When I was first contemplating making the switch from editing to agenting, one of my concerns was the morality of the profession. Now, I’d worked with agents for years, and not once did I ever encounter the classic agent stereotype—you know, the fast-talking, cigar-chomping, ready-to-sell-his-mother-down-the-river-for-a-quick-buck shyster. And indeed, I’ve found that, at least here at DGLM, we make it a point of conducting our business as honestly and responsibly as possible.
Still, it’s with a bit of unease that I want to talk about yesterday’s kerfuffle over Dara Lynn-Reiss and her book deal for her Vogue article. If you haven’t read it, it’s basically about how she shamed her 7-year-old daughter into losing weight. As a parent, I found it to be a terrible story, and one that I frankly don’t want to read more about in book form. But as an agent I did find myself wondering about the sale, and whether I would have taken this project on myself.
Certainly, the article is controversial, and controversy sells. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with that—when I help a writer put together a proposal, say, for a narrative or a memoir, a key question is what “newsworthy” content (i.e. controversy) might be included. Moreover, if an agent’s primary role is to sell books, how much do I have to like or approve of the material?
But ultimately, I’d like to think I’d pass for the reason Mary Elizabeth Williams lays out so convincingly in Salon—it’s just a depressing way to sell books. It’s cynical and potentially exploitative—and even if it isn’t, I just don’t see how I would be proud of myself for repping this book. I’d like to think Lynn-Reiss’s agent had a different take on the material, and he’s certainly entitled to his opinion. But if his calculations lined up with Williams’ reading of the sale—well, color me depressed…
Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this—both on Lynn-Reiss’ situation and where an agent should draw the line on what material to rep.