The publishing industry has changed over time and continues to do so. Publishers have come and gone, some have merged to stay alive, and many only look at work solicited by an agent. Literary agents have gone through similar experiences, moving from one agency to another, leaving the industry all together or collaborating with others to create a new agency.
But one thing I found that has not changed. Agents and, to a lesser degree, publishers rely heavily on subjectivity in the decision-making process regarding what gets represented and ultimately published.
My pet peeve is, too much subjectivity clouds judgement.
Many debut authors (me included) have experienced countless rejections from agents. Rejection is a necessary step to success. Yet inherent in most rejections is the degree to which subjectivity is used to decide what gets represented and what does not.
There are many well-known authors who were initially rejected by literary agents and publishers alike, such as J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Margaret Mitchell, Mario Puzo, and Stephen King, to name a few.
One of my favourite rejections I received from an agent read, “Not for me.”
That’s it! Three words. This agent would not be for me either. The lack of professionalism suggests how she might represent a client.
Another rejection I had received is more common in response to a query submission upon its rejection.
“Thank you for sending me your query. I'm sorry not to request the full manuscript or offer to represent you, but this doesn't seem like a good fit for my list. Publishing is very subjective, and other agents may well feel differently. I wish you all success finding it a home.”
And so there you have it, an agent admitting the industry is subjective. Many other agents have said the same thing. Subjectivity can certainly hinder a writer’s chances in representation and ultimate publication of their work.
Why is it so hard to be objective? Objectivity refers to something which exists, or is true, independent of anyone’s opinion. Subjectivity refers to an individual’s experience or opinion of something. Experiences shape our thoughts and subjectivity-infused thoughts affects our decisions. An agent’s life experience can evoke a response to reject a manuscript in favour of a story they like to read.
This, in my opinion, also explains what I call the flavour of the year publication. For example, during the past few years women’s fiction genre has grown tremendously.
Female-driven thrillers are flying off the bookshelves and being adapted into blockbusters and stories centered on women are still in demand: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Hello Girls, etc.
Publishers look at it a little differently. CEO of Penguin Random House Canada, Brad Martin said, "I'm not interested in a book that is going to generate less than $100,000 in revenue unless the editor or publisher has a compelling vision for the book and/or the author." Yikes! What are the chances of an aspiring author to land a deal with Penguin Random House Canada. By the way, Penguin Group and Random House merged in 2013 to become Penguin Random House LLC. And now Penguin Random House is looking to buy Simon & Schuster.
So literary agents become the gate keepers to publishers.
But gatekeepers aren’t necessarily risk takers. It seems agents want the sure thing, the book that will get published and hopefully sell big. I’m not aware of any agent that takes a risk and represents someone outside their comfort zone.
Perhaps the publishing system is broken when it comes to how stories are chosen to be represented and published. To a degree it explains indie or self-publishing. And there have been some big successes here. Maybe an overhaul is needed but who will take on the challenge and how will it be accomplished? When that question is answered, I can toss out my pet peeve of the publishing industry.
Until next time!