Thursday, March 02, 2006

Answer to Creative Intervention Comment

To what extent do literary agents generally get involved in the creative side of a writer's world? That is to say, I understand that the agents are looking for specific materials (as you've said). But, once a writer delivers that, does the agent simply sign the person, accept the manuscript as written, and proceed to hawk it to publishers? Or, does he or she also get involved in the writer's work and suggest creative directions and so forth? (This is assuming the writing is great to begin with, of course. I realize that an agent is not an editor.

Keep in mind, I can only speak to what we do at this agency, so other agents may respond differently. When we sign a client, almost all of the time her work is ready to send out to publishers. However, if minor tweaking is needed, we help our clients with that by offering suggestions and directions. As stated in your comment, we do not do complete edits on a writer’s work before we sign him nor after. This is not our job. Ours is to find a suitable publisher, to negotiate a fair and equitable contract, to advise, and to manage our client’s future career.

There have been cases recently where novels were very close to what was needed to fill an editor’s request and thus I tried to help those writers make their works ready. Unfortunately, most of the time, this has not worked well for me. Either the writer was not at level high enough to achieve a revision and rewrite or took my suggestions and went elsewhere. Consequently, and because of this, I am not as quick to work with someone other than my clients.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rejection

When I have a few free moments, I cruise the writer boards and it always strikes me that I see the same questions asked over and over again—and, of course, the same answers. One question that keeps cropping up is that of rejection and how agents feel about it. The reason, of course, is that no one likes to be rejected. I was shocked when a gorgeous girl told me once that her high school experience was awful. When asked why, she said it was because guys would not ask her out. When she finally did date a guy, in her senior year, she asked why he hadn’t ask her out sooner, he replied that he was afraid she would say no. How many times have you heard this?

Many really talented people never share their gifts with others because they are afraid of being laughed at. How many new writers hide what they have written for fear that someone will say their work is awful?

People hate all forms of rejection, thus it is somehow assumed that agents—purveyors of the word “No”—cannot be human and that being cruel is somehow a prerequisite for the job. We cannot be like everyone else because we reject people on a daily basis. Agents are thought to enjoy the power trip that rejecting writers gives us, because we reject so many. Yes, it is true that while most agents continually reject over 90% of what they see, I don’t know anyone who enjoys it. I certainly don’t. Unfortunately, it comes with the job.

What writers must understand, if they are to grow into the professionals they seek to be, is that you will always face the possibility of someone not liking your work. Rejection, after all, is just disagreement. A writer is saying that an agent should represent her work and that agent is saying no, for one of many possible reasons, he cannot represent your work.

There are very logical reasons why rejection occurs, and, if someone would ask why, I would tell them. However, most writers never ask. They just assume that I’m an agent and therefore mean and nasty and enjoy the power that comes with putting writers down.

Most rejections, at least 50%, could be avoided by doing a few simple things, the first of which is to visit an agent’s Web site (ours is http://www.wylie-merrick.com/). Because we despise rejection, we have posted there some things writers should know to avoid being rejected by us. However, if you blunder through and fire off queries in a haphazard fashion, you will get many, many nasty rejections, or just form letters. First and foremost, to avoid most rejections, you must be past the beginning writer stage and have attempted, and had critiqued, a few manuscripts. For instance, a woodworker usually crafts a number of pieces before he tries to sell one. However, writers seem to think a first draft of their first novel is somehow highly publishable. Sad to say, if you believe this, you have been sadly misled. Your high school English was right: Nothing is ever done on the first, or even the second, draft.

You want to know what I feel when I have to reject a writer? Mostly, what I feel is anger. Do you know why? Because with the information that every writer needs at his fingertips, there is no excuse for making the simple mistakes so many writers make. Yes, getting an agent is hard. Most times getting published is easier than finding and keeping a good agent. However, it’s nowhere near as difficult as many writers make it by not doing the required reading and researching. Even if agents overlooked what some writers consider little mistakes, like grammar and mechanics errors, many of the submissions we get are filled with other problems that could be resolved before the manuscript goes in the mail. Also, there is a certain amount of dues each person must pay to be accepted into any profession, and many of today’s writers want to skip over that part.

Every agent I’ve ever met is human, and I’ve never met an agent who was cruel—impatient, harried, absent-minded, overworked, almost blind—but never cruel. I also read somewhere it takes a two-year apprenticeship to become an agent. That’s way shy! Maybe two years before an agent can begin acquiring on his own, but people somehow forget that a person just doesn’t walk in off the street and become anything in publishing. You must have the required education and background before you are even considered to work the slush. Sure, many writers try to hang out a shingle and open an agency believing that somehow, through some stroke of blind luck, they can overcome the odds. Most of these agencies, however, wither on the vine after a year or so with zero income to show for their massive efforts.

So remember when you send us your work, make sure, first of all, that you’ve done your research, that we represent what you write, and that you have followed our guidelines.

Good luck in all that you do!!!
Robert