I’ve been watching an implosion of sorts over an agent who offered a 1-2 page evaluation of authors’ five-page synopsis and the first twenty-five pages in exchange for a $100 donation to a worthy cause. On the face of it, the idea has merit. A worthy cause receives much-needed funding, and authors receive feedback of their work from a learned source – the agent.
Or do they?
I admit that I’m ambivalent about anyone in the publishing industry, be they agents or editors, doing fundraisers because of the potential for abuse or misunderstanding.
The problems I see are this:
- Are they evaluating a genre they represent? Silly as that may sound, there’s a disconnect here. For instance, I don’t publish YA, so I don’t always feel properly suited to critique it. Sure, the basics are all the same, regardless of genre, but I may slip up on voice. Each age group commands a certain voice, and I may not catch that because it’s not my specialty. That’s a pretty important slip-up that someone like Andrea Brown would catch with her eyes closed and one arm tied behind her back. With respect to a fundraiser, genre isn’t a consideration because, well, the person is after your money, not necessarily your story. There’s an agenda at play here.
- Quality of the evaluation: If the response is so vast – and it usually is – then the agent or editor will be inundated with pages, so how good is that evaluation or critique going to be? I know that when I do advanced readings for writer’s conferences, I may receive eight submissions of twenty pages each. I usually get them two weeks before the event. Somehow, I need to squeeze in the reading in between the organized chaos of my day job. I’d like to think the authors are getting my very best, but in truth, they’re getting a rushed critique of the high points of what does and doesn’t work. And at that, each reading takes me about a couple hours to read, take notes, and type up a one-two page crit. They paid for it, and they damn well deserve the best I can offer given the small window of time I’ve been allotted. If one multiplies that times, say, a hundred, two hundred, now what is the author going to get? And don’t forget, you’ve paid $100 for the honor.
- Can anyone give a real evaluation of an overall story with only 25 pages? The thing with evaluations or critiques is that the agent or editor can only speak to those specific pages. Is it helpful to see what does and doesn’t work for those pages? Sure. They can highlight a weak point in your writing that you suspect carries through the rest of the manuscript. But they can’t speak to the overall quality of your story. I’ve read many manuscripts that were terrific up until the last few chapters, where the book falls apart. And don’t forget, you paid $100 for this opinion, so you have to weigh that against how much it will help you.
- Who’s actually doing the critique? The cynic in me knows full well that most agents and editors have scut monkeys – those brave interns who do the dirty work of evaluation what they think their bosses would like. Call me cynical, but if I have over a hundred submissions – who have all paid $100 [did I mention that already?] – I have a time constraint. Helloooo scut monkeys.
- Who is the person offering this deal? You need to know who you’re dealing with. Is this someone who’s made some big deals recently? Has s/he made regular sales over the years? Is s/he an industry leader who commands respect far and wide, like an Andrea Brown, Rita Rosenkranz, Stephany Evans, or are they lesser known? Is this a loose canon who will take a personal issue to a public arena [as exhibited on a particular writer’s board]? Personally, any agent or editor who would do this is slitting their own throat because gossip is rife in this industry. You want to work with the best, and any agent or editor who ridicules or mocks an author in front of thousands is someone you want to hose down with bug spray.
What are you getting? A critique or evaluation?
Thar be a difference between an evaluation and a critique, and there is room for disappointment because the author isn’t necessarily certain which they’re getting – a critique or an evaluation. The person doing the fundraiser is more than likely looking for the easiest way out to get the biggest bang for his buck [mind you, this is merely a suspicion, not a fact. Again, I’m cynical, ok?]. But given the realities, the agent can’t possibly devote untold hours on each submission – for which you paid $100 – otherwise, he’d be reading until late next year.
Ok, I exaggerate, but the facts are that time management is an issue. A critique takes a lot of time and thought. It’s the, “this story doesn’t work for me because of the following elements…” It’s about specifics…believability, POV switches, poor character development, pacing, and a whole host of other items off the literary a la cart menu. Unless you’re Janet Reid, analysis takes time.
Conversely, an evaluation is an opinion, and it doesn’t demand nearly as much thought or analysis because it’s not about pointing out specifics. It’s the, “I don’t think this story has any place in the market because your character isn’t likable/believable.” Mind you, you’re not being told why, just that they do or don’t like what you’ve done.
And hey, there’s nothing that puts the zing in a writer’s zang than to hear, “Hey, great work! Wow. Cool. Awesome, dooood.” But again, no specifics. Well, dammit, how is it cool and amazing, you think. You’re also remembering that, hey wait, I forked over a hundred smackers, and that’s the best you can do?
It’s important to take offers like this with grain of salt. Think logically – yes, Dad, I hear you snorting at my attempts to bleat logic. An offer such as this could be the bee’s knees, or it could be an invitation for abuse where the author loses. Personally, I’m sick and tired of authors getting the short end of the stick when it comes to “free” this or “let me help you” that because I’m just a cynical wench who has seen too much abuse.
If this is something that appeals to you, then ask the person offering the deal a lot of questions. Don’t forget, they want your donation, so they should be able to answer you. If they don’t, then you’ve saved yourself some money.
- Am I getting a critique or an evaluation?
- Could you please define what that entails?
- How much specific detail do you give?
- How long is your critique/evaluation? After all, you’re forking over a hefty “fee,” so this question is quite reasonable
Then you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself one question: Is it worth it?