Monday, February 17, 2020

What Do Politics Have To Do With Submissions To An Agent?

I am going to try my best to walk a fine line here between talking politics and talking about business and publishing. In recent years, there is a huge divide about the role politics and social attitudes play out in business, and especially with the publishing industry. Many authors do believe that people are making decisions entirely subjectively and with intents to discriminate. While I am, in no way, going to say there are not people out there like that, I do want to say that the vast majority (and I use that term meaning more than 50% +1 person), are making decisions in a true business like fashion. I do want to say, before I continue, that I can only speak to what I do here at Greyhaus.

First of all, I make it very clear the things I represent, the things I like and the things I do not like. This is because, as an author, you want to work with a publisher that A) represents and markets the type of writing you do; and B) thinks the way you do. I have often said that you want an agent how knows your genre inside and out and is also, so in love with your writing, he or she cannot stop talking about it.

Is this subjective? Yes, in a way. People really do not read and love every genre out there. They have things they like better than others. They also know and understand some genres better than others. One of my authors was talking to me recently about a woman at her church who was writing a book and wanted to "talk shop" and potentially start a critique group. This was exciting, except for the fact that this author writes memoirs and modern non-fiction. My author writes historical romance (not modern). Can they help each other? No! They can be their to support, but neither understands the other genre enough to be of help.

This has absolutely nothing to do with liking a person, their backgrounds, political or social beliefs. This is entirely business.

Secondly, as an agent, when a submission comes in, I look at whether or not this is something I can honestly help with and sell. In this case, I am not only looking at this in the same way of I just talking about (do I understand it enough), I am also looking at the market out there. If there are not significant publishers out there representing that genre (or sub-genre, or topic) then I am not likely going to sign this person. The writing can be amazing, but if there is no one buying that type of story, then there is simply nothing I can do. I would also add that if there is no one, other than people in self-publishing or only digital publishing that can not promise sales, then again, I am not going to sign this person.

Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with saying I am not going to sign this person because I am anti - [fill in the blank]. I am not rejecting this person due to social or political attitudes. I am passing on this simply because it is not something I can help with.

Next, as an agent, I look to the quality of the writing. If the characters are weak, the writing is not strong, the plot is convoluted, or any number of issues, I am not going to sign the author. Think of it this way. When an employer is looking to hire someone, he or she looks for "the best" candidate." They want someone who can do the work and do it well. They look at the job description and interview based on that. (NOTE: Yes, I know everyone can probably find one employer who didn't do that, but again, I am talking about the general market).

Would an employer reject someone for how they look? Sure. If this person comes in looking like something completely opposite to what their brand looks like, are they going to hire the person? Probably not. But I should also add, why would that person go to a place that is completely opposite to what they believe? I am going to use an extreme example here. If someone is Anti-Gun, would they go to apply for a job that specializes in guns? If someone is Pro-life, would that person go to work at an abortion clinic? Probably not.

All of what I am talking about here is business. The agent has essentially job requirements and wishes. The agent also has a clear model he or she uses to guide the business. Decisions are based on that. It is also important that the author reviews that information BEFORE submitting.

Finally, I want to discuss an aspect of this but it is more on that author to author basis. I am talking about contests here. Contests are judged by people. A LOT OF PEOPLE! Writing organizations do not put out a contest, ask for submissions, and then award an author because of one person's decision, or even a small committee. Writing goes out to preliminary judges. It then goes to a group of final round judges who work with the stories that "scored the highest." In many cases, there is a clear rubric that asks us to look at character, plot, setting, conflict and the quality of the writing. Not once, since opening the agency, have I judged a preliminary or final round where I was asked, "On a scale of 1-10 how does this story fit with your political or social beliefs?" or anything that asks me to rank the story higher or lower simply because it incorporates something political or social. It is all about the writing.

When it gets to me in the final round, I am only looking at the stories that made it through the first round of judging. Could there have been better stories? Sure? But this is what I work with.

I would also add that with all of the authors who I have worked with over the years, I have never once heard someone say that a contest ballet came back saying their story was either elevated or rejected simply because of politics or social beliefs. It was entirely based on the writing. Now, could people be "lying" and using the quality of the writing as a "cover?" Sure. But again, I would argue there were A LOT of people reading your story before it made it there.

Writing is a funny business. Academically, it is in the HUMANITIES department because it focuses on human experiences, feelings and emotions. It is also extremely subjective. We like things and we don't like things. But we are also trying to be objective. We look at the writing as a product we are taking to market. The writing is not gone beyond an author sharing personal beliefs to a product that, to be successful, must be something that has a place to be sold, and that people will buy.

This is a business. Let's try to remember that decisions are based on business models. If you are an author writing outside of that model, or you write something the writing organization you joined does not represent, this is not something personal. You chose to write what you write and you chose to market you writing to a place that does not sell that product. At Greyhaus, I don't go to Children's Book Conferences because I do not represent it. I will not find authors there and it is not the responsibility of that organization to change their model to accommodate me.

Just something to think about.

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