by Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine into Gold
In response to a tweet promoting a recent Twitter submission event, I received the following response:
“To put it delicately, f*** the agents and editors. Never pander to what they're looking for.” (Asterisks mine.)
I would like to thank this “delicate” tweeter. His 92-character comment is so chock full of negativity and cynicism that it will easily power three blog posts here. I delight in the opportunity to turn this kind of whine into gold.
Since it is conference season, this month I’d like to address this tweeter’s obvious assumption that agents and editors are “those who are trying to keep him from publication.”
If you suspect this is true, yet are still planning to pitch to these individuals at upcoming conferences, your hidden thoughts are simply abrading twitchy nerve endings in a way that could result in hives the moment you offer your sweaty hand in greeting. It is to you I would like to address my comments.
It is my stalwart belief that before you f*** anyone, you should get to know them. (I’m old fashioned that way.) Although I haven’t f***ed a single one (sorry, that would be another column altogether), I have worked with agents and editors for more than a decade in a variety of capacities as a writing conference organizer, and since 2011 I’ve been lucky enough to develop longer working relationships with a literary agent and two book editors.
This is what I know to be true about agents and editors.
• They are often…wait for it…friendly. They work in a people-oriented industry, they love hanging out with writers and other avid readers, and they love building interpersonal relationships within their professional networks.
• They are often young and idealistic—but not necessarily. Some are middle-aged and idealistic, some old and idealistic. Agents come in all sort of idealistic ages. But the constant is that they are believers—and they are willing to go to the wall for what they believe in.
• They are gamblers. They love that rush that comes with personal discovery; anteing up on a new writer or project is hope renewed. The agent gambles with her time, the editor with her house’s resources—but both are playing with a deck stacked with their industry experience and gut instincts, and are eager to see how their bet plays out.
• They are underpaid. Think about it—they are making money off of the income of writers, who may only be next to dancers in the least amount of money paid per hour of preparation and professional effort…which means that much of what they do is done for love.
• They are smart minds and sensitive souls, highly attuned to story and the human condition. They are avid readers who are so eager to find their next great read that they are willing to spend their nights and weekends slogging through any number of queries to find the one that touches them in some important way.
• They are negotiators and peacemakers who are willing to take on the day-to-day business of creating a good book so that you can do what only you can do best—which is to write and promote the work you love.
• They are all of these things, yet no two are alike. They are individuals, with highly developed tastes and interests. They own the notion of subjectivity, which allows them to do business in a range of genres and to acquire like-minded clients.
• And yes, they are gatekeepers. Agents may close the gate for so many reasons, all of which should inspire gratitude in the writer: the submission isn’t aligned with their interests, they think it’s great but don’t know how to sell it, the writer isn’t ready for prime time, or they just don’t have time to take on a new client right now. But once all of those aspects align, the agent or acquiring editor is the one who can be counted on to be at that gate to open it—for you!—and see you through the maze of traditional publishing.
Because an agent or editor’s success is dependent on yours, you will find no greater advocate.
If you are pitching this conference season, or are cold-querying, imagine that the person on the other end of your pitch is eager to read, hoping to fall in love, and wanting to work with you.
It’s probably true. And how could it hurt?
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which was released on January 28 and has already gone back for a second printing, and While the Leaves Stood Still (due Spring 2015). Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads Craftwriting workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.