Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Belling the Cat


People ask me, where do you get the ideas for "Bad Agent Sydney?"

For those not in the know, Bad Agent Sydney is a fictional character I created based on the assumption that anyone can print up some cards and call themselves a literary agent, even my (real) cat Sydney.  It's a parody of the many, many ways unscrupulous people acting as agents can screw you up or rip you off, and the way the business relationship with even competent and semi-competent agents can go horribly wrong.

You can visit Bad Agent Sydney's blog and read her posts HERE.  You'll also find links there to her twitter account, where you can get updates on her activities and notices of new posts.

Agents occupy a central role in our cultural mythology of what it means to become a writer, and as such, people feel very strongly about them.  They buy into the traditional role of agents (the traditional myth of their role) with almost religious fervor.  Try to communicate that the mythology might be flawed, and people get their back up.

Bad Agent Sydney is a gentle, sneaky way of coming at the issue.  Through her sterling bad-example, people can be giving something to think about in a way they can more comfortably absorb.

So, this is a fictional cat with an evil mind who speaks in baby-talk.  I'm making all this stuff up, right?

Shockingly, no.  Every nasty, unethical, under-handed, crooked, mean, stupid thing I've had Sydney do came directly from a real-life agent, or at least, an individual using that title.  And these aren't apocryphal, legendary stories that "really happened" to "somebody, once upon a time."  Most of them I've heard first-hand from one of the people (usually the writer) involved.  If not directly, then second-hand with some certainty that what I was hearing was accurate.

Not only do I hear these things, I'm often shocked the casual way they'll come up in conversation at some writer gathering or dinner.  "My old agent did" X, or "I've been trying to talk my friend into firing their agent because they did Y" or "I once lost out on a big Hollywood deal because my agent forgot to do the Z."  Usually it doesn't come out with rage or venom, which might make it somewhat suspect.  Usually it's more like, "I stubbed my toe on the bath-tub last week, and boy did it smart!"

I keep thinking that Bad Agent Sydney is kind of a one-note-kitty, that I'm very quickly going to run out of things for her to do and say.  Then I'll end up repeating myself a lot, and that it's quickly going to get old.  But it hasn't happened yet, and every time I think I'm close to the edge, someone will drop another one of those story bombs that lets me take it just a step further.  Yeah, I still think I'll run out of stuff to do eventually, but so far, that's only a theory, and there's no end in sight.

Just today, I read a blog post (from an agent, surprisingly) talking about how a major publisher would no longer be sending out contracts email as locked PDF files via email.  They're going back to the older, slower, more cumbersome print method because one, unnamed agent screwed it up for everyone.  This idiot agent picked the digital lock, doctored the contract, had it signed, and tried to pass it off as the original.  That's an act so blatant, so criminal, so stupid, that I can't even justify Bad Agent Sydney

Anyway, Sydney is a character (and a real cat), and so she's developing her own voice and personality.  Some of that is made up, but some of it is drawn from the personality and behavior of the "real" Sydney.  It's long since passed the point where I tell the character what to do, and along to where the character is telling me what to do.  I'll swear, the whole "all writers should adopt a cat" campaign was Sydney's idea, not mine!

The other thing people ask is, "do you hate agents?"

The answer is, "no,"  I've had some bad agent experiences, and I have to admit that I'm deeply skeptical of the role agents currently occupy in the publishing business.  But I see the value and utility of having an agent, even if I parted company with my last agent some time ago, and haven't hired a new one.

But fact is, Chris recently took on a new agent, and since I'm shopping original novels, I'm hoping to be agent shopping myself pretty soon (no sense getting an agent to my mind, until there's an offer on the table).

It's going to be interesting, because probably the first thing any agent I approach is going to do is visit my our web-site to check me out, and one of the first things they're going to see is a link  to "Bad Agent Sydney."

Is that going to drive good, potential agents away?  Maybe, but I don't think so.  I'm hoping they'll get the idea that I'm a professional with very definite expectations about what I want an agent to do, and what I expect them not to do.  At best, I hope they'll be amused too, secure that I'm mainly talking about people who stink up the agent business and make life more difficult for everyone else.  I'd like to think that any good agent would like to see the business cleaned up and crooks driven away.

Bottom line: I've got to wonder if I'd even want an agent who was offended by "Bad Agent Sydney," at least to the point of not taking me as a client.  If anyone is put off, I've got to think that isn't an opportunity lost, it's a bullet ducked.

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1 comment:

  1. Sydney T. Can has made a response to this post. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one: