Blog 23: Agents – are they the Work of the Devil?…

Agents. They’re a rum lot, I can tell you. I appreciate everyone under the writing sun tells you to get an agent (well, everyone except one lovely crime writer at a writers’ conference I used to attend, who said they weren’t much point and she’d got rid of hers – good move, madam!) as they’re the best thing for any level of writer. Frankly, my dears, I’ve always had huge amounts of trouble with them and I am happy now to be very much agent-free. As far as I’m concerned, literary agents are the Work of the Devil – or as near to it as makes no difference.

The very first agent I ever met in the days when I was a young and innocent writer (many centuries ago now) was a hot-shot star from a hot-shot agency. Apparently. I’d been unlucky enough to get a slot with her at the writers’ conference mentioned above and had even gone so far as to (as requested) send her a pre-conference package of the novel I was currently working on. This happened to be gay social comedy, The Hit List. At a very early draft indeed.

Anyway, I rocked up to my fiercely timetabled slot with Mrs Hot-Shot who then proceeded to tear me apart for my appallingly bad writing skills for ten minutes, culminating in the triumphant words: this novel is unpublishable, unmarketable and unreadable. But, please, do carry on writing. It’s always good to have a nice hobby.

I was devastated. I don’t remember much about the rest of the conference, except trying hard not to weep and to look normal to anyone who asked how my appointment had gone. I do remember another agent totally blanking me in the ladies toilets though, even though, an hour before my appointment with Mrs Hot-Shot, she’d been quite pleasant. Obviously the word had gone round about what an appalling writer I was, and therefore I was not even worth a passing smile.

Hey ho. After that, I didn’t write anything for another three months as my confidence was shot to pieces in every way. Still, when I told my lovely husband what Mrs H-S had said to me (when he could make out the words between the hysterical sobbing, the latter of which lasted astonishingly for a whole weekend), he did say that surely ever Booker Prize winning novel since time began was unpublishable, unmarketable and unreadable, and so a glittering career obviously beckoned. What a hero, eh. Even if no glittering career ever transpired, it was still a wonderful thing to say, and it helped me get back to writing, in the end.

Interestingly, later on, The Hit List was published by a small press, is still on their list (ho ho) and does okayish. So it can’t have been all bad then. Agents, eh – what the heck do they know?

Not much is the answer. And they certainly know nothing about human courtesy or interaction. I went to a few more events at the same writers’ conference for a while, until common sense and sanity kicked in. No agent ever came good for me – though two more at a later conference did say they absolutely loved the first three chapters of lesbian thriller Thorn in the Flesh, talked about it with me for a long time, and both ended by saying please please please please could I send them the rest of it as soon as possible. Naturally, full of shocked joy and hope, I did.

More fool me. One of these two agents never ever replied, in spite of a couple of very polite prompts, and the other simply sent the whole thing back with no comment after four months. Perhaps they’d spoken to Mrs H-S Agent in the interim, eh? Still, by then, I’d learnt to roll more with the constant punches, and so only sobbed for a day and started writing again after one month. Ah the joys of progress.

Really, you wouldn’t wish this kind of life on your worst enemy.

So, no more conference appointments. There was no point. I did try my luck later on with another couple of agents directly, however. I sent gay literary thriller A Dangerous Man to a well-known agent at another major agency. She loved it, and kept telephoning up for chats about it and talking about where she could try to sell it. She refused to offer me a contract, however, and said that she would only do so if she managed to interest a publisher in it. 

This, to me, seemed to go against all the writing advice I’d ever heard of. Indeed, later on, two authors did say it was unethical and not anything they’d come across before. Still, desperate for some measure of success (ha!), I held faith with her for a couple of months or so, but gradually the phone calls vanished away. I sent a couple of enquiring emails, but there was no response, and I never heard from her again. Still, it would have been nice to know if I’d ever actually been a client of hers at all, or just a passing entertainment for said agent when she had nothing better to do.

Nonetheless, A Dangerous Man was later published by the same press who took The Hit List, and these days people either love it or absolutely hate it, but every so often a copy or two does sell, which is nice.

My last experience with agents was when I actually (goodness me indeed!) managed to get one for gay crime thriller Maloney’s Law. I honestly couldn’t believe it and was in a state of total euphoria for a while, but I needn’t have been. Even though, this time, I had a real-life contract, my agent never bothered to meet me – even when Maloney’s Law was shortlisted for an award for books set in London, and we were both supposed to attend the ceremony. He cancelled at the last minute as something more important came up. Story of my life, eh – but I should have been warned …

Of course, the new agent never managed to sell it anywhere, and I had to find a publisher for it myself in the end. So that was as much good as styling your hair in a wind-tunnel. Later again, he expressed himself gripped by The Gifting, the first book in the Gathandrian Trilogy, and “hugely excited” about taking it to all the major fantasy publishers, particularly bearing in mind the fact that fantasy fiction was his speciality.

Dream on. Over the course of the next year, as he was touting it round, none of the publishers he was supposed to have such close links with ever responded to him at all. Not even an acknowledgement or a rejection. Just a terrible, terrible silence, for a whole year.

Finally I came to my senses and it dawned on me just how much agents were a total waste of time and energy, so I ditched him. Honestly, people, agents promise the world but in the end give you absolutely zilch. So since that time I’ve either gone with a range of small genre publishers or simply published my fiction myself. I don’t sell very many books at all of course, but by an equal measure, I thankfully miss out on the rollercoaster ride of potential astonished joy and inevitable agonised defeat that agents put you through. And that’s worth a great deal indeed.

So, my advice is: agents – don’t trust them. They are never, ever, your friends and they come very close indeed to being the Work of the Devil. Avoid at all costs!



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