decolonizing writer representation – the agent challenge!

You guys. You are amazing. Thank you. I can’t believe this is maybe becoming a thing, and so I really want to make it A Thing now. And I was asked to maybe make it for editors, too, so that’s A Thing now as well!

Lost? Read the Storify. Then come back. Also, don’t be scared by the troll below. #sorrynotsorry by my responses. People like that are part of the problem.

Still lost? Here is some background (more links to come):

So here’s what I’m asking you to do. Publicly commit to spending a decent period of time (I would think three months seems enough to make a dent but also not change your worklife forever, since slush piles are also important) closing down your slush pile and using your existing contacts and Twitter followees to find people who #amwriting and are tweeting about diversity, marginalization, multiculturalism, and intersectionality.

If you cannot find those people naturally, you’re not following enough people. You are maybe new to Twitter, which is fine, but you will have to work to get better at it fast. Follow more people, and follow who they are following and retweeting. Twitter will also give you suggestions, and sometimes they are clearly sponsored to say that you should follow Donald Trump, but other times their algorithm is decent.

However, these are some of my favorite people, organizations, and websites to follow who have already made a point of promoting equity and social justice and retweet the voices of the people. These links are all to their Twitters. That’s because Twitter is Really Fucking Important. It’s where kidlit and YA people gather and socialize, for one, and it’s a platform that really does a lot better at welcoming and amplifying the voices of marginalized folks, so it’s important that you use it.

Some DOs and DON’Ts of this challenge:

Do

  • Be willing to be listed here and thus accept that writers from marginalized backgrounds may solicit YOU, and if they mention this challenge, you should accept their submission during this period. Rules. This is my thing I made up, so this is a rule now.
  • Cut it the fuck out with “diverse” or “multicultural” and start using the term “marginalized” to describe people and “social justice” or “equity” to describe what it is we’re trying to change. Also, learn what hegemony means. Also, recall that “diverse” when used as shorthand for “marginalized” includes race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and religion, among others, and you’re either cool with all of those things or you’re not welcome here.
  • Make sure that your website, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc note prominently that you are specifically doing this challenge so that people don’t worry that you’re an illegitimate agent for soliciting authors directly. I’m not trying to ruin your reputation here, really. You could even say I’m trying to make you a hero, really.
  • Ask the marginalized people you’re following, especially if they are already represented and published, if they have referrals for you. Published writers have unpublished friends, all of them. And then you can avoid the whole “this agent is soliciting me out of nowhere, so they must be illegitimate” thing.
  • Consider working with people with partials? That’s something you have to decide for yourself, and I’ve never worked in publishing (wanted to intern, never got the opportunity) so I have no idea just how overworked you are (but like teachers, I can make the assumption you are overworked and underpaid unless you represent Stephenie Meyer), but I would think that if you’re into nurturing voices that have been marginalized, you maybe want to consider mentoring them, not just taking on a fully developed manuscript, though that’s based on your time and your interests and stuff. But at the very least I would hope that you’d also work with the people you solicit submissions from and help them find opportunities for MFAs, online courses, mentorship programs, or whatever. You have connections, and there are additional ways to utilize them for good beyond offering representation.

DON’T

  • Say you’re going to do it and then back out. Say exactly when you’re going to do it. I’ll post that along with your information.
  • Pat yourself on the back too much. This is a #nocookies zone. I will pat you on the back and say thanks for participating, and I will mean it 100% sincerely, and then you will sit back and just do your job. This is your job.

Here is where you can sign up: http://goo.gl/forms/NhalP4TKlR

If you’re an editor, please make the applicable slight changes to the DOs and DON’Ts to make them apply to your work, and then sign up here: http://goo.gl/forms/8T9QSf5OxM

Participating Agents:

Lydia Moed, the Rights Factory (the emerita! The original signup!). Closing her slush pile from June to September. lydia @ therightsfactory . com

Participating Editors:

tk

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13 thoughts on “decolonizing writer representation – the agent challenge!

  1. Pingback: A different way of doing things | Lydia Moëd

  2. Okay, I get that you’re trying to do a good thing, but I’m a little concerned by your aggressiveness and the condescension (No cookies?) I wonder if all you’re really doing is showing agents and editors that you’d be difficult to work with.

    I would rather get published because I wrote a good manuscript, not because I got some sort of publishing Affirmative Action. Why is special treatment deserved? Why should you get to bypass the query letter and the sample pages, and completely flout the system that’s in place that everyone, regardless of color, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, must go through? Not only that, but partials? You don’t even think you should have to be finished with it?! You feel you should not even have to prove you can write an entire novel from start to finish before you’re entitled to representation? Also, “diverse” and “multicultural” are now bad words? It now has to be “marginalized?” (Seriously asking; this is the first I’ve heard anyone saying that.) Telling industry people to “Cut it the fuck out” isn’t going to make them start salivating to work with you.

    What you’re basically doing is calling everyone in publishing a racist. Which isn’t true. Is there enough lit for marginalized people? No. But that doesn’t necessarily make everyone in the industry racist. Write a good query and a good book. Don’t demand that agents shut down their entire slush pile to go pursue you, when you haven’t done anything to show you have a completed, polished manuscript of merit. Expecting them to do so for 3 months(!) is absurd.

    • Okay, changing my response on the off chance that you are NOT a troll, though it sure seems like you’re trying to be one.

      First off, why are you talking like this is literally a request for agents to pick me and only me up? Why would that be a challenge? Where did I say that at all? Where did I say that I at all would be participating?

      That’s right, I didn’t.

      The reason I’m assuming you’re a troll is that anybody who suggests that reverse racism is a real concept is a troll.

      Here are some other things I never said:

    • “Entitled”
    • “Special treatment”
    • “Pursue me”
    • “Demand”
    • “You should represent all marginalized people even if their writing is bad”
    • So don’t say that I did. If you want to take issue with things, quote from my post, don’t make up strawmen to support your privileged, pompous points.

      If you are honestly curious about why “diverse” and “multicultural” are obnoxious, overused, and misused, you can start here.

      Nobody is demanding anything. I’m issuing a challenge, not holding a gun to the head of every agent in the world. If they don’t care about supporting marginalized voices, they don’t have to. But the “no cookies” thing is in reference to the fact that a great deal of people in the industry like to say they “care” about diversity, but they do absolutely nothing proactive about it. You don’t get cookies for saying you care.

      If you don’t understand how privilege, oppression, hegemony and institutionalized racism work, you’re never going to understand why directly soliciting marginalized people is essential social justice work, so you’re not worth talking to unless you’re going to take the time to learn about that first.

  3. Hmmm… yep, showing that you’d probably be a nightmare client. Sorry that you see opinions different from yours as trolling. I wish you’d have at least tried to justify the position on partials. That one really made me shake my head. Agents don’t have time to take on someone who isn’t ready for publication and basically hold her hand and GET her ready. There are a ton of (free!) resources out there to help people improve their craft.

    And the calling people out by name? Insulting them? Not going to get you anywhere. This is a business.

    • Where did I call anybody out by name?

      NOWHERE, that’s where.

      I put in my point about partials that it’s something I’m *wondering* about, and I said very clearly that I don’t think that would work for many people, but maybe it’s something to think about. I did not say “You are required to accept partials.”

      Again, how about NOT making things up and claiming that they are direct quotes?

      • Well, you did insult John Green, when you claimed he didn’t give a shit about diversity, and then minimized the disability in his book (because “It’s not really about the disability.”)

        It’s a small community. If you insult someone, chances are people who’ve worked on that person’s books or with that person will take offense.

        And no, partials are probably not something to think about. Believing you’re entitled to an agent without showing you can finish a book is ridiculous.

        Stop whining and write something of substance.

        • John Green is not in this post.

          Again, this challenge is not about ME. I am not looking for representation at this moment. It’s also not something anyone is REQUIRED to take part in. If someone doesn’t like what I have to say, they’re under no obligation to have anything to do with me.

          You’re certainly expending a lot of energy into telling me how much you hate me. Why aren’t you spending time writing something of substance?

          Tone policing unwelcome. Move along.

          • Because I don’t write. I intern.

            For someone getting hot and bothered that I apparently said things you didn’t say… where did I say I hate you? I don’t hate you or anyone. I hate when people think they don’t have to write a good query, good sample pages (more important than the query), and have the writing hold up to the very end. I hate when people think they should get some sort of special shortcut. You don’t have to be “privileged” to submit something wherein the writing is strong enough.

            And John Green wasn’t in this post, no, but you have indeed insulted him in a previous post, which was pretty lame.

            You’re not in a position to make rules for agents, even within your “challenge,” and you also used the word “diversity” even after claiming it’s obnoxious. (How long before “marginalized” becomes overused and obnoxious?”)

            Have fun, I guess.

            • Of course I can make rules for a game that I’m running. Don’t be ridiculous. That’s like saying that somebody can choose to play Monopoly of their own volition and then choose not to pay rent on someone else’s property. When you opt into a game, you opt into the rules. Nobody makes you play a game. What can possibly be so difficult to understand about that?

              If you are not capable of understanding the roadblocks and barriers to marginalized people submitting and getting representation, you are part of the problem, not the solution. Enjoy upholding the status quo! Willful ignorance must be a blast.

  4. Apparently a lot of people don’t want to deal with your “rules,” because how many agents do you have taking up your challenge? The only one I saw was Canadian and isn’t even doing it until June.

    I don’t see you as being part of the solution, either. I just see you being angry and self-righteously attacking the industry by insinuating everyone is racist, or that specific people don’t give a shit.

  5. Well done with this interest challenge/experiment. As this goes forward I’d love to see the impact it has on what I think is a big contributing factor to the missing voices in publishing. It is best exemplified by an interesting essay about “Best American Poems” fiasco this year.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennybagel/they-pretend-to-be-us-while-pretending-we-dont-exist#.um7JOY4M8

    Getting published requires, oddly, a sense of entitlement. Its the thing that let me send out over a hundred queries recently (resulting in a top agent and a six figure deal!). This after finally “bottom-drawering” a different book that I must have sent over two hundred queries for. I never stopped thinking success was mine to take so I pursued it doggedly, for over a decade. The author of the post I cited calls this “unflappable confidence bordering on delusion”. It seems a strange thing to wish on marginalized voices but it’s needed. The the writer of the above post calls such persistence “unfathomable” for a non-white writer like herself. I don’t think that’s universally true, but I do think it’s a big contributing factor.

    Anecdotally agents and editors I know say they just don’t get many submissions from marginalized groups. Writing and submitting is the step that agents and editors don’t normally control so the challenge you’ve created could make a difference at that critical point. But I worry that rejections/failures will be misinterpreted. There’s a lot of subterfuge in this industry that makes things seem easier than they are. I always want to remind aspiring writers, whether they be marginalized or not, about my overflowing rejection files. About my failures.

    How can we help people feel unflappably confident?

    Hopefully by levelling the playing field just a little bit, more marginalized voices will become as “unflappable” as one needs to be to get anything done in this business. For my part I’m telling all my POC/LGBT etc aspiring writer friends to get in on this.

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