10 Ways to Please a Literary Agent in Bed

It didn’t take me long to figure out that Writer’s Digest would be of absolutely no use to me. I 304125_10150292799578355_1833642_npurchased Writer’s Market for a (reasonably) comprehensive list of agents and publishers when I was shopping around the manuscript for my first book, Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. And I was pleased with the content. It was helpful, coherent, well organized.

My mistake was providing my email address to Writer’s Digest in order to receive updates about their online offerings. I mistakenly figured that, being committed to my craft, more information was good. More information meant more access to agents and publishers, meant I wasn’t blindly groping through a dark fog of ignorance and misinformation.

I was wrong. Unless you have hundreds of dollars to drop on a webinar or conference that is very careful not to promise any real results, Writer’s Digest doesn’t really have anything of value to offer an independent author. Except self-doubt, regret, depression, and a healthy dose of obsession with the thoughts, habits, likes and dislikes of literary agents.

The more my inbox was clogged with “helpful” webinars about how to land a literary agent, the more I was reminded of the misogynistic, poorly written, misleading, and really rather bland articles in magazines targeted to women. The magazines that reek of perfume and insist on telling you “What He’s Really Thinking,” “How to Land Your Dream Guy,” “10 Things He Wants You to Know He Wants,” etc. The magazines that tell you, with no subtlety or sense of awareness, that the sum purpose of your existence is to attract and please a man.

How strange it was to find the same desperate minimization of my identity and purpose in an organization that purports to assist writers. The message is certainly a familiar one: I should, I’ve learned, devote my entire being to learning to please this deity. Except, where Writer’s Digest is concerned, that deity happens to be a literary agent rather than a man.

I’ve compiled a list of headlines from Writer’s Digest webinars and articles, and if you substitute “man” for “literary agent” in most cases you could probably pitch the article to a crap factory like Glamour, Women’s Health, or InStyle. In fact, I included headlines from the covers of said crap factories, just to provide a sense of how little difference there is in the messaging and tone.

Why Agents Say No: The 2o Manuscript Mistakes That Keep You from Getting Published

What Literary Agents Really Want

3 Things to Put You on the Path to Publishing Success

What an Agent Really Thinks While Writing Queries

Tighten the Tension in your Novel

How to See Your Work Through an Agent or Publisher’s Eyes

How to Rock His World With Your Inner Bad Girl

4 out of 5 guys agree

Don’t Cut Your Hair, He’ll Have Nothing to Pull

Look Better Naked

I recognize that Writer’s Digest probably believes it’s providing content that independent authors want or need. What I take issue with is the underlying implication that the best use of an  independent author’s time–bearing in mind that many indie authors have jobs, are working on a novel, and trying to build a platform for themselves–is to read endless articles and drop their entire life’s savings learning how to sit, bark, and roll over whenever an agent or publisher commands it of them. The truth is, independent authors have very little power in their relationship with agents and authors and we already know this; we don’t need Writer’s Digest to make us feel like failures for not pleasing the literary agent of our dreams. Especially when those of us who are women are already the target of endless articles telling us we’re failures if we don’t devote every second of every day to pleasing a man. Furthermore, I don’t necessarily agree that one or two agents represent the entire industry, any more than a handful of men are qualified to tell women what all men want. It’s overly simplistic, and I believe, ultimately does more harm than good.

I would like to add that while the print publishing industry is wasting away, panicked, and therefore even more difficult to break into, taking it out on first-time independent authors who didn’t have a role in the downfall of print publishing is akin to blaming teachers and the poor for the country’s economic collapse. I’m not assigning blame for the situation, but I am arguing that saddling first-time authors with the burden of failure before they’ve even begun doesn’t benefit anyone–not the publisher, not the literary agent, not the writers who are afraid to take risks and therefore churn out repeats of the last big hit, and certainly not the readers.

I’ll probably confine my rants on the subject to this blog, and my own head. But I swear to the literary gods, if I find a pitch to a webinar titled “10 Ways to Please a Literary Agent in Bed” in my inbox, I’m going to write a rant lengthier and even angrier than anything Ayn Rand ever even dreamed of scribbling.

PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY

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