Had your literary vision checked lately?

I had an agent tell me a while back they were thrilled to have placed her client’s book with us because no other editor had shown as much passion as we did. Passion is great, but what I also think she meant was that we shared the same vision. No, no, I’m not talking vision like my myopic little friend here, but literary vision.

There is an imaginary demilitarized zone that good agents know not to cross. Like when the editor enthuses about a book: “Ooo. Ooo. Me lurves. Me wants. Um, me wonders if you can, like take out the parts with Ted in it? Oh, and can you maybe puff up the bitsies about Joan. That would make the book soooo much better.”

Is this editor barking mad? thinks the agent. How on earth do you, Editor McIdiot, attempt to accomplish removing Ted when the title of the book is Ted’s Hopes They Sell Margaritas in Hell. Dude…the story is about Ted.  The smart agent will realize he and Editor McIdiot share a vastly different vision.

And yes, this absolutely happens.

Stand Your Ground

The trick is to have a very clear vision of your book. You and your agent have discussed this already. Or you certainly should. What is it you want to accomplish with your story? If it’s a mystery, then how do you feel about it if an editor wants to noodle it into horror…or vampire romance. Sure, I’m being somewhat silly, but I have firsthand stories of  equally ridiculous suggestions by editors whose brains reside south of their personal beltway. And to be fair, it may be they have a very good idea, but it’s important that you are on board with it.

It can be hard to stand your ground when facing a contract offer. You’re wondering if this is the only apple that will dangle in front of you. Should you leap at it and hope for the best, or should you stay true to your vision? It’s important to project into the future. Can you honestly see yourself reconciled to a massive change in vision? Is this change in vision going to enhance your career?

And let’s not forget that where you got one serious bite, there will be others.


Be careful about assuming that you and the editor are on the same page. If they don’t discuss their vision, you or your agent need to bring it up. Boy, I learned that the hard way. Years ago I signed an author whose book I was terribly excited about. At every turn, she chaffed at our editorial suggestions. Why can’t we leave it as written, she’d ask. Because that’s not the vision I have for the book, I replied.

But that’s my vision, she said.

Ohhhh…[sounds of needle skipping across the record]. There was no middle ground for this book with the author. She had a very clear vision of  her book. Unfortunately, I felt it killed the book’s marketability. We parted ways. It was a valuable lesson for me.

Since that time, I’m painfully clear about my expressing my vision fora book. And I listen. It could be the author and agent have better ideas because they’ve been living this project far longer than the five minutes I’ve had it. It could be that my vision is woefully misplaced. I’m not so myopic that I’m not willing to think outside the box.

So before you set out on the Query Highway, be sure to have your eyes checked and your map firmly in your grasp. If you have no idea where you’re going, it could be that your editor will lead you into a blind alley.

2 Responses to Had your literary vision checked lately?

  1. catwoods says:

    Lynn, thanks for the wonderful post. It is so important for us to realize that amongst some of the changes we will be asked to make as writers, there will be dramatic ones that can change the tone of the whole book.

    Sometimes these are important changes that make the ms better. However, sometimes we simply cannot perform these changes without losing the book.

    Thanks for sharing your POV on the subject.

  2. TB says:

    And of course, the big question for the author is, “how inflexible IS my vision for the book?”

    I ran across “conflict of vision” many times while seeking out an agent, and it took me a few years to find one who shared my views on my work. But then, you hit the next hurdle: the publisher.

    As a writer, I was willing to wait as long as it took to find the agent I wanted. All it cost me was time. Unfortunately, an agent doesn’t have the luxury of waiting years to find the “perfect” publisher. For an agent, time is money, and until they make a sale, it’s all red ink.

    Even the most sympathetic agent, doing his or her best to sell the work, is going to get nervous if too many publishers want is going to hit a wall sooner or later if too many publishers want a book without “Ted” in it.

    In short, it isn’t just about me anymore when I decide I’m not going to give an inch. If I keep that attitude, I’ll be keeping it alone. I “stood fast” once two years ago with an agent, and I’m getting too tired to do it again.

    At the very polite request of my agent and suggestions from editors at some major companies, I have altered and shortened my book. It isn’t the “vision” I set out to write, but it’s still a good book, and has a vision of its own that probably is a lot more marketable. I was happy to find that the result isn’t all that far off track, and I can still be proud of it. Anyway, the original is still sitting in my files. If I sell the book maybe some day I can do a “director’s cut.” 🙂

    This compromise, essentially doing what I refused to do two years ago, ended up bothering me a lot less than I thought it would. There’s a wide range between “standing fast” and “selling out,” and so far in my revision, I feel like I’m still in a part of that range that works for me.

    Whether this is “maturity” of some kind, or just the fact that I’m on the downhill side of my fifties and running out of time to be a prima donna, I’m not sure.

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