What is it like to work with a literary agent?
A few weeks ago, my agent sent me her revision notes for AFFECTIVE NEEDS. These notes are what I'm currently working on so I thought I would do a post on the collaboration aspect of working within the traditional publishing landscape.
Let me start off by saying, I hope this is THE ONE--the book that sells to a traditional house. I imagine that my agent feels the same way because while we have a wonderful working relationship, and are always so happy to chat on the phone or exchange holiday goodies, but she might be a wee bit over working with me for free by now (I'm just assuming here, seeing how important money is for LIVING and all :-) At the end of the day, she only gets paid from working with me if we can sell one of my books--and this will be the third one I've sent to her.
The first was, of course, ASCENDANT. This was the book I queried her with and the book she signed me up for. This was also the book where I learned about "The Land of Submission" which should be written about by Dr. Seuss and illustrated with befuddled and confused looking characters wandering, aimless, and wearing drab colors. The Land of Submission can stretch on for days, weeks, months, and unfortunately in my case with ASCENDANT, years. In the end, we were close but no cigar.
(Oh, just remembered, Seuss did writing about The Land of Submission but he called it The Waiting Place. *shudder*)
The second book, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, I sent her this time last year. It was simply not her cup of tea. And while she offered to work on it with me and shop it around, I decided to self-publish this title and focus my traditional publishing efforts on a story idea of mine that probably had greater potential in interesting a traditional editor.
Now my third attempt, AFFECTIVE NEEDS. This has been my most intentional book so far. This was the book where I married "the story I want to write" with "what the industry is actively looking for." One thing I did take away from The Land of Submission was that if you are willingly going to enter into that submission desert with no clear idea of when you may exit, you should probably make sure you're armed with material that has a good shot.
While always remembering that, even with a wonderful agent, there are NO GUARANTEES a large traditional publisher will sign you.
A lesson I won't ever forget.
So, here we are with material that has a good shot. My agent loves AFFECTIVE NEEDS--but it still needs work :-)
Enter The Presub Revision Letter (or simply "agent notes" if you tend towards the less dramatic.) I am right now looking at this document as I write this post. It is a two page single spaced blow by blow that starts with the broad story problems and ends with page and/or line specific dial-in of particulars she feels needs revision.
What this document is:
- A map to making your book much, much better
- An ego stroke
- I love it
- You need to work on some things
- But remember I love it
The Presub Revision Letter (agent-notes) is the next level. It is nothing but critique (the "love" must be implied--because why on earth would she put so much work, time, and effort into a project she hated? It's your job to simply remember that in the back of your mind and get to work on each suggestion, one by one (or Bird by Bird if you prefer ;-)
And it is more work than you think, but it helps if you have a few tricks to organize and manage the work load.
Up next: How to organize your revision process so you don't get overwhelmed and go crazy. (Maybe I'll have to think up a shorter title.)
P.S. one thing I didn't mention, not all agents get hands on and do editorial revisions--so I guess you shouldn't just automatically expect your agent, or any agent really, to do this. I'm just very fortunate that mine does :-)