It’s a funny old world, as the saying goes. I don’t deal, as an editor, with many agents. In fact, having been in publishing for nearly a dozen years it’s only happened three times. The most recent agent is one to whom I sent a pitch for Holy Horror and from whom I never heard back. The book he sent me isn’t too different from what I was doing in said volume. That’s the way it goes, you say. Indeed, I don’t disagree. But who doesn’t like a dose of irony in an otherwise stainless steel world? As I’m reading through the proposal I see that it cites the interest in the subject because of the great popularity of the Religion and Monsters sessions at the American Academy of Religion. I was responsible for getting those sessions started.
Since irony loves company, none of the people I recruited to get that session rolling read my blog. I’d been meeting with various scholars over the years and started to notice a common interest in religion and monsters, which I personally share. I suggested to one of these gainfully employed scholars that we should apply for such a session. She agreed and we invited another gainfully employed academic to join us. I wrote the initial proposal. The session was approved (the proposal being helpfully revised by my colleagues) for three years running. Now it was being cited as objective proof of an idea that this very agent had dismissed when I presented Holy Horror to him. Our society very much thinks having a university post means you have something to contribute. No post? No interest.
I’ve been working on religion and monsters for (conservatively) a dozen years. I’ve written two high-priced books on the subject and I’ve received almost no traction in the field because I can’t put a university, or college, or seminary, behind my name. I was formerly an associate professor, but who you are speaks louder than who you were. Institutions speak even louder—much louder—than individuals. The thing about privilege is that it works. So in this funny old world I’m bemused to be watching my own idea helping propel a colleague’s case for an agent. I’m working on my fifth book, and I sincerely hope this one will retail for less than thirty dollars. That’s difficult to do without an agent’s intervention. I know agents are swamped with proposals. I know they’re very selective. And I also know that the irony of being a biblical scholar interested in monsters will catch their attention. Only, however, if you have an institution behind your name. Funny, isn’t it?