Pub Rants

Are You The Key Master?

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STATUS: I’ve been working late all week because I’m so behind on client reading. Sorry folks. This means I haven’t even looked at queries and partials for well over a week. No extra time.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LEAST COMPLICATED by Indigo Girls

Well, I have serious doubts that the Sobol Awards is. I think Miss Snark clearly sums up my own issues with the whole “contest.” No need for me to re-summarize it here.

What’s most interesting to me, when reading the comments for this thread, is the implacable view of agents as gatekeepers.

Like we, as agents, are all sitting around plotting how not to let talented writers inside the publishing bastion and then delight in our ability to keep the “undeserving” out.

Hum… I can’t say I’ve ever thought of myself in this way. Most of the time, I just read submissions and I ask myself, “Do I like it? Do I not? Can I, personally, sell this?”

If the answer is yes, I take the person on. If the answer is no, I don’t.

There’s certainly no deeper subtext going on.

I also don’t like everything I find in the bookstore and I’ve certainly read published, wildly popular works or lauded works and thought, “this is crap; I can’t even imagine how this got published.”

Admit it! You readers have often thought the same.

No Gatekeeping conspiracy present since obviously a wide array of books (of varying quality) gets published. Besides, in a lot of genres I rep (such as romance and sf & f), editors often search for new talent sans agent involvement and lots of writers hook up with deals all on their own.

Doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

No, I don’t earn my 15% commission by gatekeeping. I earn my 15% by being a partner in my author clients’ careers.

And as I’ve said before, this job is so much more than just finding a project and selling it.

What the Sobol Contest implies is that there is nothing more to agenting than that. Some “winners” might be in for a rude awakening and let’s hope the “agent” at Sobol Literary will know better than to simply accept the Simon & Schuster contract boilerplate on the author’s behalf.


11 Responses

  1. MTV said:

    Kristin wrote – *… let’s hope the *agent* at Sobol Literary will know better than to simply accept the Simon & Schuster contract boilerplate on the author’s behalf.*

    Hmmm… maybe S & S actually do have a plan. I mean hype can sell and if they write the right contract more odds become in their favor… still risky from my perspective, but stranger things then this have worked er… happened anyway. Worked could be too strong a word here… it implies they make money on the deal.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Seriously, I know an agent can’t actually come out and admit to being a gatekeeper, BUT THAT’S WHAT AGENTS ARE! The big publishers no longer take UNAGENTED submissions… they are now depending on agents to filter some of the crap they receive.

    When “gatekeeper” came into vogue as a business expression, it referred to receptionists and assistants keeping timewasters from getting in front of their bosses.

    A writer cannot get to the big publishers unless their work passes through an agent. This means that the agents get to turn people away, thus preventing some of an editor’s time from being wasted on what may be garbage.

    I admit the Sobol guy’s a skunk, with a slimy contract clutched in his sweaty paw– I admit it looks like S&S is desperate for… whatever. But PLEASE ADMIT that in the strictest definiton of the term “gatekeeper”, agents fit the bloody bill!

  3. Anonymous said:

    Hi Kristin,

    I wanted to let you know that we’re spotlighting your “Do You Deal Lunch?” post in this week’s Best of the Biz report on the AuthorMBA blog ( Thanks for your great blog and for going the extra mile to help writers understand the business side of running a successful agency.

    Good luck with your client reads!


  4. Anonymous said:

    Boy, I don’t think any serious writer thinks lit agents are conspiring against them. We all know they depend on us as much (fortunately or unfortunately) as we depend on them. Every writer wants a good agent! The question brought up by the Sobol contest is: Given the difficulty of getting an agent, is this another portal to the world of publishing?
    Agents say no, and the more vehemently they say it, the more a writer has to wonder.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous 2–Agents are saying “no” to the Sobol contest the same way they say “no” (loudly, emphatically) to any agent that charges fees to read submissions. You have to pay $85 just for Sobol to *consider* your work. And you have no guarantee that they’ll get you a good contract if you “win”, or that they’ll be able to sell any of your other books if the S&S one flops. How is that a reasonable alternative to submitting (for free) to respectable agents who have lots of sales to prove they can look after their authors and do their job well?

    Of course, if you *want* to spend $85 dollars just to submit to an agent of questionable ability, well, that’s your decision. But don’t blame people for wanting to warn other writers, who might not have thought it all the way through.

  6. Patrick McNamara said:

    By requiring that all submissions be made through agents, many publishers are using agents as gatekeepers. This is a role the agent is forced into. But agents also act as farmers by sorting though the submissions and picking only those that are ripe and ready.

    I think shows such as American Idol reveal the reality; contests pick often the most popular person but not the most talented. Even the Oscar awards rarely go to the biggest boxoffice films. There’s just too much politics in contents to allow them as a way to select a manusript for publication.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Anon #2,

    If agents are saying no, it’s no mystery. The only way into this mysterious world of legitimate publishing is to write very, very well. Agents leap on great books, they don’t leap on tired ones.

    Back in my pre-agent days, when I was rejected, I figured out why and worked my butt off to fix it. Then I got an agent but still didn’t get pubbed right away, I wrote another book using every bit of criticism I received from editor rejections. And I got published. And I got a film deal. Then I got pubbed again.

    Along the way, I didn’t waste a moment complaining that people were conspiring against me – I simply worked harder!

  8. Zany Mom said:

    I thank you and Miss Snark and other bloggers for having the time and patience to explain exactly WHY this Sobol contest is a crock, because I, too, at first didn’t get it. Now I do.


  9. yossarian said:

    Well sure, agents are gatekeepers, but not in a malicious, cackling, “keep out the rookies” sense. It’s just a fact that in many or most cases you need an agent to move ahead. That’s gatekeeping.

    This is why so many publishers no longer accepted unagented submissions. They LIKE having that extra level of crap filter, so perhaps their slush is less slushy than what agents wade through.

    But yes, agents do much more than simply that, and Sobol is a crock.

  10. kis said:

    I’ve certainly read published, wildly popular works or lauded works and thought, “this is crap; I can’t even imagine how this got published.”

    Admit it! You readers have often thought the same.

    I have. Often. That’s what makes the whole process even more frustrating for writers–knowing that agents and editors are passing up the chance to immortalize your perfect prose in favor of “crap.” 🙂