Authors of Colour Querying White-Skinned Agents
A novel’s birth has a threefold journey: writing it, finding an agent, and then the agent’s selling it to a publisher. Of these, writing the novel seems the easiest because the author has only himself or herself to consider. Writing gives immense pleasure and satisfaction. It may take time, but that time definitely seems well spent. The real effort for the writer begins after the novel has been completed. This can be daunting in the current publishing scenario. One needs to find the right agent for the novel. A Mr. or Ms Right is easier to come across as a husband or wife than as an agent. And, when it is an author of colour trying to approach a London or New York agent, the hurdle becomes even more daunting. An author’s proposal and an agent’s acceptance is like the marriage of two minds or souls which is hard to achieve.
Agents need to specialize in the kind of novel they will be able to sell to a publisher. They will refuse to take on a novel outside their expertise. You cannot be treated for heart trouble by a dermatologist or an ophthalmologist. Some agents are very sensitive readers and can almost retrace the creative process of the novel. They can virtually visit the soul of the author and therefore take charge of the novel with authority, helping the editor of a publishing house see it with their eyes. They try to become the author and put up a case for the novel as though it were their own. Authors must understand how difficult it is for an agent to convince an editor. It, then, becomes evident that an agent is a superman or woman.
It is not difficult to see that the author needs to query an agent only after studying the likely compatibility between them. Querying the wrong agent will be a great waste of time. If one is querying an agent in London from Africa or South Asia, one should keep in mind that an agent may not feel close enough emotionally to the author, or be adequately one with them, to represent their writings. There are, after all, very few interracial marriages. To expect agents to have a sensibility that transcends race and nationality is to expect too much from them. They are, after all, human beings with human limitations.
Of course, there are some exceptional agents who cross the hurdle of RACE with ease and embrace an author of colour just as Shakespeare could enter into the souls of characters such as Othello or Shylock. Such exceptional agents can see that if the English language used in a novel is structurally not identical with their own, the society being reflected is also structurally different. It cannot be painted well enough through British or American English. They can also transport themselves imaginatively to an unfamiliar, foreign, setting and become a part of that place just as they transport themselves to more familiar settings where white-skinned people inhabit.
Authors must realize how difficult it is for agents to convince editors who are as human as everyone else. Convincing editors is probably even more difficult than convincing agents. Authors should research the agents they query and see whether they have authors of colour on their client lists. A mere claim that the agent represents underrepresented authors or writers of colour may not be enough. Like other contemporary civilized people, even agents need to project the image of tolerance towards their others. But whether they have the negative capability of Shakespeare must be confirmed by querying authors. Otherwise, they will face heartbreak after heartbreak until they’ve changed their view of the world.