seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

It's rare one finds a truly literate loon...

But when you do, it can be mindbogglingly spectacular. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you: Mary W. Walters.

Ms. Walters was brought to my attention some months ago when she posted this amusing screed basically accusing agents of being the right hand of Satan, blocking things from being published that "ought" (by her lights, naturally) to be published.

Had it stopped there (with the rantings and back and forthing expected in such a situation), I'd probably never have given her a second thought. "Amusingly paranoid and self-important" was my assessment, and that would have ended it.


Apparently she's arranged (probably using Google, as many do) to Kiboze for her name/site being mentioned. And so when one of my LJ friends updated, she responded to his prior posting on the matter. In an endearingly warm-hearted, if far too idealistic, moment, he volunteered a crit for her work. This worked out about as well as one might expect.

I then popped back to her site, finding (as you will) that -- far from dropping the silliness -- she had escalated, continuing her "Talent Killers" rantings in a couple more postings, and -- most recently -- writing a "Fellow Writers -- Friends or Foes" article in which she masterfully paints the world of fellow authors as a snake-den of would-be Borgias, who may have something of use to offer to you, but who may be sharpening the knives for your back and poisoning your cup even as they speak.

In her second "Talent Killers" screed, she posts, among other things:

NO ONE who has responded to my article has said a word to dispute my underlying assertion (or accusation, if you will), which was—and continues to be—that literary agents are excluding from consideration by major publishing houses those writers who, after one or more books with smaller presses, have reached a stage where they are ready to reach a much wider audience–and whose books have the potential to make substantial sales in that wider market. Most agents do not want to work with these writers because they do not command the kind of advance that makes them worth the bother from an immediate economic point of view for the agents (and the agents alone: everyone else stands to benefit economically).

Personally, I doubt very seriously that "no one" said words to dispute the underlying assertion. But in case that's true, allow me to state the simple, obvious fact that agents have no motive to exclude anyone from consideration UNLESS THAT PERSON, IN THEIR ESTIMATION, IS EITHER (A) Not someone for whom they could do a good job marketing, or (B)inadequate, in one way or another, to be a published writer.

There is of course a third consideration, which is whether the agent has any free slots available.

Monetarily, an agent benefits from getting more clients. From THEIR point of view, getting a self-published author is NO DIFFERENT from getting a new unpublished author (although, if they managed to get their "self published" book widely distributed, THAT BOOK may not be able to command regular advance rates because the PUBLISHERS will define it as previously published.)

EDIT: I should note that SMALL press publication counts as "published" by any standard, but still is unlikely to change your advance TOO much from a large publisher unless your small press got a big, big sale from your work. Self-publication may or may not count as "publication" from a given publisher's point of view, and almost certainly WON'T increase your advance. However, most of the other points apply to self or small publisher.END EDIT

Do they benefit MORE from getting higher advances? Sure. But new clients are more often than not new writers, not long-established writers with high advance potential. Sometimes they're experienced midlisters whose advance potential has gone DOWN, but the agent thinks they can find them a better deal.

NO ONE is better than a good agent at evaluating the market for a book and, in the long term, an author. It's what they do. They're NOT out there blocking some particular type or set of writers from being published. If one agent doesn't handle it, you can bet there's another agent out there that does. As a group, they WANT new authors -- and if they haven't handled you before, you're new. If you're self-published (barring the one in a million "Eragon") you are a new, unpublished author. Sorry, but that's the flat truth. You aren't published until the publisher has offered you money, and taken none from you.

What agents DO do is decide which OF THEIR MANY CHOICES is going to be the most profitable.

This is not a conspiracy against literature. This is business. And this is the business that the PUBLISHERS PAY THEM FOR. (note, the AUTHOR is technically paying them, but in reality there's no payment for the agent unless the publisher ponies up, and the amount is determined by how much the publisher wants to pay for the book).

Many publishers will not accept unagented manuscripts. This is NOT the work of an agent-conspiracy. This is the publishers deliberately saying "we want those guys to filter the stuff so we don't have to wade through the 10,000 manuscripts that suck to find the 10 that are publishable".

Publishing is a business too.

And if you're a new author, you are asking the publisher to risk something on the order of $20,000 ON YOUR BOOK. From a number of sources I've been told that that is, roughly, the amount of money a publisher can expect to LOSE on the publication of a first novel.

Given that, what exactly would you expect a business to do? Trust the judgment of experienced and trained individuals who have a track record of knowing what's good and what's bad, in terms of salability, or the judgment of the self-proclaimed author who, undoubtedly, has biases in a direction NOT necessarily including your businesses' betterment?

The rant about fellow authors is even more pathetic. It's unfortunately too widespread an attitude to be laid at her door, but she writes well enough in that setting (I can't judge her fiction) to give a veneer of plausibility to the position.

In actuality, of all the authors I have met at multiple conventions, or talked to in other settings, I have never gotten the feeling of being a competitor. We aren't, really. The really successful authors are, truth be told, SUPPORTING the midlisters and the new writers. They're the ones producing the money that allows the publisher to RISK that twenty grand on Mr or Ms Unknown Writer in the hope that they, perhaps, will be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

Hell, there's one author I've said nasty things about in public (Lee Goldberg -- for his, in my opinion, hypocritical and silly stance on fanfiction), but whom I still wouldn't consider a "competitor" or, if I was in the position to review his work, someone I should torpedo. He's a clearly competent and reliable writer who knows how to write to deadline and entertain his target audience, which makes him bloody worth his weight in gold to many a publisher. I would have no trouble being friendly with him in person (though I'd cheerfully savage him verbally over the same fanfic issue) and in a professional context would be perfectly happy to see him continue to do well.

The other authors are not the enemy. If they're successful, they pay their own way.

BUSINESS IS NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. This may be the single basic principle that many people miss. While there's a limit to how many new authors get published per year, that's a monetary/resource and market-based limit. IF THE MARKET INCREASES, more people can be published.

Is it possible for an author (or agent, or editor) to block your publication? Yes. If they're particularly powerful in the industry; I could see, for instance, Stephen King, or the chief editor at some major publisher, etc., being able to block an individual author from publication, at least by any of the larger presses. But it would have to be an extremely personal thing, and would be obvious and well-known (if kept fairly quiet outside of the industry). It's not something that would be done as a systematic habit. Only if you did something that REALLY pissed someone off -- ran over their favorite pet dog, stole their Significant Other, etc.

Even radical differences in politics generally won't kill the deal if you're a good author. My friend and coauthor Eric Flint is well-known as a communist, yet he's been published regularly by Baen Books for many years, and Baen is mostly known as the most radically right-wing/libertarian of the SF presses. And of course it's Eric Flint's fault that I'm a published author, too.

Note that all this comes from someone who DOES NOT YET HAVE AN AGENT, so it's not as though I'm defending agents out of personal self interest. I'm doing it because I ran headlong into the lunacy, and it was too funny not to respond to.
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