Posts Tagged traditional publishing

Can I trust my agent’s advice on my book?

Is the feedback you’re getting for the novel’s good or is it steering you to fit in with the market? This writer asked for my advice

I am in the fortunate position of having got (after plenty of rejections, redrafts etc) an agent for the first novel I’ve written. Which is great. But while the idea of my book is strong, the manuscript needed shaping. With my agent’s help, I’ve been redrafting for the last 15 months, but I’m finding it hard to differentiate between what is solid advice from someone who knows and what are tastes/suggestions that might take my novel away from what I’m trying to do. The suggested changes all ring true in terms of what will make the novel work/sell, it’s a much better book, and I know that what’s being said is mostly good advice, but I want to keep a tight hold on the heart of why I wrote the novel.

I presume this is something all writers have to go through once they open the door to the world, but I’m hoping you have some tips for gaining clarity and creating the best possible version of a story while not losing anything that’s truly integral.

I do sympathise. You’ve edited the novel for so long you probably can’t see where it should go. When someone else is contributing suggestions, you can feel like everything is whirling out of your control. Especially if that person might have different aims from you.

There are two aspects to tackle here.

1. Do you know what you want your novel to be?

You mention you’re worried about losing the heart of the book. Yes, absolutely. But it sounds to me as though you may not be entirely sure what that is.

Often if we’re writing a novel that’s unusual we feel there’s nothing else like it. But there are probably a lot of books like it in certain aspects. If you know what those are, it is far easier to have a meaningful conversation with an editor or agent – and it might also help you get clarity yourself. You can think about the novels that may have given you crucial inspiration. Also, look up Amazon tags for the subjects your novel covers – you can find surprising parallels this way

As well as this, work out which of your agent’s suggestions are raising your artistic hackles. This is similar to the situation I posted about a few weeks ago, where a writer felt her critique group was derailing her novel. The principles are the same – identify what is working for you and what isn’t.

2. Art versus market

Do you fear you’re being steered to write something that is more saleable but less artistically fulfilling?

First of all, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you want. I know writers who welcome a lot of direction from their paymasters and are truly happy to fit in with what the market needs. Others decide they have different priorities.

For instance, my novel My Memories of a Future Life was wooed by the senior editor at one of the Big Six, who wanted it to be a murder mystery. Another publisher hinted they would take it if it was reshaped as a conventional thriller. Both urged me to rewrite because their marketing departments would back me after my success as a ghostwriter. But I felt the idea deserved more unusual treatment. My agent liked the novel my way too – and took it out just as it was. But although editors enjoyed reading it, their marketing departments found it too risky.

So agents are not always trying to shoehorn you into a commercial space. And no one can make you change your book or write what you don’t want to. (And if you do try to aim more at the market there are no guarantees your book will sell or be successful enough to lead to a career.)

What do you do?

You mention that your agent has been working with you for 15 months. That’s a long-haul commitment to helping you nurture the book and shape yourself as a writer. This is a good relationship so far, so make the best of it.

It may be that, as I said above, the agent is unsure what you want and is making stabs in the dark. Give them a chance by begin clear about your vision for the book. Then have a frank discussion about how they are guiding you and where they see you in the market.

Best of luck.

Thanks for the pic jcoterhals on Flickr.

Agree? Disagree? How would you advise a writer in this situation? Share in the comments!

My Memories of a Future Life is available on Kindle (US and UK) and  also in print (and Amazon.com have knocked USD$4 off the price so grab it now). If you’re my side of the Atlantic you can now get the print version from Amazon UK and save on postage. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters over on the red blog.

 

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Self-publish first book, seek an agent for the second? Good, bad, risky?

As publishing becomes increasingly like the music industry, should you self-pub to kick-start your career?

I’ve had an interesting question from Stacy Green‘An online writing friend is going to self-publish a novel to build an audience, and then submit a second book to agents. What do you think’

The writing industry has become like the music industry. Writers are starting their careers not by  genuflecting at the desk of an agent or a publisher, but by getting out on blogs and websites, gathering like-minded folks on Twitter and Facebook. Effectively we’re gigging.

With Kindle books so cheap and so instantly available, it makes sense to have a book to prove ourselves with as well.

But should you self-publish a novel while you’re building your audience?

Is it spoiling your chances of a proper deal?

Six months ago I’d have said it was. But a few trailblazers have changed the world. Crucially, they have proved to the sceptics that self-publishing isn’t for slushpile losers. Traditionally published authors who retained their e-rights are putting their backlists on Kindle, showing that ‘proper’ authors self-publish too. Some agents are thinking of doing it for them.  Some authors are ditching their publishers and going it alone, or bringing out their more off-piste work themselves. And there’s that Kindle millionaire Ms Hocking. Yes, she’s in a minority but a lot of people took notice.

If you self-publish a novel, is it written off?

Agents warn that if you self-publish a book you won’t get a deal on it, ever. However, a few self-published authors have had offers for foreign rights. Again, they are in the minority, but it does happen.

For the vast majority, though, no publisher will touch the novel that’s been self-published.

That might not matter. Traditional publishing deals hardly pay very much these days so your earnings might not be much different if you keep all the rights for yourself. If you secure a deal for your second book, that will expose you to a wider spread of readers. If they like you, they will probably seek out your first book and won’t care where it came from. And so your first novel will not be sacrificed into a void.

But why shouldn’t Stacy’s friend approach traditional publishers?

Last night I was talking to a former agent and publisher who told me about the soul-destroying business of acquisitions meetings. He and his fellow editors would be passionately championing a book but just one veto from the marketing department could reject it.

The major publishers, he said, will only take potential best-sellers. Market is what speaks to publishers now, even more than merit.

Of course, new smaller publishers are stepping in to take their place, but they only publish a handful of titles a year. You might wait for ever. All the more reason to get out and gig your book.

Before you do…

Here comes the nagging. As everyone says ad nauseum (including me), make sure your book does you credit. Don’t toss a novel off so you’ve got something to get started with. Don’t put a book out because you don’t dare query with it, or you suspect an editor would tell you there were flaws. Edit and polish as slowly and carefully as you would for a formal query. Get a professional opinion and treat it like a job.

Authors who have blazed a trail this year have demonstrated that self-published writers are capable of policing themselves. Because of this we all have a better chance than ever before of building a career this way. But only if we all set our standards high.

Thank you, Hoong Wei Long for the photo.

To Stacy’s friend I say: good plan. If you have a book ready to gig, go for it.

What would you say?

 

 

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