Michael Bourne, tired of having his novel rejected without knowing why, interviewed literary agents to find out what their job is like and arrived at a newfound empathy for them:
They are called literary agents, and if you are a writer with one or more unpublished books on your hard drive you have probably received a terse note from several dozen of them telling you that your novel is “not a right fit” for their agency at this time. In that moment you tore open that thin self-addressed envelope or read the two-line return email, you probably hated them. Not just that one agent, but all literary agents, as a class. How could they not see the brilliance in your manuscript? How could they possibly guess at the quality of your manuscript based on a one-page letter and a synopsis? And what the hell does “not a right fit” mean, anyway? Is that even grammatical English?
This is a perfectly natural and human response. It hurts to be rejected, and it hurts even more when you walk into a real bookstore, one with chirpy sales clerks and splashy book covers, and see truly godawful books by authors represented by some of these very same agents. But as natural as that rage might be, as satisfying as it is to rant to your friends or online about the idiocy of the people in mainstream publishing, this anger is misplaced. There are good literary agents and bad ones – the gap between the two is huge – but literary agents are only middlemen navigating the rough seas between the swarms of unpublished writers and an ever-diminishing readership for literary fiction.
Check out the whole thing. I don’t agree quite as strongly with the necessity of being totally plugged into publishing culture, but I do embrace the idea that ultimately writers should seize as much responsibility for their own destiny as they can.
Art: Portrait of Alexander Benua by Lev Bakst