Just over six months ago, I became a literary agent with the Steve Laube Agency. Hoo boy. It has been some ride. Lots o’ fun, lots o’ work, and lots o’ learning.
So I thought I’d take a few minutes (it’s all I have before the boss calls and starts yelling at me again) to reflect on what I’ve learned in that short period of time. It’s not an easy task, considering I already knew pretty much everything. But I think I can list a few:
1. A LOT of books are being sold….every day
I knew this already. Or thought I did. After all, any time I walk into a bookstore—which I try to do often because (a) I love bookstores, especially the independent ones, (b) I strongly desire to support local merchants, and (c) I love bookstores—I am overwhelmed by the number and variety of new books and even not-so-new books that I really, really want to read. And, as an author, lo, these past twenty-five years, I thought I had a fairly good handle on what’s in, what’s out, what’s coming out, etc. But since becoming an agent, I’ve subscribed to a service that every weekday morning sends me a summary email of what books in what genre have been sold by what agents to what publishers in what country.
Suffice it to say: Holy moley. A lot of books are being written, sold, published, and—I pray; Lord, how I pray—read every single day. So, while in my little corner of the world the opportunities for writers may seem discouraging and even apocalyptic at times, people are still writing and selling and publishing and buying books. Boy howdy, they are.
2. Agents read A LOT
I knew this too. And I thought, well, shoot, I love to read. I’m already doing it; I read more than a hundred books every year, books of all kinds. It’ll be fun, I said. And it has been, at times. There’s nothing better than to start reading a proposal or manuscript as “work” and totally lose track of time because I was swept up in a writer’s beautifully-crafted vision. That’s happened more than once.
But, dude! The sheer volume of emails, proposals, and manuscripts to be read has been overwhelming, especially for the new guy on the block who is committed to working with writers and sending only their very best work to editors (who, by the way, also have to read a LOT!).
So, if it seems like an agent or editor is not as responsive as you’d like, or not as attentive as you’d hoped, please keep in mind that your email or proposal or manuscript is far from the only one they have to read and respond to.
3. Far more writers hurt themselves by self-publishing than help themselves
It’s been a joy to renew friendships, meet and get to know fellow writers, and begin new relationships over these past few months. But it has also been disconcerting and more than a little heartbreaking at times to learn how often the ease of self-publishing and e-publishing becomes a negative in a writer’s career trajectory. I’ve posted before on this blog (here) about how writers often leap into self-publishing because they believe it will launch their traditional publishing career. Others (some of whom have published a book or books) decide to self-publish works that didn’t sell to traditional publishers. Sometimes their strategy works (largely because they actually had a strategy, which isn’t always the case) and they achieve success as “hybrid authors.” More often, however—much more often—their self-publishing efforts hamper and even derail their long-term success because it creates sales numbers that become a permanent part of an author’s sales history. This, by the way, is one good reason (among many) to get and keep a good agent—to counsel and guide and prevent such potentially career-ending mistakes.
Please note that I am not anti Indie publishing or self publishing. I’ve done some of that for my own writing. Note the above key word, “strategy.” Just clicking the “publish” button is not a strategy.
These are not the only things I’ve learned in this last half-year (for example, I’ve figured out that not everyone appreciates my sense of humor—go figure). I’ve learned that I love order and, thus, record-keeping. And I’ve learned not to eat trail mix while talking on the telephone. All good lessons, and I hope they bode well for my future.