Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Help Wanted: Literary Agent to Capture The Zeitgeist (And To Appreciate Kanye West)

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Last week I had an epiphany. Strangely, it came after viewing the train wreck named Charlie Sheen on the telly. He was talking about working with his agent to score him some new work opportunities. He is, uhh, winning! Why? Well, because his reps and handlers are ensuring that as “he pays for sex because he has millions,” continues with his warlock ways and has most people like me wondering what the heck Tiger Blood is (A steroid? Something that boosts red blood cells?), that he is still fielding offers to do new Roman Coppola’s flicks, Major League Three sequels, and all the rest. It’s quite conceivable that he will get more work opportunities as he melts down, than during his saner times. God bless America. And his booking agents. Then I thought to myself, “dayum, I am playing by the rules, and there’s no anxious aggressive agent activity happening over here. There are a whack of authors selling many fewer books than me, getting one iota the media my books generate, but they have someone representing their interests, someone helping to land them ghostwriting gigs to generate some revenue. Something ain’t adding up.” Back to Sheen. He doesn’t write, but I am getting some kinda message from him, while he blathers on about his “goddesses” (porn stars and models he lives with) and coke binges. In America, you can melt down, play the fool and still have folks scurrying around to generate work opportunities for you.

This reminded me that I really need to attend one of these Looking for a Literary Agent seminars. Though I don’t think I’d be willing to shell out any dough to do so. Why? Well, let’s just say that I still remember when I pitched my first book about MuchMusic to this literary agent that shall remain nameless. It left a bad taste in my mouth. She said she didn’t quite know anything about MuchMusic — this was in 2001, when people actually cared about MuchMusic — but she wished me well in my pursuits. I have that letter framed in my work area. That was my wake-up call. ‘Twas time to ring the alarm. Not everybody knows what MTV is. Nor do they all care about popular culture. Or diversity. Or zeitgeisty thingies. I can’t hold anything against anybody because they aren’t tapped into what’s trending on Twitter. And to be fair, maybe agents of today have it tough. If you’ll all recall, in the past, the only way an author could get published was to hire a book agent to shop their manuscript around to book publishers. Man, things have changed since many authors are learning their way around the publishing ecosystem DIY-style, with some good advice from their lawyers, taking more control of their own careers in the face of declining advances, impending ebook piracy schemes.

But if there were some agent out there in Canada who gets this, or wants to tap into the emerging literary constituencies that I write to, that are more diverse, skew younger and are more digitally-inspired, I would love to hear their views. A Newer Literati is emerging, but who’s going to represent my generation’s interests? I watch MTV and deconstruct Kanye West lyrics for fun. And I am not a Baby Boomer. Have I lost the plot, or half the battle, if I am seeking out representation? Man, even the stiff Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto displayed Justin Bieber’s shoes to get mass audiences into the building, to get people to remotely care about the venue. Every time I go there, the place is near empty. If Joe and/or Josephine Agent ain’t accepting new clients, is this blog post a non-starter? And is ending up on a slush pile better than being part of no pile at all? What’s a scriberly bloke to do?

I just finished generating boatloads of copy for this massive CBC Hip Hop Summit project that had clearly captured the imagination of a large bulk of youth, across cultures, across the nation. So my feeling is that if a respected national public broadcaster is trying to tap into this generational shift happening — the audience I clearly write to — there might be some hope. Recently, I was reading a survey about whether Canada is a great country to live and work in as an author. Strangely, maybe only a small handful of the 31 authors surveyed offered up opinions that might be relatable to most. Kudos to the Globe’s Russell Smith for not sticking his head in the sand (or up in the clouds) like most on this one. While most authors did not want to rock any boats concerning their home and native land, Smith just called it as he saw it. How could this country be so great to be a writer if you can’t make a living off of it? I’ve always wondered what Canadian literature might read like if most authors could do it full-time, y’know, blow off the barista day job. My theory has always been that as an author, if you can’t commit more of your waking hours to writing, because you have to be at your real 9-5 job fielding customer service complaints at Telus, then your writing skills might not be getting developed as they should. Part-time author, part-time results?

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and national magazine award-winning journalist. He is Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. In addition to writing numerous articles for Canadian and US print and on-line magazines, he is the author of Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi) and co-author of Hip Hop (Thomson Nelson) and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey (ECW Press). As a broadcaster, Dalton has hosted his own TV show and has appeared as a pundit on every major Canadian network. You can visit Dalton at his blog. His most recent book is Fatherhood 4.0: iDad Applications Across Cultures (Insomniac Press).

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