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Lev Raphael

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First, Stop All the Literary Agents

Posted: 10/03/2012 10:20 am

A literary agent was recently attacked in California by a writer whose query she had apparently rejected.

I have better anger management skills than this assailant, but I'm not surprised the writer went over the edge (if that's actually what happened). In fact, I'm not surprised more agents haven't been assaulted over the years. I keep meeting authors who rave about their agents as if they were combinations of the Buddha and Captain America. My own experience with agents has been anything but positive, and the first agent who took me on was a paragon of imperfection.

This was way back before email, so we communicated only by phone, fax, or letter. That is, I communicated. She said my first novel was brilliant, she had a world-famous author winner as one of her clients, her reputation was golden, so I trusted her. In the two years she represented me, she or her assistant rarely returned a call or replied to a fax. All I ever heard was: "Knopf thinks your novel is too short" and the vague "You're ready for The New Yorker."

I never received a single copy of a rejection letter, so I didn't even know for sure if Knopf had seen my novel at all. The relationship was a black hole, but I didn't push hard because I was in graduate school and working on my dissertation, so I didn't have the time to fight for myself. Eventually, I sent her a registered letter ending the relationship. Of course, there was no reply.

I vowed never to have another agent, but broke that promise too many times over the years. I confess: I was jealous of what my friends seemed to be accomplishing with their agents. But every agent I signed with proved to be anywhere from a dud to a disaster.

And yet -- I'm just back from teaching at a small writing workshop in Western Michigan where I heard stories of miracle-working agents from other authors, and I can feel the itch returning.


Lev Raphael currently teaches creative writing and Jewish-American Literature at Michigan State University. He is the author of two dozen books in genres from memoir to mystery to Jane Austen mashup, most recently Writer's Block is Bunk.

 

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