business / writing

An Open Letter to Agents–Open Your Minds or I’m Leaving

Times have changes--photo credit: Nemo

Times have changed–photo credit: Nemo

An efriend of mine had a very public self-described ‘meltdown’ over her lack of progress in finding a publisher. Her words were heart-rending because they reflected the fears of every low- and mid-list writer I know. We all worry that we won’t

find an agent or our agent won’t find a publisher, that the words we struggled over into the wee hours of the night will not resonate with the gatekeepers. You never forget your first kiss or your last rejection letter.

But I have a different conclusion than my friend and I want to share it with you. If I as a writer can dial down my frustration for the next five years, my day will arrive. Your world, dear agent, is changing. Where you historically held a vice grip on my future, now you are just an option. For some of my fellow writers, trading print and digital control of their work for the right to claim your representation is worth it. To have you bestow your imprimatur for them  is akin to being the front runner in a marathon. Yes, they know we as authors can self-publish, but the legacy of books like Gone With the Wind and For Whom the Bell Tolls makes that voice inside them ask, “If it’s good enough, why doesn’t an agent take it?”

Here’s why and it has nothing to do with the quality of my work:

  1. These days, you and your publisher friends are stretched economically as is every other American business. As a result, you want the rainmaker. Wouldn’t I love to write a million dollar book the first time? Statistically, it’ll take 3-5 books under my writer’s pen before that Big One hits. It used to be, you signed me to be there when the big money day came. Now, you want that day to be today.
  2. My goals as a writer are different from yours. You want the Big Story. I write to make a living doing what I love. I don’t need to get rich at it; I just need to get by.

The inevitable end to these different goals is if I buy into your historic power, I get discouraged and give up when I’m  not an overnight success. You hope I don’t notice that there is a huge appetite among readers for niche volumes. Lots of books you turn down find digital audiences. You seem to consider that a trend that will go away (which is what the business leaders said about computers as I recall). Let me see if I can explain why that’s happening in terms you will understand. The engine of American business is fueled by mid-level employees with a spouse, a modest house, 2.5 kids, lots of mortgage and twice as much hope that they’ll do their job well enough to earn a big promotion. The writers are the fuel for your publishing engine. We write because we love it, want to see our name in print, are happy to give you much more of the money than it seems you deserve, because… Well, I’m not sure why, but it seems OK to many of my fellow writers because we enjoy writing. It’s our passion, our ace in the hole, our lottery ticket. We’d love to make thousands a month, but are happy with hundreds.

Therein blow the winds of change: You don’t want that midlist book.

I leave you with a thought. I won’t stop trying. Well, I might for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but soon, the keys will be back under my fingers and I’ll peck out some thoughts, a couple of chapters, wordsmith those scenes so they work. I CAN’T quit. You miss the point of why I want to be published. I don’t need to get rich. I just need to get by doing what I love.

So, when you turn me down, I’m going to thank my god that I live in a country and a time when self-publishing is an option.


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s seeking representation for a techno-thriller that she just finished. Any ideas?  Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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24 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Agents–Open Your Minds or I’m Leaving

  1. And self-publishing is only getting bigger – it’s so true, and while some people claim that it’s flooding the market with sub-par writing, I would contend that it’s just making the market more competitive, and hey, whatever. I have to work harder? I work hard anyway.

    • I almost laughed when one of the agents at a conference I went to said she viewed herself as the ‘gatekeeper’–protecting readers from sub-par books. Ha! So many great Indie books that have smaller audiences so agents/publishers discard them.

  2. Jacqui, you write our exasperation, Succinctly, perfectly. You write for me, for so many. You show that you are vulnerable (an open heart and listening ear, taking chances.) Thanks for stating so well what we who write feel. We will become Occupy Agents and Editors, only we can camp out forever on the virtual lawn of the crumbling publishing houses.
    Books have changed over the millennia. From pokes in mud, to marks on sticks, to hand prints in caves, to carvings on rocks, to paintings on walls, to hand made ink on parchment scrolls, to illuminated manuscripts, to hand bound tomes, to mass produced books, to the extraordinary variety of books that are available in a modern world, including stories written in text messages on phones in chapters of 160 clicks – books change with the times. Agents are a relatively new part of the writing process. Oog, who pushed his broken shell into the damp earth, didn’t wait for a contract from an agent.
    Writing goes on, because we have something to say, and we will write. In a few years agents may come looking for the writers they overlooked, but in a few years more, agents will be refreshing their educations. They’ll be the ones needing new jobs.
    We writers will still be writing, and getting our words out there via all the new paths. We’ll write in the mud and paint on the walls, tap on computers and tell our stories. Because something the agents keep forgetting is this: people crave stories, and no one, not one reader, has ever asked a writer to show their agent’s credentials before picking up a book, in whatever format, to read.
    We writers write because we love to do so, we have a passion to tell stories. And readers, adaptable readers, love to read.
    Don’t give up, Jacqui. You’re on the right track. You’re on the writing track.
    Shari *: )

    • Wow. I wish I’d said that, or said it as well. For those who don’t know you–Shari is SO CLOSE to getting her first book out. And I can’t wait. Allow me to write your first review!

  3. Thanks for sharing this important perspective, Jacqui, and for connecting us to Tahlia. I posted a comment on her blog as well. We all need to hang in there together, support each other, and celebrate every little success that any of us can bring to the table. Hope you’re having a good week! –Cheri

  4. Great post, my agent is living in the old world and you don’t have to have read many indie books to realise that the quality is there. Sure, some are pretty terrible, but they won’t last long.

    Like you Jacqui, I just want enough return from my writing to get by on, but my frustration wasn’t just with my agent and the whole trad publishing thing, but also with the difficulties of marketting my self published work. We do have the option to self publish now which is terrific and I have taken it for my short stories, but then we have to get our work to the people who will like it. Cheri reminded me that it just takes time, but marketting is a not easy. However it is also surprising.

    One of my marketting strategies kicked in a couple of days ago when I finally got ‘The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice’, a short story except from an anthology, to go free on Amazon. It whizzed up to 41 on the best sellers list for Romance and the sales for the anthology, A Matter of Perception has increased as well, so it’s working. I didn’t expect such radical results in such a short time. It’s a free short, but now all those people have read some of my writing and will hopefully buy a longer work. My reviews have all been good, so really I have a lot to be pleased about.

    Thanks for your support. If you check out the acknowlegements at the end of my stories, they’re dedicated to the happiness of my blogging friends – that’s you.

    • that is wonderful news, Tahlia. And you’re right about the marketing. There’s a constant tug-o-war between devoting time to writing and raising awareness. Free book on Amazon sounds like it worked well. I have a book that will be ready for self-pubbing in about 6 months. I may try your approach. Keep letting us-all know how it goes!

      • There’s a need for self pubbed authors to share what works in the marketting department, especially because I have a feeling that there’s some advertising scams atound. I saw one that asked authors to pay $25 to give away free books???? yes the books were going to get to lots of people, but to pay $25 for the privilege, didn’t seem quite right to me.

  5. Pingback: Should You Self-Publish Your Novel? « Doug Solter

  6. Thanks for the post. I’m new to your blog (via Doug Solter). I too have experienced the frustration of trying to get an agent, finally getting the agent, having my novel turned down by big 6 editors, finding out on the Internet that my agent was fired, (no I did not make that up,) and getting fired by the agency. A friend gave my comedic mystery ms to a tiny press who published it one year ago. To date that book has sold over 8000 copies. Amanda Hocking? No. Am I happy? Yes.

    I am AGAIN, agent shopping for a new novel in a different genre. Am spending lots of time waiting, getting form rejections, and waiting. How long will I wait? Don’t know.

    In the meantime I finished book #2 in the mystery series – and will self-publish that novella shortly.

    Thanks for sharing. This is a frustrating yet exiting time in publishing.

    Best,

    • Your story is why I am deciding that self-pub isn’t so bad. What a roller coaster! How do we as writers survive that? I don’t know. It makes being the master of my own destiny sound not half bad.

      Self-employed, here I come.

  7. I published 1 paper book and one e-book, both in 1998. E-books were so new that they were rejected by the publishing community, and the writer communities! It came down to, “if it isn’t paper, it isn’t.” My writers group (a national group) would not accept E-book publishers into their “published ranks.” It was a war for awhile. I had one foot in each door, but I never found an agent. And, damn I tried. I suffered some pretty rough rejection blows, including my paper publisher telling me not to submit to them going forward, **prior** to my first book’s release. Why? Who knows? But it had a good sell through. As far as the E-book, the company distributed without my consent and I was seldom paid, usually a few bucks.To this day it is being sold without any monies back to me, including on Amazon. This publisher since sold their company, but the new company has ignored my letters requesting an audit. After 20 years writing, and the way that publisher handled my budding career, and the nightmare with my E-book, I just wanted to control my own future and stopped writing novels around 2001. Fast forward to now…E-books are becoming a standard. Not only are the agents losing their foothold, but so are the publishers. Media is entirely up for grabs. I’d encourage writers to consider self-publishing if they can’t find a publisher, because even if they do find one, they still might find themselves rejected.

    • What a frightening story. Tell everyone you can and name names so we avoid those who use our words without reimbursing us. I hope you’ve returned to writing. I love the idea of controlling my own destiny, even if the money is less than if I ‘made it big with an agent’. How many people accomplish that?

  8. I write because I can’t imagine a life with out words. Agent or no agent, published or not….I’m grateful just to have a forum whether it’s my blog or my own self-published effort. I write therefore I am.

  9. Reblogged this on Andrew Toynbee's very own Blog and commented:
    This exactly mirrors my current feelings about agencies and the publishing industry. Agents want to sign the BIGGEST BOOK ON THE PLANET.
    But if they don’t have faith and sign up a number of smaller or mid-list potential books, how are they going to know when they have found the next (insert current blockbuster here)?

    • Your lips to God’s ear. That’s what I’m sayin’. They just don’t get it and it shows in the stats for the industry.

      We’re OK. They aren’t (as far as a healthy business model).

  10. Wonderful article; you voiced many of my thoughts about the publishing gamut. We no longer live in age where there is one road to success. The Map has expanded, thank God, for us.

    “I CAN’T quit. You miss the point of why I want to be published. I don’t need to get rich. I just need to get by doing what I love.” ~ Amen!

    ~ Cara

  11. A very inspiring post Jacqui. I have been trying to persuade those that will listen that you have to do the mid-list bit yourself these days as traditional publishers are even more unlikely than they ever were to take on new authors. Whether the time is coming where the traditional publisher and agent structure dies completely remains to be seen. I am personally not convinced that they can change fast enough and continue to add enough value as the book world continues to change in years to come. But for the moment, the big sales are still with the old structure. You just have to prove your mettle first by doing it the hard way on your own at the beginning.

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