There is no Jenn – only Zuul. I am the Gatekeeper!

There’s this very, um, provocative sounding article in the Village Voice about agents. Read it here if you’re so inclined. I skimmed it last night and somehow wanted to be vaguely offended, but couldn’t exactly figure out why. Apparently Publisher’s Lunch couldn’t exactly figure it out either as they commented on it in yesterday’s offering: “Paul Collins has an essay in the Village Voice that seems to want to say something about agents as gatekeepers in contemporary publishing, though it never really gets anywhere.”

This morning I re-read it, and got the distinct impression, though not explicitly, that the article pegged gatekeeping in a negative fashion (okay, I can grok that – competition in commercial publishing is quite fierce and rejection rates are high – it’s bound to make people feel bad), and somehow implied that all agents (not just those godforsaken fee-chargers) could not contribute anything in a positive way. That agents only mucked up the process by bringing money into the equation. Which seems to say to me that the writer thought it better before “new copyright laws meant that authors could no longer be ripped off with impunity” when “publishers relied on the sort of interns for whom reading stacks of desperate stuffed envelopes remains a hazing into the industry.” Perhaps he meant this article to be somewhat sarcastic, and wasn’t entirely serious when he called all agents “commission-skimming interlopers.” As for me, I’m a lover of books – have been my whole life. I have to believe that I make a better gatekeeper than a random intern, and know that helping authors be rewarded and recognized for their work isn’t just something I do for the money. I realize that there are agents out there for whom this is just business, and that there are writers out there who prefer that sort of agent. I’m fine with that. And I know that there are agents out there who make publishing a living hell for writers (whether those writers are ready for publication or not). I’m sure I haven’t heard my last tale of woe on that front. I’m much less than fine with them. In fact, I might hate them just as much as the writers do (if not more, in some cases) because they are the ones responsible for articles like this which tar all agents with the same brush….

In other news….. still sick. And very tired of being sick. I’m starting to believe I’ll just be coughing for the rest of the summer. How demoralizing. Of course, I’m working anyway. Feh. But there are contracts to be reviewed, emails to be answered, appointments at RWA to be scheduled, manuscripts to be mailed to publishers, lots more manuscripts to be read…. And so it goes.

9 responses to “There is no Jenn – only Zuul. I am the Gatekeeper!

  1. Eh, the guy’s an idiot. But yes, it’s rather head-scratchy in terms of where he was going with the point of the piece.
    You have an email from me from last week, but no action required; it’s just a note about my editor taking an action on our behalf.
    Also, I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks to send you the ms of “Matty Groves”. You need to feel all healthy and perky again. Speaking of which, I’m sending Ruth citrus cookies next week – very light and crisp round the edges and full of vitamin C. Want?

  2. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Zuul?
    NO ONE steps on an agent in my town!

    • Bahaha!
      I was vaguely dissatisfied with that article, as well. I kept trying to figure out what his argument was, but he didn’t seem to have one: it occured to me that if his exposition had a thesis, he probably should have stuck it on a sticky note to remind him of what it was he was trying to say, and then edit so that everything he wrote had to do with that.
      Is this a lack of underlying thematic focus that weakens the narrative thrust of the story?
      No. Stop that. Egon said crossing the streams was bad.

  3. Don’t forget to get out and get some sun, too. The natutal vitamin D is good for you, recommended dose – 20 minutes a day, if you can find it!

  4. Question
    Hi, I have a quick question unrelated to the discussion at hand. I know you screen anonymous comments, and if I had an account, I wouldn’t be anonymous, but here goes anyway:
    What’s DMLA’s average turn-around time on partials? I went to one of Don’s seminars and he invited all of us to submit fifty pages. I sent mine in at the end of May and haven’t heard. However, I don’t know how much time is standard to wait.
    If you don’t want to start a trend with people asking questions like this in your comments, maybe you could delete this comment and just put up a statement in your next entry that answers it. Or of course, you could delete it and ignore it, but I hope you don’t do that. 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your time.

    • Hi, I have a quick question unrelated to the discussion at hand. I know you screen anonymous comments, and if I had an account, I wouldn’t be anonymous, but here goes anyway:
      Just a “by the way” on this paragraph – accounts are free. And there’s nothing that says you can’t sign your name anyway, which lots of people do. 🙂
      What’s DMLA’s average turn-around time on partials? I went to one of Don’s seminars and he invited all of us to submit fifty pages. I sent mine in at the end of May and haven’t heard. However, I don’t know how much time is standard to wait.
      Always a hard question to answer actually – as “standard” is perhaps a liberal word to apply. Not only does it vary from agency to agency but it can even vary by agent within a single agency. Our official website at http://www.maassagency.com/ says two-three weeks. I have to admit that I think that’s ambitious. My personal site (which has a slightly older version of our guidelines, I think) says “several weeks.” Really, it can vary a lot depending on current volume. And by necessity on how many clients also turn in materials, which according to triage must get priority. Right now the oldest non-client submission in my pile is from April. And I have several more dated in May. Honestly, the best and most professional thing to do would be to send a letter with an SASE asking for an update on the status of your work and when you might expect a reply.
      If you don’t want to start a trend with people asking questions like this in your comments, maybe you could delete this comment and just put up a statement in your next entry that answers it. Or of course, you could delete it and ignore it, but I hope you don’t do that. 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your time.
      Frankly, I don’t mind if people ask me questions in comments. But I have to admit that I don’t always answer them. Sometimes because of time. Sometimes because of inclination. It appears to be an oddly random sort of thing for some reason.

  5. Heading off to read the article – but must say this first – as a doe-eyed naive new writer, I tend to believe that agents are here to work on behalf of the writers, to nurture talent, to expose great works to the world, and I see no problem with paying them to do so.
    Dr. Phil and every other self help guru tells us to do what we love and the money will follow. And the money should follow.
    But then again, I am a newbie, at times naive and I believe the best in the world.
    I have been spending equal time seeking out publishers, and agents, in the genre’s I write in, and studying the publishing world, as much time as I spend writing. I would much rather hand it over to someone who will carry it to the next level for me. Someone who has the knowledge and skill, and professionalism, and pay them for it. (Three Cheers for the middleperson!)
    Okay – so the stone soup I had for lunch has me feeling very nostalgic and soapboxy.
    Hope you feel better soon.

  6. Running at an angle to the article, but still on gatekeeper topic, we’ve run into agents who flip the relationship of author-to-agent to one of “if you want to work for me, you’ll write what I tell you to”…
    One agent told us he’d work with us if we stopped writing the Liaden books (after three of them) because he had no confidence in them. He wanted us to write large, important novels, and he’d be glad to give us the themes in demand.
    Suggestions from an agent? Fine. Orders from an agent, before signing? You can imagine how that went over…

  7. When I read it, I didn’t think he was saying negative things about agents, only quoting what others had said. His Deering example was a cautionary tale.
    He sounds more like someone who would have liked to have his work published by someone who appreciated it for what it was.
    For all that we might moan in private about the necessary evil of having an agent, most of us, if we must have one would probably rather have an agent who believes in our work and wants to represent us because of it, not because we have a hot contract in our hand or are more charming in person than our writing sounds.
    ::rant mode off::

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