Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Vanity Agenting

I've noticed a disturbing trend of late. That is, mainstream editors, agents and publishers charging exorbitant fees for meaningless 'talks' or 'meet the editor' sessions that dangle the promise of possible publication in front of young writers.

I'm all for supporting writer development schemes. But these are not the same thing. In particular, I'm writing today because of Curtis Brown's decision to charge £1,600 for three months of short 'talks' by industry insiders, for which writers have to give the agency a six week exlusive option as well, after which the agents would take 15% of their earnings if they selected the writers anyway.

This to me seems . . . well, diabolical. It's like those modelling agencies that charge you hundreds of pounds to take photos for your portfolio, but then never find you any work. If an agency can't make money from representing its authors the traditional way, what exactly do you think they'll teach you about the publishing industry? Not much, I'd bet.

I'd also like to point out there are many reputable, free/low-cost writer development programmes, and presses and magazines that develop writers across the country. If you need help, here's a list:

Signposts
The Writing Squad
Young Inscribe
The Cadaverine
Leeds Young Authors
New Writing North
New Writing South
Commonword/Cultureword
Literature North West
The Writer's Compass
The Hub

There are many more than this. Some charge small fees for certain events, but if you're a developing writer there are usually plenty of opportunities to get free development if you know where to look and are willing to put in the work. This list is skewed slightly more to young writers (like me), because that's what I know about best, but there are opportunities for older writers at Arts Jobs and NAWE.

These organisations aren't making money from developing writers. All the opportunities they offer are usually free or at cost price or less. This means when they put together an event or workshop, you can trust it's primarily about writer development and not about making a quick buck. These organisations also have good networks of contacts, and they will usually support and recommend authors whose work they appreciate, and are willing to work with less experienced writers because at the end of the day they're not just looking for that next big sale.

That's much more important than seeing writers as an income stream. Writers should be paid for their work. They should be paid by publishers. Their agents should make them money, not charge them for the privilege of a few lectures which probably won't lead anywhere anyway.

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