An Open Letter to Agented Authors w/ Publishers who Think Unagented, Unpublished Authors Should be Grateful for Said Status

pen-and-paper-writing-9349790-2048-1536Continuing our week of open letters, let’s address what originally got my hackles up.

I saw a few authors on twitter, rather close to each other (as in back to back), stating things to the effect of: unagented, unpublished authors should be grateful due to the following 1) having an agent doesn’t give you any affirmation; you might as well not be in a rush to get one and 2) you don’t have deadlines; you can write at your own pace! Enjoy!


I think that I understand where these authors are coming from, though. I don’t want to be pigheaded, and I’m strong-willed, so I think that easily can happen. I believe these sentiments are coming from seeing a rush of authors who aren’t working to put forth their best work (now, how these authors would know what work these unagented, unpublushed authors had put forth, I don’t know), or maybe they’re seeing more of a focus on publishing and getting an agent than on the craft (but again, how anyone would know the ratio of work between the craft and getting agented, etc., is beyond me). Or perhaps they’re worried that authors are in such a rush to be out there, that they’re not putting in their due, or…well, I’m not quite sure of all the motivation here. But I know two things that are so not right.

1. Getting an agent will not give you any sort of affirmation

Wrong. You’re wrong. I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree with that. If you don’t feel better about yourself, and your writing when you’ve obtained an agent, I’m a little confused, honestly.

You put in all the work of completing a manuscript, of never really completing it, because you keep reading it, and you keep making notes, and taking notes, and studying the genre, and adjusting adjusting adjusting…until you finally think it might be ready for a professional to represent it.

Then, you researched these agents. You’ve checked their sites (are they AAR members?)–guidelines, clients, preferences, requests, no’gos. You’ve read through their posts in the Bewares, Recommendations and Background Check section on Absolute Write. You’ve checked Writers Beware. You’ve stalked their Twitter, their authors (are they happy?). And then, you agonized over a query letter that was supposed to somehow nail down the essence of your book…and you. And sell both. Without being gimmicky, but also not being boring. You did (barely). And then you submitted to these agents.

To get professionally rejected. A lot. Many times. So many times you revised your query letter. A lot. And tried again. To receive more rejection, some clinically impersonal, others warm and complimentary, but still a “no.” It’s not you, it’s…your book. You know, and you. Sorry.

But then someone actually wanted to see the damn thing? This thing you’ve dragged out of your mind and snipped and stretched and pinned and cleaned and…they really want to read it? But in the end, it’s another “no.”

So, you start to do more than question your ms. You start to revise it. Again. And send that bad boy out for another spin of hopes & dream Russian roulette.

But one day, far in the future, someone finally agrees to represent you. They believe in your book. They believe in you. They think they can guide you through the tumultuous waters of the writing industry–they want to be your boat. They are willing to hold your hand. Fuck. Yes.

Yet, I’m hearing authors say that this is not affirmation. You know, you’re right. It’s not an affirmation. It’s a fucking trophy. A plaque. A testament to years of work, resentment, joy and fear. You’ve done enough work, gotten lucky enough, convinced someone this thing you’ve made is worth selling, worth sharing with a mass audience.

Go, you, man. Pat that back. Pour it up, pour it up. Then, get ready for more work. Harder work. Gird your loins and bite the bullet.

2. You should be happy you can still write at your own pace

Now, I haven’t really done that last part yet so much…and so, I’m definitely nowhere near a publisher agreeing to make my book a real girl. But if I were….you make sure you slap me if I complain about my deadlines, and hark for the years of yesterday when NO ONE WANTED TO PUBLISH MY MS.

Being published (I’m guessing now, so feel free to fly in and revise as necessary) is a job. And like my job, it’s going to take work. And sure, there are times when you’re pressed for time and under pressure and stressed, but it’s your dream. You’re being rushed to do your dream.

At least, that’s how I think I’ll feel.

I haven’t been there. Maybe I’ll suddenly gripe about not having the freedom to write on my own schedule, too. But for now, right now, I daydream about the day that writing on schedule is my job. I love to teach. And I don’t feel like I’ve failed any children yet. However, writing is my…end game. It’s what I want to do forever. It is my dream career.

So, if I have to meet deadlines while keeping my day job of picking up crayons and reminding young boys that commas are not interchangeable with periods, I will. And you know, I’m human, so I’ll probably complain about waiting till the last minute to meet a deadline, but never ever will I wish I didn’t have it. Or that I could go back to the days of writing for myself.

Because if I wanted to write for myself, I wouldn’t want an agent. Or a publisher. And I want both. If you’re finding that you’re an agented author with a publisher breathing down your neck for your ms, and readers who demand to know what happens next, and you want to switch places with me—I’m ready.

If I have to drive myself into the ground to make it happen, so be it. Jon will just dig me back up, anyway.

I’m just sayin’.



J.M. Blackman


2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Agented Authors w/ Publishers who Think Unagented, Unpublished Authors Should be Grateful for Said Status

  1. Sounds more like a case of greener grass syndrome to me. Authors who have agents, who see how much “better” it is not to have one…and then authors without agents who consider it so much “better” to have one. In the end, all the grass is green, just different blends which appeal to different folks.

    Myself, anyone who wants an agent should feel free to have one, and anyone who doesn’t has the same freedom to go it alone.

    With my work, personally, I’d rather not hand over 15% to another person, so that they can get me contracts that allow me between 8-12% of the cover price (before their cut) in royalties. They do have the advantage (usually) of getting in with publishers who can get books stocked on shelves, but as digital books become the new normal, that advantage is going to dwindle.

    But I’m a numbers guy, so for what that’s worth……

    1. Well, I’m pretty much the opposite of a numbers’ guy. I hate numbers. And math. And I’m not a guy. At least, not anatomically.

      I think authors who go it alone are for the most part brave, knowledgable and resourceful. I love that there’s so much choice out there for authors nowadays–that many more avenues to reach an audience.

      It certainly could be the grass is greener with agents, but only if you don’t actually care for an agent. And if you don’t, I don’t see why you’d query one. But if you are interested in one and you put in the work, not feeling accomplished once you’ve got one is confusing. An industry professional has said your work has selling potential. That’s gotta be gratifying after all the radio silence thus far. And if an author is unhappy with now being on a writing schedule, because it lacks the lovely freedom of not being published, I say not grumble about the before-time…when no one wanted to publish your work, and your audience was one of 12-15 people. That’s what I’m irked by.

      As far as the digital awesome that is now available to authors, I think it’s great that the playing field is evening out, as far as for unagented and agented authors reaching publishers/readers.

      But many traditional publishers are seeing how positive people are responding the new digital platform, and they’re helping authors there, too, with the advantage of physical shelves in some cases. I’m even seeing agents help authors self-publish, which is interesting to me. A lot of interesting stuff out there now for authors. I’m not sure what all I’m going to do. Maybe all of it. :)

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