Just how much is an agent responsible for, anyway? Erin Hosier enlightens us.
"I just finished listening to the webinar you did with Amanda Moon on May 7th. I’ve published two books, and still, I learned a lot. You made a comment about 48 minutes in about the relationship between writers and agents, that sometimes the agent does all s/he can do but “the writer can’t make it happen,” and that often this happens when people “aren’t writers first.”
Maybe you couldn’t go into much detail there, given the kind of forum you were participating in. I wondered if you might be willing to be more candid. Part of the reason I joined SheWrites is to learn how I can be a better, smarter advocate for my work and build more effective relationships with agents and editors and the publishing industry."
By now we’ve heard a lot about the changing landscape of publishing
, where agents do more editing than ever before, and that editors do less close editing and more of everything else. Now more than ever, if you’re serious about getting published, your manuscript or proposal has to be as perfect as humanly possible when it comes time to submit it to publishers. It simply is not enough to have a great platform, but a sloppy or unoriginal proposal. It isn’t enough to have a compelling idea if the execution feels rushed or you haven’t seen the idea all the way through or anticipated the challenges. It’s also not enough to be famous if you’re not willing to trust your advisors, to work with a writer if necessary, and to promote the book when it comes out.
I’ve worked with all kinds of writers – journalists, novices, experts and their co-writers
, celebrities who want to do it alone, novelists with MFAs, novelists without. Many of the memoirs I’ve sold have been written by people who never necessarily anticipated they’d be authors. Rather, they had a life experience
that seemed worthy of a memoir. What published memoirists often have in common is a consistently compelling voice
and a willingness to take direction. More often than not they trusted what their agent or first readers told them, made the changes that were suggested, weren’t precious about lost paragraphs, sections, titles, chapters or first impressions. In other words they were able to take direction, but then take that direction a step or two further. And hopefully they accepted that there are still also no guarantees.
Sometimes this work comes down to personalities. I’ve worked with writers for whom every editorial pass was excruciating. They often want to get together in person to discuss why such and such isn’t working. They want to argue their point to me or later, with an editor who has rejected them (“Why can’t the manuscript be submitted at 650 pages? There was that one thousand page novel that sold last year for 2 million.”) Whatever the issue, it can feel like a standoff. I usually try not to devote more than three editorial passes (anymore) with an author, and if we’re still at an impass about the work at that time, I will often move ahead with the submission, accepting the possibility that I could be wrong and acknowledging after all that it is my job to do the author’s bidding. In other words, I have gone out with projects that I was pretty sure were not going to make the cut, but I knew it would appease the author to get the feedback from actual publishers.
No one is always right, but if I have invested my time and hard work into your manuscript or proposal, having been drawn to it in the first place because I had a hunch I could sell it, then I can usually predict how and where it will fit into the marketplace. If something doesn't sell, or sells for significantly less than the author was hoping for, I’m sure there are times when she feels that I have failed her. That's something that weighs on me and most of the agents I know. But it's a difficult line - you can't write the book for your client, and you can't force a publisher to say yes.
If you’re in it to be a serious author, you do need to click with your agent. You absolutely do not have to be friends with them, but you should respect that they’re on your side and therefore the side of the book. You should shop around for your agent
, and ask other clients or editors about their experience with that person. You should familiarize yourself with the competition, the marketplace, the latest competing titles, whatever you can do to feel more secure in your choice. You should listen to their advice, keep an open mind about editorial changes, and challenge yourself. You should prepare yourself for inevitable rejection, always. And above all you shouldn’t let your book project be the source of your self-esteem.
I often think that publishing a book is the hardest thing you will ever do for the least payoff. While it's not coal mining, it is brutal work, and unless you're one of the lucky few, readers can feel like a handful of dear friends instead of the legion of admirers you deserve. It's not for everyone. But I want you to know that we share your frustration - the editors, publishers, publicists and agents - many of us struggling writers ourselves, and eager to be your best costumer, and no matter what, your advocate.