An interesting side-effect of winning an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards was that I got an e-mail from a literary agency. More properly, an intern at the agency. Still, a literary agency contacted me. Pretty nice and something I was very secretly wishing for. It was a heady moment.

Since she contacted me about two weeks before the Spitzer scandal broke, I knew it was genuine interest. Anything else I would’ve dismissed. And it was an agency I had considering querying (eons ago when I was querying agencies). So that was very good.

But there was irritation too. She contacted me during a hugely busy period of time. Nothing wrong with that except she kept wanting to see “writing samples.” After several back-and-forths; it turns out she really wanted 50 pages of text from my new book. Why the hell didn’t she just say so?

I’d directed her to this site and my book’s site. Writing samples galore, in my opinion. Apparently, this is either not my “best” writing (she indicated she wanted to see me at my best) or it somehow wasn’t voluminous enough. Don’t people get book deals through their blogs? I digress….

So I worked up a short proposal, taking a couple days of time and worry (and several arguments with…ahem), only to be told it really wasn’t what they thought it was, best of luck landing an agent.

What?

The title: The Internet Escort’s Handbook Book 1: The Foundation; Basic Mental, Emotional and Physical Considerations in Escort Work wasn’t descriptive enough? Did the book’s site fail to indicate the target audience or subject of the series? Do let me know if I need to clarify either of those points before I do any more publishing. Heaven forbid I mislead any more people (or agents).

While this was an incredibly exciting and gratifying moment – sort of like a pretty girl being handed the business card of a well-known fashion photographer and told to come in for some test shots – it was also perplexing. It was rejection on a whole new level. I felt like a girl walking down the street, minding her own business, who gets accosted by a charming stranger who persuades her he must have her phone number…only to call a couple days later just to state that she’s not really his type. WTF?

Mostly, my irritation stems from the lack of knowing what their interest was in me. They never told me what they were offering. Were they simply trying to decide if they could place the series with a large publisher? Sell the foreign rights? Simply bring me wider distribution? Understanding their motive certainly would’ve allowed me to make a better proposal to them. It certainly would’ve cleared up all the doubts I had about them.

Or I wonder if they simply wanted to see what the inside of a book for escorts would look like without having to buy it. (You know what I think about that.)

I think my irritation showed through by the time we got to the short-proposal stage. I was also in the middle of the Spitzer thing and had lost patience with this intern and her vague requests. Being prickly probably didn’t help my chances with the agent. Oh well. Like I’ve said before, if I weren’t a stubborn, independent cuss I would not have gone the self-publishing route.

Not knowing what advantages I might gain by signing with this particular agency took a away a lot of the thrill of being contacted by them. I might not sell a lot of books, but I make a handful of dollars of profit off each one I sell (money which goes back into the company, I’ve yet to pay myself anything from this venture). Signing with an agent and going that route means I might be lucky to make $1 off each book sold. Plus, I’d already gone through all the pain of starting the company and creating structure around it. I’m building my “platform” on my own (and with my freelance publicist – when I can afford her), which is something any publisher requires of its authors anyway, often with just as much financial backing as I’m getting now. I don’t think this particular agency would be any help at garnering more publicity. Signing with an agent would most likely mean I lose my company and any chance of publishing others’ work.

So how was this supposed to benefit me? I really don’t know. Once the flattery and thrill of approval passed, there was only confusion. Still there, actually.

I never asked the benefits question until the proposal, but the question was unanswered. I have little doubt I’ll be contacted by an agent or large publisher again. I’ll save myself time and ask right out what’s in it for me. I’m not hoping to land an agent – though an investor would be great. I’m trying to forge ahead and carve out my own territory in the world of publishing. I want to be the kinder, gentler, sex worker Judith Regan.

The only way I’m going to be impressed by an agent/publisher is if they can do for me what I can’t do for myself. As time rolls on, that list gets shorter.

7 thoughts on “an agency offer

  1. I find this interesting since I’m working on a book myself. I’m not sure how I’ll try to market it yet. I’m just enjoying the process so far, of writing a story based on my experience with sex work. Self-publishing is looking more and more attractive all the time, and the considerations you outlined here about what agents can and can’t do for you are something for me to keep in mind as well.

  2. Emilie,

    I don’t feel agents can really do a lot besides get you in the door at a good place (a lot of big houses don’t accept unagented submissions). But you don’t need an agent to approach most publishers. And most publishers who publish sex work-related books are smaller houses anyway.

    From what I understand of publishing, right now the author is expected to do 99% of the heavy lifting in marketing their book — pretty much what you’d do if you were self-publishing. The only exceptions are big name authors or first-time authors who have created huge buzz. If you don’t fall into those two categories, you won’t really have much marketing support.

    Ultimately, self-publishing gives me a lot of freedom — which I’m always fond of — and it’s a bit of work since I’m running my own business. But the profit margins are MUCH higher than royalties from a publishing contract (doesn’t mean you’ll get rich, though). Course, you have to do your research here too and be prepared for a lot of flack. The self-publishing industry is just as moralistic as the rest of the country.

    I highly suggest looking at the Writing Blogs listed on my Links page. They all focus on traditional publishing and may give you a better picture of things.

    XX

  3. To me, what you are doing is great. I had the privilege of reviewing the first book for Spread when it first came out. Now, I refer a lot of new women or women who need to know the basics of industry before they tackle the meat of the industry to your first book. It is perfect in every sense.

    I would rather own my work and reap the fruit of my labor many times over, not just for $1.00. I haven’t even considered going with the agent route after an experience similar to what you described above with an agent I knew for a while.

    There’s some correlation in the strategy to “The Tipping Point,” you don’t need the big celeb/mainstream in order to make the impact you want or gain the awareness you need. You can do it yourself. I think you have a great foundation for that and what you do should be yours alone to claim, run and distribute as you see fit.

  4. Callie,

    Thanks for the support, of course!

    Yes, being a sex worker sort of primes you for wanting freedom and control in all of your careers (and relationships too, but that’s another issue).

    Trying to carve a place in the world out of nothing is difficult though. It’s taken me this long to begin getting back a tiny part of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this project. Maybe I’ve finally reached my own tipping point. I hope so.

    I still need to finish “The Deviant’s Advantage.” It’s around here somewhere.

    XX

  5. Amanda, just saw you on O’Reilly — great job! I wrote a longer note to your email address. But, wanted readers here to know I thought you really held your own, and I applaud you! Best of luck in the future…I know it will be a bright one!

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