Today I was going to write a gentle blog post about how to conduct your relationship with your agent/potential agent, but Jessica over at Bookends beat me to it.
Two of the most important things she says are, “I don’t want an author who disrespects me” and “agents are only as successful as their reputations.” The latter is the reason why an agent will suggest revisions to your proposal/manuscript before sending it out; the former is the reason why an author and an agent will go their separate ways if the author is unwilling to listen to the agent’s feedback.
Here’s the thing: a professional is able to accept feedback, criticism and suggestions without taking it as a personal attack on her worth as an individual. I understand that this is hard to do: I have received any number of edit letters that have made me seriously consider joining the Peace Corps, where at least they’d appreciate me. But I’m a professional, working in a highly competitive business, so here is how I respond, no matter what I think of the feedback:
Thank you so much for your suggestions. I can see that you have thought them through carefully and I’m sure they will be an enormous help in the revision process. I will consider your feedback carefully as I get to work and will let you know if I have any questions.
Then I shut the hell up for about three days.
By that time, I have eaten enough chocolate and drunk enough tequila that I’m willing to entertain the idea that perhaps my agent/editor does have some worthy ideas for how I can improve my project. Then I start making the requested changes. I make them even if I don’t agree with them.
It’s that last that many writers find impossible to do, and since they don’t agree with anything the agent/editor says, they respond to an edit letter with, “Nah, I don’t wanna.” Which is not the response of a professional. Trust me on this.
Once I have made the requested changes, I very often see that the agent/editor is right, or at least not wrong, and so there’s no problem. I submit the revision and collect a check. But sometimes, not as often as most writers would like to believe, the agent/editor is wrong. But by having made the change, I can show that I tried, explain why it’s wrong, and then begin a discussion about what else could be done to fix the weakness the agent/editor sees.
This is how I show respect for my agent and the editors I work with, and it’s what I expect from my clients (who are all so wonderful that this post is absolutely not about any of them). Graciously accepting agent/editor feedback on your work is basic professional behavior; don’t personalize it. And for heaven’s sake, keep some Ghirardelli on hand for all such emergencies.