A few months ago, the kid-lit writing community buzzed and booed when someone finally spilled the beans on the perfidy of one agent, who then abruptly quit the Internet and shut her agency. Her clients, an awesome list of talented writers and illustrators, were left hanging. If you missed that particular blowup, something of it can be glimpsed here.
On another thread, an animated discussion was ongoing. Was there a way to know this agent had gone off the rails of proper business practices? Could writers ever know before signing if no one dares to speak about such matters in public and name names?
One source, which does allow specific names, is an excellent writers’ virtual water cooler, called Absolute Write. Another is Querytracker. Neither would have helped in this particular case. There were no warning signs, except for some former clients who knew something was off but did not speak up.
It’s a thorny matter— what to say and where. There are plenty of sensitive folks who take rejection poorly, and let’s face it—this is a field where rejections are the rule. We never want to mess with someone’s livelihood, and it is too easy to destroy anyone’s name. Negativity should be kept to a minimum in the public sphere, and so I fault none of those who knew something was off but made no public mention.
My way of saying this minefield is unavoidable. Most agents are hardworking, and most do good work. But you can’t know, and the proof ultimately is in the pudding.
Agents have become the sifters for the big publishers, culling the most commercially viable manuscripts. Time was, when having an agent was a choice if a writer wanted to be traditionally published. Having an agent meant you could focus on writing while your agent focused on getting publishing contacts. The doors for writers and illustrators to approach directly still exist but they have left nary a crack opening.
So time was, but is no more. We take a chance, we hope, we do research and enlist our ever-useful gut instinct. And still, bad things happen to good people.
Just like the rest of this worldly journey. Like the stories we write. It takes courage.