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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

J.K. Rowling vs Literary Agent Christopher Little

After years of dealing with literary agents and publishers (or as I think of them, the agent slash publisher – a single beast with two heads and one heart, or at least a place where the heart should be) it's nice to know I'm still not so inured to their bullshit as not to be able to feel chagrin, indeed, ire.  Thus, I was forcibly reminded recently on reading this article on the subject of J.K. Rowling's parting from her agent, Christopher Little, described as the man who had stood fiercely and loyally by Rowling for years.

It is indeed news that Rowling had at any stage been under siege requiring the fiercely and loyally standing by thereto, or that Little's reaping fifteen per cent off the back of Rowling's charmed life – charmed by her own talented hand – could possibly be seen as wading into battle.  It wouldn't be thus interpreted by most – outside of publishing.  Ah, but then I'm reminded we are dealing here with a creature that inhabits a rarefied world, much like the richly imagined world of Rowling's childish characters.  It doesn't take long before we get to the agent slash publisher's well-worn conceit, the old I made you what you are.  Here we go:  

Many credit Little as the one who spotted her potential, and:

 …Rowling's early manuscript for her now extremely profitable novels ended up in the reject basket until someone rescued it and handed it to Little.

A blind, deaf, decapitated and well-salted zombie could not fail to recognise Rowling's 'potential'.  That the manuscript ended up in the bin at all is a damning indictment of publishing's indifference to a work that enriched the lives of so many.  Its subsequent 'rescue' is no claim to heroism; merely a belated and rather slow demonstration of the same level of acumen that millions of six-year-olds over the world demonstrated effortlessly and without prompting, with no need of anyone to tell them how to think. 

Little is described as the true mastermind of Rowling's career (not unless you wrote the damned books, baby) who believed in her work so much (no hardship there and again, something that millions of six-year-olds achieved all on their own) and the man who took Rowling to (sic) a road to fame and fortune.

Ahem.  There's only one way to say this: YOU'VE GOT TO BE JOKING, MATE.  That's like the cowboy claiming he carried the horse.

More than once the article refers to Rowling and Little's business relationship as a partnership.

Nooooooo, (she said slowly and carefully, as though to a small child,)  Little worked for Rowling.  Literary Agents, are, in fact, the employees of writers, although one does appreciate many do struggle to understand that.  Why, some even like to brand writers as chattels.  The now defunct Firebrand Agency was fond of referring to the writers it represented as Firebranders, with the postscript, As they like to call themselves.  Yeah, right.  Writers truly spend years of their life at the kitchen table slogging their guts out after working all day dreaming of the time they will give up their day jobs to be treated as the employee of the people they keep in business.  Maybe that's why Firebrand went belly up.  But perhaps I digress, methinks.

Little is described as a brilliant deal maker after he got his client amazing returns on international rights.  Okay, I know this is a big leap, but bear with me.  Conceivably that could have something to do with the collateral he had to bargain with and the fact that Rowling's books were bestsellers. 

Of interest is Rowling's statement to the Leveson enquiry, wherein she avers that she was "completely lacking in anyone to help or guide me through the media minefield (I had no public relations support until I hired some myself much later.)" 

Only J.K. Rowling and her readers can lay claim to making Rowling what she is.

Publishing is a business.  That dog-eared credo has been shoved down many a writer's constricting throat for more years than I care to remember.  The problem now seems to be that publishing itself seems to understand that least of all. Big publishing offers ever diminishing services in exchange for the books that are the basis of their business.  Writers are expected to find the means to market their books with little or no support from the publisher; many literary agents won't attempt to sell books to publishers, preferring writers who have already found a publisher for themselves, in which case you should get in touch immediately (yessss, and I'll be kicking 15% back to you why, exactly?) while readers are shown habitual contempt by the major houses who provide next to no editing, particularly on big name writers with well-established markets – often producing ever worsening, nearly unreadable work – books which would never make it into print if submitted  by an emerging writer, and rightly so.

Perhaps the agent slash publisher is just so accustomed to writers coming to them cap in hand that they don't understand the e-times are a changing, and in contributing so little, agents and publishers are effectively pricing themselves out of the market.

Agent David Black once described himself as someone who walks through walls, (oh I'd love to be around to see you try it, buddy.  Smack!) while the former agent of Janet Evanovich asserted that she was merely a genre writer before he came along to make her what she is.

Not unless you wrote the books for her, buddy.  Not by a bloody long shot, mate.

Rowling's agent Christopher Little was reportedly upset to have been dismissed by email.  Yes, well.  We will only be getting back to you if we're interested in your work...


4 comments:

  1. Nice articles. I'm just blogwalking and very happy to stop here. And also give you some comment here.

    Dont forget to give us some your comment into my blog too.

    Thanks for share,
    * Rio Prasetyo *

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post on the relationships between writers and literary agents. I think agents do deserve some credit, but I think a writer's success depends on herself.

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  3. Very hard to believe that a literary agent could "make" an author what she is ... especially one as magical and imaginative as Rowling. He should just count himself lucky to have gotten a bit of the loot!

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  4. pow! sock! crash! Susan Bennett is better than batman!

    ReplyDelete