Trying not to go crazy

Got good news about my YA novel proposal. It could all fall apart though, so trying not to get too anxious. As I texted a friend ““I first went on sub 7 years ago. I’ve had two agents. I’ve gone to acquisitions upwards of seven times; I’ve had five separate books go on submission. I can be normal! I can not let this ruin my life!”

So yeah, this is me doing normal things like writing in my blog. SPEAKING OF NORMAL THINGS: you only have ten(ish) more days to nominate for the Nebulas. You don’t need many votes to get a Nebula nomination in the short story category (maybe ten). So if you’re a member of SFWA, read the story my story “Everquest” and consider it for a nomination. If you want to know more about it, the story notes are here.

Err, so anyway, I’ve been reading this book of early modern English poetry, curated by one of my favorite writers, John Williams. It’s extremely slow going. Lots of poetry, lots of archaic language. But I think I’m getting a better sense of rhyme and meter than I’ve had before. The problem with Shakespeare (insofar as there is a problem) is that his writing is extremely ornate. This anthology starts with poetry from the Naive tradition, and some of the writers who predate Shakespeare are much more accessible. I particularly liked Thomas Wyatt and John Skelliton. But of all the poems I’d say the one that affected me the most was this one by Robert Greene.

Now that I’m a parent I’m getting sentimental!

Aaaaaand, do I have anything else to say? No, probably not. No. No. No. I don’t think so. No. I am happy and not anxious at all.

Oh here’s something: the pandemic has been great for making friends with other writers! I have several who I text regularly. It turns out that when all social life is cancelled, the only people with whom there is anything to talk about are those who have the same work as me. It’s been unexpectedly fun and sustaining. So I retract everything I’ve said about how writers shouldn’t be friends.

There’s been a lot of gossip online about agents this week. Brooks Sherman getting called out was a massive bombshell. He is probably the biggest agent who’s been called out on Twitter. He is Angie Thomas’s agent and ran the immense auction that sold The Hate U Give. If you want the deets just look him up on Twitter. Anyway, it’s led to people opening up more about agent stuff.

I’ve had mixed experiences with agents, but I can’t complain too much. They’ve sold books for me. But agents can really, really, really harm an author’s career. The biggest issue is when they either refuse to take your book out on submission, or they refuse to do a second round after the first round fails (in Sherman’s case, he allegedly apparently lied about books even being on sub in the first place, which would be, like, sociopathic behavior). At the very least (and I mean this is the absolute least), when an agent signs you, they should be planning to take the book for which they signed you for multiple full submission rounds. It’s not right to simply lose interest partway through, because you feel like it’s a harder sell than you initially thought. And it’s definitely not right to do endless revision on a book and never send it out in the first place.

What authors don’t understand is that agent have certain incentives to not send books on submission. They’re limited in terms of their connections and their capacity. An agent only knows so many editors. And they can, at most, have one book with each editor at a time. If you’re an agent who specializes in kid-lit, as many do, and you know 60 editors, then you can at most have 60 submissions out. With rounds of fifteen, that means four books out at a time. If one of those books sells quickly, then it frees up those fifteen quickly. If it doesn’t sell, then it’s really taking up a lot of your submission capacity.

All an agent has to offer is their taste. Every submission is a job interview: do I understand this editor well enough? If you think a book isn’t going to sell, then it can only harm you.

If books didn’t have authors, it would be understandable to drop books after ten or fifteen rejections. But they do have authors, and you made a commitment to those authors. If you’d told an author up front that you were only going to do ten subs, they wouldn’t have gone with you.

As in most things, it’s a question of integrity. That’s not a popular thing to say. People want everything to just be business. But business requires integrity. You need to be able to trust the people you do business with.

But it’s very difficult to know who has real integrity. And the honest truth is that most people don’t. They won’t go to bat for their clients when it means potential risk to themselves. They don’t see the advantage in being known as someone with integrity. And they also just don’t–they’re too trapped in survival mode–they don’t see that there’s simply no point in doing this if you can’t do it with integrity.

I understand that. We spend so long being powerless that we don’t know what to do when we finally have power. We treat others the way we were treated ourselves.

It’s all understandable, but the net result is that authors lose years of their lives. And it’s not something you can protect against. Angie Thomas was smart to go with Brooks: he got her a massive deal and kicked off her career. Other people went with him, and he ruined their careers. You can talk to other authors and try to get the scoop, but authors lie: they’re so locked into this relationship that they simply do not tell the truth about their agent. You’re simply rolling the dice, hoping you get a good one (or, more likely) you simply never have to face a situation that tests your agent’s integrity.

And that’s all without going into the OTHER major danger of agenting, which is agents who simply shouldn’t be in the business, and who don’t have the connections to really sell books. But those agents are a bit easier to suss out, to be honest.

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