Given the events of last week, I debated what I wanted to title this post. I have to confess that despite being a writer, I’m terrible with titles. My one small measure of comfort is that I hear I’m in good company. I once heard a story of Ernest Hemingway having to rely on his wife to come up with his titles because his ideas were so awful. Of course, I don’t consider myself to be on par with Hemingway in terms or talent or success, but it’s nice to see we share this quirk in common. The reason for my struggle isn’t due to my inability to come up with any title. This week, my debate was coming up with one appropriate to the occasion. Is this a celebration of independence to be marked with joy or an observance of a funeral to be treated somberly? I suppose that’s a matter of personal opinion. To understand what this means, I have to go back a bit.
I’m a writer. In the broadest sense of the word, I’ve been a writer since I learned how to write and was able to string sentences together. However, in the professional sense of the word, I’ve been at it since 2003. Since that time, I’ve had what can best be termed moderate success.
As a writer, the most difficult thing is to get your work noticed. This is true whether you’re a freelance writer or a novelist, but it’s truer for those of us who are novelists. The reason being many publishing houses a) will not work with fledgling writers and b) many publishing houses will not accept unagented submissions. Bottom line? Though not guaranteed, a writer has a better shot at publication with an agent in their corner. The theory is the agent has weeded through all of their submissions and chosen only the best, most polished, most marketable, and perhaps even most commercial manuscripts to submit to the publishers they work with.
In my tenure as a professional writer, I’ve been one of the few that’s managed to snag more than one agent. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter up for debate and part of what motivated this very post. My first agent was a con artist plain and simple. As a novice writer, I missed all the signs that later made me kick myself. Devastated though I was after that disaster, I got back on the horse and went after a new agent. The second time I was much more careful about who I sent my work to. I landed one of the top producing and most well respected agents in the industry. We worked together for some time, and try as he might he couldn’t make the sale. Finally, we parted ways. It was an amicable split in the name of business, but I was even sadder than before. At least the first time I didn’t make the sales because the agent was a sham. This time, it was all on me. Publishers didn’t think I had enough talent, and that hurt. After that one, I needed some time away. I needed to regroup and decide what I wanted from this dream of mine. It took a bit of soul searching for me to decide to get back on that horse yet again. Deep down, I knew I would. It’s not in me to quit. The need to see this through is deeply ingrained in me for reasons too complicated to address in this post.
Armed with a new story steeped in controversy as well as a renewed sense of purpose, I set out to secure a new agent. I hoped to land that agent by Christmas but didn’t manage to accomplish that feat until the beginning of the New Year. Before signing with this agent, there were things she mentioned in our communications that didn’t sit right with me. I questioned her at every turn, and she provided prompt and satisfactory answers that put my concerns to rest. One of my concerns was the “full service editing” she does for all clients free of charge. When I asked what her editing entailed, she gave me an answer that led me to believe it was strictly copy editing and would not change the story. I explained to her my reservations with editing. I’d worked with an editor in the past who continually rewrote my story so it became my characters in her story. I wanted to ensure that wouldn’t happen again. My new agent assured me that wasn’t her goal at all. She simply wanted to make sure it was free of any errors prior to submission to the publishers she worked with. Satisfied, I pressed on with the relationship.
I suppose now is a good time to point out the agent’s policy on this editing. Prior to accepting a client’s work, she sends a three page document containing her editing guidelines. These are things which she expects all authors to comply with before sending the work to her. Once the author has met this expectation, the work is then sent to the agent. From there, the agent schedules it on her calendar to be reviewed by her. After she’s reviewed and marked up the manuscript with “suggested” changes, she sends it back to the author to correct. What happens after the author makes the corrections is anyone’s guess. You see, this is where things between the agent and I started to go awry. I worked diligently for nearly three months trying to conform my work to her standards. My goal was to do it right the first time so we could get it into the hands of publishers that much faster. Imagine my surprise when a week after I submitted the work to her, I received a partial back with substantial mark ups. As an aside note, I’d like to point out this was received on my birthday which made the pill even more bitter to swallow. Personal feelings aside, I’m not so arrogant as to assume my work can’t be improved. Over the years, I’ve worked with many fine editors who’ve identified and helped me improve my writing weaknesses. My favorite was the editor who told me I was addicted to adverbs. Until she pointed it out, I hadn’t realized it. With that in mind, I set aside the initial shock and set about reviewing her suggestions with an objective eye. I got as far as page three before I hit a brick wall. On page three, my agent suggested a major rewrite which included removing the entire section from pages three to six. I wondered how a suggestion like this could possibly fit into her assurances she wouldn’t compromise the integrity of my work. I immediately contacted her to express my concerns. What followed was a lengthy discussion. As the discussion progressed so did my frustration level and I found myself wishing I’d never signed with her in the first place. My agent must have been thinking along those same lines because it wasn’t long before she broached the topic of perhaps going our separate ways. Fortunately for both of us there was a clause in the contract allowing either party to terminate the contract provided it wasn’t set to expire within sixty days. While I jumped at her offer, I balked at being the one to formally end the agreement. In the end, it was my agent who said we needed to go our separate ways and requested that I acknowledge this agreement in writing. Naturally, I did.
All of this took place over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. The interesting thing about this is that I don’t feel one ounce of regret for this parting of the ways. In fact, I feel quite liberated as though a new world of possibilities has opened up, which leads me back to my struggle over the title. At some point prior to this purging of my soul, I contemplated calling this blog: did a dream just die. I’ve come to realize it didn’t. Therefore, it’s safe to say parting is sweet but there’s no sorrow and the blog is aptly titled!