Sep 07

Thoughts on agent rejection; Issues affecting the evolving publishing market

Summary: I challenge the theories presented by two respected agents this morning. First, authors should expect to feel the sting of rejection; we need to overcome that. Second, agents need to examine their place in the changing publishing marketplace: the days of cherry picking publish-ready clients may be ending.


This morning, two blog posts written by highly respected agents have given me pause. On her blog, Jane Friedman (Google+Twitter) advises authors not to take rejection personally. Rachelle Gardner (Twitter) says on her blog that she expects to represent manuscripts that are nearly publish-ready.

I respectfully challenge both theories, for different reasons.

First, rejection. Ms. Friedman likens commercial publication to business transactions. That’s very true, when approached in a vacuum. But we have to remember that books are like entrepreneurial startups: they are a labor of love. Especially that first novel or C-Corp.

Rejection hits hard because we are emotionally invested. Is it rational? Of course not. Is it natural? Yes! Instead of saying, “Don’t feel rejected,” I say, “Take that rejection and overcome it.” Use those feelings of disappointment, anguish, sadness, despair, [hyperbolic adjective], and come at your next project with a heightened passion.

Ms. Gardner says that she is less likely to take on clients whose works require extensive editing. She attributes that mindset to a crowded schedule. While I completely understand her point and empathize with it, I must say: if my book is nearly publish-ready, then why do I need an agent?

If I am competent enough to write a publishable novel, then I am competent enough to hire a macro editor who can double as a copyeditor. And in today’s market, I’m damn sure competent enough to publish on my own. Sure, it will be a lot of work, as Janet Reid (Twitter) points out on her blog. But you know what, I’m going to have to expend a truckload of effort to market myself in order to find success via traditional publishing. Again, assuming I’m competent, I can handle the additional workload, especially if I’m saving myself the 15% agent fee.

I think Ms. Gardner’s point hits at the core of the trends affecting the evolving publishing marketplace. Agents need to justify their 15%. Is it enough simply to say, “Hey, I can get you published because I have good relationships with editors at X, Y, and Z Publishing House?” For authors who need help, the answer is: Absolutely yes! For talented authors, I say no.

Therefore, shouldn’t agents be targeting those authors who need help? They are the clients who will benefit most from an agent’s support. They are the clients who will be eternally thankful for the agent’s help, and will continue to work with the agent for their entire careers. These clients are the agents’ long-term moneymakers.

In my opinion, these coming years will see agents scrambling more for their commissions. The days of easy pickin’s appear to be ending. This holds especially true if literary fiction joins the gaggle of self-published successes, as Nathan Bransford (Google+Twitter) explores on his blog.

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