In which a literary agent in Sydney, Australia attempts to decode the world of publishing in order to assist writers. And sometimes to get things off her chest.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I'll show you mine if you show me yours
Most agents' websites are useless. Half the time they are not updated. No one has heard of most of the writers on agents lists. As a writer, I want to know their current and past track records in successful placements. Who considers an IPO without doing the number crunching on a company's performance? How many agents make money? What's the average income of a mom and pop agent? What's the salary of a senior in-house agent? How much does Sophie Hamlyn [NB: this is not the name of an Australian agent but she'll be touched to learn that your spelling was close], Jenny Darling, Margaret Kennedy, Lyn Tranter or Rick Raftos make a year? I want to see the agents' association publish earnings and sales records. Individual sales and breakdown of genres. Who's the best forming agent in Australia in money terms?
Instead of a breakdown of genres, let's break down your message.
First: the 'P' part of 'IPO' stands for 'public' - the last time I checked, all Australian agencies were private companies or businesses. Which means that their business and financial information is, y'know, private. Why don't you trot off to a privately held Australian publishing company and ask if they'll show you their P&L statements before you decide to publish with them? And do let me know how you get on. While you're at it, ask the Australian Publishers' Association to give you a list of all of their members' earnings and sales records and see if they'll give them to you. Because if you're going to require this information, you should also require it of publishers. And booksellers too - so please do contact the Australian Booksellers' Association.
Second: 'mom' and 'pop' are American spellings, so I lack confidence in your ability to turn in a manuscript that suits an Australian market, given that you are clearly using an American version of Microsoft Word. Also, you should have an apostrophe (known as the s pos in this case) after 'agents' in 'agents lists'. Agents do notice that pesky punctuation stuff and a lack of it can also dent your chances.
Third: updating websites is a matter for individual businesses. In an ideal world every business's website would be up to date. Keeping things up to date requires having someone around to do it. Most agencies are very lean operations and the agents already work long hours. That's the only explanation I have.
Fourth: if you haven't heard of most of the writers on the agents' lists, it's because you're notreading their books. This is not the agents' fault.
Fifth: I'll show you mine if you show me yours. So, unpublished writer, before I decide to take you on as a client - investing many, many hours in working on your manuscript, writing a pitch document, talking to publishers about you, talking to you, seeing you through the inevitable rejections, patiently waiting until some smart publisher realises your worth - why don't you tell me how much money you have made on your writing. What's that? Nothing? Sorry, please go away - you are not a sound investment. And if you're a published writer, please answer the same question - oh, I see, $10 000 over five years. Okay, you can go away too because you're never going to earn me the millions of dollars that someone, somewhere, must be earning in this caper - because that's what you're really interested in, right? How likely it is that having an agent is going to be your ticket to millions?
The reason why agents do not require of prospective clients the same sort of financial CV that you find essential for agents is that we take on authors on faith. We have faith in their talent. We have faith that other people will recognise it. We believe passionately in the authors' work. This behaviour is also found in people who work with musicians and actors and dancers and composers and screenwriters ... It's true of everyone in the arts. Faith and passion are not a good business plan but they're what we have. If you would like to attempt to measure their worth, then you can see our balance sheets.