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May 01, 2008



Ah, yes, but what is an author to do if he's written a thriller that's not like the others and his agent thinks it's unmarketable for that reason? It strikes me that an agent can stop a book from being published and leave the author no recourse that doesn't involve losing his agent.

Doug Riddle

Not like the other books the writer has written in the past...new ground for the writer....or not like anything else that is being published in the marketplace?


Sorry. Both new ground for the writer and not like what's currently being published as a thriller.
The problem is that agents, editors, and readers may all have preconceived ideas about the genre. I expect genre writing suffers more from that sort of prejudice than literary writing.


I work at an entry level position within the publishing industry. The very subjects David Montgomery discusses with Simon Lipskar were discussed at Edgar Week in New York.

And after hearing the agents this week talk about this, I would completely disagree with I.J. Parker.

All decent agents want to love the manuscripts they read. They all want to find a new client and make money off of her.

The agent in I.J. Parker's scenario is a lousy agent, and certainly doesn't reflect the attitudes of the serious pros like Simon and others. I doubt an agent like that even exists, at least not at any reputable agency.

What stops a book from being published is that it's probably a lousy book. So many writers, especially small press or those of the midlist mafia, are always so quick to blame everyone else for their lack of success.

It's the fault of the agents, or the editors, or the marketplace, or dvds, anything but their brilliant, flawless writing.



I think that's the easy answer. The book must be worthless or the agent is at fault. It does not take into account any number of other possibilities, the largest being divergent perceptions of the tastes of the reading (buying) public.

David J. Montgomery

If you trust your agent and he tells you, "I can't sell this," I suppose you have to believe him. (Either that or change agents.) After all, the agent WANTS to sell books. That's how he gets paid.

But even a great agent can't sell a book when there are no buyers for it. And it's a tough market out there.

Clea Simon

I read things like this (and I have had agents like the one I.J. Parker describes and have fired them) and all I can think is "shut up and keep swimming."


I agree - either its the book or its the agent - really terrific books really do get shopped if not sold.

I really believe authors should not put their agents on pedestals - unless the agent is Simon - but seriously.

Too many writers take the attitude of grateful to get any agent and afraid to look at the agent honesty.

This is a business partnership - between writer and agent and writer and agent and publisher - not a favor, not a blessing, not a gift.

The particular argument in question just isn't true - publishers are taking chances on new and different all the time. They may not always pay what we want for new and different but they do buy great books.

Michelle Gagnon

Interesting discussion...I agree that based on what I've been hearing lately, there's a lot of pessimism in the publishing world related to the state of the market, the theory being that since the economy is tanking that will impact book sales as well. My question is this: traditionally in tough times, people spend discretionary income on less costly entertainment, which is why film flourished over theater in the Great Depression. So isn't there a chance that there will be a renewed interest in reading when people tighten up their spending? Perhaps paperbacks will see a surge even if hardcover sales drop?

David J. Montgomery

Consumer spending is flat right now, which obviously doesn't help, but I don't think the economy is so bad off that we're going to see much effect on book sales. Not unless things get a whole lot worse.

As the huge opening weekend of Ironman shows, people are more than willing to spend money on things they desire. The problem faced in publishing is that not enough people desire books.

Short-term hiccups in the economy are inconvenient, but publishing faces a far more serious and fundamental problem: the persistent erosion of reading as a leisure activity.

That's what makes me pessimistic.


And let's not forget - dvds cost less than a new book these days.

Michelle Gagnon

I completely agree, David.I think the erosion of reading as a leisure activity presents a huge challenge to the industry as a whole, but not an insurmountable one. Because the truth is that when you look at the figures of how much time younger people today spend reading blog posts and other information online, reading as a whole has actually spiked- but that hasn't translated to book sales. I wonder if there's a way to connect the two.

Patricia Jacob

Michelle - There's an interesting device put out by Amazon:


It's this wireless reading device that some tout as taking the place of eventually reading actual books. Personally, I prefer the feel of an actual book in my hands and real pages between my fingers, and I have always encouraged a passion for reading with my children. But as much as I hate the idea of a wireless reading device, I think it may be the answer for some parents whose children are not, and never have been, in the habit of picking up a book to read after doing homework. Or while lazing around on a Saturday morning.

This device allows downloading of books for $9.95, and instead of waiting for the book to be delivered to your doorstep, it appears within minutes on this wireless contraption. Bestsellers. Newspaper articles as well.

I have no intention of ever purchasing this for my kids because they already love to read. But they are unfortunately in a growing minority. So this may be an answer to your question of whether there is a way to connect reading to younger people's infatuation with the Internet. A way that keeps them reading and keeps book sales from decreasing.

Allison Brennan

Great post and great comments.

As far as genre--yes, genre has reader expectations. I've just finished reading SAVE BY CAT by a major screenwriter (the name now escapes me) and for the first time I finally understand what genre is and why there are certain reader (viewer) expectations. Everyone wants fresh, original, different . . . but the "same" meaning you really can't mess with reader expectations for that particular type of story. In a crime novel, you should solve the crime. In a romance, the hero and heroine should have a happily ever after.

Michelle Gagnon


I recently figured out how to use my sony reader (it took me six months, a statement both on my neo-Luddite-ism and the terrible user interface of the device. I have no doubt that the Amazon Kindle will trump it in the Beta wars). I thought it would take more getting used to, but was pleasantly surprised. I've read three 400+ page novels on it now and have to report that aside from the fact that you need a booklight when reading in a darker room (or on a plane at night) it wasn't that different from a real book. While I love the feel of a book in my hands, I have to say that as someone married to a conservationist who constantly bewails forests being cut down to print my books (although I suspect we're really only talking about a few trees, tops- it's not like I'm Patterson!) a greener alternative is appealing.

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David J. Montgomery is a writer and critic specializing in books and publishing. He is an emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, and has also written for USA Today, the Washington Post, and other fine publications. A former professor of History, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters.

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