Well it’s not much of a disguise. Literary agents are often cast as the scoundrels of the publishing scene with a reputation for being nasty, heartless and unapproachable – and that’s just on a good day. Perhaps this has its advantages – after all the bad guy tends to be the most exciting and appealing character – particularly when there’s a transformative journey involved.
And today we’ve been born again or at least re-imagined thanks to Michael Bourne, or as I will now fondly refer to him, ‘my Milton’. Through Lucy Coats and The @Awfully Big Blog Daily I came across a sympathetic portrayal of the villain of almost every book – the agent. Like Lucifer in PARADISE LOST and Elphaba in WICKED we have been given a voice and, guess what, we’re not talking in tongues. Not only that but Bourne describes to a tee the experience, nay angst, of an agent on the hunt for new blood.
It may be hard to believe but we do care about books and we’re passionate about finding new talent, nurturing authors and helping to build lasting careers. In the last nine years there are few seats I’ve occupied, (unless I have company), for longer than a couple of minutes without whipping out a manuscript – a train journey, bus journey, flight, waiting room, cafe, bar, picnic, sofa, bench, bed – you get the idea – nowhere is sacred, everywhere haunted by the ghosts of potential clients. Then there’s the crippling guilt; the price of reading a book for fun (gasp!), without an eye on possible representation, a guilt which may drive weaker souls to watch Teen Wolf on TV rather than indulge in the unholy act of reading a published author when so many authors await discovery. But that’s the nature of the beast and it’s a beast we love.
I’m certainly not asking for pity but if you’re an aspiring author looking for an agent then Bourne’s article is a must read as it gives a great insight into an agent’s world. It’s thoughtful and realistic and he is inspiringly determined. I’m less convinced by the importance of knowing the right people, maybe that’s more relevant in the US and less so for children’s books in the UK. Of course connections and recommendations do help but a really impressive covering letter will stand out and perseverance will often pay off. So keep typing and keep sending your manuscripts in, or your soul could be at stake – after it’s the devil who makes work for idle hands.