A comment at Courtney Milan’s blog caused Passive Guy to reflect on the extreme reactions of some authors to any criticisms of the business practices of agents. These reactions may also occur in response to reports or opinions that traditional publishing is in rapid decline, but are particularly intense when agents are criticized.
Some of these reactions don’t strike PG as the responses of mature business people discussing a business relationship.
Here are some examples from the comments section of the Bookends blog during the disastrous introduction of Bookends’ agent/publishing venture:
[Speaking of one of Bookends' agents] My gut, my heart, my experience says to trust in her vision because I have faith in her inventiveness, faith in her intelligence, and unshakeable faith in her integrity.
I trust her implicitly to take care of my career…which in turn takes care of hers.
Jessica and I have spent many hours talking about my work and my career. I trust that she has my best interest at heart, and not just because my best interest is her best interest.
The idea that anyone is trying to exploit anyone else deeply saddens me. [After signing with an agent,] I would trust him/her with all my future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed, excuse the turn of phrase, sketchy as hell.
Quite simply, I trust them no matter how our business relationship shifts and changes to keep up with the industry.
To PG, these kinds of reactions seem weird and a little icky, but mostly adolescent, maybe even babyish.
They’re sound like a shy sophomore who has a giant crush on the high school quarterback and slips anonymous love notes into his locker. Bobby can do no wrong because he’s just so cute and wonderful and she knows he likes her because he said hi one time in the hall between classes.
Or (rolling away from sexism), they’re like Napoleon Dynamite after someone agreed to go to the dance with him.
This is a business relationship, not a girls and boys club. The class of trust that speaks to PG in quotes like these is a mommy trust or a clingy best friend trust, a deeply codependent and needy trust. If the agent terminates representation, it will feel like a breakup instead of like switching to a new doctor.
In discussions about the massive changes underway in publishing, some authors resolve all concerns by saying something like, “I asked my agent about this and she says it’s not really a problem.” This reminds PG of little kids who say, “Oh yeah, well my dad says . . . ”
Passive Guy doesn’t know if agents consciously encourage this sort of dependency, but it sure makes for cooperative clients.
How badly must such an agent perform before the author decides to terminate the relationship? If a plumber made a mistake that cost you money, that plumber would be gone. If a real estate agent assured you it would be a cinch to sell your house in 30 days, you’d fire her if it was still on the market six months later.
How can an author make sound independent decisions about his writing career if he “would trust [his agent] with all future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed sketchy as hell.”
When PG practiced law, he would have expected to be immediately terminated if he ever suggested something that struck his client as “sketchy as hell.” He was always happy to be thanked for his services, but would have been creeped out by the saccharine sentiments some authors slather all over the web about their agents.
Apparently, for some authors, love conquers all so long as they’re regularly rocked and reassured.
Feel free to tell Passive Guy he’s crazy about this. He promises he’ll leave your comment up even if you say you trust your agent implicitly.