Recently I spoke with a friend that is also submitting her work to agents and publishers. She complained that it seemed like everyone she spoke with at a conference she had attended was only interested in the money she could make for them if they signed her. She was dumbfounded that the world would look at the story she created purely from a financial standpoint. I was shocked that it surprised her.
She has considered and rejected, at least for the time being, the self-publishing route. She wants the book deal. She believed in the advances and contracts as well as the theoretical notoriety that would come along with getting an agent. When she finished her rant momentarily to take a long sip of her coffee I asked why she was so upset by the fact they saw her in such a light. She said she was an artist and should be appreciated as such. It wasn't about the money she would make for them it was about them believing in her talent and helping her cash in on it instead.
Sighing I set aside my own coffee and looked her in the eyes. I told her that currently she was an unknown commodity in a market flooded with those attempting to break out and become a brand. Writing was a business and while, yes we all think of ourselves as artists in some respect I can imagine, we are first and foremost a market potential. These agents take a chance with us but we bring very little to the table other than the words on the pages. One could argue that the book is a tremendous asset or bargaining tool but truthfully it isn't as big of a deal as we want to think. There are hundreds of thousands of submissions across the world. We put our stories down, send them out and hope while we wait to hear of any interest.
Unless you are an expert in the field you wrote about, a celebrity with status already established or have a following from some previous venture you are practically a nobody at the beginning. It takes several projects with good results and a consistent consumer response to build you into a brand. That is what you need to focus on to become that household name that can demand to be appreciated for your art instead of being seen as potential dollar signs. Even agents for writers like Stephen King, Iris Johansen or James Patterson most likely still focus on the business while assisting in the art. We as beginners can either develop into brands or liabilities and an agent must assess which they believe more likely then proceed from there.
I have not found one that sees me as a potential brand yet but I haven't given up hope. I still submit and will continue to learn as I go but the one thing I have established already is that I am a commodity working to earn some market share in a cutthroat world. I know it is a business with a bottom line and that is a huge determining factor. I am hoping one day I will be a brand helping earn that bottom line but for now I am just taking it one lesson at a time.