Monday, May 15, 2017

Stephen Akey on Literary Agents

Ordinarily discussion of the publishing industry does not even acknowledge the existence of the frustrated writer thwarted in their first publishing attempt as a relevant part of the scene. On the rare occasions when they do so it tends to be with great hostility. It is assumed that they were simply not any good, their frustration thoroughly deserved, and any objection they make to "things as they are" treated with all the contempt that authority and officialdom are capable of showing for the dissenter. Indeed, much of such writing as does refer to them is glorified trolling--as with the "confessions" of former slush pile readers I have encountered in such publications as Salon and The Guardian (the great progressive newspaper in this instance firmly on the side of the elite and firmly against the "Great Unwashed"), while a glance at the comment threads indicates that they consist mostly of just plain trolling.

The writers who would tell their own, very different, side of the story are apt to do so on their own, obscure blogs--so obscure that they are not easily found in an Internet search. Indeed, we are likely to encounter the dissenting view only secondhand--in cursory and dismissive mentions in apologia for how the publishing industry is run (as with those cited above).

Naturally it was something of a surprise to find Stephen Akey's November 2014 piece on the "problem with literary agents" in such a forum as The New Republic. To be sure, Mr. Akey is keen to distinguish himself from "furiously anti-establishment bloggers" as one respecting the role agents have to play in the industry--but all the same he discusses at some length issues far too little noted by anyone but such bloggers. In particular he remarks the extent to which agents virtually demand a prospective writer be a "brand" and "have a platform" before they have begun their career, and the more general hostility to innovation.

The situation is entirely to the advantage of illiterate celebrities extracting extra dollars and minutes of fame by way of ghostwritten works published under their names, and utterly ruinous for genuine would-be authors with nothing but their actual writing to commend them to anyone--the talented and diligent included, while they suffer from the same sanctimonious scorn as the most deluded hack ever to pick up a pen.

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