Row over literary agents' 'transparency'

Row over literary agents' 'transparency'

Industry database Agent Hunter has accused the literary agent community of appearing “elitist, exclusive and hostile to outsiders”, and has released a Transparency Index (TI) rating every agent and every agency.

But Sam Edenborough, president of the Association of Authors Agents, has hit back at comments made by the group, formed by crime writer Harry Bingham, saying that Agent Hunter is offering “shrill criticisms”.

Agent Hunter, part of the editorial consultancy The Writer’s Workshop, said its research is the “first authoritative guide to the world of literary agents”.

It found that 66% of literary agents are women, 86% of them are based in London, and less than 3% are black or Asian. Agent Hunter said: “Those data might suggest an industry out of touch with broader society, so it’s concerning to note that many agents release strikingly little information about themselves, thereby discouraging approaches from new writers.”

The research, which can be viewed as an infographic, also found that around 35% of agents “fail to provide the most basic of disclosures”, which Agent Hunter defines as provision of a photo, a full client list and a non-trivial biography.

Bingham said: “At present, the literary agency industry can look elitist, exclusive and hostile to outsiders. I don’t believe it is any of those things in reality – but the lamentable standard of disclosure tends to disempower writers and discourages them from seeking conventional publishers. We urge literary agents to bring their communication practices into the 21st century – and we praise those agencies who have already done so.”

The TI score from Agent Hunter reflects “how well or badly an agent communicates publicly with writers and takes into account factors such as whether the agent provides a photo, a client list, a biography, guidance on literary likes and dislikes, or any nuggets of advice to writers, and whether the agent blogs or tweets”.

But Edenborough said that agents had adapted as the literary landscape had changed, and said that it was “easier to find an agent than ever”.

“The Association of Authors’ Agents has worked for the last 40 years to uphold and promote the reputation of its members - who comprise the vast majority of reputable agencies working in the UK,” he said. “In 2013 our members made deals for their clients to the value of approximately £370m, so I can’t agree with Mr Bingham’s judgement that 'the current system is blitheringly stupid'. On the contrary, I am proud to see our members’ successes and believe that UK literary agencies are amongst the most highly regarded of their kind in the world. Our sector is healthier, more successful and more approachable than ever. We strongly support our members’ freedom to present themselves to the world exactly how they please. It’s now easier to find an agent than ever, and a quick glance at our members’ websites proves how keen many of them are to hear from new clients.  

“I would urge writers seeking agents to trust their instincts and good sense by using the guidance given by agencies on their own websites. Mr Bingham’s Writers’ Workshop website claims that 'we have superb connections with literary agents', which statement seems to me to be at odds with the rather shrill criticisms offered on the Agent Hunter blog.”

Agent Hunter has a series of membership options, starting from £5 a year to £125 a year.