Conversations from the Chaise – The Agent’s Reading Block

By Amanda Rutter

I read an article today by a well-known author regarding the drop in creativity that many writers are experiencing this year. You can find the article here. I think it’s important to articulate the fact that the creative environment has taken a hit this year, and that writers are not alone in this.

Agents feel the block as well. In 2017, I’ve seen the terrible news spiral, which hits me from both sides of the pond (UK-based agent working for a US-based literary agency), and experienced it alongside a personal hiccup that had me moving house and feeling incredibly low for a number of months.

What does this do to the creative focus for agents?

Well, for me, reading always slumps when things are hard. I should want to escape into fiction, but sometimes that feels too hard and I end up watching light TV for endless hours instead. I may not have read much, but I know all the ins and outs of life in Downton Abbey.

Remember, when an agent is reading a submission, they are looking at it in depth, asking themselves questions like: is this story enough? Is it a commercial proposition? How much editing does it require to bring the novel up to submission standard? Is it capturing the reflection of modern diversity? Am I enjoying it *enough* to represent it to publishers? This is not reading for pleasure (although obviously we are overjoyed when we find those submissions that just sing to us); it is reading for work.

The main role of agents is to make connections – with editors, editorial assistants, agents, authors, publicity peeps, and various others – and this becomes damn hard if you’re hiding from the world because it isn’t something you want to see. We are taking breaks from social media to get away from the unrelenting pain of seeing lives destroyed on what seems an almost weekly basis right now. It means some of those connections can be lost or not made, and that makes the job of an agent a little bit harder.

Editing is a key role for agents as well – ensuring that a submission is as good as it can possibly be before it goes across the desk of an editor. I don’t need to tell any writer that editing is a part of the process that really makes you think and work hard. In an environment where it’s difficult to work hard, because you’re too busy refreshing social media and following political shitstorms, that can make the process slower and agents can experience a real block to their editorial output.

And, behind all of this, is the thought that what we’re doing is sort of frivolous in some ways. In a world where people are dying, where basic healthcare is at risk, where politics is taking centre stage, where terrorists are rampant, it seems not as important to be finding new books for publishers to publish.

But, in some ways, it is important work as well. To find new voices, to represent those who are marginalized, to assist authors and other agents in helping relief efforts, to bring to the fore searing political commentaries in the form of fiction and non-fiction. And to help others escape into worlds that are not as scary as this one.

So, although we agents sometimes reach the point where we experience blocks in our creativity, there are always the best of reasons to jump on board and wade into the submissions again!






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