Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Blog that Name 

It's no surprise whatsoever that yesterday's "Talk of the Town" article on ICM agent Kate Lee has produced an inevitable backlash, seen most visibly here and here. The gist of the griping is that somehow there's this "clique" of bloggers that namecheck and reference each other so much that people can't join in and are thus shut out and unloved.

Hmm, does this sound at all familiar?

Considering the right hand side of my blogroll, my words should be taken with many grains of salt. Besides, as I've said before, voice wins out, both in getting noticed and finding colleagues, drinking buddies, and close friends. And frankly, I'm far more interested in what could be a more serious question: what does this all mean for Kate Lee?

From what I gather, agents take on authors and projects they believe will sell, but their choices are varied. More and more of them are making their client lists available, so one can guage what kind of work each is particular to. Darley Anderson, for example, is best known for selling thrillers by UK authors like Lee Child, Martina Cole, and John Connolly. His two newest finds are Sheila Quigley, whose work is in the vein of Cole, and Alex Barclay, who appears to be a female Connolly. But Anderson doesn't only take thriller writers; however, those have proven to be the authors who yield him the kind of advances he's near-legendary for obtaining, and if an author submits work that can potentially sell in the way those other writers can, he'll take him or her on.

Other agents' tastes aren't necessarily so cut and dry; like any reader or editor, if he or she likes a work and believes in it, such work will be taken under the agent's wing. But playing the game of "like gravitates towards like" may not necessarily work. Matching an author to an agent is, at best, a crapshoot--one hopes for a perfect match, but that's difficult to come by.

In any case, though taste is arbitrary and there can be similarities in the kinds of authors an agent signs up, I've never seen the kind of "branding" that Kate Lee seems to be starting. And I worry that by signing up so many bloggers (although it's important to point out that of those bloggers listed, the vast majority haven't even completed their magnum opuses, let alone obtained book deals for them) they will all be viewed as a collective, and that each work cannot be judged individually, and potential editors will react accordingly.

Lindsay Robertson, in a comment left at the Gothamist thread, said as follows: "My point is that Kate is not capitalizing on a fly-by-night trend as much as she's using the internet as a gigantic slush pile. So these books that may or may not come out will (hopefully at least) not have anything to do with blogging! Nothing. Not even a url mention in the author bio. Mine certainly wouldn't."

That's all well and good, and in my estimation, the right tack to take--but should Robertson land a deal, will it be as the author of a book, or as a blogger? How would such a deal be reported in Publisher's Lunch? What would the marketing plans be for such a book? Because her blog is so personality-driven, the personality and voice--not necessarily the finished product--is what will likely come to mind when they hear the book deal pitch, and will affect the decision accordingly.

The rules may not necessarily apply to others namechecked, especially those that have had numerous print and online bylines (like Claire Zulkey or Old Hag) or have published short fiction and are known for their fiction writing in some form or another (like Maud.) But considering how much bloggers pride themselves on individuality and iconoclasm, being lumped together under the auspices of a single agent may well prove a hindrance, not a boon.

Having said that, I think it's a good thing that Lee's "branching out" by signing up other up-and-coming writers who are not bloggers. If she can sell their work, it may well erase any idea in people's minds that she's just the "Blogger Agent" instead of someone who happens to cater to her own tastes and whims--and then turn around and ensure that such tastes find a home with a publishing house.

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