How to get a literary agent…or not

I’ve just been reading a blog post about what agents and publishers want to see when they Google your name. You know what’s funny about the answer? They don’t seem to be looking at what you’ve written.

They want to see that you’re active, that you’re blowing your own trumpet on all the social media. They check that you’ve got a this account and a that account. They check that you haven’t been criticising publishers or agents (they really don’t like that). They want to see whether your writing has been well-received by other people who’ve seen it. So much for them using their own judgement.

I have no idea whether agents or publishers have ever Googled me—apart from my former unregretted publisher who probably wanted to check up on what I was saying about them. If they have, they have obviously decided to pass on the other side of the street. Whatever they discovered about my public persona was not liked. I’m assuming they didn’t pay much attention to what I write. Because the BOOK, the quality of the writing doesn’t seem to cut much ice.

Once again I get a faint whiff of something going off. Is it so unreasonable to expect that agents would be acting like old-fashioned talent scouts and looking out for a great BOOK? Doesn’t that happen anymore? Is it only author brands that are picked out of the pile? What’s going off seems to be any kind of literary criticism. What’s of interest is what’s already selling.

I don’t expect agents to be risk-takers. I don’t expect them to bet their shirts on some way-out wacky concept that only about 0.5% of the population would even understand. But I do expect them to be able to judge the literary merits of a book and be able to sell it. The exasperating thing is, the impression I’m getting is that they are just looking for trends, author brands that follow the trend, and authors who are already well on the way to making a name for themselves. They don’t even seem interested in setting trends, because that implies bringing to bear a certain amount of critical literary judgement and not just a talent for accounting.

Am I not looking at this the right way? Is it just sour grapes because I’ve never been able to get a literary agent to give me the time of day? Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about—I only have my own experience to go by and what I see on agents’ wish lists. YooHoo! Passing literary agents! Look at me! I can write. Does that matter any more?