Monday, September 24, 2012

The Literary Agent- A Thousand Words


Last night I watched the movie ‘A Thousand Words’ with Eddie Murphy. It…wasn’t great, to say the least, even though the premise was kind of interesting:

A big-shot literary agent who’s life’s success is due to words- both written and spoken to convince or cajole, is faced with a predicament when every word he speaks brings him closer to death. By the time he realizes what’s happening, he only has one thousand words left and must choose carefully.


What gave me brow-furrowing syndrome during this film was the way the literary agent was portrayed. He didn’t read any manuscripts (not even ones he was trying to acquire), but instead relied on his assistant to tell him if a book would sell. He only paid attention to top clients or high-profile people he was looking to represent (even if they hadn’t written a book yet). He blew off the valet parking guy who’d been asking him for years if he could just read a few pages of his manuscript. Had private lunches and dinners with acquiring editors from Simon and Schuster and Random House and talked about 250k-300k advances for books the publishers hadn’t even seen yet. 

Really? Come on people. Do literary agents like this really exist today? Maybe they did, at one point. And there might even be a select few presidents of top agencies who’d benefit from special treatment from publishers and editors still. But in today’s climate, I found the old-school representation a little hard to swallow since it potrayed agents as completely superficial and money-grubbing when, in reality, agency professionals are supposed to be passionate about the written word and seeing projects through for the right reasons (at least I hope so!) *sigh* Oh Hollywood. How thou doest so falsely portray the world of publishing!

Have any of you seen this movie? Has your idea of what a literary agent is and does changed at all over the last few years or since you first began writing? 

35 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I'm sure it's exagerrated a little bit but behind every hyperbole is a bit of truth. So I'd say the top top agents with assistants don't read their slush. :)

SA Larsenッ said...

Hmmm...I haven't seen this yet. Probably won't, either. I agree with Laura. It was probably exaggerated for silver screen reasons. And yes, my view of literary agents has changed since I began writing. I believe the majority of them do what they do because they love literature and want to bring works to light.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I agree with Laura. There's a reason why interns were created. It's the same deal with editors. With everything agents have to do, most agents need the extra help. Stephanie Meyer wasn't discovered because her agent found her query in the slush. The agent's assistant at the time didn't realize 130 K was too long and requested pages. She fell in love with them and the rest is history.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I haven't seen this movie and probably won't. I agree with Stina and Laura that established agents use assistants to read their slush. I'm sure agents make connections with publishers but this doesn't sound like anything like what the life of an agent is probably like.

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

It seems like this has always been the way Hollywood has
portrayed their literary agents. I guess I figured that's how it was. I think it would be fun to be an assistant. It would be fun having all that power, yet what a responsibility. Thanks for sharing.

Candilynn Fite said...

Ugh, I think seeing this movie would only depress me! But I believe within the world of lit agents, there are all kinds. Like any other profession. Some are good, and others, not so much.

TC Avey said...

I have not seen this movie. Thanks for the heads up. I don't think I will watch it. But if I do, I'll be warn about the agent.

shelly said...

Nope. Haven't seen it. Sounds interesting though. As for agents, I do here at the conferences that I attended that its harder for a newbie to get recognition. ***shrugs***

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

Gina said...

I was half-watching this last night myself! I was in and out of the room so I missed a lot of it, but the message I got was the importance of how you use your words, which is another lesson that can be applied to trying to get published. Sadly, I have to believe that characters like Eddie Murphy's in that movie are the reason celebrities get published, despite not being able to string a well-written sentence together : /

Kristin Lenz said...

I haven't heard of this movie. I don't think I quite understood the job of a literary agent before I started this publishing journey, and I'm always explaining it to other people now. Mostly, people think you hire and pay someone to be your agent.

Sarah said...

Well, speaking as a psychologist who has seen MANY movies in which psychologists and other mental health professionals are portrayed in ridiculous, exaggerated, wrong, and insulting ways, engaging in outlandish, unethical behavior, I'm not that surprised to see the Hollywood treatment applied to literary agents or anyone else. What's frustrating is that some people probably do get their information this way, which leads them to be sadly misinformed. There are shadows of truth and elements of (often extreme exceptions to the norm) real situations, but the primary object of movies is to entertain, and accuracy is often sacrificed on that particular altar.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Haven't seen it but he sounds snobby. Like to think they really aren't like that.

Matthew MacNish said...

You should see how the literary agent is portrayed in the video game, Alan Wake. Anyway, I do find stuff like this fascinating. Silly, but interesting. I haven't seen it, but I will be checking it out.

David P. King said...

Wait a second. An Eddie Murphy movie I haven't seen yet? I better do something about that. But yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if agent stereotypes were thrown in. Any time an agent is portrayed in a film (and even a game I just finished), they tend to be a little over the top. :)

Jay Noel said...

I heard of this movie, but didn't see it. I'm pretty sure it's hyperbole, but life can be stranger than fiction.

Kathryn Rose said...

I haven't seen this movie, but there are a handful of shows/films that do this to the writing industry AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY.

For anyone who's been watching Gossip Girl (not me, a...friend does), two words: Dan Humphrey. How he was able to get a book deal is BEYOND BEYOND BEYOND absurd. (Again, so I hear from my friend.)

Connie Keller said...

I haven't seen this movie, and I don't think I will.

I don't have a lot of experience with lit agents, but I suspect they really aren't that way. Though they do have interns or assistants, I know I've gotten emails saying "I'm so and so's assistant, I read your query, and my boss would like to read your manuscript..." What I'd really like to get is "I'm so-and-so's assistant, and my boss would like to schedule a phone call with you." :)

Anne Gallagher said...

Funnily enough, I was going to watch this over the weekend, but decided against it. Glad I did.

No, Hollywood never gets the agent thing right.

Nicole L Rivera said...

I've seen the movie and... I didn't think it showed the reality of what a literary agent is really like. I've never met a literary agent that operates like Eddie Murphy's character. I think I just separated my concept of reality with the stories portrayal of literary agents in order to believe and enjoy the story... Not saying that there are no literary agents like Murphy's character, just that I've never experienced one.

Nancy Thompson said...

Yeah, I just watched that flick on HBO on Saturday night and have the same opinion as you. What a lame premise, and poorly executed, too. Good thing it's bad fiction, huh?

Old Kitty said...

I think Mr Murphy peaked with Donkey in Shrek!! But I'd watch this on a rainy afternoon...!!

My best film portrayal of a lit agent was the one in the Hours - Meryl Streep! She was so nice and caring to her client (who was very ill and totally unhappy!). Take care
x

Tony Van Helsing said...

Good point, but I wouldn't watch an Eddie Murphy film for gritty realism. Mind you, I wouldn't watch an Eddie Murphy film anyway.

LTM said...

I haven't seen this movie! But what an interesting premise--I agree.

As for the agent thing, well. Hmm... I wonder. I mean, I don't think they're all like that by a long stretch, but I bet those kinds of agents do exist. As I'm sure those kinds of people exist in every field, yanno? :o) <3

Meredith said...

I haven't heard of this movie, but I don't think I'll be watching it. It would drive me crazy. :)

Cynthia Lee said...

My notions of literary agents have definitely changed since I started reading Dean Wesley Smith's blog. There are so many harrowing agent stories in the comments and from Dean himself that it really gave me pause.

I'm know there are good and honest agents out there but how do you know you're getting one of the good ones?

Dean W. Smith also pointed out that agents have no real legal training and we are supposed to trust them? I dunno. I have no real experience with an agent, having never had one, but this causes much consternation.

Also, your royalties, your money from your work is going to the agent first and your agent is pretty much a stranger.

It's a lot to think about.

Saumya said...

Seems quite far fetched but so do most representations of the writing world in television and movies. Have you seen how Dan gets published in Gossip Girl? This is what makes everyone think it's so easy! GAH!

Susanne Drazic said...

I've never seen this movie. Not sure if I will.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I usually like Eddie Murphy films, but I think this one would just grate on my nerves. No, I don't think most agents and editors operate like that. There may be some -- like the ones who help reality TV stars get their books published.

Kelly Polark said...

I had no idea about this movie!
I do enjoy some Eddie Murphy movies. I think I might need to watch this out of curiosity, especially with him being a literary agent in it...

Adventures in YA Publishing said...

I vaguely remember the trailer for this movie, but I somehow missed the key point that he was a literary agent. I think literary agents and publishers have it pretty rough these days compared to what it was a few years back. The industry is in such transition. Of course, it's no walk in the part for writers!

Martina

Gina Gao said...

Haven't seen this movie, but it sounds interesting. I'll go check it out.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Kittie Howard said...

I haven't seen this movie. Eddie Murphy's roles are usually exaggerated so I don't take that stuff seriously. However, there's probably an element of truth in there somewhere. I'd like to think not, but publishing is a business, like anything else. Actually, I'd always assumed agents had staffs who recommended.

Mark Murata said...

They probably based the portrayal on how some high-powered Hollywood agents behave towards their actor clients.

Dean Crawford said...

I can't speak for American literary agents, or anybody else's agent, but my own agent ( Luigi Bonomi, LBA, London )is ALWAYS looking out for the next author to sign. He has said it many times before over lunch - it's signing new authors that excites him the most. He does have staff, but each specialises in a particular field of fiction / non-fiction.

For those who commented on how to find a "good" agent, use only those who are members of the Association of Author's Agents, easily found on Google or in the Writer's Handbook ( published yearly ). One good agent might not be right for you on a personal level, or they might reject you because the work doesn't inspire them enough, but another may welcome you with open arms.

Bottom line? Agents won't exist without authors, and nor would publishers. Keep trying, do things right, aim high, and sooner or later if you've got talent, you'll get your chance.

Lexa Cain said...

I'm currently querying and I've been getting rejections and requests from assistants who say they read the pages, not the agent. I also have agented friends who send their agents emails and revisions and have to wait a long time for replies. I think if you're not an important client who makes a lot of money for the agency, you can't expect much attention.

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