Today I’m blogging over at the fabulous Writer Unboxed.
“Everyone has to start somewhere.” It’s a familiar truism. And like most truisms, it states a fact so self-evident that there’s no need to really think about it. There’s no start without a starting point, right?
Too often, however, it’s used to dismiss or excuse a lack of skill or training or experience or some other important qualification for doing something that requires expertise.
Because “starting” doesn’t necessarily mean starting from zero. If you start your own law practice, you’ve presumably gone to law school and passed the bar. If you start your own contracting firm, you’ve hopefully apprenticed and/or worked with other builders. If you start your own real estate agency, you’ve taken courses and obtained a license.
Non-zero starting points are just as important for new literary agents and publishers. This may seem obvious—but it’s a fact that writers too often ignore.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPERIENCE
Working as a literary agent, or running a publisher, is not an entry-level job. These are complicated, challenging professions that demand specialized knowledge and expertise—not just because skill is needed for success, but because the publishing industry is weird and opaque and clubby and really, really difficult to figure out from outside.
An agent needs—at a minimum–to have contacts at publishing houses and an understanding of publishing contract terms, as well as a nose for marketable manuscripts (not as easy as it sounds). A publisher must—also at a minimum—understand editing and marketing, know how books are acquired and distributed, be capable of creating a fair contract, be able to hire qualified staff–and, just as important, have a business plan.
Such skills don’t come out of the blue. They’re best acquired through training at a reputable agency, or working in publishing in some capacity. Because there are no licensing or educational requirements for literary agents, however, and the easy availability of digital publishing technology makes starting a publisher as simple as setting up an Ingram Spark account, anyone can become an agent or a publisher…even if they have absolutely no qualifications for doing so.