THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY—The Truth About Agents and Publishers

When I wrote my first book decades ago, I learned how the literary business works, at least from the writer’s perspective. Unfortunately, if it has changed at all in the intervening years, it’s been to the further disadvantage of the writer. Let’s take a look.

First, publishers are clueless. They desperately want to believe they’re savants and can divine what the reading public wants. They can’t. Essentially, they look to the immediate past to see what sold, then try to push more of it. A good example is the publishing world’s recent fetish for novels that have the word “Girl” in the title: “Girl with A Dragon Tattoo,” Girl on A Train,” “Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” “Gone Girl.” The situation is analogous to the Progressive doctrine that individuals are idiots and can’t make good decisions. Thus, Big Brother (the State, as administered by the elitist Progressives) must make decisions for the masses. In my books, those types always are killed off in unpleasant fashions (What? I write political thrillers!).

Second, agents are whores. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t successful at what they do. After all, Heidi Fleiss and Xaviera Hollander were quite successful in the world’s oldest profession. Before you rush to defend literary agents, stop and think about where their money comes from. The writer? No. No one involved in the chain trusts writers to voluntarily and regularly stroke a check for 15% of their royalties and send it to their agent. Not the publishers, and certainly not the agent. No, that 15% goes directly from the publisher to the agent. Also, consider this. Agents depend on their relationships with publishers in order to pitch their writers’ efforts, which, if done successfully, results in that 15% of the royalties earned from the sale of the writers’ books. The best way to accomplish a sale to someone is to offer them what they think they want, not what you think they should want. Too many unsuccessful pitches and the agent may become persona no grata at the publishing house. No contacts, no sales; hence, whores.

There’s obviously more to this story, like “under these circumstances, how does a writer ever get published?” but that’s a subject for another day.

© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved