Agent eat agent

by Jim

Holy animosity, Batman! In one of the more unexpected blog posts I’ve read lately, agent Betsy Lerner took aim at people she hates: namely, literary agents. Including (it seems) herself!

Betsy equates the publishing tradition of agent/editor lunches to having someone shit on her face. Now, I’ve had some bad lunches, but… She then goes on to describe agenting as “being a professional sleaze bag.”

I’m not gonna lie. When I first read this, my hackles raised, and I muttered something like, “What a load of [string of expletives].” But that was defensive me talking. (Defensive me has a really dirty mouth). I quickly settled down, but I still don’t really agree with Betsy’s take.

I’m sure there are editors who hate agents and agents who hate editors, and I know there are terrible people in every business. But for the most part, I enjoy my colleagues on both sides of the divide. More importantly, I love being an agent. Which is why I do it!

My take is that if you feel like you’re being a sleazebag, maybe you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe you’re just approaching things in the wrong way. The interests of client and publisher are often very similar: let’s get the best book out there and make the most money. There are differences of agreement, rights to battle over, and money to beg for (the best part!), but in the end, there aren’t two oppositional sides in this business. At least, there certainly shouldn’t be.

Which is all to say, I think it’s possible to agent with dignity and respect. Yes, agents are often the bad guyswe send out the most rejections, we’re pushy on behalf of our authors, and some of us can be aggressive as hell, but it’s being done for the good of authors and in support of books. I can’t find fault with that.

As delightful agent Ginger Clark passionately stated in the comments, Cobb salads are delicious. Still, I wouldn’t be overly concerned if someone was tired of eating them. In terms of an agent cracking a joke that they can figure out what 15% of any number is…okay, I’ve totally used the same joke a ton of times. I thought it was funny! But apparently I was shitting on people’s faces. Oops!

So what do you say? You hate us when we reject you, but sometimes you secretly love us, right? Some of us are super nice and totally respectful. Pinkie swear.

25 Responses to Agent eat agent

  1. Elena Solodow says:

    It's thanks to the blogging community that writers can FINALLY learn more about literary agents. The more I read, the more I respect the members of your field. You work hard, every day, to make dreams come true. That's what's important.

  2. Kristin Laughtin says:

    What Elena said! I wouldn't know half of what to expect from an agent if there weren't so many blogs around, and if I ended up in a shady deal in the future, might just pass it off with a frustrated "that's the way the business is".

    Hoping Lerner just had a bad day with that post, and that the whole industry isn't like what she describes.

  3. Monica says:

    I would pinkie swear to that.

    There are sleazebags in every industry. The trick is avoiding them if and when possible.

  4. Ciara says:

    Wow I was really surprised by Lerner's bile. I agree with Elena. I wouldn't know a thing about the publishing industry without agent blogs. I'm regularly blown away by how agents on this blog and others will go far beyond what is required of them in telling us how things work, holding competitions and having live chats to answer questions they've probably heard a hundred times.

  5. Tracy says:

    Okay, I've heard of pissing in someone's Cheerios, but shitting on their face is just plain crossing the line!

    I think it's the nature of an agent's life in general. The only person who's 100% happy with them is the person they're scoring the big contracts for. Just ask Scott Boras. (I know it's sports, but still fits)

  6. Mindi Scott says:

    I LOVE Ginger's comment! And my agent. :-)

  7. L.J. Boldyrev says:

    Great post! I can honestly say I have never tried a cobb salad. Might have to.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Surprised by Lerner's bile? That was the post that raised hackles? I assume you aren't a regular reader of her blog, because "go big or go home" is standard operating procedure over there. Which is why so many people adore her. If you don't, that's cool, but it's not the kind of thing to be taken personally.

    personal impression confirmed by Colleen Lindsey here

  9. Kristi Helvig says:

    It isn't possible to pack more protein into a salad than a Cobb–and it has bacon, so it's like heaven in a bowl! Also, I love agents. I'll love them even more when I have one of my own. :)

  10. Yat-Yee says:

    Too much vitriol.

  11. Ciara says:

    Anon: no I'm not a reader of Lerner's blog, I tried before but I found her posts reminded me of Elizabeth Wurtzel who I believe was a client of hers, make of that what you will. But I certainly don't take it personally; I'm not an agent, I just don't agree with her point or how it was made.

  12. Jordyn says:

    Cobb salads are delicious.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think she's a professional troll, and I don't take seriously anything she says. I find it amazing that anyone does.

  14. DGLM says:

    Betsy Lerner's a great agent with an amazing client list to back it up. She repped one of my favorite books of the year: Patti Smith's JUST KIDS. And reading through her blog, yes, I see that she has a darkly comic sensibility. Which (as a general rule) I do too. That said, there's a divide between jokes I'd tell friends and things I'd post on a blog. Some things that are funny to people who know you and for whom the humor translates don't work quite as well on a public forum. Want proof? Read the comments.

    My main point is this: everyone knows publishing is tough. Since I started in the business, everyone has been crying gloom and doom, the end of the written word, the devaluation of literature, blah blah blah. It's simply too easy to focus on the negative in publishing. It's also detrimental, dull, and expected. I took this post personally because it rags on agents. But my bigger problem with it is the useless doom and gloom and the propensity of many of the commenters to dwell in a world of self-pity.

  15. reality967 says:

    I am unagented and rejected (by agents), yet remain a fan of agents who come on line and teach us the what and how of the publishing industry.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Not to blow smoke, but the only 3 blogs I read every single day are this one, Tayari Jones's and Betsy's. Three completely different — but ALL incredibly valuable and informative — platforms for people to tell it like it is.

    Like *reality967* I am unagented and searching for representation. It's tough out there. By following these "conversations" on-line to see what/how all the players really tick, I feel at least a little bit informed, and like I'm in the game with my eyes open.

  17. Steven E. Belanger says:

    Agents are like teachers (which I am) and most other professions: Some are really good, some are really bad, and some everyone just needs to stay away from. I've had good experiences with agents face-to-face. I'm thinking of one in particular who was very nicely direct and helpful during a conference, offering a lot of good advice. That's a lot of effort and nice-ness to offer someone who didn't have a marketable product at the time to offer in return. I believe agents are like teachers in that they're usually altruistic. They believe in books; they believe in literature; and they need to pay The Man while they do so.

  18. Munk Davis says:

    I like Jerry Maguire.

  19. Keisha Martin says:

    It took me awile but after a few rejections (some were brutal) I decided to go on a query hiatus and polish my manuscript. I also converse with agents that offer me helpful advice especially agents that are authors they express their experiences and offer aspiring writers encouragments these agents are gems.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you, Jim, some things can be said in public and others should be said in private when you want to vent. If she were my agent, I would be thinking twice about keeping her as my agent. Too much negative energy there!

  21. Anonymous says:

    First, any of us would be lucky to have Betsy Lerner as our agent. Second, why is it so horrible to say exactly what you think? I may not agree with everything on that blog, but about 90% of what's said hits some nerve of mine — some closer to the bone than others — and I, frankly, appreciate all that honesty. I oftentimes wish I were brave enough to say exactly what they're saying.

  22. Geeta Menon says:

    I've had agents send me form rejection letters but some of them actually took the trouble to read my work and offer constructive feedback. These agents also said I was a talented writer which really motivated me to continue revising my novel. I'm almost there now and I'm grateful for the feedback I've received.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The best thing about Betsy is her dark sense of humor, and it's incredibly refreshing that she's so open and honest about the negative aspects of this business. And nowhere else can authors (even if it's anonymously) vent their personal frustrations with this industry.

    I love DGLM's blog. I think all of your posts are thoughtful and informative, but Betsy is real. And I and a lot of other authors I know are grateful that there's one place to go for some honesty about how hard it is to write and publish.

    Yes, the negative is revered there, but that's because everywhere else we're forced to be upbeat, gung-ho and overwhelmingly positive, even if our current release is only selling 300 copies a month (which we now know thanks to Amazon.)

    Plus, I think if you read her blog consistently, you'd know that she loves books, loves this business and is incredibly supportive of writers, agents, and editors.

  24. Brenda Drake says:

    Awww, I love you guys in spite of the rejections. I've only had kind and professional dealings with the agents I've submitted to and one of them was you. I can't imagine what happens behind the blogs, but I'm sure whatever it is can be quite frustrating for an agent. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

  25. Darcy Burke says:

    It's no secret I love my agent and it's precisely, ahem, because he's so upbeat and positive. (Yeah, that'd be Jim.) The second paragraph in his comment post above is exactly what a writer needs in this business (and not all agents have it). Super duper pinkie swear.

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