What are they, and are they dying out?
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
In September 2017 I wrote a feature for the Other Press titled “So you want to write a book: The trials and tribulations of extensive creative projects,” where I let everyone in on the secret that I was currently working on my second book. Before you ask, it’s still a work in progress and probably will be for the next year or two. However, as I progress through writing my manuscript, I’ve come up against a very fair question: What is a book agent?
Literary agents, or book agents, are people who can represent you when attempting to contact publishers. They vouch for you and let the publishers know that you’re worth looking at. Agents also do a lot of other things like help negotiate deals—and can even be an asset when dealing with potential film production or management of literary rights. Basically, they are the go-between, the middleman, between you and a publisher or anyone else who wants to use your work. They can give you a tremendous advantage if you have decided to go the traditional publication route.
When I published my first book, I never attempted to contact a book agent and instead took my chances with the “scrum pile.” The scrum pile is what I call it when you send your manuscript directly to a publisher and have to wait the indeterminate amount of time before some poor intern picks it up and reads it. Luckily my novella managed to find its way out, but the process is pretty shitty and it means waiting possibly years before you ever get an answer. A book agent will bypass that process, especially if they are one with a history of success—such as Rosemary Stimola, the literary agent behind The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
However, due to more and more people crowdfunding their own books—and authors using services like Inkshares—less and less people are becoming aware of book agents and what they do. I think that the problem with book agents and traditional publication in general is that it suffers from gatekeeping. If you are looking to experiment or write something out of the norm, there isn’t a lot of room for that unless you find the right agent or publisher who is willing to take a chance on you. Those willing to do so become fewer and farther between as the old-school literary world is threatened by the new-media generation.
As more authors choose independent productions, rather than the expectation of a multi-book deal contract with a publishing house, you see the risk-takers jump ship. Like with any transition, those who remain become more set in their ways. Unless literary agents can adapt with the times—and are willing to take some risks on new or different literary voices—I’m betting they will fall by the wayside.