Friday, August 26, 2011

Working with Agents and Editors

Realities of Being Published: Lesson One
"Yes, it's your name on the cover. No, it's not just your book."

I'm not sure how many installments will eventually be in this series, but I often have moments or business decisions crop up that leave me thinking When I dreamed about being a novelist, I didn't imagine this.

I'm willing to bet all of you are smarter about being published than I was at your age. Because, well, if you know anything about being published and you're 19 or younger, you know more than I did. In high school, here is what I thought my life as a published writer would look like:

  • I would have a story idea.
  • I would write this story.
  • I would send it to my editor.
  • She would love it. (My future editor was always a woman. Not sure why.)
  • My publishing house would send me a check. (Or maybe I would stop by and pick it up, since I, of course, lived in New York City.)
  • I would have another story idea.
  • I would write this story.
  • And so forth.

In a word - no. Yes, all these steps do take place. No, it's not quite that simple.

Because sometimes you have an idea, and your editor will say something like, "Hmm. I don't know about that. You know what I'd really like to see? Is a story about such-and-such."

Or sometimes - my agent and I were recently laughing about this - you pitch something to a house and they respond with enthusiasm. "That's great!" they may say. "I love it. But what do you think about moving it to US soil? And could you make the main character a Latin American? Oh, and instead of setting it in contemporary times, what do you think about the 1800s?"

And because you like your job and you think your editor (and agent) are smart, valuable people, you say, "Yes, I can do that."

This isn't always the case, of course. The Skylar books were 100% my ideas and my editors didn't touch the plot, setting, theme, any of it. But other manuscripts I've worked on since then have been a collaboration of my ideas, my agents ideas, and my editors ideas. Being a working writer requires flexibility and an ability to set aside your ego for the sake of the story.

Writers who imagine they're the only ones who understand what will sell or what people like to read do themselves a real disservice. Agents and editors read tons and tons and tons (and tons) of manuscripts. Their opinions are valuable. They should be listened to.

Like any area in life, you have to pick your battles and be willing to compromise.

I can think of no cute segue into the list of the Top 21 from the last writing prompt contest. So. I'll forgo a segue and just say, here is the list of those who made the Top 21. Yes, there are normally just 20. This time there are 21. Sometimes an extra one simply must be allowed in. Or so my judges tell me. And the judges are wise and gracious - I just nod in agreement.

Enough rambling.

In no particular order, the Top 21 are:

Faye Rhys
Micah Eaton
Joshua Hildebrandt
Jelena Lomeli
Clare Kolenda
Alyssa Liljequist
Mirriam Neal
Rebekah Hart
Rachelle Rea
Savannah Daniels
Ellyn Gibbs
Alyson Chroll
Morgan Sutton
Rebecca Pennefather
Rayna Huffman
Abbie Mauno
Jordan Newhouse
Esther Wong
Kait Culbertson
Katy McCurdy
Jenna Blake Morris

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. Haha.This post was funny Stephanie.I think I'm a little protective of my story.I don't want it to change a lot.but if it was a little bit I could probably work with it :)
    Congrats Jenna!
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

  2. Congrats to the finalists!

    And as for the post, Stephanie is so right. I think it takes most of us a while to get to the point where we can view our literary babies through business eyes, eyes willing to change for the sake of selling. But the difference between being a diva-writer and an easy-going writer can mean the difference between no-contract and contract. And like Ms. Camden pointed out in her post, you can change a lot without compromising the heart of a story!

  3. Thanks for sharing.

  4. That is really great to keep in mind since I hope to get my short story published. I think I might leave it at it's length and either make it longer or shorter to however they want it.

    Haha that is funny I did expect to make top 21 on that story. Yeepee a great birthday present.

  5. This was a great post, Stephanie! I'm also pretty protective of my stories, so this was a good reminder for me to not only be a good writer, but a flexible one too.

    So excited that I made the top 21! Thanks! :)

  6. Great post, Stephanie! Congrats to the finalists. I have a pretty open mind but sometimes I have to be careful not to change things just cuz somebody would like to see it differently.Lots of times suggestions do make the story that much better.

  7. It's a balance, and I've always found my agents and editors willing to compromise. Or when they suggest something, they usually say something like, "But what do you think?" or "If you don't like it, that's okay." That makes it a LOT easier, when it's clear they're not trying to take over the story, just trying to improve it and it's appeal to readers.

  8. I made the Top 21! Yahoo!

    I'm so glad you're honest, Stephanie, about how flexible you have to be. I liked: "Being a working writer requires flexibility and an ability to set aside your ego for the sake of the story." Amen!

    Happy birthday, Princess!

  9. When I first started dreaming of writing I thought it'd never get stuck, I was so wrong!
    This is a post with great advice :)
    In some ways I think itd be a lot of fin to have editors and agents to kick around ideas with but I can also imagine it challenging too

  10. I don't know how I'm gonna handle compromising on some things lol. I like my books just the way they are when I'm writing them... now however, if I go back a few months later after finishing it or not touching it in a while. I realize it needs some major changes, and if its uncompleted it takes all my will power to not edit the whole stinking thing or erase it and start from scratch.