Monday, June 25, 2007

Follow Or Ignore The Ideas

This past weekend I was definitely in the minority.

Over 400 women were attending the She Speaks Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was one of half a dozen men who were around at this conference. Besides being in the minority as a man, I was the only literary agent at the event. This annual conference trains women in two primary areas--as speakers and as writers. During the conference, I taught an hour workshop about Book Proposals then met individually with over 25 writers in 15–minute sessions.

Because this group of women have been receiving training about book proposals and talking with editors, in general I was impressed with the quality of their submissions. The majority of them came prepared to talk about their book idea. Many of them were petrified because it was their first time talking with an editor or a literary agent. There were several other editors and publishers represented at the conference who were also holding these 15-minute sessions. The format alone is always a challenge for these meetings. The participants are anxious for my feedback and I have to listen carefully to their idea and ask some probing questions as I flip through their proposal.

Years ago I sat in the position of these writers and hung on every word from the editor. I made lots of notes as they talked then tried to go home and follow through on each of their suggestions. I learned the hard way--and I suspect these people from last weekend will learn it as well--that I take the suggestions as just that "suggestions" and not the absolute truth. No one editor or literary agent has this absolute truth perspective with a massive amount of wisdom to pass along to the writer who is pitching. Some of those ideas are right on target while others need to be ignored. That choice is up to the individual.

I've told this story in at least one other entry. Years ago I had a 15-minute meeting with an editor that I respect. I took detailed notes as this editor critiqued my book proposal. I returned home and followed each of the suggestions then sent the proposal back to this editor. He didn't recall that he had even talked with me about this idea. I was crushed and disillusioned and all sorts of other disappointed feelings. I thought I was receiving the total straight scoop about how to navigate the waters of publishing.

Now that I've had a few more years of experience in this area plus had the opportunity for the last few years to be the person who meets with writers, I return to the choice factor. The individual writer has to evaluate the advice, then decide if it's right for their manuscript or book proposal or not.

You can imagine that I was a bit whipped and worn after meeting with writer after writer. I'm unsure if my counsel had much value at the end of the day. Never-the-less, I gave it my best shot. It's all anyone can expect during these sessions. People forget the subjective nature of the publishing world. One person loves your idea while another person rejects it. One person believes your book is the absolute best thing they've ever read on the topic while the next person believes with equal passion that you're work is only for beginners and lacked "freshness" (whatever that means).

As you listen to the opinions of various writers, editors, literary agents and other professionals, don't forget to listen to your own internal voice about the writing.

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4 Comment:

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Writer, Rejected Left a note...

You are very wise about not taking every editor's/agent's word as gospel. I guess experience is a good teacher. Check out a different perspective on the topic of editors and agents at www.literaryrejectionsondisplay.blogspot.com
Sometimes outside editorial advice is right on; sometimes careless; other times just plain way off. Though it's hard to know in the moment which is which, sitting and listening to the inner-writer usually clarifies.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Darlene Left a note...

I was one of the anxious first-timers you met with at the "She Speaks" conference. I want to thank you for being so generous with your comments and attention. What you offered was truly appreciated and it did help me. I plan to take your advice and submit articles. I will also continue to develop my book proposal. I will let the Spirit of God be my "instinct". Be blessed.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD Left a note...

Sorry to get here a day late. Your story about heeding the editor's advice and being disappointed later resonated with me. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt but it doesn't fit. In my case, it was a matter of doing a massive revision of a novel, only to hear back from the editor that, although I'd addressed every concern and the writing was quite good, it just "wouldn't fly." Welcome to publishing 101.
As always, thanks for your postings.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Cara Sexton Left a note...

Just a note of thanks from one of the conference attendees. I sat in your book proposal session and though I had already prepared a proposal to submit to the editors I was meeting with last weekend, it was good to feel that the research and work I had done was 'backed up' during your presentation. Funny that you should address your 'road warrior' friends in the last post, as that is the subject of my current book project. I hope your joining the road warrior ranks has not been too wearing on you.

Thanks for all the valuable information and for teaching the class, even if you were in the gender minority. :)


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