Or is it the writer vs. the agent? This is the thing that will not die, and it probably should go down in a violent and ugly death.
I’ve been browsing agent web sites and writer web sites where everyone is ringing in on the agentfail/writerfail. I think a large part of the frustration stems from unrealistic expectations on the parts of some writers, who feel that agents won’t look at their work unless they can promise something that whitens and brightens and will Oprahfy your life in some magical way. I can only give you the benefit of my own experience.
A long time ago, I met an agent at a convention, and he agreed to look at my work. We developed an agent/writer relationship, and he was the rarest of animals, an editing agent. He really worked with me and made numerous helpful suggestions to make my novel better, but I was very young (early twenties) and I had to be true to my art. Of course the book never sold, though it was marketed to another agent, who read the entire novel, and to several publishing houses. It was rejected everywhere. I believed in that novel, and I couldn’t understand why no one else could. However, real life took over for several years, and while I continued to write, I ceased writing fiction.
Fast forward to 2007-08. I took a couple of writing classes that emphasized the structure of the novel in addition to characterization. During these classes, I remembered a lot of the advice that first agent tried to give me, and I realized that he had been trying to tell me to fix the structure of the novel.
I went back and re-read my first novel. I gave it to my daughter, who LOVES fantasy and has been known to read with great enthusiasm novels that I would consider drivel. She got half-way through my first novel and lost interest. That novel lacked structure. That is why it never sold.
Not because there were bad agents or bad editors, but because the novel lacked structure. I can’t fix bad agents or bad editors, but I can fix the structure of a novel if I first admit there is something wrong with my writing. Today I am so grateful that novel didn’t get published. It’s a good novel, but it will need a serious overhauling before I will ever send it out again.
On a more recent note, I joined OWW in hopes of getting feedback for my current work, and they were hosting a synopsis focus group. I developed a deep and abiding empathy for agents during the time I was involved with that group. It was an excellent experience, and our moderator had the patience of Job. I realized that no matter how many different ways I revised my query, I would not please everyone.
My first query letter for my first novel was only three sentences describing the plot. Here’s what got me in the door: all the words were spelled correctly; the agency and agents’ names were spelled correctly; all the sentences were grammatically correct; it was a business letter.
I believe I’ve said it before, folks, it’s about professionalism. Yes, loads of drivel gets published, trust me, I’ve had to slog through some of it for book reviews, but there are also some very good, readable books out there. Learning to write is learning a craft. Some people tell stories because they love it; some people post their novels on their blogs, because they love to write, and they have their own fan base; and some people write books and self-publish because they don’t want to get caught up in all the marketing hyperbole that can infiltrate the publishing world.
BUT . . .
Agents and editors are in business, this is how they feed their families, and they are looking for professional writers who know how to conduct themselves as a business partner. To waste time pointing my finger at the failings of agents and editors means that I’m not working to rectify the defects in my novel or my own failings as a writer.
At that point, I have failed myself.
Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock