Why can’t literary agents be a little bit more like Fay Weldon?

Cheeky monkey that I am. Following on from last week’s post, I dropped off an email to someone (I assumed might be) an interested party – Agent G.

Answer came there none.

Did this surprise me? I think I reckoned the outcome to be about 50:50. If I’d written to the Prime Minister or The Queen or the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline or even, come to think of it, a Famous Writer, I’d have been mightily disappointed (slightly angry even) to have had nothing back, even a briefest of brief little notes.

But I acknowledge now that I’ve entered the world of Kafka’s The Castle. The rules of polite society do not apply here.

Of course there are any number of genuine reasons for Agent G’s radio silence.

She might be on holiday. She might be ill. The company server may be down. She might be busy. Terribly busy. Passionately busy.

Literary agency websites tend to go large on a couple of simple corporate messages. 1. How utterly passionate the agency is about serving the world of books; and 2. How chronically busy everyone is, so chronically busy that they barely know what day it is.

But cheeky monkey that I am – not just cheeky but cynical too – I suspect that none of the above applies.

And I more-than-suspect that, to move forward, I must accept this is a horribly deferential world, especially compared to the worlds I know best – media, advertising, tech.

For instance, it has been difficult to come to terms with the notion that magazine publishing and book publishing are as chalk and cheese.

There are lots of clever and talented people in magazine publishing (or at least there were, historically) but they tend to be rounded people (sharp edges smoothed off by daily engagement with the real world). Rounded, generous by-and-large, eminently approachable.

People in book publishing are, by comparison, astonishingly brittle. Brittle and horribly insecure. Just look, for instance, at the submissions pages of literary agents – they tend to be disfigured by cross little warnings about how final all agency decisions are and how impossible it will be to enter into any correspondence with anyone on any topic whatsoever.

They’re desperate to be seen as shiny happy people. They’re not. Absolutely they aren’t. Not in my (admittedly limited) experience.

And one thing I’ve learned, both from direct experience and from talking to those who know a thing or two about this world, is that literary agents absolutely loathe a cheeky monkey.

And yet, I half expected Agent G to make an astute calculation on the risks inherent in not replying to a wholly legitimate follow-up.

For instance, I’ve been round the block once or twice. And if Flying Over Ruins is ever published and I subsequently bump into Agent G, I will share some of these thoughts with her. More in sadness than anger, of course. But forcefully.

It’s unlikely, I know. She’s getting on a bit.

But maybe, in a roundabout way, she has helped make this a possibility. A couple of days before I emailed her, Agent G retweeted a link to the announcement of the publication of Why Will No-one Publish My Novel? by Fay Weldon.

How terribly prescient of her.

But oh Fay! If only more literary agents could be a little bit more like you.

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