• A funny thing happened on the way to the Literary Agents Office ...

    "So ... you've written a book? I'm a Literary Agent!"

    Anyone that knows me well, that has suffered my company long enough in dimly lit bars, surrounded by tall glasses of cold pilsner, has likely heard my unending ranting regarding agents, the decline of modern publishing, the struggles against the tide by Amazon and new media – even if the jukebox might've been too loud that night. I do like to orate whilst imbibing, I'm a people pleaser, thus entertaining is a natural mode. It's putting it lightly saying that I loathe agents. If I had to classify them by hierarchy and significance they might rate just above mold, but definitely not as wonderful as lichen.

    Some might say, I'm jaded, or that I've been manhandled inappropriately by some industry type, but it's only half true, and that's stretching it. I do believe most agents are only interested in giving you a quick hanny, usually over the phone (only) and typically after glancing at whatever legal documents you might send their way so they can skim their cut off your earnings, which will likely pay for their beer bong adventures and hipster weekend jaunts to Portland while you worry about your student loans. They'll take that money for the entire life of your material, regardless of how they feel about you. Most of them will smile and turn a screw, quickly, to get you in their mitts, but the truth is that – now get ready for it – they'll hate you, and their hatred will be perfect.

    Like a shining diamond, like a knife, like a mountain, like a tiger, like hemlock.

    "Haha ... I'm supposed to be doing something for that author I represent! OMG!"

    Sound about right? They won't give a damn about you when their cream curdles, they won't call you, forget it. You won't be finding out all the nice things they've cobbled together with your publicist on whatever coin you paid them down the line. You won't find yourself yapping on some panel about the classics or Memoirs of modern Los Angeles - presented by Cal State Northridge. Nope.

    The reason why I'm going off a bit, is because once in a while get a bite from another foolish, lost fish from the sea of agents. Sometimes they call, sometimes they email, but regardless of how they find my name, it always ends the same. The last few have stung, thus I feel compelled to comment. Last week one more showed up in my inbox. But it's always the same. They've read Greyhound, were emotionally knocked off their feet, maybe cried, destroyed a Kleenex box or laughed out loud at night while laying in bed, waking up their significant other. It's some version of the same story I've heard numerous times. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful and very humbled.

    But then, what comes next, always comes next. I'm always happy to hear from them and I respond timely and politely just as I would if it were normal contact from a reader. I never say anything unkind or pushy, I don't ask for anything or drift into weird territory. The call ends, they're ecstatic and ready to FedEx me documents within a few days. And then … yep … you guessed it. Nada. Nothing but midnight static. I always hang up knowing full well that it's the final call, regardless of how effusive she is. It's usually a she, by the way. I can no longer count on two hands how many times this has gone down.

    To tip my hand, let me illustrate the picture. I've gotten calls from people who have worked with Oprah Winfrey, who are now independent agents (this scenario has actually happened three times – I now think it's a cheap pick up line and am skeptical of it completely, haha.) I've gotten calls from Fox Studios, and a litany of people that I had to Google afterward. I recently got a call from the office of a legendary Hollywood producer who read Greyhound and somehow got ahold of a copy of FugueState about the time the Advance Review copies showed up on my doorstep and was moved and wanted to option it and develop it into a major production. I was told they would get back to me in December with “a package”, whatever that means. “A package” … back in the bar, you might get slapped for telling me you got a package for me.

    So, my general opinion of agents … you tell me. Like I said, I'm not bitter, that's not really it.

    Point blank, I've got a complete life history of people who have walked out on me, didn't really care enough to be polite about it, talked a lot and never delivered, tossed me in the closet and acted like I wasn't there when things got difficult or rough. So just forgive me ahead of time if I have a natural fear of being mishandled when you call me promising a way out. I don't have a criminal record, I'm not a fugitive and I never puked on Warren Beatty's lap at a wedding after eating too many raw oysters, so I have no answer why I always get tossed under the bus repeatedly. Maybe I'm just being penalized for being an early adopter of new media, whatever that means. That's a bit provincial, but whatever.

    If you call or email, and you play me off, don't be surprised if I'm not interested a year later when you return the call, mispronounce my name and say I wrote a book called Greydog. See what I'm saying?

    I had to post this as almost a legal record of events because I doubt anyone is ever going to give a damn about my side of the story when it's all said and done. If I'm ever an historical footnote, someone's going to say: “Why didn't Steffan have an agent?” Well, as Paul Harvey used to say: "Now you know the rest of the story ..."

    "Standing on a hill in the mountain of dreams ... telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems ..."


    Steffan Piper is the author of several novels including GreyhoundYellow Fever and Fugue State. He was once kicked out of Nome, Alaska due to a minor misunderstanding. He has a blog, a Facebook page, a favorite film and lives in Palm Desert, CA.


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