A lot of people are moaning about literary agents, their attitude, their fixed idea that they’re essential, the apparent lack of much to justify this view and the seeming rise of self-publishing. But it’s nothing new at all. I just found the most delicious thing I’ve seen for a long time.
Lots of people have heard of AE Housman. If you haven’t you probably know the phrase ‘blue remembered hills,’ taken from his epic poem A Shropshire Lad, even if that’s all of the poem you know. Dennis Potter wrote a play about it. It’s epic in the sense that it’s passed into the emotional landscape.
And every publisher turned it down.
Housman had to self-publish it, way back in 1896. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) even Housman was surprised how big it got with its deep pessimism and obsession, proving that there are more people in England about like that than was ever officially acknowledged, although as a national characteristic it seems to fit quite well.
So the good news is you don’t need an agent, or nowadays, even a publisher. The bad news seems to be for the established book trade. When you think you’re a gatekeeper it helps if you can keep the gate closed or if you can’t do that you need to be doing something positive. Otherwise there’s not much point to you at all.