Wednesday, June 5, 2013

De-Deifying Agents

by Charlee Vale

Anyone who has done even the most basic research about getting traditionally published will come across the term literary agent. An agent will most likely help you get your book into the best shape it can possibly be. Having one of these is a really good step toward getting a book deal with a legitimate publisher. They are a commodity, something that is highly sought after and notoriously hard to procure.

Notice anything about that last paragraph? The language I intentionally used in the above paragraph about agents, is language that could be used about anything. Not once did I refer to them as people—or even human—and this is pretty much our normal perception of them.

In the internet community of aspiring writers, you'll often hear agents described as something: gatekeepers, the way to fame, elusive, or any number of positive and negative things that dehumanize them and make us treat them like the mythical creatures of the publishing industry.

The language we use to describe literary agents inherently has problems in it. When we stop referring to people as people, they become objects. And when someone becomes an object, not only can they be acted on without their consent, but a whole host of behavior is opened up that would be otherwise unnacceptable.

I've heard more than a few horror stories—writers tracking down agents' home addresses to send them material, showing up in person at a non-business location, screaming at agents at conferences for not accepting their pitch, following them. Would we ever consider doing these things to a random stranger? No, probably not. So why is it okay to do it for someone with the title literary agent? It's not, and it's the image that agents are somehow not human that is to blame.

Literary Agents are people just like us. They have families, birthdays, apartments, and houses. They cook, clean, get dressed, and go to the bathroom. They are people, they have names—more than that, identities. Being a literary agent is their job, and despite most of them loving what they do, it isn't who they are.

When interacting with agents on the internet and in person, get to know them. They're really fun people. I encourage you to talk to them looking to hear their thoughts and opinions rather than looking for an opportunity to pitch to them. Listen to their interests in order to get good book recommendations instead of trying to seek out the next trend. Try to see them as a person with hopes and dreams similar to the ones you have, not just a potential business opportunity.

Don't make literary agents gods—that image puts just as much pressure on them as it does on you, probably more.

"What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person." —Paper Towns (John Green)

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter.


R.C. Lewis said...

Excellent post, Charlee, and so true. It's one thing to elevate a person (agent or otherwise) because you think they're an awesome person. It's another to elevate them so far beyond personhood that they become a highly valued THING.

Like you said, when they become a thing, a tool, a means to an end for our own dreams, things get ugly. By the same token, I think it's also possible to treat them too "nicely." Too much "we're not worthy, may I scrape the gum off your shoes?"

Then they make a mistake, and we freak out. How dare they?

Oh, wait. They're human. I probably made five mistakes by the time I left my room this morning.

We want to impress them. We want them to like us. That's fine. Even though it's not the same kind of relationship, we can treat them like a potential employer, or a potential date.

Those people who come on too hard with the over-the-top pick-up lines? Yeah, we don't want to be THAT person.

Interpersonal connection. I think you're right—that's the key.

SC Author said...

"When we stop referring to people as people, they become objects. And when someone becomes an object, not only can they be acted on without their consent, but a whole host of behavior is opened up that would be otherwise unnacceptable."

Probably one of the best original quotes I've ever found on a blog.

SUCH an amazing post, so true, and something everyone (even I!) have to completely understand and think about. I keep trying to imagine them doing normal stuff (like grocery shopping) so I can get in the 'they are real people' zone, but I keep imagining people running after them to pitch!

Liza said...

This is a smart perspective. Thank you for sharing!

Rob Polk said...

How simple yet often forgotten. Works for all groups, too. Each person is an individual and deserving of dignity. Thanks for the post!

Carolyn Charron said...

Nicely put! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Jemi Fraser said...

Well said, Charlee! :)

Jody Worsham said...

Common sense makes the most sense. Thanks. Jody, The Medicare Mom

Matt Sinclair said...

Excellent topic for a post, and well said!