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Tuesday, January 8, 2008


When did it become bad to be good at more than one thing? There's been some debate recently over whether it's kosher for a literary agent to also be an author in her own right. Now, opponents like to claim they believe it's a purely professional problem they have with this--that there's a conflict of interest in an agent who sells other people's work also having work of her own to sell. And maybe, on some level, they do believe that, but it's based on a misunderstanding of how literary agenting, not to mention publishing in general, works. The main argument is that if an agent is trying to sell her own book, she'll push it ahead of her clients' work. And then somehow editors won't want to buy the clients' work, they'll only want hers.

This is silly for several reasons. First of all, editors are looking for many more than one book at a time. It's not a race; there are books published every month, and editors always have slots to fill. Secondly, it's not about what an editor sees first; it's about what he or she likes. A good book is a good book, and just being written by an agent isn't enough to get a book published. One successful agent/author I know had more than 25 rejections before her work struck a chord with an editor. Sound familiar?

Now, does an agent who writes have an advantage over the neophyte unpublished author? Yes, of course. But it's the advantage of experience, knowing how the business works, and how to work the system--the same advantage her clients got by signing with her. You don't have to take it on faith, either. Check it out--how are her clients doing? Is her list growing? Are her clients making it onto bestseller lists and getting great deals? If so, it's safe to assume she's not reserving any precious nuggets of wisdom for her own, exclusive use. Everything that's making her a success as an agent/author is contributing to her clients' successes.

Personally, I think the real problem most people have with this scenario comes down to fear. There's a natural intimidation effect when you encounter someone who's successful on multiple fronts. It can make us mere mortals feel inadequate, or threatened. This is when we need to lift our chins and say, "Ok, fine. So maybe you're more successful than I am, right now. But with you as a model and an inspiration, with you out there pushing the envelope of what I can accomplish and what avenues are open to me, I will make it just as big one day." Instead of tearing down those who are striving to expand our little world, why not take notes and learn something from them? I know, I know, it's a lot easier to spout an uninformed opinion--but what's that ultimately going to get you, beyond the momentary thrill of propping yourself up by putting someone else down?

It's fun, sure, but is it the best use of your time?


So well said, I'm almost speechless.

Kristen stole the words right out of my mouth. Or words straight from my fingertips. Whatever! She still stole from me. I was going to say: So well said, I'm almost speechless. Then I was going to throw in another: almost and add that I'm not kidding, you said it well. Okay, I was really just going to say:

I totally agree with what you said!

Gena, sometimes you astonish me. And Kristen, I love that you're honest enough to throw that "almost" in there...

Kristen is stealing a lot these days. Thefty little glamazon


That, for the record, was my super articulate version of being speechless. What can I say, I'm thinking about laconic Spartans all day long. Did you know that the word laconic actually comes from Spartan? Sparta was in LAconia.

Anyhoo... that's me being silly. I LOVE THIS BLOG! Man, you said it so incredibly well. Thank you very much for providing a good explanation on behalf of those of us in the industry who also write. I think it's so easy for people to forget that the reason many of us became agents was precisely because we DO write.

I can't ever imagine telling a realtor of mine, "Oh, if you're going to build and sell houses yourself--on top of listing my house--then I think that's a conflict."

Then again, the real estate market isn't comprised of a large group of inter-connected women, a few of whom thrive on gossip and backbiting. And in real estate, it's pretty much given that your house will sell eventually whereas writers are given no such guarantee. Hence the occasional problems within RWA community, the gossip, jealousy and backbiting among a bitter few. I say FEW--notice that. Most people within RWA are supportive, nurturing, friendly, cooperative, empowering. I love RWA.

But there is also a darker underbelly that comes out here and there, and to me this topic is one of those "magnets". I'm sure there are some in the first group who don't want an agent that writes. I have no issue with that. But in general, the people who I've had throw this back in my face are the same jealous and unpublished types who think that they can only get ahead by elbowing their fellow women out of the way as they mosh pit it to the top. But you know what they say about pits?? LOL.

Last but not least... I think what frightens me most about this topic is that it almost always seems to be women who raise it. Not men. So, it's women having issues with women getting ahead. Hmm...shouldn't we be cheering each other on? Shouldn't we be the first to say, come on sister, I want to help YOU reach your dreams too? I think for all the ground we've gained in the past fifty/sixty years, that successful women still make people uncomfortable--other women most of all.

I agree with what you said/wrote.

And I couldn't have said it better myself. So I'm not going to try and will just put a link up on my blog to yours.

And the funny thing is I was just having a convo with my boss about multi-tasking/being multi-talented and juggling.

Glad it struck a chord! I feel a little like I'm preaching to the choir.

D, you're so right. There's a nasty woman-to-woman vibe in a lot of that stuff. I went to a women's college, and even now, it still sometimes surprises me when large groups of women act like they're all in competition with one another, rather than a sisterhood. Let me tell you, those mean girls wouldn't have lasted a day at Bryn Mawr...

Fabulous blog! Unfortunately, I agree that it's jealousy and ignorance (usually those 2 traits go together) that cause this strange sort of reaction out there. And D hit it on the nose when she said that it's more prevalent among women. Working in a predominantly female profession (nursing), I can tell you that women are much harder on each other than men are. Don't know why, but sadly, it's true.

It's true - and this doesn't just apply to the literary world. I see it all the time in business, and it drives me nuts. I see it amongst women of all ages (and men, to be fair), and it drives me bonkers.

What an amazing articulate post. You should be a writer ;-)

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