Proper Care and Feeding of …You!

Thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses last week. I gained a great deal from reading and pondering them. This week, I’d like to take a look from the other side of the desk. As an author myself, I know how hard the writing gig is. And I know a LOT of authors, published and not, who have hit speed-bumps -or even felt like the Editor/Publisher/Agent semi just flattened them in the middle of the publishing highway. As hard as agents’/editors’ jobs may be, the author’s job is pretty tough too. You spend months and years working on your craft, only to have everyone tell you how to do it better. And then there are the lovely people who keep asking when you’re going to get a real job, or would you mind baby-sitting today since you don’t have a job, or any of a multitude of other ignorant comments that nibble at us like rabid ducks as we struggle to be creative.

Sadly, the criticism and ignorance doesn’t end when you get published. Just read some of the reviews on Amazon, Christianbook.com, or Barnes&Noble. Or ask an author to share his or her reader letters with you. I know one group of writers that gets together once a year and gives out a prize for the worst review/reader letter. Some of them are, to say the least, brutal. Let’s face it, when your words are on the printed page, you can pretty much know someone isn’t going to like what you said or how you said it. And the ol’ Internet has made it waaaay too easy for folks to share their blistering thoughts.

No, writing isn’t easy. Not by a long shot.

So here’s what I’d like to do. As a writer pointed out a few weeks ago, lots of agents and editors and publishers post blogs telling authors what to do and why. But where do writers get to share their needs? Well…right here. Right now.

I want you to share your thoughts on “The Care and Feeding of Writers.” What should agents and editors keep in mind as they work with you? What one, driving thing would you like to say to them? Don’t be unkind or snarky, but do be honest.

I posted this question on my Facebook page a few days ago. Here are some of the responses:

  • “Just tell me what to do!”
  • “Don’t send out my work before reading it and helping me hone my story/skills.”
  • “Write A must read on Facebook for your clients’s books….”
  • “Don’t make us wait so long for responses to queries/submissions. Also, it would be incredibly helpful in the CBA is if there were a running list somewhere of genres publishers are actively seeking.”
  • “Have a sense of humor.”
  • “Give new authors a chance.”
  • “Let us know you’ve submitted our work somewhere, like a copy of the letter you sent, etc. And a phone call once every three months would be nice.”
  • “Talk to me. Tell me the good and the bad. Let me know when things are working or not working so I can keep on writing.”

So what say you? What one thing would you like to say to the agents/editors out there?

25 Responses to Proper Care and Feeding of …You!

  1. a December 12, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Just b honest/real
    i got a rejection i could tell if she liked me or was afriad of my subject. She later said she was no longer able to take submissions. But was taking them like a month later. It left a bad taste in my mouth.i think she was afraid to tell me the truth. Bc the subject was sensitive but i didnt know and was left feeling a little out

  2. Diana Harkness December 12, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    One thing? Tell me what you want and what you don’t. Be clear. If X genre isn’t selling, tell me. If you want 2-inch margins, tell me. If you think it’s good but another agency would be a better fit, tell me. If you like it, tell me why. If you hate it, tell me why. Last month I let someone in my writing group read part of my manuscript and all I got was “I don’t understand that word.” “Which word?” I ask. After all, I do sometimes use one word when another would be better. He reads the sentence to me and emphasizes the word. It is exactly the right word. I ask him what is wrong with it and discover that he doesn’t know its meaning because he is not well read. He can’t pass judgment on my writing, but an experienced agent can and that’s what I need.

  3. angchronicles December 12, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    As a Christian Writer, I’m crossing over, I’m talking about the tough stuff, don’t judge the work just because it doesn’t fit in the Christian Fiction box or because you don’t understand the culture of Black America.

  4. Eva Ulian December 12, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    What I want an agent to tell me depends at what stage of the proceeding we are. In your last post Karen, I made a comment but since I didn’t know you existed until now :-) I only posted it today and mentioned “I think agents are right to send out rejection slips without saying the work is not up to par; because a)the author will not believe it, tell a mad-man he is mad type of thing; and b) you know the saying, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, you never can tell what that person may go on to do. I do think, however, that it would be much appreciated by an intelligent author if you specify that the work is not suitable or right for your agency at the moment- which translated means you are not a bad writer but you are barking up the wrong tree.”

    It is a totally different matter if an agent accepts my work, then I would brain pick the agent to death in telling me how I can turn my offerings into a stellar production, and I would work my pants off to get it right, because the agent has the experience to know what grabs people to read or not to read beyond the first page. The agent may tell me I started the novel at the wrong point or that the ending is flat… common faults which as authors we simply hope no one will notice!

    Actually, I wish I had an agent now since I know with my WIP “The Reluctant Novice” I did not start at the right spot which is at the beginning. This has been driving me batty for weeks now and I would so much like someone, other authors most welcome, to help me decide on one of these openings: 1.When the protagonist leaves school and aims for a successful career in teaching. 2. When she enters the convent to become a nun. 3. When she falls in love with the Chaplain before entering the novitiate. The main body of the novel describes the events taking place in the life of the convent. PLEASE someone help!!!

  5. Anne Love December 12, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    If I ever get agented, contracted, or published, I’m not quitting my day job. Instead, I’ll just be bi-vocational. And by that I mean, I will have 2 callings, not just one. I have to live my non-writing life to write, but I’ll need my writing to live my non-writing life. Time is the thing that scares me about what that would look like. But when I’m old and gray, I want to have spent my life well here on this side of heaven. So, if it be God’s will for me to become bi-vocational, then I have to trust He will help me balance that. I would only ask for understanding and would need help with realistic deadlines.

  6. Shirley Buxton December 12, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    “Glad to meet you. Thank you for agreeing to be my agent.” :)

  7. Sandy December 12, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    The editor I am working with has commented on my manuscript: “your transitions aren’t smooth enough, your tenses aren’t agreeing and your syntax is off.” Syntax? I didn’t even know I had any! And then…more comments: “Wonderful introduction, I can’t wait to read more! I love this imagery! Great real life example!” The bottom line? I. Am. Learning.

  8. Jeanne December 12, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    Such an interesting post, Karen. I haven’t submitted anything yet, but when I do, I hope the agent who receives my sub will give me some sort of direction. It will be interesting to read what those who are further along the journey say to your post today. ;)

  9. Lindsay Harrel December 12, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I guess overall I want someone to partner with me, to support and love my work but give good advice on where I can grow. I would definitely want an agent to be open and honest, and give me information without me feeling like I had to dig for it (I don’t want to feel like I’m “bugging” my agent).

  10. Robin Patchen December 12, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    What I want is to be a great writer. So I want an agent who is willing to help me take my writing to the next level. With my debut novel just releasing, I so wish I had an agent to discuss my career with and to help me improve my craft. I want an agent who will be a champion for my writing and my career, someone not afraid to tell me the truth (even if it sting a little.)

  11. Kimberly E. Lepins December 12, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Karen,
    what a thoughtful post! I don’t have experience with you, or any agent for that matter, but I think your ability to look at both sides of the desk have to make you a joy to work with and a great agent.
    As far as what I would want… For the most part I seek Him for my expectations, but I must admit, the waiting part is the toughest! Just a little note along the way would be amazing, even if it’s to tell me you, or any other agent, haven’t/hasn’t gotten to it yet. God knows when I’m ready for that acceptance/rejection, whatever the case may be, and my heart knows that; it’s just this fleshly tent I dwell in would love to know yesterday! But while in the waiting period, I will continue to be on the Potter’s Wheel, and definitely in His hands.
    Again, thanks for all you and the agency do in changing hearts, one at a time, through books! Give my best to Steve.
    Blessings
    Kimberly
    (Evinda)

  12. Christina Suzann Nelson December 12, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    This is an interesting topic. I’m still amazed that I have an agent and shocked that she picked me!

    Agents are busy people. So are writers. It’s important to remember that our agents can’t be the people who hold our hands every time we feel insecure about our talents and abilities. Find a good group of writers who can provide those pats on the back when needed.

    An email every month to six-weeks saying where we are in the process would be helpful. Some kind of check in so we know we haven’t been forgotten. The not knowing can get those creative minds spinning toward worse case scenarios.

    Great post! Thank you for caring about our needs.

  13. April W Gardner December 12, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    First off–to all the editors and agent (wink) I’ve worked with, a gargantuan THANK YOU for your patience, for taking a risk with me, for your wisdom and expertise.
    One thing I’d like to say to the agents/editors of the world?? Give me to me straight, but balance out the negative with positive. I can take any amount of negative if it’s sprinkled with positive. :-)

    • Anna Labno December 12, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      Be honest.

  14. Patricia Lee December 12, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    I agree with Christina Nelson–if am agemt is swamped, a brief e-mail that tells me I’m not forgotten would be so appreciated. To see an agent at a conference and have them remember who you are is wonderful, but to have them keep your submissions that they requested for months without so much as a “hello” is agonizing torture. The creative mind can conjure up all kinds of scenarios in that environment.

    Thanks for asking.

  15. Ginger Solomon December 12, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I haven’t submitted to agents since I learned how to NOT write. I’m still learning how to write and don’t expect to stop.

    Those first rejections hurt, and yes, most of them were form letters. Without them, though, I would not have joined ACFW and learned what I was doing wrong.

    As an unagented, unpublished writer I want to thank you for giving me a chance by posting clear guidelines on your website where it is easy to find. Thank you for attending conferences around the country giving me the chance to get to know you face to face.

    In addition I would ask that you keep in touch with me, if and when I submit something. A form e-mail would be fine to let me know you’ve received my submission and I should expect a reply in X number of weeks/months.

    I appreciate the willingness of the Steve Laube Agency to be open to change. :)

  16. Heather Day Gilbert December 12, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    I just posted about this on Southern Writers: Suite T (http://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/12/death-of-opinionated-writer.html#disqus_thread).

    Newbie writers get tons of conflicting advice–Be yourself. Don’t be political. Write your passion. Write what sells. You MUST blog. You DON’T HAVE TO blog. Don’t be high-maintenance (back to the be YOURSELF–what if I am high-maintenance? TRYING not to be).

    I do appreciate that you’re bringing some of the respect back for authors. As I said in my post, authors of yore could be as quirky/eccentric/politically incorrect and reclusive as they wanted.

    I have enormous respect for most agents and editors. I should hope that respect would be mutual. So what I’d love is if agency blogs didn’t talk down to authors, giving us lists of hoops to jump through. I appreciate solid advice, but please don’t wrap it in, “Do this or we’ll never consider you a valid author.” After all, we don’t have the luxury of giving requirement lists to our agents/editors.

    And I’m always impressed with the compassion your agents project in this agency blog! So I respect you!

  17. Tracy Lawson December 12, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    As an unagented, published author of two non-fiction books and one self-published family memoir, I decided to seek representation for my first novel. I received a handful of rejections, then one happy day in September, an agent response that said, “I’d love to keep reading…can you send me the first 50 pages?”

    I was so happy to make it Round 2. I had no idea what that meant, but I hoped I would find representation with this agent. I heard nothing for three months before I got a “meh” rejection.

    I wish there had been a chance for more interaction with that agent. Was there something I could have re-written that would have changed their mind? Was there no chance that, with a little guidance from that agent, the project would have been viable?

    I continued to take webinars, rework and revise, and recently, because I’d completely lost perspective on what was good and what wasn’t, I submitted the novel for a professional critique.

    After the critique comes back, I’ll revise again, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue to seek agent representation.

    I believe in myself, in my characters and in my story. I want an agent who will feel as passionate about the book as I do. If I can’t find one, perhaps I can sell the idea to a publisher more effectively on my own.

    As a teacher, I’ve got a ready crop of beta readers for my YA fiction. From the way my volunteer readers are devouring it, I know other kids will too.

    Even though I’m new to fiction, I’d say to agents and publishers, don’t count me out. Take me on, and you’ll find you have an author who is a willing and engaging public speaker, who connects well with children and teens, and who has other great story ideas.

  18. Karen Ball December 12, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks, everyone. Christina and April, you both made me smile. I’m so blessed to get to work with you! And Ginger, you bring up an excellent point: there are some great groups out there to help writers in their craft. ACFW is a wonderful resource for writers, as are writers’ conferences and places like mybooktherapy.com. These folks are there specifically to help writers improve their craft. Those are the places to look for in-depth guidance, not from the agent or editor who is evaluating your work.

    That being said, I’ve decided, after the conversation last week, to try giving a little more direction in the rejections I and my reader send out. Of course, we can’t do in-depth critiques, but I’ve given my reader some suggestions to share with writers in an effort to give some guidance. So we’ll see what happens.

  19. Dianne Price December 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Dear Karren,

    Two requests, actually, both of equal importance to me.

    Communicate with me! At least once a month let me know what is going on, even after I’ve signed with a publisher.

    “A good read,” note from you doesn’t tell me enough. How can I make this a GREAT read?

  20. Jan Thompson December 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    “Give new authors a chance.”

    That’s a great one. I like that. I’ve only had 2 rejected manuscripts in my life. It took me a decade to recover from those two rejections of my short stories. For one, I learned that the publishing world is very subjective, and that not receiving any reasons for the rejection is probably a good thing rather than to receive a scathing denouncement of my freshman effort (especially since it had taken me a long time prior to that to even get the nerve to send the manuscripts in the first place).

    So, it would be nice to know that new authors can have an opportunity to make it in the traditional publishing world, and not have to resort to self-publishing their books. It’s no fun wallowing in the slush pile, but that’s was SASE is for LOL.

  21. Georgianne Moisan December 13, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    Good morning Karen!

    What one thing would I like to say the the agents/editors out there? Well, right now I’m still in the process of writing my first novel (romance), so I have infinitesimal exposure to agents. However, I would like to offer a bit of encouragement to agents, Tamela Murray in particular. I have written her twice-once about the book I am writing, and the other in response to a Thanksgiving message you all wrote. I know she’s incredibly busy, but she took the time to write me back that same day! Honestly, I was amazed and really impressed. And it wasn’t a “yeh, yeh, so glad you wrote … whatever” kind of response. It made me feel that somehow I had made a connection with her, and that I’m no longer the new kid in school who doesn’t know a soul. I have a friend, and I know she will talk to me!

    So what I would say to agents is, to follow Tamela’s example. Believe it not, her quick response and friendly emails gave me hope that I could do this! So, thank you Tamela!

    Georgianne Moisan

  22. Megan B. December 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    As someone else mentioned above, most writers also have day jobs. So my ‘advice’ to agents is to keep that fact in mind (I’m sure most of you do).

    When I think about potentially being published, what scares me most is getting into a position where I have to sacrifice my personal life and sleep to make deadlines. I’ve accepted that I will probably always need a day job. That being the case, I want my writing to be on the side, not a second (or third) job.

    • Jan Thompson December 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

      Good point! I’m glad I’m not the only one writing part time. I love to write, and I do try to find time to write any way I can — I even jot scenes down on scraps of paper if I have to. I would think it would be difficult to sacrifice sleep to meet writing deadlines, but wouldn’t that be an exciting bridge to cross if our books get published!

  23. angchronicles December 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    While driving, I thought of a good response from an agent:
    Hello Angela, I been reading your blog, have you thought of turning it into a nonfiction book?
    Hello Angela, Read your novel excerpts posted on your website, is your novel finished? I’d like to help you take your writing career to the next level?

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