A post with a certain resonance just at the moment —

Janet Reid had a question today that hit me as particularly, painfully ill-informed:

I’ve conquered the query hurdle and secured representation only to find that being on submission is ten times worse! After years of hard work, research, diligence, and above all, patience, I have to think there must be a better way for writers to find publishers that would be less frustrating and more transparent. It feels like the open waters out there and lots of talented writers are getting eaten alive! You’ve been very disparaging of some of the referral services that have popped up, perhaps rightfully so, but it seems to me that a service like Submittable could eventually replace the job of an agent.

So my question to you is, do you think the current agenting model is the pinnacle of publishing or is there a better way? What would that way look like?

I both winced and laughed. (Probably Janet Reid winced and gnashed her sharp shark teeth.)

What she actually said was: You’ll pardon me please if I get a little hot under the collar about the idea that you think I can be replaced by an Excel spread sheet. For starters, even asking the question tells me you don’t have a clue what an agent really does. The question implies that all we do is send manuscripts and wait for replies.

And then she goes on to list other stuff she does.

Well, this whole year I have been VERY cognizant of the cool stuff MY agent does for me, and let me tell you, Janet’s 20-point list is not even complete.

Not all agents do a lot (or any) editing when you send them a manuscript, but that is something I value very highly. Patricia Wrede specifically mentioned that she does not want her agent to act as an editor and I thought, REALLY? Because that seems very strange to me. I want my manuscripts to be as good as possible before my editors see them and most of the time my agent’s suggestions are dead right. But fine, fine, whatever floats your boat. Even then, though, your agent does more stuff than Janet mentioned — specifically all the back-and-forth negotiation on contracts. Yes, I do read contracts myself, and I read them carefully, but I am SO GLAD I do not have to do any of the actual negotiation myself.

If you’re a writer, do you need an agent? No, if you’re self-publishing, though you sure do need a couple of really good beta readers. But YES, IF YOU ARE NEGOTIATING CONTRACT TERMS WITH PUBLISHERS.

Okay, fine, I’m sure someone somewhere has done great working with publishers without an agent, because every probability curve has a far end. But basically, Janet is dead right. Your agent does all the stuff she says plus more.

She’s also right that the submissions process ought to be transparent. I hate to think of anybody being unable to pry information out of their “agent.” I can’t imagine a real agent would not provide submissions information at the drop of a pin.

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