Tag Archives: publishing

Feedback from a Literary Agent: A Tale of Two Stories

Glinda the Good Witch

Glinda the Good Witch

This was one of those weeks where I got to make someone’s dream come true and put a “perma-grin” on their face for a few days. But I’m afraid I also dashed some hopes. Perhaps that’s the case every week, as I go through queries, and for some I request a deeper peek and for others I just decline. But the fact that as an agent I have that “power” is never so in my face as when I hear pitches at a conference, or like last night, when I gave feedback on authors’ query letters at the WNBA-NYC Query Roulette.


Holy Picture Book, Batman!

Holy Picture Book, Batman!

First, the wish-granting story

I offered representation to a wonderful children’s book author earlier  this week! Not only does this guy clearly have talent, but we seem to share the same quirky sensibility and sense of humor, and he has done the things he needs to do to hone his craft. It’s not always about degrees and letters after your name, but let me tell you that going for that MFA has the potential to really kick your writing up a notch and have you stretch in ways perhaps you didn’t know you could. I may have to get me one of them myself. (See my post about writers educating themselves.) I can tell already my new client and I are going to be a dynamic duo. And I can’t wait to share his work with editors!

url-2Then there’s the hope dashing story

I hate that I am sometimes the person across the table that says something to an author about their manuscript that will make their lip quiver, their eyes brim with tears, and have them take a deep breath just to hold it together. And then that author may or may not have been heard crying in the bathroom. Oh my. That is not the power I want to have.

Unfortunately though, because I have a commitment to making dreams come true, I also am committed to telling the truth to authors. Especially authors who seek me out specifically to get feedback about their work. If I don’t think your work is strong, it’s my duty to tell you. If I think your query letter needs work (a lot of work), it’s my obligation to point out where. If I share what a tough market it is for what you write (memoir, picture books, a particular subject, etc…), I’m doing my job if I tell you the truth.

Your job as an author is to take it. Take the feedback, input, critical commentary, and use it. Use it to make your work better, or build a stronger platform, or perfect a pitch. Use it to put aside your current project and write your next manuscript. Or use it to help you decide that perhaps writing isn’t for you. Or to decide that writing is for you, but getting published really isn’t so important. But your job is to use it.

Of course though, telling the truth to authors doesn’t make my job easy.

How do you handle hearing the truth about your work?




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How to Deal with Rejection 101



The following email exchange really happened. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.



Me to my client:

Hey <Nameless Client>,
FYI, <Editor 1> at Big Publishing House and <Editor 2> at Another Big Publishing House both passed. 😦

My client to me:

I feeeeel like a real writer now!! Thanks for letting me know. 🙂

Me to my client:

You feel like a real writer because I just told you about two rejections?! You’re a weirdo. 🙂

My client back to me:

Well, you know…it’s humbling and all. I’m pumped to work on kicking my writing up a notch. I’m sort of anticipating many “passes” so I want to get something new (and hopefully even better) done so that if  <INSERT NAME OF FABULOUS MANUSCRIPT>  isn’t the one, I won’t take 7 years getting something else out.

So, what can we learn from this, besides that we are both stupid with smileys? First of all, holy shit, right?! I mean, what a great attitude! Part of the business of being a writer is expecting and dealing with rejection. Welcoming rejection though, is a whole other ball of wax. It’s ‘kicking up a notch’ what rejection means, or rather, doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean you don’t ever expect to get published because your current manuscript is getting passes. It doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. It doesn’t mean you suck. It just doesn’t mean any of that. This client took a pass as acknowledgment that she’s finally “arrived.” She welcomed getting rejected because it’s part of being a real writer. Rather than being bummed out, she took it as a call to action to take on writing something even better the next time. Wow. I’d probably just cry or something. One of the greatest things about having the privilege of working with my clients is that I have the opportunity to be inspired by these creative people, not only in the area of writing, but also in the area of being a great human on the planet.


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Hanging With Nice People

One of the really nice things about being an agent is that I don’t really have to bullshit people. My clients count on me to tell them the truth. So, when I really like something they’ve written I get to fully express that and when I don’t like something they’ve written I don’t have to blow smoke up their skirts (or whatever) trying to be polite or dancing around the issue. When I pitch a manuscript to editors it becomes my job to be fully expressed, to convey all the enthusiasm and love that I have for my clients’ projects to them. I get a little nervous before I’m going to pitch, but then when I remember what my job is, it’s actually easy  because I love my clients’ manuscripts! The negotiating contracts part of being an agent is basically no bullshit, just business.

It’s funny, because even though it’s all just business (whether I take on an author as a client or not, how I edit, how and what the author writes, to whom I pitch, who I avoid, etc…) there’s an element to being an agent that (for me, anyway) transcends the agent/author or agent/editor business relationship. It’s one of the things I like about the world of publishing. I don’t know, maybe I just like book people. Since we’re all mostly a bunch of book nerds, who get excited about make-believe and telling stories to each other, I’m finding there’s a camaraderie that exists in this industry that is quite different than other industries. Or maybe I’m just hanging out with really nice people or something.

Do you think publishing people are particularly nice or am I living in my own little bubble?


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