First off, an apology: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m cancelling this month’s round of “An Agent’s Inbox.” And because of the general contest weariness I’ve noticed around the blogosphere/Twitterverse of late, I’m holding off on scheduling another until after New Year’s. I’m so sorry to anyone who was counting on entering a round this year!
The online writing community has always seemed a little
preoccupied with the Editorial Agent. Someone asks about an agent's editorial-ness in almost every
interactive interview I host, and it’s one of the criteria Casey McCormick regularly
highlights on Literary Rambles.
I understand the preoccupation. We writers are an insecure
bunch. When people tell us we’re crap, we tend to believe them, but when they
praise our writing, we tend to get suspicious and make excuses for their opinions. (“They don’t
really think that, do they? They’re just saying that to be nice. Or maybe they
just have no idea what they’re talking about. I mean, last time I checked, this
manuscript was pretty lame.”)
This attitude can be especially destructive when we start
receiving offers on those “pretty lame” manuscripts. We want to sign with
someone who’s going to rip our stories apart, make them swifter, better, stronger,
so we might shy away from those who think our manuscripts are already good to
go simply because we suspect they’re joking or stupid or both.
But just because an agent thinks our manuscripts are pretty
good--or even great--as-is doesn’t make her wrong. She may just be a less editorial
agent. And she may know exactly what she’s talking about. Here’s why:
1. I’ve noticed less editorial
agents often have more clients, more sales, and more experience than their more
editorial counterparts. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, of course.
Some agents, no matter how long they’ve been in business, want to work with
their clients on fine-tuning their manuscripts, and even some newer agents are better
negotiators than editors. But usually, newer agents have more time for
everything, including client revisions, so their interest in revising is more of a reflection of where they’re at in their careers than the condition of our manuscripts.
2. Because less editorial
agents usually have more experience, their instincts are often right. Amazingly
enough, agents who’ve sold a lot of manuscripts tend to know what sells. So we shouldn’t
discount their opinions just because we’ve conditioned ourselves to discount
anyone who says our writing’s good. We should take those opinions as
revision doesn’t make a manuscript better, just different. Every agent,
every editor, and every reader is going to have a different vision for our
stories. Some visions are better than others (“Oh, wait, you think I should cut
the wizard out of my YA contemporary?”), but some are just different. So editorial
agents may have a million and one ideas for tweaking our manuscripts, but that
doesn’t mean those ideas are necessarily an improvement over what’s already
I really don’t dislike editorial agents; in fact, I suspect
that if I were an agent, I’d be an editorial one. And when you’ve got offers on
the table, you should always weigh your options rationally and go with your
gut. But don’t let whether an agent is more or less editorial hold undue sway. Remember,
an agent’s job isn’t really to edit your manuscript--it’s to sell your manuscript
to someone who will.