The Literary Agent's Contradictory World

This morning I was FeedBlitzed with "Four Tips for Submitting Nonfiction" by literary agent Ted Weinstein. I had to wonder why is Ted promoting himself as a literary agent. Very recently, Ted rejected me as a prospective author-client, stating, "We encounter many more talented writers and interesting projects than we can represent, so we carefully guard our time to serve most effectively our small number of clients." Suddenly, here’s Ted, out in public, leaving his clientele unguarded, as he trolls for new clientele and new projects.

Never before had it occurred to me that seeking an agent or publisher is no less demeaning than finding a girl friend during post puberty. Agents and publishers present authors with a strange and sometimes bizarre world, consumed in contradictions.

Take Ted’s "Four Tips," for example. They’re actually three.

First Ted says, if you’re writing nonfiction, assume you will be self publishing. OK…then no need to have an agent. Right?

Next, Ted advises, don’t submit the introduction, if you’re submitting a sample chapter, or two. Bravo! Such clarity. This makes sense.

Thirdly, Ted says, use the term "comparable titles," rather than "competitive titles." Oops! Ted must have grabbed this tidbit of advice from my recent submission to him. I used "competitive titles" in my proposal. My author’s logic tells me my book is special in the marketplace, and not "comparable." If, anything my book is incomparable. But I can’t see stating a list of other "incomparable titles" in a book proposal. This really would be tortured contradiction.

As for using "competitive titles," I live in the Kentucky Bluegrass. In my experience, a thoroughbred author runs against his or her own abilities only. A thoroughbred author doesn’t compete against the pack among which we can find ourselves. While we authors may be thoroughbreds, admittedly our product may not be. At least, not until proven. The proof comes in the actual competition against other titles in our genre. Hence, once more in my author’s logic, the term "competitive titles" seems to be the appropriate term.

But, as I’ve said, finding an agent is like finding a girl during post puberty. To your face, she says one thing. Elsewhere, she says the opposite. In Ted’s public forum, he advises, use "comparative titles." On the Submissions page of Ted’s web site, however, Ted advises in writing to use "competitive titles." As my aunt would say, "Oh, my."

Lastly, Ted’s fourth tip is no tip at all. If he requests a book proposal, Ted asks for no more than a week to review it, he says. Fair trade! I’ll forego an author tip any day for a prompt review of my submitted proposal that’s been requested. This must be the agent in Ted rising to the surface. He’s not Moses laying down the four commandments for nonfiction submissions. He’s Ted Weinstein, the literary agent. He’s a negotiator!

I wish I had met Ted Weinstein long before I met all those post puberty girls I once pursued.