Monday, October 03, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of A Critique, Part Four

Last week, I talked about how to incorporate a critiquer’s feedback into your work. Today, I want address what happens if that feedback comes from an agent or editor.
It’s one thing to dismiss feedback from another writer, but it gets more complicated when it comes from an agent or editor. After all, they’re the ones who can get us to that coveted that Published and Listed status. All of a sudden, the stakes have gone up.

When an agent requests your full manuscript, what’s the first thing you do? You cheer, of course! A request is a good thing, which could lead to other good things. And if that agent likes your story but has a few misgivings, she might offer you some advice to revise. If she really likes it, she might even invite you to resubmit. This is great cause for celebration, closely followed by nauseating nerves. This could be your chance to snag an agent, so you want to do your absolute best work. Plus, agents have their fingers on the pulse of the industry so if you do what she tells you to do, it’ll be all right. Right?


It’s easy to get caught up in revising for an agent or editor because they are directly responsible for getting you published. The problem is that you can lose sight of your story and focus on doing what she says, which may or may not work. If it doesn’t work, then the agent/editor is going to say no, and you might be upset and frustrated because you did all that work for nothing.

It’s possible that, after all that work, your story really is stronger and the agent just didn’t love it enough to take it on. Or, it’s possible that you did all that work for nothing. How do you know which is true?

An agent just a person and not much different from a fellow critquer, except that she has more insight and experience with respect to the industry. But she doesn’t have more insight into your story than your critique partner does. She can’t, because she’s not you. No one has better insight than you do.

I’ve heard many writers lament about doing revisions for an agent only to be turned down. This sometimes turns into a complaint about how the agent demanded they write the story for her instead of letting them stay true to the story. The writers almost always swing to the other extreme and they proclaim that they are through with writing for other people and will only write for themselves—often coupled with an aversion to feedback.

These writers don’t know it, but they fell victim to the idea that if they do what an agent tells them to do, it’ll get them published. Which they’ve just proven isn’t always true. So, what do you do about that?

You write for you, of course. :) To do that, you use the same methods to incorporate feedback that you used with your critique partner.

The difference is that you have more to lose, i.e. the agent or editor could pass on your story. This sucks, but that’s how it is. Blindly following an agent’s advice won’t necessarily get you anywhere, either. Therefore, it’s even more important that you assess an agent’s feedback with a critical eye, because she’s likely revealing flaws in your story that you need to address. BUT, that doesn’t mean you need to fix the problem in the exact way she suggests. She doesn’t know the story the way you do, and could unknowingly be introducing other problems. In fact, if you don’t take her advice and fix the problem in a different way, she’ll be impressed. It shows that you have a good head for revision, and she’ll be more inclined to want to work with you.

It’s complicated, but there’s not really a way around that. All we can do is write the best story we can, then stay true to it as we strive to make it better. A good agent or editor will recognize and appreciate that.


Kelly Hashway said...

This is a tough situation. I think we automatically want to please agents and editors. They are the ones to help us get published. But we do need to stay true to our stories. If an agent or editor has a different vision for your work, and you don't agree with it, then they aren't the right agent or editor for the piece. However, if we are holding on to our precious words because we spent so much time writing them and can't see that maybe a revision is necessary, then we need to step back, process the comments, and try the revision to see if it works.

Tabitha said...

Exactly! There is a fine line between holding on too tightly and staying true to your story. Figuring that out isn't easy, either (and it's the topic for next week's post--the final installment of this critique series).

J.A. Palermo said...

Great points, Tabitha. And two different, wonderful, knowledgeable agents could give you conflicting -- and still valid -- advice. It's so important to be on to same page as your agent.

Ann Herrick said...

Writing is such a collaborative effort. One of the hard parts is deciding just how much and with whom to collaborate.

Unknown said...

Well, I haven't had the opportunity to work with an agent before, but whenever I get feedback, I put them in one of two categories: good idea and bad idea. The good ideas I implement. The bad ideas I consider briefly, because sometimes what I feel is a bad idea turns into a great idea if I care to modify what's needed in order to make it happen. :)

Usually the bad ideas are the ones that we know will require more work (structurally), and I think that's why I dig in my heels when the red flag goes up, 'BAD IDEA'!!! lol

One of the women in my critique group is an editor by profession and I trust when she makes changes to my submissions, but she hasn't made any bad ideas yet! *crossing fingers*

LM Preston said...

Oh my gosh is this a big issue. I struggled with this also and other well known authors I've had the pleasure to meet has done so as well.

Sophia Chang said...

Wow. GREAT advice and very relevant. Thank you for this post.

Midnyte Reader said...

I think it would be more helpful if an agent/editor wanted you to change something for a specific reason. Such as combining several characters into one to make it less confusing...or putting a certain part first to make the story more dramatic. But to change something blatantly is not always helpful to your story. Thanks for this post!