Monday, September 23, 2013

When in doubt: CC YOUR AGENT

When you're new to working with an agent (or heck, even when you aren't!) -- it's hard to know what is an appropriate level of communication. You don't want to seem pushy or demanding - but you also don't want them to forget about you. You get emails from your publisher, and maybe you aren't sure what's important and what isn't -- and you know your agent is busy, so you don't want to seem like you are pestering them -- so you leave them out of the loop.

I can't speak for every agent, obviously, and some might feel differently. But for ME:

I want your relationship with your editor to be about mutual respect and art and writing and craft and love and flowers and rainbows. If there are terrible conversations to be had (and I'm sorry to tell you, but there probably WILL be at some point) . . . I want to be the one to have them. Part of my job is to be a buffer between you and publisher drama* -- so please, let me be there, that's part of why I get a commission.

I don't need to be involved if the conversation you're having is chatty. I don't really need to be involved if the conversation you're having is editorial (though you can certainly loop me in if you want to, and I do find it fun to see the different visions editors have.**)

However, I do need to be involved if the conversation happening is about business. That means: Deadlines, money, subrights, anything about your contract, your unsold projects or option books, your cover, marketing, etc, I need to be IN the loop. It's so easy to just cc me. You aren't bothering me. I'd rather know too much than too little.

If you are in doubt about whether or not this is a time for you to cc your agent, err on the side of cc'ing. Even if there's no problem and I don't chime in, I want to have what is said on record, and I want to be able to jump in if necessary. If the publisher forgets to cc me, you can just add the cc in your response. I can't know what is happening with you unless you tell me. It's best if you don't wait until there's a fire to call me up in a panic --  go ahead and cc me on the spark. 

* To piggyback on the point about Publisher Drama, I beg you, if you are ever tempted to fire off an irate note to your publisher about ANYTHING, please, please, sit on your hands for a few hours, do some deep breathing, and then send your complaints to your agent instead. Here's an excellent post from Rachelle Gardener which talks about how you should "Let your agent be the bad guy.
"One of the primary advantages of having an agent is that you have an advocate who can handle all the negotiations with the publisher and navigate difficult territory, allowing you to maintain a positive working relationship with everyone at your publishing house.

This positive relationship can have huge implications when it comes time for a publisher to decide whether they want to work with you again. It can also affect how you’re treated— whether it’s with respect, with kid gloves, or with dread. Most importantly, it can determine whether your publishing experience is mostly pleasant and rewarding… or not."
 ** ETA: I really want my authors to develop GREAT relationships with their editors, and that means having conversations that are just artist-to-editor at times. BUT. If you are my client, and you are having an editorial disagreement or miscommunication, or you don't understand something, or. . . well, ANYTIME you want an ear about stuff, I am there. I love these books too, so I really do care how the process is going!

I didn't say this above, but I also really want to be cc'ed when you deliver the final ms so I can have a copy of it AND so I can start chasing the check.

And, your agent should be the one to send new work to your editor, even when you have a good relationship with them. I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH: Please don't send new work to your editor, even if they ask for it, without at least giving your agent a heads-up first. One of the worst feelings I have ever had is when an editor called me to say, "we need to talk about this manuscript, it needs major surgery" . . . and I had no idea what she was talking about, because I'd never seen it. Ack.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On Conference Critiques

This month (and, who are we kidding, probably next month too!) I'm working on critiques from my Writer's Digest Webinar back in July. If you are still waiting for your critique, thank you for your patience.

As I said during the webinar, I'm aiming to get these done within 60 days of receipt. So if you sent yours July 11 (the first possible date) -- you should already have your crit. If you sent it in August 11 (the deadline) -- you should have it back by October 11. If it hasn't been 8 weeks, please don't stress out; If it HAS been more than 8 weeks, perhaps your crit got lost somehow -- by all means follow up.

For the record, I had about 200 critiques, and it takes me about 20 minutes per critique. When I am REALLY CRANKING, I can do maybe 6 an hour (10 minutes each) - but that kind of speed is super rare and unsustainable. Because it takes me a few minutes between each one to get into the "headspace" - forget what I just read and commented on, and start the new one with fresh eyes. And if I don't take breaks to walk around or stretch or snack, I tend to start to get cranky or misunderstand what I am reading. So yeah. 20 minutes is more realistic. (If you just crunched the numbers, that's 66.6 hours. I'm not going to read any significance into that number!)

And obviously, I have a full-time "real job" to do during the work week. So all of this is getting done in the dead of night and on weekends. You'll notice that your responses have time stamps of mostly between 11pm and 2am.

Hey, I don't mind, it's fun to see what people are working on, and it keeps me off the streets. BUT I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about conference critiques in general.

Quite often, agents find themselves doing critiques for conferences they attend. These may be short ones, like I am doing now - or they may be the 10 or so pages of the author's work, and/or a synopsis or query letter.

I know that sometimes people are disappointed after crits. They might have built up the potential in their heads. "They are gonna love this so much they'll offer to rep me!" or "They are going to give me THE KEY to the problem with my manuscript that is holding me back!" or similar. I hate to break it to you: That probably won't happen. But because of the excitement and nerves, I do understand it can be a real let-down when the actual critique comes and is just . . . ordinary.

Maybe the author gets their feelings hurt by what they feel is a harsh comment, or else they feel the critiquer is soft-pedaling and ONLY saying nice things and not giving them stuff to work on. Maybe the critiquer obviously just wasn't feelin it, or completely misunderstood the point of the work. It happens!

Keep in mind that, first of all, it is very hard to critique such a brief sample - - there may be "problems" or moments of confusion I see in the first page or two that will be addressed immediately after the sample. I'm just not able to know the whole story from the out-of-context pages I'm looking at. So please take my critique (or ANY critique) with a big grain of salt.

As I say to the people getting these crits:

You are awesome for diving in to the deep and and being serious about writing. You are doing what millions of people only dream about. But even the most dedicated and genius writer may get critiques that sting, or notes where the reader obviously just didn't "get it."

Remember that critiques of pages are not personal attacks or critiques of YOU. And ultimately, it's YOUR BOOK. If you think an editor or agent's notes are way off base, you certainly aren't required to do anything about them.

Nobody knows this story better than you or cares about this story more than you. So take what resonates with you and forget the rest. Critiques are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to be life-changing. But I do hope they can be a bit helpful at least. Good luck!