Thursday, July 21, 2011

Agent for Hire

After re-reading my last blog entry, “The Ideal Candidate,” I started to put together an imaginary ad for a literary agent. While it wasn’t nearly as preposterous as the fake job posting in my last entry, it did seem a little over the top. For example,
desirable characteristics included aggressive, unyielding, and high quality. This person hasn’t secured a publishing contract for me yet and I’m already concerned about his or her willingness  to fight to preserve my movie and merchandising rights.

Keeping in mind that I’m a relatively unknown author – a nobody – the bold criteria I used sounded somewhat arrogant. After all, who I am to demand to have someone with a proven track record represent my brilliant work to the traditional publishers? Proven track record. That requirement in job postings always makes me cringe. I’m not a numbers person and don’t like to quantify my skills, so I naturally want someone who can appreciate what a visionary I am and will take my word for how good my books are without needing to see any sales figures – especially since I’ve admitted to self-publishing in this imaginary posting. That’s not very realistic in show-me-the-bottom-line America. It’s like trying to get a bank loan with a credit score teetering in the low 200s.

Still, I have to wonder how many hungry agents are out there looking for just the right client – that one big break that will make both author and agent famous and fabulously wealthy. With all the automation spawned by the leaps in technological advances, however, we’ve become a do-it-yourself society and many people are content to self-publish. While I absolutely love the unlimited power and complete control I have over how my books are handled, self-publishing can be extremely time consuming. It’s all about the marketing. Unfortunately, it’s also about how much of your own money you can sink into your business, which is what it becomes if you’re serious about it.

Self-publishing has a lot of benefits if it’s done right. First and foremost, however, authors have to produce quality work. Self-publishing gained its less than favorable reputation as “vanity press” in the past because any hack who can type can call themselves an author, print their dribble, and peddle it to the unsuspecting public as literature. Now I sound like those boorish literary snobs I detest so much, but the fact is that no one wants to read junk.

Granted, I make my share of mistakes, but it pains me to read published material that clearly hasn’t been thoroughly proofread or edited. It is my opinion that self-publishing authors fail in most part because their work is bad, either mechanically or conceptually or both. In spite of any potential a story might have, a book will fail if the author ignores due diligence. Poor grammar, bad spelling, street lingo, and chaotic rambling does not hold my interest and I’m likely to feel cheated if I’ve spent my hard-earned money to purchase it. On the other hand, many reputable literary works go unnoticed and often unread by the masses due to a lack of financial means by the self-publishing author to provide adequate marketing. I naturally like to assume that my books fall into that category.

I’m not sure I’ve earned the right to say that I’ve paid my dues, but I have done my share of grunt work. I had family and friends read the first drafts to help me find mistakes and offer some feedback. I also hired a copy editor after about a dozen of my own passes at editing. I’ve done all my own marketing and have paid for only the actual number of books I’ve had printed to sell in person, nothing more. I use all the free marketing I can find, but that requires a lot of time and effort, which was fine at first. Now in order to have more time to write, I need to spend less time marketing. Hence the need for an agent – a high quality, aggressive, unyielding, and hungry agent willing to be paid on a contingency-basis.

Serious inquiries only, of course.

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