Wednesday, January 18, 2017
The conundrum of the literary agent
Dear Literary Agent:
I have long dreamed of having a book of my brief, idiosyncratic essays published. This has not yet happened. It is not for want of essays. I have written close to 1,500 of them. One might argue that they have not been published because I have not actually submitted any of them to publishers. But I am not so naive as to believe that could have anything to do with it. One could also make a case for the idea that my work is not at a quality level commensurate with publishing, but even briefly setting aside my traditional vanity, I work in a library, and I know the publishing standard. It is not bad, the publishing standard, but it is by no means out of my reach.
No, I believe I have not been published because I am uniquely bad at marketing. I believe there are no books in my name because I have an almost uncanny ability not to sell anything to anyone. I cannot cold call. I cannot convince strangers, especially those in positions of any authority. I cannot incite enthusiasm, activate fandom, or inspire champions. I simply am unable to persuade others of my merits.
It is my bane.
You may think these are learnable skills. And you may be right. Nevertheless one could learn to play soccer, or to draw, but one will not be Messi or Kathe Kollwitz. Because while most things are learnable for most people, there are such things as talent, aptitude, disposition and suitability. To express this simple concept in an overly reductive way for illustration purposes let us say there are a hundred possible points in any skill, like drumming. Fifty come from work, and fifty come from something innate or perhaps also from something near innate, like from early childhood. So if one is innately a 25 as a drummer and works incredibly hard at it they will be a very good drummer, a 75. If they are a 10 innately they can only ever be, with seriously hard work, maybe adequate, or a decent drummer. If they are a 50 innately they can with hard work be Joe Morello or Keith Moon.
In marketing I am a "two". And I only say that I am a two so you won't think I'm being overly dramatic, but in reality I am a very unusual "minus seven". This means that I have no talent for it innately (a zero), but also I have a disposition so antithetical to it that I self-sabotage whatever work I do towards it. So let's say I bestir myself and really struggle to do 25 worth of work towards being a better marketer. Then, antithetical to marketing I self-sabotage that seven points to a total of 18, a number that translates well to the moniker "sucking".
This is where you come in. You are a famous literary agent, representing an array of notable clients. You convince big time publishers that your clients have merit, but furthermore you convince them to support those artists in significant, tangible ways, with contracts, money, publishing, and even greater marketing support. But even more impressively you convince very talented individuals of all kinds to believe in and work with you. You are clearly a very talented marketer. Whether you are an 80 (outstanding) or a 90 or higher (brilliant and beyond), it is eons beyond what I could even dream of for myself. Whether you are simply great or you are miraculously amazing I clearly need you to represent me. I need you to do the things I am constitutionally unable to do for myself. I need you to get me published, to speak my merits, and to catapult me to riches and artistic fame.
And you? Why do you need me?