Friday, August 9, 2019

Biting the Hand That Doesn’t Feed Me

Do you have, or have you ever had, an agent? Depending on your experience, mount an argument for or against having one.

by Paul D. Marks

I’m going to come clean on this issue. It’s a raw point for me. Make that sore point. And in talking about it below I may come off as a little pompous or show-offy, but that’s not my intent.

I do not have an agent. And, believe me, it isn’t for lack of trying. When I tell people I don’t have an agent, that I can’t get one, that I can’t even get one to respond to my queries they’re in shock. You have so many awards, you’ve done this and that, they say, and they are in shock. As am I. And I am not happy about it.

I had agents in Hollywood, from a couple of the biggest agencies to a guy who worked out of his converted garage, and had varying degrees of success with them. But at least I was able to get them. In the prose world I can’t seem to get a toe hold. A friend turned me on to her agent. He didn’t care what I had written, what awards I had won, what I was working on. He wanted to know how many copies White Heat had sold. It sold in the thousands. Which is more than many novels, but he wanted it to have sold 50K. Well, I guarantee you most of his clients don’t sell 50 thousand copies of their books. So more bullshit. It’s my understanding that if a book moves five thousand copies it’s considered doing okay. White Heat sold a ton more than that.

There’s always an excuse or more likely lately they won’t even look at it or respond to a query. Most don’t even have the simple courtesy of sending a form rejection—you just never hear from them as you sit and wait and wait and wait, like the folks trying to get out of Casablanca.

I had an unfortunate experience after my first novel, White Heat, came out. It had won a Shamus Award. And I did get what I thought was a good agent out of it, someone with clients on the NY Times Best Seller lists. And that turned out be a bad situation because she got sick and didn’t really do anything with my next book, Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat. So it languished with her for a few years. I couldn’t do anything with it and I couldn’t get out of the contract. So it sat, and I did other things, short stories, my novel Vortex. But I was very frustrated not being able to get out Broken Windows on the successful tails of White Heat.

I was finally able to extricate myself from that contract and Broken Windows came out five years after the first book in the series. And I think that was a problem. It had lost the momentum of the readership of White Heat and the Shamus. So in a sense I was starting over.

In doing that, I’ve tried to get another agent. When people ask who my agent is they’re in disbelief when I tell them I don’t have one, I can’t get one. A couple of them have offered to help me in various ways. And really tried hard to help me land an agent. But nothing worked. I still don’t have one. And I keep trying to figure out why I can’t get one. My writing has won several awards, including a Macavity. Another story was voted #1 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll and all my stories in EQMM have placed in the top 10. I’ve been nominated for Anthonys and other awards. A story has been included in The Best American Mysteries of 2018 anthology, and I’ve been nominated for a lot of others. I’ve sold multiple stories to Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock and other markets. So it baffles me that agents won’t even respond to my queries. Most people with these bonafides would have agents crawling out of the woodwork, seeking them out.

Luckily Broken Windows found a publisher. As did The Blues Don’t Care, another stand-alone that’s coming out in 2020. The Blues Don’t Care is a World War II homefront mystery with a very unusual leading character. I really like this book. I really thought this book would open doors for me. I really thought I’d get an agent for it. But it didn’t happen.

And it frustrates the hell out of me —and that’s me being nice about it. What I really wanted to say is it pisses me off, but my wife talked me out of that.

And this isn’t an ego thing, or at least not mostly one. If my writing had been universally rejected, if it hadn’t won awards, etc., I would slink back into my cave with my tail between my legs and figure I should be doing something else. But it has done all of that. And White Heat sold more copies than a lot of “successful” books. So I don’t get it.

Some people have suggested ideas as to why this might be, and they might be right, though I won’t go into them here. But regardless of the reason/s, it is frustrating. So I guess I should take stock of the agent situation again, though I’ve done that several times and I’m really not sure where to take it now…

As to whether an agent is a good thing or not, I’d like to find out…. And, if I sound angry. I am. So be it.
~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the new July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: https://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/. Hope you'll check it out.




Also, check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus Award-winning novel, White Heat.



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

18 comments:

Frank Zafiro said...

Paul,

Thanks for sharing your own experience. We should have lift a glass at Bouchercon and commiserate for a few moments.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Frank. I'd love to hoist a glass with you at Bouchercon and cry in our beers. At least we know we're not alone ;-) .

Michael W. Sherer said...

I feel your pain, Paul. I've had four agents, only one of whom sold a book of mine (after I suggested where to send it). I've sold the rest to various publishers. And now I can't find an agent, either. I think it's all about the money. Agents are no longer willing to grow an author's career. They don't want midlist authors. They'll only take chances on new authors if they think an author has a break-out book. Otherwise, sales figures drive their decisions to take on authors.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael. Sorry to hear about your travails. I think you're right in what you say, but I also think there's other reasons. But either way, it's frustrating.

Jacqueline Vick said...

Thanks for sharing, Paul. I'm wondering what an agent could do for you that you haven't been doing for yourself? As you said, your books sell more than many agented books.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jackie. What I would hope an agent could do would be to get me a major publisher with a major PR push so that more people would discover my books. But right now it's just a pipe dream...

EA said...

Sounds like a job for Sherlock Holmes. Glad to see you keeping on keeping on, Paul.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, EA, but I don't think even Sherlock Holmes could solve this one ;-) .

Lisa john said...

Good topic Paul.
When I was interning for a well known agent, I wrote lots of rejection emails for author manuscript queries and submissions. The experience left me with a mixed bag of emotions on the whole topic.
It was both illuminating and distressing, and as a writer myself, more than a little discouraging! ��

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I'm sure as someone with a heart it was hard for you to do that. Some day maybe we can talk about it.

Madonaldo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BADuBois said...

Hey Paul... been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Let me stand in line to buy you a beer.

I've not had an agent for several years. And I've given up trying.

Past agent experiences...

The agent who wouldn't return phone calls for six months.

The agent who "forgot" for a year to submit a novel.

The agent who fired me because... well, just because.

The agent who... well, can't talk about that, since I signed an NDA.

What a world, eh?

Dave Zeltserman said...

Paul, what you're describing is more of a symptom of the problems with the publishing industry than a cause. These agents are simply reflecting what they're getting from editors, and many of those from the Big 5 are the most gutless folks in the universe who are afraid to take chances on anything outside of the current most overtly commercial fiction. Nobody in the Big 5 is publishing PI novels these days, unless the writer is someone like JK Rowling.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Brendan. I love the agent who forgot to submit the novel for a year. They were really invested in you, huh? Definitely living in a “What-a-world.”

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Dave. I agree with you that the Big 5 are gutless, just remaking the same thing over and over. Seems like publishing’s gotten a lot more like Hollywood over the last decade or two.

Susan C Shea said...

I'm baffled too. Doesn't make sense to me. The publishing business is sometimes mysterious and other times just a royal pain. That's why I admire so much the authors I know who have said screw this and done self-publishing in such a professional way that they're doing quite well, thank you.

Paul D. Marks said...

We can be baffled together, Susan. The problem with self-publishing is that it's hard to get into bookstores. Other than that there's a lot of positive things about it.

James L’Etoile said...

I feel your pain, brother. It’s a strange and fickle business model. I’ll join you and Frank and Bouchercon and we’ll commensurate.