Here is one reason why I think Lit Agents have no clue . . .

A writer finally gets his big break.  And AFTER 54 Lit Agents passed on his novel.  As far as I am concerned, this is a perfect example of how lit agents look for clones of clones that have proven they sell--and absolutely nothing else.

 

And those 54 agents--probably the same ones that are listed everywhere.  Ones that almost all of us have contacted repeatedly.  And the very same ones that keep saying 'No thanks.'

http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/08/06/after-54-book-agents-said-n...

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Agents (and their interns and/or assistants) have to be extremely skeptical of new writers. Think of it in terms of the racetrack: over time, too many longshot bets will kill you. Mostly you bet the favorites, and if the occasional longshot comes in--great! But your best shot at staying in the game is to bet conservatively, using your experience and best sources of insider information as your guide. The fact that one guy out of a million that got universally rejected finally caught a break (after getting an MFA, I might add) doesn't make the agents that rejected him clueless or incompetent--unless the rest of their stable of authors never pay off, that is.
Agents (and their interns and/or assistants) have to be extremely skeptical of new writers. Think of it in terms of the racetrack: over time, too many longshot bets will kill you.

I agree with this perspective. Despite those 54 passes, who knows what fine writing those declining agents found by other writers who met their criteria? Should I think the scores of agents who passed on my first-timer's query and story are dumb because a few have shown interest? It's also likely that I mis-aimed several/many of my queries, contacting agents who aren't interested in the genre.
My guess is that this happens all the time. Good novels are rejected for business reasons or because the person didn't get it.

An agent is in a difficult position: on one hand they represent their clients, and on the other they have to please the publisher by representing successful authors. Same for editors, only in their case they've gambled for themselves. If the author's book doesn't come up to expectations in terms of sales, the editor is blamed first, but somewhere down the line, the agent who offered the book also takes his or her lumps. In between you have tricky negotiations: how big an advance? how much promotion? how many subsidiary rights? If that equation doesn't work, it will affect the author negatively because the publisher's profits are deemed to be too small.
novels are rejected for business reasons or because the person didn't get it.

Both JK Rowling and Dr Seuss were repeatedly turned down because agents and editors believed there was no market for their style of book. I love it when the longshot comes back to shove it in the face of everyone who doubted them!
Nobody really knows anything, that's true in any attempt to blend creativity and business.

Gut instinct was the traditional, and many consider the best, indicator but it's still risky, and risk scares people. So they retreat to the comfort zones of imitation, fads, the advice of marketing consultants or other alleged 'magic bullets,' and when that fails, sticking to appealing to the pretensions and prejudices of the immediate 'literary' crowd around them.

It's even worse in the movie business because so much more money is involved on a project by project basis.
Literary agents have their tastes, just as readers do. I know I'd be lost without my literary agent, because she does have a clue--about which publishers to pitch my manuscripts to and how to negotiate good contracts for me.
I think J.K. Rowling said over 100 agents rejected her novel. Boy I bet those folks are biting their toes off right now. Sometimes it pays to take a chance on something new. I remember an interview she did when HP first became big. She said most of the people who rejected her said, "No one wants to read about boy wizards." (Coughing) oh obviously about oh millions and millions do.

When you look at the folks who get passed over and become super in the literary game, makes me wanna say B.R. has a big point. But then again it all comes to taste of the agents. HP might not have gotten so big if someone else had accepted her but still, I bet those agents were pissed afterwards, LOL!

Best Wishes!

http://www.stacy-deanne.net
"I bet those folks are biting their toes off right now."

That's my image of the week! Love it.
Yeah, one could make a rather large, and rather impessive, list of authors who were rejected multiple times by agents. Enough to think it's not an isolated issue. If that's true, it surely would register on both publishers and agents that perhaps they should reconsider their criteria on how they select material.
I don't think a writer should take it as an insult if an agent declines to represent their project. You need to find an agent who loves the material, and has the right contacts for that particular project. If an agent declines a project, it doesn't mean they think it's bad, it just means they either don't love it enough to put their resources behind it, or aren't confident that they can sell it. I've been looking for an agent for about two years now, and haven't yet found the right match. I'm not discouraged, though. In this business, I think you have to be in it for the long haul.
This is a good point--although mostly agents reject books because they think they're crap. Took me something like three years to find my agent, and that was through a referral from a friend she was representing. Even then she wouldn't take the project on without major revisions. Patience is key.
One thing that gets too often overlooked is the importance of timing. A writer looking to hit it big can't afford to be behind the curve of popular taste, nor too far in front of it, when people aren't ready. I read the first four Harry Potter books and liked them pretty well. (By Number Four she had to invest too much expository time giving her readers what they wanted as a ramp-up, so I stopped.) She's sure as hell a better writer than Dan Brown. Still, the same agent could have picked her upand pitched her to the same editors one year earlier and had bupkes to show for it. Timing is everything, and we really don't have much control over it.

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