When you read “effectiveness” just now in connection with “agent”, did you imagine someone who ass-kicks his way to the oak-panelled board room of the publishing house where he holds a gun to the CEO’s head asking to get a contract for you, a contract so glorious that the NYT writes about on the next day on page seventeen, in an article titled “Unbelievable Six-Digit Advance For Completely Unknown Author’s Debut Novel“?
Or did you, when you read “effectiveness”, imagine someone who
- administers your facebook page with its 3,678 fans,
- coordinates the kindle and ePub editions of your work,
- fixes the plumbing on your book’s twitter account,
- gets an actor with a sexy voice to read your novel,
- answers his emails on time
- edits your weekly blog posts,
- writes and places reviews in several popular online literary magazines, and
- generally gives the impression of being more than comfortable, namely effective, in this world of new electronic and social media?
Someone, who in addition to all the snazzy gadgetry is still mainly interested in your writing and not in your haircut & in fact likes your writing so much that he considers time spent on you as an investment of his/her love for literature (in addition to his fee, which is not exorbitant), which will pay off in the long term, because love and passion in connection with professionalism will always pay off?
You can see that I’ve got a fairly clear idea of a consummate literary agent. (And you could use the list above for your publisher, too). He or she is a publicist, agent, and perhaps even a publisher in one. A wonderful specimen of the class of professional service people with brains. An intellectual gun slinger with a pen instead of a pistol, too. iPad2 is optional, strong reading background including European and other literatures, and a delight in fantastical stories and existential philosophies, is not.
But why have an agent at all? Of course I don’t give a damn if an agent, my agent of the future (because I don’t have one) is pretty or repulsive. Until recently I didn’t even think I needed any person like that—until my blessed wife reminded me this morning of the story of Picasso on the beach, which she told like this (again, I’m not going to be all scholarly, I have no idea if it’s a true story):
When Picasso was 90, he went bathing in the ocean. A man recognised him and asked for a picture of his baby son, who played near by in the sand. Picasso smiled and sketched the child with only four or five lines. The man thanked him and reached for the drawing. Picasso didn’t let go however: “That’s 80 Francs,” he said. “What?” said the man, “you must be joking—this only took you a few seconds!” Picasso smiled again, and said “indeed, but it took me 80 years to get to the point of being able to do it in a few seconds.”
Alright? A story about “effectiveness” to tell yourself when you feel shortchanged because a professional does in a short time what would take you much, much longer to achieve, though you probably could do it.
I suppose I’ve been thinking about literary agents since I noticed that a few writers I know have them; and because of something that I mentioned in a post a few days ago: that I think the publisher of tomorrow ought to behave more like an agent if he wants to keep his business.
There’s a general rule of the new economics linked to the Internet: technology leads to disintermediation, but it also (as in the case of social media) leads to new services and new roles. But perhaps it’s the other way around: the agent has to turn into a publisher (it’s easy enough nowadays).
But in either case, the time is ripe for the (or at least some) functions of literary publisher, publicist and agent to converge in a single service. The content producer, the author, suddenly has a lot more power now, because he can take his business online any way he likes. Still, many writers won’t want to do that, because the time to be spent is substantial and must be subtracted from time spent with your characters, your plot, your novel, your story…and your partner or family.
… and if my agent doesn’t, can’t or won’t do at least some of the things that the web world, to which most if not all of my ideal readers are connected, requires—well, then s/he’s not for me.
What’s your view, writer with or without an agent? Are you ready for one? Is yours ready for you?
Cheers & thanks 4 reading & telling