Agent transparency: an issue for every writer

Agents work very hard indeed. They are, the huge majority of them, among the most professional, ethical, passionate and committed people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They add a lot of value to authorial careers. They have added a lot of value to mine.

So: I hope that’s completely clear. It’s certainly sincerely meant. But you don’t get that kind of intro without a but – and here it is:

We think far too many agents disclose far too little information to new writers. There are, for example, leading agencies in the UK where:

  • an agent reveals nothing at all beyond a client list. No photo. No potted professional biography. No genre preferences. Nothing.
  • an agent reveals a very brief bio (Studied at X, Became an agent in 199x, Married and living in London) and nothing else. No client lists. No photo. No genre preferences. Nothing.
  • it isn’t even clear who is an agent and who isn’t.

I think that’s seriously not OK. I think that a minimal courtesy to the unpublished writer would require the release of (i) a mugshot, (ii) a short professional bio ideally including some statement as to what MSS would and would not be welcome, and (iii) a full client list.

I think that’s a matter of courtesy and respect. I think it’s essential if the writer is to become an even vaguely equal partner in the writer/agent mating game. If we don’t know who we’re submitting our work to, how the heck can we make even vaguely rational choices?

But it’s also a matter of good business sense. The current say-nothing approach means that writers waste their time submitting to the wrong agents. Agents wste their time dealing with it. What’s the point?

Finally, I also think that the entire traditional publishing industry is under attack from the self-publishing one. I’m published both traditionally and not, and I think both camps can (and will) co-exist for a long time to come. But it IS a threat that agents are worried about – and the more that the literary agency business looks closed and unwelcoming, the greater that threat will become.

All that by way of preamble.

If you want the full story, then pop over to Agent Hunter to view our graphic here and read this manifesto for change. If you agree with us, then tweet the manifesto. Talk about it on your blogs. Speak to your writing group & friends about it. Let’s make change happen.

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  • dexter petley

    agreed, though i have found that their revelations are just as likely misleading. agents never went to a courtesy school. even better than answering the question of who they are is the never addressed issue of who the hell they think they are. of 12 submissions made in november 2012, i have to date received 4 replies. here in france there are no literary agents, which is a grand cultural contradiction of course, but it is thus to avoid wasting the industry money unfairly or toying with authors. whatever you think about the french publishing model, it is still proof that agents are entirely superfluous, there only to boost wine bar sales. i’ve had six agents, and all the transparency in the world would not have alerted me to their unprofessional incompetence. they are under threat because they are dinosaurs, with no loyalty to either clients or their own profession. in other cultures, they’re known as organized crime syndicates, protection money, numbers racket. their ten per cent is a bribe, nothing more. put them back on national service -ie sifting through the publisher’s slush pile on a fixed salary, not the gambling den they’ve built around themselves.

  • Dexter, you are so right. A fellow writer I know says the biggest challenge writers face is not getting published, but getting someone to actually read what you’re written.

    The first thing agents need to learn is a little respect, which would lead to good manners.But publishers are just as guilty. After submitting a complete book proposal for a non-fiction work, I received a positive response from an editor at a publishing house – requesting the entire manuscript. A few months later, I received word that “after reviewing your proposal, we have decided not to proceed with publishing.” As usual, no reason was given, no hints supplied. So I dared to ask the obvious question: had anyone, in fact, actually read the manuscript that they asked for? And could they possibly provide a hint of why my work had been rejected? Since writers are flying by the seat of their pants in a publishing blind zone, this would have provided a guideline for future submissions. Well, surprise, surprise, I received no reply to my questions. Indeed, who do these people think they are?