first borne (I’ll spell it that way rather than literally indicating labor and delivery in the biological sense) possibly fail, it doesn’t tell me I’ve written a bad novel nor that those who recognize they can’t sell it are the bottom-feeding minions of Be’elzebub. It tells me they’re being realistic about business.
It also tells me about the importance of how I populate my stories, and a whole raft of other privilege- and diversity-centric stuff I’ve blogged about already, but those are other posts.
Not one single agent in the world has done one thing to stand in my way. None could nor would stop me if I chose to get The Ax and the Vase out into the world; self-publishing is a perfectly cromulent piece of this business. I feel that *I* do not make a good prospective self-publisher, because the kind of sweat equity I long to invest in this work is different, and I frankly fear my competence to serve my novels without the partnership and network of traditional publishing.
But that doesn’t make traditional publishing my obstacle.
Only I can be that, for myself, and … I kind of prefer not to do that.
My faith in magic ain’t what it used to be (if it ever was), and my expectations have never been that Hilary Mantel oughtta WORRY when I hit the market. But nothing in the years I’ve been learning, and writing, and continually working on all the fronts necessary to my goals …
… nothing has ever persuaded me I don’t deserve this, nor that I won’t get it. It could have happened already, if my resources were greater than they are.
Just not if I had more Magical Literary Beans to get my creative beanstalk to the stratosphere.
Right now, I’m all I’ve got. I joke a lot about my wee and paltry little brain, but we all know I think plenty highly of myself.
I also know, perhaps the one magic I do have in my life, is the great good fortune to find people I respect and am grateful for to work with. Just yesterday, I was struck (hardly for the first time) by the realization that I have a job which is the envy of others doing similar work. Someone said to me, basically, I work with the best people because I am the best myself.
Not something I came by easily, nor early.
Even if I sign with someone unexpected, when it does come, or an agent I thought of as a long-shot/”eh, why not ping ‘em” prospect when I first researched them: when I do have one, my agent will be The Best.
Just as my Penelope is The Best Dog.
And just as there’s nothing OSUM-er than Gossamer.
If I have faith in myself, and in my work – how could I not have faith in the person who chooses (and whom I choose) to advocate it? The agent, the editor who snaps at it, and those who share acquisition decisions, and acquire it?
Yes, yes. It’s all business, and there is a part of the publishing business that concerns itself less with Literary Exquisiteness (or my personal, precious darlings) than with profit.
Hell, it ain’t insurance. And I worked in that industry for YEARS.
So tell me again how PUBLISHING is a bunch of awful little beasts … ?