Last year, I went to listen to a literary agent who had come up north to look for literary talent by encouraging writers to submit. It sounded like a great idea to target talent in the north and I was optimistic about going to the event, so I went along to hear what she had to say.
Perhaps I was, or still am naive about such things, but I left the venue disappointed with what she had said and implied. What irked me the most was her insistence that she had the final word on the writer’s manuscript, on this there was to be no dispute, and that she would help train and transform your writing into a literary masterpiece, much as is an editor’s role in publishing. During the event, she would often point towards the accompanying timid author she had recently signed, who was bullied day and night into producing “results”. This was said jokingly, but I felt there was an undercurrent of truth in the statements of bullying.
In my opinion this took away the fun out of writing, only to produce the desired story rather than the writer’s own creation. The label of author on the final product may as well be an indication not of the creator but of whoever receives royalties for its creation. Suggestions are fine, but editorial intervention by your “literary agent” didn’t sit well with me, and I think that was because of how I judged the agent’s motivations:
Traditional publishers, the big mainstream ones, know what genres of books are selling and which aren’t. By extension, so do literary agents. Just look at all the raw talent out there, like new writers who aren’t yet sure what to do with their writing, who could be the next generation of bestsellers if they conform to whatever conventions there may be in successful global publishing. Authors are made to look like nothing more than cattle, breaking themselves day and night, to fulfill corporate targets while the publishing industry grows rich from them.
I hope my assumptions of this particular literary agent’s perspective and bullying weren’t true, because it would be a poor reflection of the publishing industry.