Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
One of the hardest parts of being an agent is when we need to have a difficult conversation with an author. What are some of these difficult conversations, and what can you expect if you find yourself involved in one?
#1: “This book isn’t going to work.”
You’ve written your “next” book—your third or your fifth or your eighth—and sent it to your agent, or perhaps to the publisher. The agent or editor reads the manuscript and… things aren’t going well. Could be the subject matter is all wrong, or the tone is off, or the plot isn’t well constructed, or the characters aren’t jumping off the page, or you’ve simply strayed too far from the brand you’ve established.
A serious internal wrestling sets in, as the agent or editor thinks about options. Maybe it just needs a good edit. Maybe it’s not a lost cause. Maybe we can tweak a few things… maybe… maybe…
But we realize we simply can’t sell this, and it’s unlikely an edit will help. Now we stress about telling you. You’ve agonized for months over this manuscript. How can I tell you it’s not going to work?
This is hard on both you and your agent (and/or editor). It doesn’t mean the manuscript will never get published. But it’s the agent’s job to help you not only get published, but get well-published. It’s my job to keep my eye on your long-term writing career. I can’t be afraid to tell you the truth. Neither of us wants anything except your best work out there.
So if this happens to you, the only way to respond is, “Okay, so what do I need to do?” Take a couple days to cry/rage/decide to quit writing forever… then dig in and get back to work. You’re a professional—you can handle this!
#2: “I shopped it till I dropped… but nobody’s buying.”
I only take on projects I believe I can sell, so it’s disappointing when there’s little publisher interest. It’s tough to have this conversation with an author, because their inevitable response is, “Aren’t there more publishers you can send it to?” Usually by the time we need to have this conversation, the answer is no. So what do we do now?
→ If the manuscript got to the pub committee at some houses, then we were close. We probably got some feedback, so we’ll move forward based on that. Maybe it’s a rewrite; with nonfiction, maybe it’s spending a year or so building a platform.
→ If the manuscript never got past an editor, then we know we weren’t close. We’ll have to honestly assess if the project is salvageable.
→ Your agent might tell you she feels you should set this one aside, and work on a different project.
If your agent decides to let this project go altogether, it’s probably because the process of shopping it, getting feedback, etc., has convinced her that it’s not viable for any of the traditional publishers she knows. At this point, you’ll want to discuss how you can best spend your time. Move on to something new? Try to self-publish this one? Some combination of both? Regardless of what you end up doing, this is not a fun place to be, and your agent doesn’t like it any more than you do.
#3: “Don’t take this personally… but it’s personal.”
Oddly enough, I dread this difficult conversation more than any of the others. It goes something like this:
I hate to bring this up but:
…your headshot doesn’t look friendly or inviting
…your website needs an overhaul
…your blog content could use improvement
…your Facebook page needs work
This stuff IS personal, and difficult to talk about. But I’m helping the author build and maintain a successful career, and everything counts! You want your public image to be inviting, so people will want to buy and read your books.
Years ago, I had to talk to an author about hairstyle and clothing choices. Ugh, I would’ve rather done anything but that! What an awkward thing to talk about. I pulled it off by coming at it from the side, saying, hey, I have this stylist that I think you should talk to – she’s really great at helping authors refine their image. In the end she accepted it okay and I was probably more uncomfortable than she was. But I’ve never forgotten how much I hated having to do it.
If you’re ever in this situation and your editor or agent speaks to you about something personal, please understand: She didn’t want to have this conversation! But she believes it’s important for you, so she took the leap. Try not to be offended and instead, be grateful that someone cared enough to have this difficult conversation with you.
What are some difficult publishing-related conversations you’ve had? If you haven’t had any yet, what are the ones you dread the most?
Image copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo