Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Bond, James Bond … Or Do I Really Need An Agent?

by | July 10, 2012 | Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker | 1 comment

The world of professional writing can be … no, that’s not
right: the world of professional writing is – without a doubt – a very frightening,
confusing place.

Not only are there only a few diehard rules – to either
slavishly follow or studiously avoid – but even basic trust can be a very,
very rare: should I put my work on my site, or will it be stolen?  Should I even send my work out to other
writers, for the very same reason? 

What about editors or – especially – publishers?  Does my editor really have my best
interests in mind?  Should I make
the changes he or she suggests or should I stand my ground and refuse to change
even one word?  Is my publisher
doing all they can for my book? 
Are they being honest about royalties? 

Back in the days of print – before the revolution – a lot of
these questions would have been answered by an agent: a person who not only knew
the business but would actually hold a writer’s hand and lead them from that doubt
and fear and, hopefully, towards success … however you want to define that

Agents spoke the cryptic language of rights and royalties:
they could actually read – and even more amazingly – understand a book
contract.  They’d be able, with
their experience and foresight, to say when a writer should say yes
or no
to edits. 

They could open doors that no one else could open – and in
some ways that still holds true: a few big (and I mean huge) publishers will
still not talk to an author who doesn’t have an agent.  Don’t get me started on the Catch 22 of
an agent who will only look at published authors – when publishers won’t talk
to writers who don’t have agents.

That was then, I hear you say, but what about now?  Well, as the smoke begins to clear from
the fires of the digital revolution, a lot of authors (and editors and
publishers) are beginning to question even the concept of a literary agent.

Part of this pondering is because the doors that used to be
shut to authors, without the key of a publisher, are beginning to swing
open.  Yes, a lot of the huge (and
I mean immense) houses are still well fortified, but a lot of publishers,
a few of them quite sizable, are allowing – if not welcoming – un-agented

Another part of this doubt is that a lot of agents simply
haven’t kept up with the times: the ebook revolution, they deluded themselves, is
just a passing fad.  Well, it isn’t,
and many authors who have signed with these kinds of agents have begun to feel
that they have hitched their literary wagon to the wrong horse.

But do you need an agent?   

The rule I was taught still holds a fair amount of water: if
you are submitting to a small to mid-range publisher an agent is really not
necessary – in fact they can actually work against an author. Publishers want a
in their dealings with an author: having to deal with an agent, especially one
that feels they have bust a publisher’s chops to prove they are worth their
percentage can far too often sour the deal.  As an anthology editor – and an Associate Publisher – I’ve personally
had to slam the door on more than a few deals because of an agent who got in
the way.

Frankly – not to sound like the old man on the hill – I’ve
had five of them, and not one of them has done me much good.  In fact, I consider a few of them to
have seriously slowed me down professionally.  This is not a good thing.

But if you still think you need an agent, keep in mind that getting
one – especially a good one – can be extraordinarily tough.  This brings me back to the beginning:
becoming a professional writer is intimidating, scary, and confusing – now more
than ever – and there are more than a few agents out there who will promise to
be your savior, teach you what you need to know, and guide your hand.

The proof though, is always, in the pudding.  If you decide to try to get an agent,
if you get one, and if you think you have a good one, always keep an eye wide, wide
open on what they are really, actually, doing for you.

A wise writer friend of mine said that a writer should never
forget that an agent works for the writer – not the other way
around.  So if you find yourself
frustrated, disappointed, or finding more publishing opportunities than your
agent then it might be time to move on.

Will literary agents become extinct – especially when huge
book deals are being made by everyone from twitters to bloggers to little ebook
authors?  I don’t know. 

But I do know that it’s important to keep
a level head and not let the scary world of writing and publishing make you run
into the arms of an anyone – an agent or someone like them – who promises to
be a hero but, instead, becomes a hindrance. 

Yes.  Frustrating?  Absolutely.  But with professional writing always work to keep a clear
head and – with an agent or not – pay attention to what’s really helping you …
and what isn’t.   

M. Christian

Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement.
Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name. In erotica, M.Christian is known and respected not just for his passion on the page but also his staggering imagination and chameleonic ability to successfully and convincingly write for any and all orientations.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited 25 anthologies to date including the Best S/M Erotica series; Pirate Booty; My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica; The Burning Pen; The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

M.Christian's short fiction has been collected into many bestselling books in a wide variety of genres, including the Lambda Award finalist Dirty Words and other queer collections like Filthy Boys, and BodyWork. He also has collections of non-fiction (Welcome to Weirdsville, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica); science fiction, fantasy and horror (Love Without Gun Control); and erotic
science fiction including Rude Mechanicals, Technorotica, Better Than The Real Thing, and the acclaimed Bachelor Machine.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his monumental versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger's Breadth and Me2.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he'd want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.

1 Comment

  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Chris,

    Honestly, I think literary agents are an endangered species. It's just not clear what value they can provide in today's market – except perhaps emotional support, but that's available elsewhere.

    Generally, I think they just add friction. And given how hard it is to make money as an author – do you really want to give 15% of that pittance away?

    I'd love to hear more about your five agents, though – not names, obviously, but about the sort of problems that you had that finally convinced you to ditch them.

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