5.21.2006

Two for Two...this makes me want to go back to DC

Dear Mrs. Snark, (uh..who?)

I secured an agent for my medical-thriller-type novel last December. He sent it out and it got 4 rejects. Based on the criticisms of the publishers who rejected the book, I made some changes and sent it back. Now he wants more changes - many that I don't agree with. Can I refuse to make the changes? If so, will he terminate my contract? Of course, he made the suggestions by email and I plan to discuss with him over the phone. But I wanted your advice: Can my agent make me change my book?



Did this medical thriller involve the surgical implantation of a clue?

"Make me" has the ring of "you're not the boss of me", and you're quite right. Agents aren't the boss of you. They don't own your work and they can't force you to do anything including follow their advice.

Not even Miss Snark can make you do that.
She can however insert clues without benefit of anesthesia. Step right up for a demonstration.

15 comments:

Maya said...

Ohhhh! I winced. Didn't even want to read the answer.

Maya

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Oooh, this letter punches the buttons of Inner Editor. To whit:

This writer has bumped into a critical point in The Process, one which without careful navigation can lead to many forms of misery. The thing NOT to do is get all prickly and distraught over the suggestions; focus on WHY they've been made. The agent is seeing problems, and the problems are what you need to discuss more than the specific suggestions. Understand the problems, and ideally you will come up with your own solutions that you both like better. Or you will figure out how to incorporate the agent's ideas with your own. Or you will figure out how to defend your original version cogently enough to overcome the agent's reservations.

Think of this as practice for when an actual editor takes hold of that ms. These issues come up all the time, and the writers who figure out how to make the most of the feedback end up happiest, with better books to show for it. Those who don't end up wandering the streets dragging tattered manuscripts in their dusty kit-bags, muttering about the evil, ignorant trolls who control publishing and possibly the global water supply.

Everybody needs editing. Everybody. The best writers develop a fine ear for when to agree, when to negotiate and when to stand fast. All it takes is practice, just like writing.

Anonymous said...

Well, you don't have to change it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't sell if you don't.

M.E Ellis said...

Well, you don't have to change it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't sell if you don't.

Was thinking just the same thing myself.

Killing your sentences, paragraphs, heck, even whole chapters really isn't so bad. Not in the grand scheme of things. Just delete with abandon and start again.

It doesn't hurt once you get into it. Really.

Discard the 'I'm the best writer on earth' concept, and accept being taught and given the benefit of someone elses wisdom. Writers never stop learning and those that think they know it all are in the wrong profession.

Agents/editors see work day in day out. They know what sells and what doesn't. Trust them.

:o)

December Quinn said...

It's not a medical thriller, it's a "medical-thriller-type novel". I'm not sure what the difference is, but it must be important.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Allow me to make the correction: it can never be "Mrs." Snark, but possibly "Mrs. Clooney."

At least try meeting your agent half-way with the revisions. Sometimes it only takes a little bending to hit the mark.

Chiffonista said...

I might be misunderstanding, but is sounds like the agent has requested the major changes? /After/ having sent it out to four places? And only to four?

If that's the case, I might be looking for another agent.

Cynthia Bronco said...

"The agent is seeing problems, and the problems are what you need to discuss more than the specific suggestions. Understand the problems, and ideally you will come up with your own solutions that you both like better. "
--greta lagarbeaux

Actually I like that advice a whole lot better than mine.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author:

Bad news. Your agent obviously does not understand your book. He may or may not be able to sell your work, but he will probably never be able to grasp its value, which means that it's clear what you must do: Run.

Don't wait for him to terminate your contract. Terminate it yourself, immediately. In your present situation, this is the best thing for all parties. True, your agent might be annoyed if you walk out on him now -- but in the long run, he will be happier for it. Trust me on this.

Posting this as anonymous because if I put my name on it, someone I know may notice the dripping sarcasm and have their picture of me as a nice, friendly person destroyed forever

(More seriously, follow Greta Lagarbeaux' advice, above. It's golden.)

Anonymous said...

I don't know about making changes for an agent. This whole idea of agent as editor really bothers me.

Use your common sense and go with your gut. It's your book. Your journey.

Janny said...

As someone who made changes for an agent before she even offered representation (I know, I know, we're all born naked and stupid...), part of me wants to say unless there's a contract in the offing, stop making changes until this agent has shopped this novel to a few more places!

The situation is additionally complicated by the notion that you don't mention that additional publishers want these changes...just that the agent does. I agree that it's important to find out WHY this agent--at this point in the game, and after he's already started submitting--is now finding problems he couldn't spot in the first place. I'm more concerned about the feeling I get that this agent is "learning as he goes," rather than anything he's asking you to do.

Bottom line, it's your book. If the agent is asking you to take a dark, murky, suspenseful read and turn it into a romp, you know that someone's missing a synaptic connection somewhere and you probably need to find out why. Other than that, be open to suggestions, but also be willing and able to defend the things you don't want to change. Chances are if you hit a happy medium in there somewhere, and your agent is only asking for changes that will actually improve the book, this will also improve your chances of selling it.

But approach this agent's methods with caution. Something doesn't smell quite right here, and it might be nothing more than the smell of an agent who's still a little "green."

Janny

Just Me said...

Greta put it beautifully. You shouldn't ignore these comments - but it's always best if, rather than just doing exactly what you're told, you come up with your own way to fix the problems. You're the writer, after all; you know this book as no one else does.

I was a freelance editor for years, and in my experience this is almost invariably what the best writers do. The weaker ones either do precisely what they're told, to the letter, or else throw hissy fits and refuse to touch the masterpiece.

What you and your agent (and hopefully, at some stage, you and your editor) need to figure out between you is: what are the underlying problems? and how can you fix them without doing anything that you feel will weaken the book?

Example: before my agent sent out my book, he wanted me to make about four changes, none of them huge. One of them I really, really couldn't make myself do. He wanted me to cut a section from the end of a chapter, and I *needed* that section. The underlying reason why he wanted me to make that cut, though, was that he felt - and he was right - that the pace was lagging. Once I realised that, I cut a longer section earlier in that same chapter, so that the action moved faster and I earned the pause at the end.

Ask the agent why he wants you to make these changes - what exactly he feels each of them will achieve. Then find your own way of achieving that.

Simon Haynes said...

The thing is, making changes to your book doesn't magically kill the old version. Spend some time working with this agent, make the required changes (or as someone else suggested, equivalent changes of your own devising) and see what happens. At the very least you'll have gained a free education in what it's like to work with an editor.
Down the track you can always revert to version 1.0 and who knows, you might come up with something halfway between the two which another agent will take on.

Anonymous said...

Chiffonista said...
I might be misunderstanding, but is sounds like the agent has requested the major changes? /After/ having sent it out to four places? And only to four?

If that's the case, I might be looking for another agent.

HOWEVER --
If the comments from the four editors included some basic information in common, to send it out to more editors just for the sake of sending it out, would spoil the manuscript for the market.
I'd pay careful attention to why the book didn't sell to those editors, look at the revisions the agent wants made, and then decide if the changes would help.
I'd rather change and send a fresh manuscript out rather than have an agent try to sell a shopworn one.

Anonymous said...

Several agents offered to represent my novel and ALL wanted changes. I made every change suggested by the agent I chose--and, in more subtle ways, some suggested by the ones I didn't (because, disturbingly, all the comments were different, which I took to mean that editors and reviewers might also have those varied reactions). Strangely, as Simon Haynes says, making changes doesn't destroy the old work. Nor do conflicting comments really have to conflict. Miss Snark isn't wild about agents as editors, I know, but I'm grateful to have a close and supportive reader who also knows the market.