This is a true story it would be nice not to believe. One of the country's most famous and high-powered female agents stated in a published interview: she preferred to handle inexperienced new writers because she could teach them more easily to be good dogs. To the best of my knowledge, I'm offering the first words of protest about that remark.
Big dogs, bad dogs, even mad dogs were the fashion years ago. A famous horror writer told me, back when my first book had just hit the stores, to fire any agent who failed to listen when I cracked the whip...and tell any editor to stick it if they corrected my prose. Well, he's long dead and out of print, and times have certainly changed.
But a new race of good dogs, panting to crawl on their bellies for a pat on the head or a bone, is a more frightening prospect if we think of the future of art. It's more frightening because it would require a race of agent-masters prepared to turn down artists who refuse to be their pet good dogs. The best agents want well-mannered clients--of course. But they also want clients with vision, passionate convictions and the ferocious drive to excel. The best writers want tough-minded agents--of course. But they also want agents who'll listen, at least, to wild, risky new ideas--like, say, Pillars of the Earth? Thank God, Ken Follett refused to play Good Dog.