Sunday, July 12, 2015

Literary Agents and the Police

Copyright © 2015, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Some writer friends told me about a panel of literary agents they'd heard at a local writer's conference. They moderated an open critique session, where the panel read snippets of attendees' work and offered their quick opinion. Some readings were the opening pages of novels, some were drafts of agent query letters, some were story ideas. The agents were reported to be rude, insulting, and dismissive of the authors' works, offering little in the way of constructive advice or encouragement. In other words, they acted like insensitive snobs bent on crushing the budding authors' dreams.

This all happened about the time of the Baltimore riots, where police were accused of causing the death of an arrested suspect due to negligence or worse. It all got me thinking about group behavior of those in power over others.

Our police have a difficult job, to say the least. Every day, they encounter many of the worst sorts in our society: drug dealers, violent gangs, thieves and burglars, rapists, wife beaters, murderers, liars and cheats. They face disrespect, resisting arrest, fleeing suspects, and numerous false cries of racism and brutality. Every day. On and on. They are human, and the daily dose of inhumanity and crime takes its toll until some, it seems, become jaded and insensitive to the people they encounter on the job. They may become gruff, short-tempered, and too quick to use force. And so the innocent may feel a bit roughed-up, leading to resentment and claims of brutality.

Enter the literary agents. A bit analogous to the police, they, too, are deluged each day with many of the worst sorts in the literary world: inane story ideas, amateurish query letters, sloppy chapter submissions, ignored submission rules, endless cat stories, authors making pitches over the bathroom urinals, and just plain bad writing. Day after day. On and on. So do they, too, become jaded and insensitive, expecting every new submission to be mindless crap? Do they have a knee-jerk reaction at writers' conferences that, of course, everything they hear is worthy of derision, no matter how much it hurts?

Just wondering.

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