December 2, 2011

Your First Follower, or In Praise of Agents

When I was an undergrad, I did my thesis on Margery Kempe, who lived from about 1373 to about 1438 in Norfolk, Kingdom of England. She was this firecracker of a woman who some believed should be a saint.  She was born into a family of merchants and then married and had 14 kids.  Then, she became very devout and made a bargain with her husband that she could remain celebate.  Now, remember, this was a time when women had little choice but to spend their adult lives having children.  She went on pilgramages and had a lot of autonomy. 

Most importantly for what I’m talking about, she had two scribes throughout her life who wrote her spiritual autobiography. She herself did not know how to write, if I’m remembering correctly.  But the scribes did not just write about her.  They promoted her.  They were the original pr men.  She was acting in accordance with a tradition of anchoresses and saints of her time, and these anchoresses and saints all had someone at her or his side to champion the cause, to get the word out.  These scribes were absolutely essential to the “success” of their saints.

And, so, a while back, I was watching TED talks, as I love to do, and I came across this one. It’s Derek Sivers talking about how to start a movement.  Watch it now before you read on.

Isn’t it brilliant?  One guy dancing alone is just a crazy lunatic, but it’s the second guy, for whom it takes just as much courage to get up and dance, that gives the first guy power.  The second guy is a leader in his own right and lends legitimacy to the first guy.  Derek’s point is that if you want to make a difference, don’t be a leader but rather that first crucial follower.

You see where I’m going with this?  The reason why the saints became saints is because they had their seconds, their legitimizers, their scribes.  They would be just another crazy person starving themselves in a cave if it weren’t for this other guy paying off the bills and slipping food through the door.  And, most importantly, talking to everyone who’ll listen about this really cool person in a cave.

So this brings me to agents.  They are a writer’s first and most important follower. They are most often the one who legitimizes the writer’s endeavor.  They do the heavy lifting of the getting the word out, of making the crazy world of this other guy holed up in a dank writing studio something everyone wants to know about. 

Because without them, you’re just a crazy lunatic.  Not really ~ well, maybe ~ but you get my idea.  One of the very noble things that agents do is legitimize you. They swallow their own self-ishness to represent you.

So, to my agent Rachel and all the agents out there, you rock!

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