Freud suggested that children who experience conflict during what he termed the anal stage, might, as adults, manifest personality traits connected to controlling bodily functions. He labeled the personality type as “anal-retentive.” As an adult, the individual would practice a high degree of orderliness and meticulousness, tending to be careful, precise, and obstinate.
That designation came to mind when I was considering the agent dilemma. I could really use a “retentive” literary agent. I particularly liked a definition I read on the Urban Dictionary site which described an anal-retentive person as someone who “can’t let go of shit.”
That’s what I want in an agent. Someone who, if they believe in my work, will make it a priority to place it with an appropriate publisher. Someone who won’t forget all about my “shit.”
Translated, anal-retentive personality traits in an ideal agent would be:
Orderly: He or she won’t lose my cover letter–or the middle chapter of my manuscript–before reading it.
Meticulous: The agent will not confuse my submission with a manuscript she or he read the week–or month or year–before. The agent will read it carefully and apportion due consideration to the genre, theme, and overall execution. He or she will keep a record of when, and in what medium, it was received and make a point of responding within a reasonable length of time.
Overly neat: That’s fine with me. Having received back hard copies of manuscripts that were covered in coffee stains, wine stains, unidentified stains–not to mention reeking of smoke and other noxious odors–I like the idea of an agent that is “extremely or overly neat” and returns my work in approximately the same shape it was in when it left my desk.
Precise: I can handle precision, even if it comes in a blunt statement like, “That character is so cardboard you should turn him into a box.” That gives me better information than a vague, “Well, I liked it but not sure if I like John or not. Well, maybe he’s okay, but he reminded me of my ex-husband. Oh, I don’t know . . . maybe he’s fine.”
Obstinate: Great. Be as stubborn as you like. I’ll listen to you. And, if I become obstinate as well, (No! I won’t add a vampire as a character no matter how popular they are.) then we’ll work it out.
Controlling: That word has gotten a bad rap, but in this case I want an agent who can direct behavior, influence opinion, and manage or orchestrate events. I would hope my agent is in the driver’s seat at meetings with potential publishers. Control away!
There is, of course, the view from the other side of the fence. I assume most agents would not want to see retentive traits in their clients, particularly an author who’d bug the hell out of the agent with phone calls, emails, and letters. They might consider the “I’d be published if you’d just do your job,” writer as a major irritant. I suppose some of us are too demanding, while others wait patiently and bemoan the lack of communication and progress.
Is there a happy medium? Sometimes, but with, as one wit stated, “more solitary writers in the world than there are solitary drinkers,” it is unlikely that agents can efficiently meet the demand. They are probably so awash with unsolicited manuscripts their offices threaten to looks like the Collyer Brothers’ Harlem brownstone in March 1947. Note: the brothers had managed to hoard 140 tons of collected material. (See Wikipedia article.)
I understand compromise is necessary, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting an agent with all the best qualities of anal-retentiveness, and none of the negative traits of the opposite, anal-expulsiveness (suspicious, messy, and disorganized).
We all have our dreams.