Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Agent myths -- you must change everything

Maven Carrie RyanRecently, I've been blogging about myths that many of us hear about agents. I started this theme based on a few tidbits I overheard at a conference and just wanted to be able to throw my spin on things.

So, at that conference I heard an author talking about how you should be careful about the details you tell an agent about your story. The idea is that if you know an agent doesn't like things like... say... a story set on a star-ship, you shouldn't pitch that your story is set on a star ship and should instead highlight other aspects of your story.

And while I totally agree with the fact that you should highlight your strengths in light of what an agent is looking for, the advice I heard went farther than that. The advice was -- if an agent doesn't like a star-ship setting, you should be willing to rewrite your entire manuscript based on that even before the agent makes an offer or shows interest.

Here's the thing... agents definitely ask for revisions, even before signing clients. And I think trying to figure out whether to tackle those revisions and re-submit is a difficult choice. The advice I've seen most often is that if you agree with the revision requests you should go ahead and do them. If you don't agree, you should think twice. And I tend to agree with this.

But I don't agree with re-setting and changing everything about your story on the off chance that doing so will please an agent who hasn't even given an opinion on your story. To me, this ties in with my post from last week -- feeling like agents are these terrifying beats. They're not -- they're there to work with the author to present the best story possible.

When I was submitting The Forest of Hands and Teeth I was convinced that agents would reject me the moment they saw the word "zombie" in the query. Worse than that, I fully assumed that my query would be sent around from agency to agency to be laughed at. "Zombies!" they would all shout, "This girl wanted me to sell a book about zombies!" This is one of the main reasons I queried my agent, Jim -- I knew that he'd recently sold a book about zombies and therefore wouldn't laugh at me!

In the end, I took a chance with my zombie query and it worked out, even though I expected nothing but laughter. And so I feel very strongly that you shouldn't be willing to compromise your story on the off chance an agent may possibly not be interested. First of all, if you do it right, the agent will often be interested. Second of all, if you find the right agent, they'll love it.

So take that chance. Yes, be aware of the market and what agents and editors are looking for, but don't be willing to sacrifice your book because one agent might, on a whim, not be interested. You want an agent just as excited about your book, your ideas, and your writing style, as you are.

What do you think? Should you be willing to sacrifice parts of your book to gain agent interest?


Diana Peterfreund said...

Still not sure how you got that "zombie" notion in your head.

B.E. Sanderson said...

After reading your post, I'm sitting here a little aghast that anyone would just randomly change key components of their manuscript on the off chance someone might not like it as is. It's their work for petesakes. That would be akin to a girl getting plastic surgery to please a boy she's only seen from across the lunchroom. Egads. Editorial suggestions from an agent you trust are one thing, and I agree that you should think hard before making changes you don't believe in, but out of the blue based on some misguided notion - that's just tragic. Poor little stories hacked to bits for no good reason. =o(

Bill Clark said...

Should you be willing to sacrifice parts of your book to gain agent interest?

IMO, no, for all the reasons you and b.e. allege. Especially if you haven't yet signed with an agent.

Once you've signed, it's a different story (so to speak). If s/he wants major changes, you need to decide whether you agree or not. And if you fundamentally don't agree, maybe you need to look for a new agent.

Speaking of that, I would *love* to see a post on switching agents. People do, you know. I have a friend who is feeling that her agent has either stopped caring about her work, or is too busy with other "bigger" clients to pay much attention to her. To me, this says "time to change."

But perhaps that's easier said than done. What do you and the other Mavens think about this?

Evangeline Holland said...

I think it's give and take. Rather similar to the relationship one has with a critique group/partner. If you trust your agent and they trust you, it's worthwhile to take their advice into consideration. Everything is subjective, but this is still a business.

Carrie Ryan said...

Oh, I totally agree with you la belle about the give and take. This particular advice was about changing things before an agent offered or even considered your work. I think things def. change once you're either about to sign with an agent or have signed with an agent.

Nice analogy be!

I wish I knew, Diana! I have no idea, but I was convinced I'd get laughed at!

Bill, you're right that people switch agents for all sorts of reasons -- it's all about finding the right fit and sometimes (just in other areas of life) it takes a few tries to get that fit. I just happened to be luck the first time around :)

JenWriter said...

How ridiculous! Changing a story to suit the needs of an agent you don't even know is even interested. That'd be like me taking elves out of my story just so Colleen Lindsay would like it.

Darcy Burke said...

I can't imagine changing my story for every agent I queried. Ugh. You're looking for a love connection and hopefully you wouldn't change your book just as you wouldn't change yourself. Uh, right?

Jackie Barbosa said...

Darcy said it so well, I can't really top that! An agent should love your work, therefore, you should send the agent YOUR work, not the work you THINK the agent will love.

And zombies...surely you jest ;)!

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