Agents and Publishers Do Not Require My Permission

I spent several hours today, yes HOURS, reading through blogs and blog comments about the recent Twitter-prompted discussions regarding agent pay and advances to writers. Links to most of it are conveniently collected over at agent Colleen Lindsay’s blog, which was nice of her. When I was done, I had a massive headache. Literally. Which made me angry.

Why angry? First of all, I didn’t really learn anything new. No one was talking about how to bake new and bigger pies, just arguing about finding new ways to slice the same old pie. The economy sucks and everyone wants to get paid more money for all the long hours spent doing tough work.

And I get that. Hey, I’d love to get a raise at the day job too. And yeah, cut out the mundane and tedious tasks while we’re at it. I work damn hard and I deserve higher pay. But it’s not going to happen until the corporation I work for starts baking more pies, er, making more profit. That happens by increasing income or cutting expenses. Usually both. That’s pretty basic. It’s also pretty tough to accomplish in a prolonged recession.

The other reason I felt angry, apart from the truly nasty headache, was the slow realization after reading all this same-old angst that I do not need to know this. Really. Nothing in this discussion matters to me personally. Might it eventually change the manner and amount of compensation I receive for writing? Sure. But letting all this divisive discourse into my brain will not change anything. Other than, you know, my consumption of Advil.

I’m a writer. I have no say in these decisions. None whatsoever. It’s not up to me.

It’s a business decision. Publishers will pay their suppliers (writers) what they think they can afford or get away with. Agents will do the same with the percentage they charge. Those decisions are based on profit and loss. Too much of one or not enough of the other, businesses are going to make changes. Apparently there’s an excessive supply (of writers) right now and not as much demand. That influences business decisions too.

And for some odd reason I don’t claim to understand, but which people seem to insist on calling industry standards rather than monopolistic control of the market, publishers and agents will pretty much hold hands with their respective colleagues and all decide to do the same thing at the same time. Yes, it’s a quirky industry, but we love it anyway. Suppliers (writers) will either accept that change or find something else to do with their product. Doorstops, maybe. I don’t know.

Nothing in that decision-making process makes me angry. When I’m ready to sell my product, I’ll enter the market as it exists at that time. Or stay out of the market until it improves. Or find another market. Those are my choices.

But I was angry with myself for allowing all this irrelevant-to-me discussion muck up my brain. And then I remembered an excellent essay Jenny Crusie wrote a while back about protecting the work. So I tracked it down and dragged the link over here. Go read it. It’s a great essay with an important message, even if you’re not a writer:

Taking Out the Garbage: How to Protect Your Work and Get Your Life

As a writer, the only thing I control is my writing. Whether that’s the novel or query or synopsis or blog posts or comments on other blogs or stuff on Twitter. It’s all writing. I control all of that. Really, I do. Might not always seem like it, but I do.

Everything else is controlled by others. Everything. And sure, it’s a good idea for writers to have some idea of what’s happening in the industry. So they know what to expect from others once the writing part is done. But it was not necessary for me to wade through hours of discussion about something over which I have no control. It was a huge waste of my time and energy and I blame myself for allowing it. I should know better.

So this is my reminder to any writers who might be over here reading yet another blog post about these issues. Stop it. You do not need the headache.

Focus on what is important. Your priority as a writer is to put your effort and creativity into the one thing you can control, that thing only you can produce. The writing. Everything else is a distraction.

Protect the work.

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Filed under deep thoughts, publishing, writing

11 responses to “Agents and Publishers Do Not Require My Permission

  1. Lord, yes, somebody pay me more, please.

    I have two more irritations with this way to spend time that come from my day job, which is editing. The first is that there really actually is a w – i – d – e quality of submissions–it’s not all commericialism/philistinism/cruelty driving agent and publisher rejections.

    But the second is that there is also a w-i-d-e range of markets. There is a sector that gets represented as The Industry, big agents and the big five or is it six multinational conglomerates. There are imprints, small houses, e-houses, university presses, magazines . . . some of them are doing okay while the big guys yell with Amazon, but all of them are scrambling for readers. Ten versus 30 percent royalties aren’t going to matter if the libraries close and people switch to TV.

    And this actually is something else we writers can influence, because we are also readers. We can talk up books, share adventures, encourage reading time. I want to be an ambassador for the joyful life of the reader, not the embittered wanna-be-agented writer.


  2. Great post! Throw your energy into writing. That is what’s most important!


  3. Thanks, Amanda, glad you liked it!

    Ann Marie, I’m frustrated by the generalization (and demonization) of agents and publishers as well. And of writers. [sigh]

    The thing is, I work in finance. I’m actually extremely well qualified to answer that whole “how can we increase profits” question. It’s a big part of my job, especially in the past couple years. If someone wants to turn over to me all their financial statements, we can have a meaningful discussion about it. [Not really, that would be a huge conflict of interest. But theoretically.]

    Short of that, these debates over who “deserves” more money are just irritating as hell. We all deserve more money.


  4. McB

    So refreshing to read this post, BCB. Of course, I’m not a writer, but I’m hearing much the same ranting and whining, regardless. The reality is, life isn’t fair and the guy who signs the check has all the power.


  5. Exactly! I get very, very tired of constantly stressing about the industry. I control me and my work. That’s it. I can (and plan to) innovate within my sphere of influence, which right now involves about 600 off-and-on readers. Fixing the publishing world is a little beyond me.

    Okay, I get that the industry is evolving. Personally, when I’m not being told I should feel bitter or paranoid, I’m rather excited about it. All the doomspeakers and naysayers cut into that excitement and accomplish nothing positive.

    Nice to hear I’m not the only writer tired of suffering from stress headaches over this issue. Screw meta-writing; time to get back to real writing 🙂


  6. You are right. I just write and get on with my life. When I want to publish, I do so, wherever I can best get it done, as can be seen on my blog… frankly there is no other answer on what you cannot control.
    Blessings and good luck.


  7. You’re right. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I do enjoy the debates (and have good memories of the high school debating team).

    Writing comes first, but since writing is also a business, I feel too frail if I’m not armed with enough information to know what I might be getting into.

    Thanks for a great post (and a link to a great essay!)


  8. Okay, this is sort of nice, having people I don’t know come over here and agree with me. Careful, you all don’t want me getting used to this. 😉

    I absolutely agree that writers need to understand the business side of publishing. Ignorance is not bliss and can hurt your chances of being taken seriously once it’s time to sell your product.

    Maybe it’s my OCD tendencies, but I sometimes get so deeply mired in a topic, like this one, that really has nothing to do with the actual writing. It saps my creativity. So I need this reminder on occasion that if something is beyond my influence, I need to let it go.

    The only thing I can do is try to become a better writer. While it might be true there is a surplus of writers, I do not believe there are (ever) too many really good ones.

    BTW, Jenny Crusie has several other terrific writing-related essays over there. Browse around her site. Very smart lady.

    Thanks, everyone, for chiming in!


  9. Robin S.

    Excellent post, K.D. Worrying about the market is not condusive to writing a good manuscript that will turn into a good book.


  10. KD,
    At a writer’s conference I attended a lecture by an agent and was overwhelmed with info about genre, sub-genre, micro-sub-sub-genre… anyway, you get the picture. I escaped, and ran into a wise former special ops person who, after listening to my lament, said “It’s your agents job to worry about stuff like that. Your job is to write.”

    And you know, I’ve never let it bother me again.

    Good post.


  11. blankslatepress

    Good post, good insights, and good writing. And good luck with your WIP. I can’t wait to read more about it.