Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Agent Feedback

In a comment recently I was asked to explain further why agents do or don’t give feedback and when it should be expected, if ever.

Honestly, feedback should never be expected and is never owed an author. Not when the material is unsolicited, and not even when it’s a requested full. I know, I know. It’s the polite thing to do. If an author sends you a full manuscript then the least an agent can do is give feedback, right? Wrong. In fact, in some cases the most damaging thing an agent can do is give feedback.

Let’s look at it this way. How many published books have you read that you absolutely hated? Your friends and family raved about them, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out why. You thought the plot was trite, the characters weak, and overall it was a painful read. If that’s the way I feel about your book, do you really want my feedback? Clearly my opinion about your work is nothing but an opinion and probably won’t do you any good anyway, especially if another agent feels differently. All my feedback would do for you in this instance is stress you out, make you feel like you haven’t a chance at getting published, and give you nothing to work with.

What if I just found it boring? I can’t pinpoint why or how it can be fixed without telling you to start over. The book was nothing but a snooze. Is this going to help you? No, probably not, and, again, another agent might feel completely differently.

Some agents or agencies have a policy never to give feedback unless they really feel they want to open a line of communication and see more work from an author. Others are less discriminating and will give feedback when they feel they have something to say or have the time. I’m of the less discriminating variety. If I truly find there are one or two things that I think are problematic, I’ll happily let you know. Truthfully, though, if there were only one or two things that were the problem, then I’d probably offer representation or ask you to make revisions and resubmit. Usually it’s bigger and broader than that. Usually it’s the characterization. Something that can’t be fixed easily. Or a plot issue. Again, usually something that can’t easily be fixed. And often it’s a little of both. Sometimes I just took on something similar or I don’t see a big enough market for it.

So what I’m trying to say here is that the trouble with giving feedback is that it always makes the problem look simple. Like if the author just made one quick change you’d have a sale. Since that’s rarely the case, feedback is really a catch-22. While it’s interesting to see what the agent has to say, it’s not necessarily going to help you in the way you want.