Lately I've been noticing lots of people on the intertubescape bemoaning the fact that literary agents suck. They suck because they won't look at writers' work unless they're already published. They suck because they live in New York. They suck because the economy sucks…or something. I wouldn't know based on experience, since I've never courted a real-life agent. Usually it's people who have gotten tons of rejection letters who hold a deep grudge against agentdom. But I've even seen honest-to-goodeness published writers lashing out against these gatekeepers. And it leads me to ask a very simple question.
Why do you care if agents suck?
I can't believe that all agents suck. If they did, people would've found a way around them a long time ago. They still serve a function. And yes, some of them probably aren't the greatest people in the world. There's probably a lot of pressure on them to represent the most bankable books right now since that's all that publishers are buying since, well, people aren't spending much dough on books these days.
So the situation sucks for writers who want to expand their imagination and be super creative. Ok. Now what? I don't begrudge anyone their need to vent, but once you're done freaking out, it's time to hit the IDGAS button.
I've talked about the IDGAS button before here. It's the ever-useful I Don't Give a Sh!t button. It can be deployed in a variety of situations, after you've bitched and moaned and reached a place where bitching and moaning won't get you one inch further toward your dreams. If you've tried and failed at getting an agent (which I admire, since I've never even tried), take some advice from me: hit the IDGAS button.
That's what it's there for.
If your book is anything like the one I'm currently writing, it doesn't fit comfortably into a genre. It's not that I'm writing radical post-modern fiction. It's a lot more like Alice in Wonderland with a modern twist. But have you read Alice in Wonderland? It's a regular freak-fest. I don't even know if it would get published today. I can't imagine an agent looking at that book and being like, "The world needs a book about a queen who's actually a playing card who wants to cut off everyone's head! Start the presses!"
My point: my book is weird and I don't automatically expect any agent to fall in love with it. Well, maybe they'll love it but I doubt they'll see dollar signs when they read it. Which leads me to the part of this blog post where I massively generalize:
There are two choices here: either write a book in a very formulaic way so you can increase the odds of publishing traditionally, or write from your heart and let the chips fall where they may.
Decoded: don't expect to get an agent if you're going to take a chance and write what you really want to write. That's not to say that people who get published all write to some crappy formula; obviously some unique books break through. But if you're not following an instruction manual to write your book, odds are, in this broken economy, no publisher will take a chance on you.
So take a chance on yourself.
Go ahead and self-publish. If you can get enough people to like your books, agents may become interested in your stuff. And then you'll be in a position of strength, because you can pick an agent who doesn't force you into a box.
Look, if we were actors instead of writers, we'd be up a creek much more clogged with fecal matter than our creek is. We can self-publish. We can even give away our stuff for free and we're virtually guaranteed an audience. What does an actor do? Tapdance on a piece of cardboard on some sidewalk? Make YouTube videos of themselves reciting soliloquies from Hamlet?
I mean, come on. We have it really, really good. If we pay a few hundred bucks, we can have our words formatted and printed in book form with an awesomely-designed cover.
Caution: I talk from zero experience when it comes to agents, but my gut tells me that if they don't like your work, that's actually fine. Take it as a sign that your work is original and someone somewhere will be excited and moved by it. You'll still have to get it edited by a professional because, news flash, you're not Ernest Hemingway. You need help. Give your novel to writers you trust and get their opinion. Because the last thing you want to do is publish a crappy book.
The great news is that once you have a solid book, you can take your business online and almost definitely make money. I'm still writing my WIP so I'm not in agent mode yet, but will be soon. I haven't decided if I'll be going the traditional legacy route or the self-pubbing route yet, but I'll keep you posted!