The relationship between an agent and an author can be tenuous and precarious, but also filled with amazing success and enlightenment. When you work with an agent our job is to tell the author the facts about their work. Even though an author might say they want a no holds barred viewpoint, when it comes right down to it, no author is really prepared for the criticism and work that might be requested to get their manuscript into salable condition. An author’s reaction can depend on how you phrase the bad news and as an agent I need to be very aware of what kind of person I’m dealing with.
This is where my natural talent for reading people shines through. ( No that’s not my ego talking- just a skill I have nurtured over the years). At this point I’m confident enough to be able to let an author know that perhaps they need to rethink what they are doing. I give them ample opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions about their baby but ultimately they have to have confidence in my professionalism to steer them in the right direction.
I recently had this discussion with a prospective client and we chatted about the question of being objective especially if the client was a relative, a friend, or even a lover. Can an agent be truly objective in that situation? No one wants to be the bearer of bad news especially to someone they are close with, and that can place a lot of stress on the agent and the writer.
If your agent really feels that they can’t be honest with you and your work then what solutions could they offer to make the process work for everyone?
Perhaps the agent could have an external reader ( or another agent) read the potential manuscript and offer their opinion. Then your agent could pitch based on the reviews and not feel like they are treating the manuscript unfairly. Or maybe they could ask a relative or someone close to the client to intervene and give the more distressing news to them-leaving the agent to be the one that can be a support for the client. Or they could suggest another agent that might work better for you.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to know that the publishing world works at a snail’s pace and you have to find the right agent for you. One that will respect your work and give an honest assessment of your skills. And as an author it’s time to realize that you are not perfect and if you can’t take constructive criticism you are in the wrong business!
By the way, on a completely different topic I had the delight of playing a very unique tennis player last week. We played 3 sets everyday for three days in temperatures averaging plus 24, a gorgeous week in Vancouver. Although I did manage to win most of the points, I learned a great deal about different styles of playing tennis and how sometimes I should resist the temptation to hit topspin balls seeing that my height is quite an advantage to the game.
All in all though it was a great week and I was happy to neglect some of my agent duties to take a time out and enjoy all that this city has to offer, especially walking along the seawall after a great dinner at my favorite french restaurant. If you get a chance you should go and sit on some of the benches by the water and enjoy the night air this summer. You won’t regret it.