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Readers, Editors, Agents

I have just heard from my agent about the murder mystery I wrote over the summer. She likes it but it needs work. Hard to believe, this is music to my hard working writer’s ears. If she’d said, “It’s awful. No way can I handle this,” I would have cast the manuscript aside and started again.

My agent is a literary lawyer who reads hundreds of books every year and knows the marketplace well. She’s not particularly nurturing so far as my literary efforts are concerned but I’m experienced so I don’t need a nurturing agent. I needed that at the beginning of my career, but not now. So it’s fine with me that my agent’s goal is to sell my book, period. As it happens she's a very nice person and I like her and she likes me. But she's not my editorial Mama. We both are practical and get on with it, I'd say. When I hand her work, I know I'll get an honest assessment. I trust her. Therefore, even though I might not like what she has to say, or I might not agree with all her suggestions, I have to remain open to them and not take suggestions as a personal rejection of my efforts. Critique and criticism are not the same.

In addition to being my agent and my lawyer, my agent is also an editor. She knows what works and what doesn’t work in a manuscript. I respect her commentary and, for this project, I have my eye on the marketplace as much as she does. I still write literary short stories, poems, essays, and consider myself a journalist at heart. I send things out, I get them published, or they are rejected and I file them away. I sometimes get paid for my efforts and sometimes I don’t.(The literary marketplace pays very little or not at all.) P.S. I want to sell this book.

Have I mentioned that the difference between a published and unpublished writer is someone who can work with an editor, an agent, or a publisher, without complaint? We can stand up for our material, but still be cooperative. There’s no other way except the self-publishing route, not a bad one nowadays. I’ve used it myself (twice) and will write about it here eventually I suppose.

As for readers, they are important also. I don’t know a professional writer who works in isolation. Everyone needs feedback before revision. I’ve been in many writer’s groups over the years but don’t have one at the moment. I do, however, have three friends—one is a writer, the two others are avid readers—and they don’t seem to mind reading my work. I give them guidelines as I hand them the manuscript; I remain silent as they talk to be about my work, just like in a workshop. Then I get to work on a revision, send the work out or, in the case of a full-length manuscript, hand it to my agent. And I don't worry. If this project isn't viable, I'll move on to the next one. That's the writer's life.

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