Had your literary vision checked lately?

March 30, 2010

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.

Ass-u-me

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.


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