My Thoughts on Narrow-Minded Agents

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 21 2015

On August 17 I posted the following asking if readers also believed this to be true:

Is this something you believe to be true about agents?

I’m not sure literary agents are the right way to go, as their interests are bizarrely narrow, and seem to be looking continually for exact replicas of successful works from the past, rather than compelling untold stories.

Most of the comments received were supportive and made sense. Some suggested it was sent from an author who just hit the wall on rejections. I agree. I suspect that’s exactly what happened and I do understand that frustration.

Before giving my opinion on the statement I wanted to hear from readers and I appreciate that so many contributed.

Unfortunately for authors, its so easy to feel that agents don’t want to take risks or have bizarrely narrow interests. In some cases they’re right. Life is easier when we have a sure thing and, in most cases, all readers have narrow interests. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a reader who truly reads everything. Sure many will say they do, but then you ask about the romance novel she just read or the latest horror novel and come to realize that those don’t fit into the category of everything.

Taking on a new client, or pitching a new genre or book of any kind, even from an established client is always a risk. We have to take risks, the truth is that the same old same old does not sell. Even if we’re looking for another contemporary romance because that’s what editors tell us they want, it still needs to be different enough to sell. Sometimes making the job harder. How do you take something that is “bizarrely narrow” and make it wide enough to be different, but similar enough to meet the expectations of readers?

Typically an agent’s job is to know the market and take on books she thinks she can sell to editors. Editors in turn are buying books she thinks readers want. Are there mistakes made? All the time. Are there surprise winners? Absolutely. There’s no scientific equation to any of this. Moods change and reading tastes change on a dime. Right now, we’re trying to predict what readers are going to want to read in 2017, because that’s likely when the books we’re selling today will be published. That’s a tough call to make since I can’t even predict what I’m going to want to read tomorrow.

2 responses to “My Thoughts on Narrow-Minded Agents”

  1. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    Even within genre a person’s tastes vary. I avidly read the cozy genre, but within the genre there are books I’ve loved, and other books… not so much.

    It’s really hard to get your head around current books being sold will publish in 2017. I understand the process, and how long it takes, but it makes being unpublished harder (because that’s about another 2 years to add to seeing your baby out there after getting the call).

  2. Avatar Hollie says:

    When I was a teaching assistant before I was considered ‘educated’ by the staff (I didn’t have a degree then). I introduced one of the teachers the sony e-books reader. At that point, we were importing them from the US, but I was reviewing so most of my books came in e-format and it made my life easy.

    She asked me where I bought books I choose to read. I kind of looked at her confused, with this strange feeling I was missing a really important part to the question and said from the publishers websites, Her response was, but how do I know what to read?

    When I finally worked out what she was talking about, my ‘educated’ teacher only read books listed on the top 10. She didn’t visit shops or publishing houses to read blurbs or excerpts, she didn’t have a genre she favoured or authors she followed. She read what she thought was guaranteed to be good, it had to be good to be on the best seller list and it showed she has a wide and varied reading interest.

    I came to the conclusion some people will always be a sheep, at least in some ways. To me a wide and varied reading interest is choosing books from different genres, different styles, even from different ages if that’s what you want. Not reading everything you’re told by someone else’s list.