Thursday, May 21, 2009

Agents = People. Not fish.

Okay, okay. I know it's a figure of speech. I know people use it all the time. And I know they use it for different reasons, and that I could very well be the only weirdo who sees it this way (hey, wouldn't be the first time).

But it drives me nuts when I see people posting or blogging or whatevering about "landing an agent."

I'm not sure why the phrase gets under my skin so much. It just feels...braggardly (a word I coined on Twitter last night. Feel free to use it. Someone else probably invented it first but I'm taking credit, at least until they step forward).

Seriously? I picture a writer posing for one of those Prize-Marlin pictures, with the hapless agent suspended by a large hook, a dribble of blood down his or her chin and wide, staring, frightened eyes. It's just not a good image, guys. It kind of creeps me out.

And here's the thing. Landing a fish implies a sort of physical battle; a test of wills between the fish and the fisherman. It implies mastery over a wild thing; that a contest of strength and endurance was entered into and victory was achieved. Getting an agent, or interesting an agent, or signing with an agent? Not remotely like that.

Now, I do see the analogy. I do. Querying agents can feel like a test of endurance, certainly. And it does require some strength. It's tough to send out those letters and not know what will come back. It's tough to get rejections from people you really thought you'd like to work with, people who you really thought would "get" you and your work. It can be exhausting. It can be soul-crushing. And while I am, as you know, a member of the "suck it up" school, I do understand and remember how hard it is, and how it feels when you think this book you love so much, this book you really think is special, isn't going to go anywhere or do anything. Yes. It hurts. (I just don't think we need to talk about it.)

But querying agents isn't You Vs. Agent. It isn't, any more than finding a mate is You Vs. Them. (Which is another phrase I hate, for basically the same reasons: "catching" a husband. Hardly anybody says it anymore, because it sounds so silly and antiquated. Something to think about, huh? Anyway. "Catching" a husband makes it sound as though I set up a snare in the woods and waited in the bushes with a club and a wedding ring for some hapless guy to wander along and step into my trap. It just sounds...ech.) When you date, you're looking for the Right Fit.

And so are the other people.

You don't hear agents talking about "landing" a new client, do you? (I certainly never have.) No. They sign new clients. There's no implication that they have somehow Mastered The Wild in finding a new writer to represent.

It just presents an image I dislike. I didn't "land" my agent. I didn't haul him onto the deck of my pontoon boat and gut him while he gasped and writhed. I don't look at what happened that way. I don't see the getting of agents as me setting some kind of pheromonal Venus Flytrap and hoping an agent would blunder into it. I don't see myself as being some kind of victor, the Teddy Roosevelt of Big-Agent Hunting, with heads mounted on my wall.

(Someone on Twitter last night mentioned this in relation to record contracts, like how bands are said to "land" a record deal. But it doesn't bother me so much in that instance. Why? Because record contracts, being printed paper agreements and service deals, are not human either.)

I adore euphemism. I love the images words can create. It's fun, and exciting. And yes, "landed an agent" can be a very vivid one. But it's also one that implies some sort of trickery, a painful struggle in which an unwilling victim is finally brought down through force of will and heavy fishing line. And it just grates on me when I hear it used in reference to agents or other human beings. It sounds a little pretentious, a little braggy (or braggardly, if you like).

It's just a pet peeve. Take it as you will.


Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, my fishing skills seem very weak.

BernardL said...

I believe it relates to the 'Hook' we send out to attract their interest, D. :)