Use Caution with Advice from Editors & Agents
Some times new writers will hang on my every word. If I think about what is happening I can be frightened with that responsibility. Yes I've been in the book business for many years and worked in many different areas—yet I do not always get it right. In fact, no one does.
I understand that some new ideas are fragile and at a conference, a writer takes a risk to present their idea and get your feedback. At these meetings, we often have seconds to size up an idea and look over a few pages of writing, then give some feedback. I've been in this situation many times in the past and will be in this situation a number of times in the coming weeks at different conferences. I understand the serious nature of my responsibility in these situations yet I also know that I'm not always on target with my advice.
At some conferences, I have a day full of back-to-back 15 minute sessions with different writers. I'm eager to help these writers with their questions and book ideas. As an acquisitions editor, I'm actively looking for the right nonfiction or fiction books that I can champion to my publication board at Morgan James Publishing and eventually bring into print. Other times I'm giving the writer some encouragement or insight into their proposal or their book idea.
As a writer, I can recall hanging on every word from a respected editor. I wrote down the feedback and went home then carried out each instruction. Then when I returned to this editor, he did not recall that he had ever seen the project in the first place. I appreciated his honesty but at the time I didn't understand it because that brief conversation meant so much to me.
Here's some keys as you get advice from different publishing professionals:
1. Who gave you this advice? Are they new to the profession or have they spent years in the trenches of publishing?
2. What time of day did you receive it? If at the end of a long day of meetings, maybe it was not perfectly on target.
3. Are you hearing the same counsel from others? If you hear the same general advice from several people, then it may be worth taking and changing.
4. What is your own mind and heart telling you about the advice? Some people stumble around with a manuscript for years because they are blind or do not accept the advice they have been given about it. Others are swayed with every bit of advice to move in different directions and never get published because their perfectionist tendencies make their material “never good enough.”
My overall insight is for balance. Sometimes you will take the advice and other times you shrug it. Every editor and agent is off the mark at times and you should not hold that over the person but understand and move on. You have to take the advice with a grain of salt.
Recently I received a lengthy email from a writer who recalled in great detail a fifteen minute session with me from at least six or seven years ago. As I read his description of the details, I didn't remember anything about that session—yet I could see that it was significant to this writer. My only response was to apologize and encourage the writer to move forward. To my knowledge, that book idea was never published.
Every writer needs to follow their passion for their story and their writing—yet be open to learning something new along the journey. Continue to grow in your craft and storytelling, and be willing to shrug the advice from an editor or agent. It might be the difference between getting your book published or keeping it on your computer.