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What Happens When Your Agent Doesn't Like Your Newest Book?

“I love it!” That’s what I hoped my agent (let’s call her Agent A) would say when she read the manuscript of what is now my book, LOYALTY. After all, I’d spent a year writing the manuscript based on her feedback of the first fifty pages. I loved Fina Ludlow, the Boston private investigator I’d created, and felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. But Agent A didn’t love it. In fact, she told me, “I can’t sell this.” A couple of years earlier, I’d signed with Agent A based on an amateur sleuth series I’d written. She loved that protagonist and worked hard to sell the manuscript, but publishers weren’t biting. When it became clear to me that that the series was going nowhere fast, I decided to flex my writing muscles and create a new character; Fina Ludlow and her family of ambulance chasing attorneys were born. So what happens when you love the work, but your agent doesn’t? I faced a dilemma that writers and other creative types encounter routinely. How do you decide which advice to incorporate into your writing and which to relegate to the “thanks, but no thanks” folder?

“I love it!”

That’s what I hoped my agent (let’s call her Agent A) would say when she read the manuscript of what is now my book, LOYALTY. After all, I’d spent a year writing the manuscript based on her feedback of the first fifty pages. I loved Fina Ludlow, the Boston private investigator I’d created, and felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. But Agent A didn’t love it. In fact, she told me, “I can’t sell this.”

A couple of years earlier, I’d signed with Agent A based on an amateur sleuth series I’d written. She loved that protagonist and worked hard to sell the manuscript, but publishers weren’t biting. When it became clear to me that that the series was going nowhere fast, I decided to flex my writing muscles and create a new character; Fina Ludlow and her family of ambulance chasing attorneys were born. So what happens when you love the work, but your agent doesn’t? I faced a dilemma that writers and other creative types encounter routinely. How do you decide which advice to incorporate into your writing and which to relegate to the “thanks, but no thanks” folder?

ingrid-thoft-author-writer
loyalty-cover-thoft-book

Column by Ingrid Thoft, who was born in Boston and is a graduate of
Wellesley College. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a
believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private
investigation at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle
with her husband. LOYALTY is her first novel. Of the book,
Entertainment Weekly said, "Kinsey Millhone, you've got
competition. This firecracker of a series starter is a perfect
summer read." Find Ingrid on Facebook. Or on Twitter.

The most important factor, in my mind, is, does the advice make your work better? Does it improve the flow, the prose or the characters? Does it make things less confusing for the reader or heighten the suspense? Or does the advice just make it different?

Once I got over the disappointment of Agent A’s response, I looked closely at her feedback and her feelings about the manuscript. I concluded that her objections were more a matter of personal taste than craftsmanship. She didn’t feel an affinity for Fina and wanted me to soften her rough edges and biting wit. Agent A wasn’t excited about selling the book, and though it stung, I appreciated her honesty and could even understand it. When I browse in a bookstore, there are plenty of books that have earned raves, but aren’t my personal taste. My decision to bypass a well-received book that perhaps takes place in a stark landscape and involves time travel is a reflection of my interests, not the book itself.

(Book Payments and Royalties -- Your Questions Answered.)

Had I taken Agent A’s advice, I would have ended up with a different book, but not the book I wanted to write—just as LOYALTY wasn’t a book she thought she could sell. Instead of continuing down a path that suited neither of us, we parted company on good terms, and I queried agents who represented books in the mystery/thriller category featuring private investigators. I found my current agent, and she sold the book on its first submission.

But there’s a small twist to the story: before offering me a publishing contract, my editor wondered if I’d be willing to make changes to the manuscript. Uh oh. I reviewed her notes and concluded that her suggestions would make the story better. Two critical characters, Fina’s mentor, Frank Gillis, and his wife, Peg, resulted from this feedback. The addition of these characters did make the story a bit different, but more importantly, their presence made it better. My editor’s feedback enhanced the story and made me love it even more, which is what makes her a fantastic editor.

So the next time an agent or editor gives you feedback, the first thing you should do is listen. It may be hard to hear, but you can do it, and you need to do it if you want to survive in publishing. Once the sting has lessened, review the feedback with your work’s best interest in mind, not your ego’s. If the advice enhances your work, accept it as the gift it is. However, if it changes the work, and not for the better, perhaps you need to make a different kind of change.

(What a James Cameron movie can teach writers about how to start your story strong.)

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