Literary agents as biased gatekeepers

If you read books by a mainstream ‘big’ publisher, you are reading the work of authors who have agents. For most traditionally published authors, getting an agent is the first step to getting a publisher. So the agents function as a gatekeeper helping to decide what books get published.

My most recent copy of Writer’s Digest has profiles of a number of agents looking for new writers. They tell what they want— usually more ‘diversity’ and more LGBTXYZ characters— and what they don’t want. For some agents that is ‘Christian.’

That set me to thinking. In all the years I’ve been reading Writer’s Digest I’ve never heard an agent or publisher say, ‘No Jewish fiction,’ or ‘I don’t want to see any Jewish stuff.’ I’ve never seen one who said ‘No Buddhists need apply.’ Now, I bet some of these agents and publishers in fact didn’t want to see any work with religious content of ANY faith. But no one feels free to admit those biases in public.

But bias against Christians— no one is afraid to admit to that these days. Now, I believe an agent that has the impulse to say ‘No Christian stuff’ would be a poor agent for a Christian author— he wouldn’t have good connections at the Evangelical Christian publishing houses. But I do think it is sad that agents have no fear of admitting a prejudice in public.

Fortunately the rise of Indie fiction means the big publishers are no longer the only game in town, so getting an agent that isn’t bigoted against your faith isn’t as urgent.  There are alternatives. And there are a few agents who specialize in Evangelical Christian authors. (I don’t know that there is any hope for the Catholic authors, as far as agents go. There aren’t many Catholic publishers with a fiction line.)

For the reader the rise of Indie fiction means that there is a greater variety of books to be found. If only it were easier to find the good stuff.

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