3 pieces of bad news your agent wants to hear
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
No, agents don’t enjoy receiving bad news. But we do want to be the first to hear certain details of how the writing process is going that writers don’t tend to willingly divulge.
1. I’m going to miss my deadline. Despite having been an agent for 16 years, I’m still surprised at how frequently authors engage in magical thinking when it comes to meeting deadlines. Most authors know how many decent words they can write per day. If that number is 5,000, but as you study the calendar and realize you have to output 12,000 per day, it’s a pretty sure bet you’re going to miss your deadline. When you add into the equation life’s disruptions–parents needing to be moved into assisted living; a spouse battling health issues; a child needing speech therapy; the writer needing sleep–it adds up to a missed deadline regardless how many times you redo the math.
So one would think an author would sigh deeply, utter a prayer for grace and mercy, and phone his or her agent. That would be the right thing to do. Then the agent could go to the editor, explain the problem, and bring the editor, author and agent together to mitigate the mistake. Because a missed deadline is costly to a publishing house both in terms of marketing dollars that might already be spent (and can’t be retrieved); sales to outlets that might already be placed (and are unlikely to be held until the book is completed); and the time and energy of the marketing and publicity staff.
The longer the author holds the awful truth inside rather than confessing it, the more damage is done (both to the author’s psyche and to the publishing process). Therefore, never, ever keep racing down the path, chasing after daily word counts and missing the count again and again.
Call your agent.
2. I hate my book’s cover. Sometimes authors assume that, after giving feedback on the cover, their duty is to just accept the cover, even if it gives them the shivers every time they look at it. Most agents want to see the cover when you do; not every publishing house remembers to include the agent in the viewing. So make sure your agent is part of the process, tell your agent what you really think about the cover, and let your agent do the rest.
Not that we can address every issue you have or force a disinterested publishing house into paying attention to your opinion, but we certainly know how to talk about your concerns in a way that makes sense to the publisher. Your agent can also give you perspective. You might hate the color green, and yet that’s precisely the color the designer chose for your book cover. Your color preferences count zilch. The cover is your book’s “ad,” and its job is to: stand out on a bookshelf; look good when the size of a thumb; reflect the tone of your book; appeal to the book’s intended audience. If the color green conveys the wrong message about the book, then the agent has solid ground to stand on in asking for a change.
One of my clients was shown a historical novel cover that was done in a sepia tone. She loved it and quickly told the publisher so. I hadn’t even looked at it yet; so I was in an awkward place when I did look and realized the cover would not fulfill its intended purposes. The art made the book look like a history text or a nonfiction book on that era; it all became a muddy blend of nothing when reduced in size; it wasn’t going to appeal to historical novel readers. Knowing I was about to plunge into a thorny thicket, I volunteered to the publisher that the cover wouldn’t do at all. That was awkward because my client already had virtually high-fived the designer, and now I was saying, “No, no, we have to go back to the drawing board and start all over.” Yeah, right.Fortunately the publisher did change the cover design, and the final cover accomplished everything it needed to do.
Tell your agent what you think of your cover, and then let your agent give both of your responses to the publisher.
3. The editing on my manuscript is inept. With publishing houses using more and more free-lance editors or moving in-house staff into editorial positions with inadequate editing training, the chances of a manuscript being mishandled are greater than ever. One of my clients was asked by his editor to break writing rules such as point of view. Another client’s manuscript was chainsawed by an overzealous editor. Still another tried to convince herself a writing miracle must have occurred when she “penned” her manuscript. For when she looked at her edited copy, she found only a few marks on it. In actuality, the editor rushed through the process rather than being thorough. Despite these egregious editing maneuvers, not one of my clients phoned me to let me know there was a problem. Instead, they informed me long after the editing process. Nor did my clients let the in-house editor know of the problems.
Listen to your instincts that tell you an editor is mishandling your manuscript and inform your agent–when it’s happening, not after the fact.
Why do you think authors hesitate to alert their agents to problems?
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