Monday, September 22, 2008

Disagreeing With Your Agent

Is it right/wrong/stupid for a writer to disagree with her agent's revision suggestions?

The right thing to do is what’s best for your book. With this particular question the reader explained that her agent suggested she remove a chapter in the novel, and while the author was concerned, she did it anyway (and made some revisions). Now editors are rejecting the book and the author is feeling that removing this chapter was part of the problem. And of course now, after expressing her concern to her agent, the agent has become nonresponsive.

Is it wrong to disagree with your agent or express concerns about something your agent has done? Absolutely not! If you can’t have an open and honest relationship with your agent you shouldn’t have an agent at all.

I often give revisions and suggestions to my clients. In revisions I often give suggestions on possible fixes. Do I expect my clients to do things my way? No, I expect them to take what I say and pave their own way. Once a client even said to me, “I actually took your suggestion and did exactly what you said.” It made me laugh out loud.

The revision/editing process should be collaborative. What an agent suggests or advises should be taken under consideration, but followed through on only if you believe it works. Sometimes it’s not a matter of removing an entire chapter, but simply a matter of finding out from the agent why the chapter didn’t work for her and making it work in other ways.

If your agent stopped corresponding simply because you expressed concern that she might have been wrong, that’s wrong. And not someone I would want a professional relationship with. As far as I can tell, you did nothing wrong here. Try to open the lines of communication again and see what happens. If she still won’t respond it’s not you, it’s her. You can’t have a good working relationship with someone you can’t be honest with.

The author also asked if her manuscript was now considered “a ship that has sailed” as far as editors were concerned. In all likelihood yes. But keep in mind, one chapter is not going to make or break a book. If editors really felt passionate enough, that can be edited. I think blaming it on one missing chapter is making this process all too easy.



Mark Terry said...

Of course, my agent recently read my novel manuscript and said something along the lines of, "It's great until the ending, which is boring. Change it."

Not a lot of negotiations to be had there, I don't think.

I would also point out that I'm drawing a total blank on how I might change it, so I'm giving it time to stew. Or not. Which is the nature of these things, from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Great insights, Jessica. I feel so frustrated for this writer. To finally get that golden chalice of representation we're all so desperate to hold, then to have that agent turn out to be aloof and prideful. It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s about what’s best for the book, market-wise and heart-wise.

My agent and I just finished a set of heavy revisions on my MS, taking out roughly 5,000 words. Bless her, she even went through the first several chapters (where the cuts needed to be made) and using track changes, showed me exactly what needed to be taken out.

Now, I don't expect her to do this every time, that's too much work for her. This is our first project together, and I'm still learning the ropes. But even with the cuts she made, there were parts--sentences or small paragraphs here and there--that I felt in my heart, as the writer, needed to stay for symbolism, foreshadowing, character development, etc…

My agent had no issue with me keeping those things when I explained why. And if she had, I would simply have tried to figure out another way to incorporate the info that we could both agree upon.

Agents, like writers, want to sell a quality product, and for this to come to fruition, they both need to deep-soul believe in it—-because enthusiasm for the product is key to the sale.

Ergo, communication is key between the agent and the writer, along with respect for one another’s insights and concerns. I hope the writer of this quandary finds it all to be a misunderstanding and gets things squared away with her agent so they can get a book contract very soon…

Anonymous said...

My sympathies to the original poster. This is such a tough place to be.

I also have to disagree with Jessica's advice here, re: the fact that one chapter can make or break a book.

I think removing a whole chapter can really effect an editor's overall feeling about a book and lead to a rejection. Simply put, editors can't edit what's NOT there. It's easier for an editor to say, I love this, but you have to cut X and Y, than for them to majically create scenes in their head and apply them to your book.

The fact that the agent is now noncumunicative is a big red flag to me. I had an agent like this once. Wanted all kinds of rewrites that I knew in my heart weren't correct for my book. I did them anyway. That book did sell, but literally, everything that the agent "insisited" I do I then had to take out per the editor's request. Some of the editor's comments were brutal -- "This entire section is nothing but confusing, why is it even in here?; I'm baffled as to why character R would do/say/think this; This plot point has nothing to do with the rest of the story, etc..."

By the end of the process I felt like I'd rewritten the book twice, unecessarily.

When faced with my next book, the agent did the same thing. Absolutely demanding that I change X, Y and Z. No real discussion, no attempts made to hear my points.
I fired the agent.

Melissa Blue said...

Great advice. Revisions are really suggestions on how to make the book better. I think at times, on both sides, that can be lost in translation.

And if she had, I would simply have tried to figure out another way to incorporate the info that we could both agree upon.

That's key, because what it comes down to is something wasn't working for the agent i.e. the reader. And again it's what's best for the book.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, I do feel bad about the agent being nonresponsive. I think that is SO unprofessional and just rude. Human to human straight-up mean.
That said, how can missing one chapter mess up the entire book? Unless something big happened in that chapter and there's a whole bunch of unraveled plot threads because of the cut.
But you'd think those threads could be tied up in other chapters.
Good advice on going with the heart. And like someone else said, the agent wants to make money. He/she is going to suggest whatever they think is best.
It really stinks about the manuscript being dead in the water. I feel for your questioner and hope nothing like that ever happens to me.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm just finishing Barbara Rogan's Next Level workshop. Barbara is a retired agent and was an editor. Now she is a successful author and teacher. Long story short, I trust her advice implicitly.

Each lecture dissects 2,000-2,500 words from the novel. I took out the prologue that I loved on her advice. I really had to think about this because there was information in it I felt was necessary. After some stewing, I figured out how to add it to a chapter and have the same result with an interesting twist.

My opening changed radically. The ending is completely different.

Many times she has asked if this or that is necessary because she knows I am concerned about word count.

When I explain to her the reasons it has to stay, she gives me suggestions on how to tighten it or rework it, but keep the essentials. Sometimes I realize she is completely right and I can pick out what is necessary and drop it in elsewhere.

To me, this would be the perfect agent relationship. She wants me to keep the vision and my voice while training it to be more professional. Not that I expect an agent to be as thorough as she has been, but I appreciate her respect for my work.

If an agent became non-responsive because I disagreed with them, I would be looking for another agent.

I feel very sorry for this author. On the plus side, they know they have what it takes to finish a novel and if their next one sells, they might be able to dust this one off and rework it.

Anonymous said...

I think anytime an agent becomes non-responsive (assuming she isn't ill or on vacation) is cause for concern. My agent became non-responsive when my first book didn't sell. I eventually sent a termination letter.

Julie Weathers said...

But keep in mind, one chapter is not going to make or break a book. If editors really felt passionate enough, that can be edited. I think blaming it on one missing chapter is making this process all too easy.

I would agree even though I am not an editor. It seems like if the rest of the book is riveting, the editor would make suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jessica for this in-depth answer to my question.

I realize I am much at fault for my dilemma. At the proper time I did not fully explain to my agent my reasons for needing the chapter. I simply made the change, then stewed about it later.

I was a pivotal chapter and I tried to disburse the information throughout the book, but obviously failed.

The other revisions the agent suggested went well.

But, live and learn. I hope to hear soon from the agent. And I've begun another novel.

Anonymous said...

And thanks to everyone who commented!

Your words helped me immensely.