For Literary Agents

Hello! If you’re reading this page, I assume you’re a literary agent. You’ve seen some of my writing and you’re considering whether you might be interested in representing me.

There are some things you should know as a professional courtesy. I am the sort of writer who talks about her life experiences with phrases like “lessons from my spiritual Passchendaele”. If you truly wish to work with me, you should know that this is the kind of edgy Gothic/Heavy Metal transwoman you would court. I present things in grandiose terms because that’s how I gain a sense of control over them.

I’d hope that’s much of my appeal to you, but if so, please understand that the psychological factors driving whatever you found enticing about my work are the same ones at play here. So:

You’re considering whether to represent a bitter, jaded mess. That tropey warrior who can’t trust anyone any longer because she’s been let down too many times? That’s me. Could you be the exception? Perhaps it’s best if you’re not. Either way, you see, I lack the optimism–or perhaps the stupidity–to take you at face value. Before all else, you’re here because you believe you might profit by working with me.

In a few paragraphs, I’ll use a lengthy high fantasy analogy to describe my perspective. If you find that utterly insufferable, I fully understand–after all, I did revise this little manifesto and read these words back to myself. Spontaneous pretension is one thing, but mine is the planned, sustained strain. You’re fully justified if you find it exhausting. In that case, it’s definitely best we not work together! I’m rather fond of portentous, overworked metaphors; you’d shortly come to loathe me. If you’re into this sort of thing, then I suggest putting on something appropriately edgy as background music–I recommend The Only Thing I Know For Real, from the Metal Gear Rising Soundtrack.

Are you really sure you want to stick around? It’s a lot more of this self-indulgent faffery and then an apologetic dismissal that, nonetheless, remains a dismissal. In theory I might be negotiated with, but I should tell you: no one, not you, not a publisher, not whatever deities you might believe in, will obtain the rights to my books unless you exploit some asinine legal loophole to steal them from me. I will not sign them over; you have no claim to match mine. If you love my writing, it’s probably thanks to development, both in my character and my skills, that I only achieved after the crisis came and went. I stood upon the brink of suicide in misery over my work’s failure. None among you stepped up to save me from myself.

So, I fear that as far as the idea that agents are friends and advocates for authors… it’s a little too late for that, isn’t it?

You see, it’s possible to be so self-aware that you meet obliviousness again from the other direction. You can’t break through to me by highlighting my flaws; I already know about them, and revel in embracing them. Tyrion Lannister’s line about wearing your identity like armor? I find that overly passive. Forge of it a high-frequency blade, and grant your weapon its purpose.

Right, you were promised high fantasy; I apologize. Jetstream Sam is never far from my mind.

So, since you’re still reading: You lead a company of sellswords. If the writers you represent are your mercenaries, then their books are the weapons they bring to your camp. Through them they manifest their skills, which you shape to suit your tastes, and together you make your names–but only if they will sign away the rights to their swords.

I am a free duelist; there may have been a time when I sought another path, a path where pay and comradery meant more than liberty. I was denied both until the scything clash for its own sake became my sole reason for being. That does not mean I cannot respect you or the writers who work with you, nor that we cannot meet as friends and talk of our trade together.

But I will not constrain my techniques to suit your portfolio. My books are heirlooms of my bloodline, and forever shall I be bound to their fate, as shall they to mine–if you think for a fractured heartbeat that I would cede ownership of them to you, a publisher, or anyone else, you’re a raving lunatic. It’s my skill that gives them life. Approach me with whatever pay you will. It’s not the coin my swords sing for: it’s blood on the air and the crash of the slain upon the forlorn earth.

Edgy Goth lady? Spiritual Passchendaele?

I have never had a huge number of friends, or much of a platform. I don’t speak from self pity; my friendships are few, but deep. I choose to focus on my writing rather than on social media presence and responding to trends or participating in the discussion du jour. There’s nothing wrong with the opposite approach; I often envy how much energy others possess for participating in fan discussions and art-surges. I can see how much easier this makes it for them to build a presence, to put their work before an audience.

Yet most people do this because they genuinely enjoy it, not to chase trends; if I joined in, everyone would see I did so for cynical self-interest. Thus I act as the consummate writer: quiet, always buried in her drafts, churning out text like a machine or, perhaps, an eldritch being. I know it’s a feedback loop, but at this point I don’t believe there’s any breaking it.

The only thing I have always had, and still nurture, is passion. Overriding, unreasoning passion for my craft. Despite numerous personal and professional failures, I refuse to stop writing. I thought, back when I sent out query letters, that such passion must merit a good few personalized responses–one in ten, perhaps? Everyone I spoke to referred to multiple instances of deep, insightful feedback in the rejections they received.

I received two actionable sentences across a hundred queries, and that’s the legacy you would have to deal with. I see agents as the people who discarded me with form rejections during the most adrift, forlorn period in my life. When I most needed an ally, perhaps even a mentor, you and yours gave me silence. Don’t demean us both with platitudes about the subjectivity of publishing; there was nothing subjective about feeling so worthless that it came down to me kneeling on the floor with a newly-sharpened sword against my belly. Perhaps that isn’t fair; well, the lies the publishing industry churns out towards hopeful young authors aren’t fair either. Speak to editors and publishers of fairness, for they’re the ones with the power to create it. For myself, the time and effort I could spend reconditioning are time and effort I need for writing my stories.

I trust my stories. My stories are always there for me. Why would I ever entrust you with the power to demand that I change them, let alone take them from me altogether?

You don’t want to represent me. I’m too far gone. I can’t be lured or reasoned with via profit motive. I’ve had too much time to make peace with my status as a commercial failure. The integrity of my authorial vision, flawed and myopic though it may be, is all I have left as a writer. I’m descended so far into feral aggression that I’ll embrace ruin before I sacrifice that last petty territory.

You don’t really want to deal with that, do you? Save us both the time and the trauma. Rather than trying to connect with me, find a starry-eyed youngster who won’t snap at you for wanting them to attend book-signings and conventions. One who doesn’t see tailoring their social media presence for its appeal as kowtowing to some nameless “they”, an imagined nemesis spoken of with acid and bile. You’ll enjoy my writing more if you just buy the books without ever meeting their creator.

Oh, and that starry-eyed youngster? If I should learn that you betrayed their hope, you’d best atone while you can–because if you abandon them to the lonely path you swore to save them from, I’ll see you sheared into a thousand pieces, and scattered across the Void.

Caerllyn McCurdy