I was talking with a bunch of agents the other day and someone wondered whether the current political situation is impacting the authors we sign on or the projects we’re interested in looking at. They asked if anybody could see any new trends in what editors are acquiring or not acquiring, compared to pre-November 8th. Or if the advice we give our clients regarding which ideas are most marketable has changed any.
I’m probably a bad person to check in on regarding clients and projects. I’m pretty political, fiercely feminist, care deeply about issues of racial equality and religious freedom, have been focused on our environment since the early 1980s (Yes! I’m old!), have marched on Washington multiple times to ensure that women keep the legal right to our reproductive and healthcare choices, and have been flying a welcoming rainbow flag for the GLBTQ+ community since way before I entered the industry. I’m not tooting my own horn (ok, I am), it’s just to say that anyone who has ever met me or read this blog, or any of my online interviews, can see what I’m about. I don’t hide that, I shout it out loud and proud. Many of the agents and editors that I know are vocal about where they stand politically. And you can see what they believe in and champion by the books they represent or edit. I couldn’t have been happier for my first ever book sale to be Bill Konigsberg‘s Openly Straight, a book that is life affirming and also ridiculously funny. That was the perfect book for the start of my agenting career.
So, I doubt many writers would pitch me if they were anti- any of the above things. I’d be the wrong agent for them. If they’re dumb enough to pitch me anyway? Well, when I’m interested in a project I do Google the author. I do have a nice, long conversation with them about the manuscript I’m interested in. I do lay it on the line about who I am and what I’m about. Yes, publishing is a business, but it’s made up of people, who have opinions. If I wasn’t on the same page as someone about something as basic as human rights, I don’t think I would do a good job representing them or their work. For me it’s not about being liberal versus conservative or Democrat versus Republican, although those things are so polarized right now that it might seem that way. All of my clients don’t share all of my opinions, and the goddess knows I wouldn’t expect them to.
Would I be more likely now to be interested in a project about refugees or fighting fascism or climate change or the abuse of power? No. Quite frankly, I’ve always been interested in those projects. Would they be easier to sell? Maybe. Do I think editors will only want books like that? No. I don’t.
I think editors are people though. Publishing houses are staffed with people. Yes, many decisions are made based only on the bottom line (don’t tell me this isn’t all about money), but let’s remember that different people have different responses to stressful situations. Some folks (editors, agents, readers) might want to read (or acquire or represent) stories about the common people rising up and taking back control of a corrupt government. Some folks might want to read (or acquire or represent) stories for little kids about what it’s like to be a refugee, or with a strong focus on cooperation and making friends who are different. And some people might want to read a story about falling in love for the first time when you’re sixteen, and the boy is cuter than you think you could ever get. And he’s nice, too! Or a picture book about a Labradoodle named Bob who has nasty dog breath. A book about the apocalypse? Or unicorns and rainbows? How about both!
So, what I’m saying is this: yes, I do think the industry will respond to what’s happening in our country right now and around the world, as it always does. Despite the above link showing how publishers can sometimes be overly interested in the bottom line, the same publishing house launched this new imprint just last year (and not only because it would be profitable). That publishing house is made up of people, who care. Both of those decisions were made by people.
So… my advice to writers, and other agents, and editors: Write what’s in your heart. Represent who and what resonates with you. Acquire what you want to read. Whether it’s a story about dog breath or fighting the dismantling of democracy, there’s room for it all.
And because I have a bully pulpit here on the blog, I’d like to link to this keynote address by Roxane Gay, who said, “everything we do is political as readers, as writers, as booksellers, as people.” And this inspiring letter from the editor of Publisher’s Weekly.