So, while most everyone was at the book signing the 2016 Storymakers Conference, I was sitting out in the foyer, enjoying the company of my friends, alongside Marisa Corvisiero, the founder of the Corvisiero Literary Agency and Senior Literary Agent. I had pitched a story to her and was the last author on her list for the day. Now we were just enjoying ourselves, relaxing and laughing. Several other authors gravitated towards us, and even though the pitch session was over, Marisa continued to take pitches from anyone who joined us.
THIS, MY FRIENDS, WAS FASCINATING.
I’ve never watched an agent take a pitch. Have you? I was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, and I gotta say, the braves souls who did this in the company of their peers, and an agent, deserve some serious bonus points. As each author spoke about their story, questions were asked, comments were made, and at times, a discussion ensued. At one point, I commented I wanted to work for Marisa, because it was so cool to watch her work, listen to her advice, and learn more about her.
Looking back, one particular pitch still stands out to me.
The story had a time travel element, which turned out to be Marisa’s soft spot. I didn’t know she had a special place in her heart for quantum physics, but she said she “loves it so much she studies it on her commute to work.” So, essentially, this story was perfect for her. (THIS IS WHY KNOWING WHAT AN AGENT IS LOOKING FOR IS SO VITAL.)
It became clear to me that the author pitching the story wasn’t loving Marisa’s advice, which would require adjusting the time travel. Marisa expressed how much she’d want to see this story, if it were edited to obey the laws of time travel. But for the author, her body language and facial expressions said it would impact the whole story and require a hefty rewrite–that Marisa didn’t know what she was talking about and boy, “I’m not doing that!”
Hearing Marisa’s suggestions made my heart heavy for the author, yet at the same time, I wanted to cheer, “You can do it!”
Marisa’s preference is hers, as is every agent’s in the industry. They represent certain genres for a reason. Not just because. And yes, it’s entirely possible that a different agent would be okay with the way the time travel is set up in this author’s story.
But. That’s when someone–not Marisa–made this comment: Time travel readers will feel that it’s off.
This is a big deal, because if a die hard time travel reader can’t wrap their head around the story, or stop half way because it’s just so off, then guess what? They STOP READING IT and they most likely won’t recommend it, and sadly, may leave a negative review.
This is the case for all genres. If you write romance, and there isn’t a single kiss, I personally will know it’s off, but worse, I’ll be so ticked, I’ll never buy another ‘romance’ book by that author.
Now, it should be said that sometimes readers THINK they’re getting an erotica, when really they’re getting a historical fiction, and then they blame the author. This happens. Case in point: years and years ago, when a friend handed me a book, I thought it would have some romance because it was YA. Guess what? Not a romance. It was Hunger Games–and that story is so far from a romance. I was so annoyed, but I was hooked. I wanted a real kiss and all the lovey stuff, and what I got was blood, blood, blood, and death! In fact, the romance reader in me is dying right now just thinking about the ‘romance’ in that series. BUT IT’S NOT THE AUTHOR who screwed that one up. It was all me wanting a romance while reading Not-A-Romance book! I was all:
I really can read just about any genre, as long as the romance element is there.
Really. I can. My writing friends are laughing at me as they read this, I know, but seriously, I can.
And I can even read NOT-ROMANCE, but I won’t love it. I just . . . won’t. I need the kissing!
Anyway, distinguishing what genre you are can be really tough in the beginning. I remember a time when I hated the question: What do you write?
Hell if I knew.
But you’re the one who has to know. You have to know the rules associated with your genre. I’m still learning mine and that makes it fun, because then you can learn to bend the rules a little. Or break them completely.
I’ve taken the advice of agents before, and if you’re wondering if it resulted in a contract or a best seller, I’ll be the first to tell you it did not. However, it did make me a stronger writer. Every time I’ve listened to an agent, it’s made me a better author. Now, it should also be said they are human, and not gods and it’s not like everything they say is law or right. But so far, for me, not once has their advice come around to bite in my the arse.
Their suggestions weren’t fun to hear. In fact, it was down right impossible in my mind, because it meant work for me. I swear I heard “Eat an elephant,” and yet, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to take one bite–because, EW!! ELEPHANT? GROSS! NO! WAY! I’m not eating that!
Over a year ago, I got some feedback from an agent that crushed my muse. I wanted to quit so bad that day, and in a way, I did. It took months to recover and find my love for drafting again. Thankfully, I have an army behind me, and a good husband, and the little fact that I’m a push-through-try-to-survive-e. After a long pity party, I slowly re-emerged, still a caterpillar, but stronger.
Some days I want to crawl under a rock and die. Writing is that hard.
So, to sum up. From where I sit, an agent’s advice trumps a lot of other voices. You need your CPs and your writing groups and the random strangers who help you through a first chapter contest. You do. But when an agent tells me something, part of what I hear is: “I can work with a story that falls within this scope.” It doesn’t mean, “I guarantee you I can sell it.” That advice is pretty valuable.
As an industry professional, agents and editors know what they’re up against far better than I do, because it’s their job. They know what sold yesterday, what’s in their inbox, what they’re pitching tomorrow. The have their finger on the pulse and can attest to the beat.
If the edits suggested go against all you believe and stand for, then okay, don’t do it and consider that they’re not the agent for you but if you leave your ego at the door, the adjustment could be the key to that invisible door in the concrete wall that is holding you back from publication. Also, you can copy the whole document, and save it somewhere, and then hack at the duplicated version and you don’t lose anything!
I was softly labeled as an Agent Advocate that weekend, and I took it as a compliment.
I guess, a lot of it comes down to trust. Which is why it can be hard to take advice from anyone who looks over your writing. It forces you to be vulnerable and open, and it can really hurt, but also, it can be exactly what you need to hear.