E-Hyphens and E-Agents

English: Logo of french publisher Albert SavineIs that a shark or a tuna swimming in the lake outside my window? What is that ethereal presence hovering just over my shoulder every time I sit down to write, that shadow lurking on the fringes of my E-publishing life? Is it friend, foe, partner, or predator? What’s its real name? What does it want from me? Why won’t it leave me alone? It claims to be “new and improved,” but it strikes me as familiar and frayed. It makes promises, whispers E-lectronic sweet nothings in my ear, tells me tall tales, and warns me about the future. It wants me to believe in its vast vision of things to come, to assure me that I’m in good hands. But, I’ve heard all this before, somewhere. It really has nothing new to offer.Still, it knows that I cannot ignore it. It senses my weaknesses, knows my foibles. It’s here now, in my E-mail box, staring back at me, demanding action.

More than anything, it wants to guide me through the tangled world of E-publishers, promising to eventually lead me to the golden dawn of literary success. It will do all this for a mere 15% of every dollar that I earn with my words. It wants to help me realize my ultimate potential, taste the ineffable sweetness of an author’s life, live out the fantasy of all who write for a living. And, it repeats, all of this for a mere 15%. A real bargain, it assures me.

Its name is new to me, but its game is an old, familiar one. It’s that unknown, unbranded, nearly anonymous E-agent, who just invaded my E-lectronic life-space with E-mail. She (who could just as easily have been a “he”) lives in an E-world of E-authors, E-publishing, E-books, and E-promises. But, she has no presence in my life, no dimension, no reality. She is an E-entity, who lives and earns her money in an E-world made flat with two-dimensional relationships and fat with the promise of an E-merging industry that’s ripe for the E-picking.

So, I’ll just call her “it” for now, at least until I make up my mind what to do with her. The issue at hand is this: What do I do with the promises “it” offers? What do I do with this darn E-mail?

The question that rubs at the back of my head is hard for me to ignore. “Its” words are inherently pleasing to me. True, I don’t appreciate “it” taking such a big cut of my royalty pie, but my experience tells me that an army of E-agents must be swimming in the water out there. They must have a purpose, right? But, heck, I’ve seen this all before, out there in the three-dimensional world. So, I ask myself the ultimate question: Do I hit the REPLY on my E-mailer and send this E-agent a two-dimensional piece of my mind? Do I really want to dance with the tuna and find out it’s a shark in disguise? On the other hand, do I want to cut off my E-nose despite my E-face? Maybe I really DO need “it.” “It” certainly thinks so.

Thank the gods, I’m an old geezer. I’ve spent years writing and publishing those aging, foul-smelling, antiquated, three-dimensional packages called “books.” Perhaps some of that experience can come to bear in deciding what to do with (or to) “it.” I’ll look back for an answer, back to the P-universe (read “paper”) that I know too well.

In the world of traditional publishing, agents come in only two flavors: partners and predators. As a writer, if the goal is to break into mainstream (read “New York”) publishing, an agent is as fundamental as tires. In fact, most decent traditional publishing houses (read “the biggest”) aren’t even interested in reviewing anything that doesn’t come directly from an established literary agent. So, if one wants to write for the big boys, one needs to have an agent that can be trusted. Finding one, then getting his or her attention, is the real problem. Without a good agent in the bullpen, hope diminishes to lottery level.

Now, the two types of agents operate in only two ways. The good ones, the partners, don’t play a numbers game. They accept few authors, work closely with each, and play fair with everyone (read “honest”). They are genuinely interested in your writing career, want a long-term relationship, care about the quality of your work, and are willing to invest their future in yours. They do not charge fees for reading your material, do not send you a bill for monthly postage costs, and do not refuse to return your telephone calls.

On the other hand, the predators DO play a numbers game. They want as much passable material (read “hack”) as they can gather so that they can generate more reading fees. They define marketing as plastering over-hyped, ineptly-written, single page summaries of your work all over the place. They generate additional revenue by racking up as much “consulting” time (read “fees”) with you as possible, don’t bother to give you any feedback about your work (if they read it at all), slip around any questions about what they are REALLY doing for you, and flat refuse to discuss anything of interest by phone.

Well, actually, it’s worse than that. But, why go on? Let’s talk about that E-mail I received. The one from “it.” That’s the point of this story.

Since I’ve ventured into the world of E-publishing, I’m now considered an E-author (as opposed to an author). I do everything E-lectronically. So, it seems inevitable that “it” (read “E-agent”) would come knocking on my E-door. How am I to know whether or not this two-dimensional presence in my E-mail box is a partner or a predator? And, once I find out, what do I do about it?

Truth is, I’ll almost certainly never know. It could be a tuna. It could be a shark. Odds are, it’s a shark. So, I’ll ask myself three questions and then decide what to do with “it”.

The first question is ridiculously simple to answer. “It” is not an established (read “name brand”) agent, either E-wise or otherwise. I’ve never heard of “it.” “Its” name cannot be found in the Publishers and Agents Guide, which is a decidedly three-dimensional but vital source of information. None of my writing friends have heard of “it.” Yet, this E-agent makes the same hackneyed promises that I’ve heard from all those three-dimensional P-agents (read “paper”) with whom I’ve danced over the years. In other words, this is a complete E-stranger. So, I remember what Mom once told me about talking to strangers, long before I had even heard of E-mail. This time, I won’t dance.

The answer to the second question is absurdly obvious. Why should I bother with an E-agent at all? In other words, should I consider giving up 15% of every paltry dollar I earn? And why? Can’t I handle the byways of negotiating and signing my own contract? Am I so inept that I can’t develop a direct relationship with an E-publisher, sending them E-mail E-lectronically whenever the mood strikes? Hell, yes, I say! Off with “its” head! I shouldn’t have to pay 15% just to be E-loved! What would Mom say anyway?

Then, there’s the E-coup d-E grace. Do I really want to get into yet another two-dimensional relationship with yet another middle-“it” whose purpose in life remains such an E-mystery to me? Do I need more E-mail whispers in my ear, E-guidance in by E-mail inbox, and E-ven less of my own royalty pie? Hell, no, I say! Off with “its” E-mail head! Hit that DELETE key and send the E-agent packing back to her silly E-mail list! While I’m at it, I think I’ll forward a copy of “its” E-mail plea to “its” ISP, just to let them know that I’m still receiving that darn junk mail.

After all, It’s the E-ppropriate thing to do these days.



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