For new writers in this industry, there is a lot to learn and look out for. Once your manuscript is edited and ready for queries, you will need to find yourself an agent to represent you. The conundrum thus becomes which one to choose. At the outset, you want to sign with an agent that will get you paid for your work and not ghost your contract, but the current atmosphere is more complicated than that. Veteran authors and newbies alike must contend with the ever growing miasma of the publishing industry, and its agents that use their platform to exclude people that do not fall under their views; namely white, Christian, straight, and cis. Fortunately, veterans in publishing have devised their own version of a whisper network.
The original concept of a whisper network was for women to disclose instances of sexual harassment or abuse from men in power. This same method has since been adapted to the publishing industry, wherein authors come together and share their knowledge of disreputable agents or agencies, as well as publishing houses and acquiring editors. The whisper network for writers makes it known which publishing professionals carry their personal biases into their work, such as racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, or transphobia.
The industry has a long history of discrimination, and while the whisper network has always been around, it is only recently that authors have decided to be more forthright about it. The BLM protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 election have made it abundantly clear that agents and agencies were not leaving their biases at home. If anything, this past year has shown that agents pushed harder for their own biases than any time before. This catalyzed established authors to take matters into their own hands, demanding that agents and other publishing professionals face consequences for their actions. Rather than keep The Whisper Network to a tight circle, veteran authors began to circulate it more and more to new authors.
This wider distribution has led to many occasions where authors took to the internet to lambast disreputable colleagues in the industry. A few of these accused writers have complained about these accusations, and have even gone so far as to serve cease and desist orders for defamation of character. This is where the whisper network shines, so that authors with less clout or finances can scope out an agent that will respect them and their work. If you have your own set of negative experiences regarding publishing professionals, it is best to take those interactions to known source pages, so that they can catalog it for their own lists.
If you are unsure where to begin your search, the best way to locate people willing to divulge information is to put out feelers. The most active avenue for authors is Twitter. The search is as simple as typing “whisper network publishing” in the Twitter tags, or by making a public tweet that asks for help looking for safe agents. The writing and publishing community is a large network with many authors willing to lend a hand. A perfect example of this is C.J. Listro, who has graciously provided a varied list of agencies for new writers to look into.
There is no end to the knowledge you can gain by making acquaintances. Someone had also been brave enough to make an anonymous Twitter account that had frequent updates with information on which agents have discriminated against certain groups, going only by YAwhispers. It has come to the recent attention of QF staffers that YAwhispers has made the decision to lie low for a while. It is currently unknown whether the account was served with a cease and desist order. An archive of a few their tweets can be found here.
Outside of Twitter, there is Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), a long-standing and vital source for publishing professionals. SFWA maintains publicly available lists, including a Thumbs Down Agents page, that can be found by searching “SFWA Writers Beware”.
By continuing to circulate this information and redirecting writers from these repulsive agents, the writing community can build a better system and take a large platform away from bigots.
The Quick Fox is an open and welcoming source of information; writers at all stages of their careers are welcome to contact us with any questions or concerns.