Jane and I were meeting with a prospective client yesterday, a lovely young woman with a great book idea and lot of good questions about the agent-author relationship. In the midst of explaining who we are as an agency, and why and how we do things, Jane mentioned that few authors, even those who are successfully published, end up getting rich from their efforts. So, the goal, she said, should really be to have fun with the process. The comment stuck with me. Even though “Have fun!” may seem to be as much of a platitude as “Have a nice day!” the sentiment is one that I wish more people in our business would take to heart.
In the midst of gloom and doom predictions about the industry as a whole, flagging book sales, the terrifying juggernaut that is the electronic revolution, and the fact that readers are dumber, more distracted, cheaper, unable to read more than a couple of Twitter feeds at a time—fill in the blanks with whatever the wags are wagging about at any given moment—it’s hard not to take what we all do as seriously as a migraine. Happily, we at DGLM are lucky in that, as a group, we’re fairly sophomoric in our sense of humor and more delighted than most by the absurdities and ironies inherent in the publishing process.
Yes, we do keep a binder with samples of the worst query letters ever sent, we treasure anecdotes about authors behaving badly and editors throwing office furniture at their assistants, we are inveterate gossips, and we spend way more time than we should chortling over pictures of the Mr. Romance contest at the Romantic Times conference. Does this mean that we don’t consider our work and that of our clients and potential clients important? Not at all, it means that in order to be good at what we do, we have to have perspective and even a sense of play. A potentially disastrous conflict between an author and a publisher can be defused by reminding both sides to “Lighten up! It’s not brain surgery.” And, our jobs are infinitely more engaging when we remember that before we were agents, editors and “serious” writers, we picked up books because they provided a world of fun.
Bottom line is that if we allow ourselves to forget how much joy there is in the vigorous exchange of ideas, in the beauty of a perfect sentence, and in the collaboration with brilliant people to create content that inspires, instructs, and entertains, then we might as well cash in our chips and leave the table. Meanwhile, we’ll keep doing what we do until it’s no longer fun.