The dramatic story of the attack on California literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg by an author whose manuscript she rejected shone a light once more on the complex relationship between authors and agents, particularly those who are not in business together. While this attack was clearly unacceptable, it is likely that many rejected authors would have understood in some way the frustration that burned inside this rejected author, whose actions took on a violent physical dimension. For it is rarely the response of a single agent turning down our books that brings us to our collective knees, but the cumulative effect of rejection after rejection.
Ms Vlieg was quoted after the incident by the Huffington Post as saying, “It’s hard to be rejected — just as it’s hard for agents to be rejected by publishers on the books we’ve acquired.” That latter hardship is arguably genuine, but where does it stem from? Is it from sharing the author’s personal disappointment that a book an agent genuinely admired has been rejected? Or is it that they regret that their market judgement was flawed in putting that book forward in the first place? When an agent has worked closely with an author on manuscript development in order to bring their expertise to bear on the content and style in order to make it as sellable as it can be, that ownership is feasible: one can see a grain of truth in the phrase agents often use with new authors, that they “absolutely love” their book, because they have a right to be proud of their part in its creation.
But to read, as many of us have, that an agent “just didn’t love your book enough to represent it” is a curious statement. Isn’t that like saying “Darling, I’m sure you’re terrific, but I just don’t love you Continue reading