Let’s start with the mega caveat that having a choice when it comes to literary agents puts me in the very, very, very lucky camp.
I can still remember…me with broken foot…hobbling around my parents’ house, which was easier to navigate on crutches than my own…and talking to Agent #1 on the phone.
A real agent! Talking to me on the phone!
She loved my book, had asked me for an exclusive on it (which I wasn’t able to give, but just being asked for such a thing is excitement incarnate), and even given me her number at her country house to get in touch. I’m telling you–excitement incarnate.
But…she wanted changes.
In the book, that is.
This was my first brush with this truism: There is no such thing as a flawless ms. Not to anyone in the industry anyway. Assuming a certain basic level of craft, you could have twelve readers, and get thirteen different takes on what needs to be done with your ms.
The trick is in finding the agent or editor whose take deeply resonates with your own and with where you have the potential to go as a writer.
This doesn’t mean you will like all suggestions for revision, or that you will instantly perk up, and say, Yes, yes! Oh no. On the contrary–some feedback will make you stare blackly at the drone who dares to challenge your vision, or inject such a problem into an ABSOLUTELY PERFECT WORK–for a little while. And then the awareness will dawn that that suggestion was very wise indeed. That there really is such a problem. And in that dawning awareness, you will realize that this person truly gets your work, and you will want to revise and revise and revise, until s/he says it’s done.
I liked Agent #1’s ideas for revision, and so I revised. I liked Agent #2’s ideas (this was on a different novel, remember) and I revised that one as well. I can still remember talking to Agent #1 after she’d read my new draft.
“I would definitely take this on, Jenny,” she said.
Oh, how I danced around, broken foot and all.
I had that other offer, too, though. Agent #2–newer, greener–had taken me on even before I completed the revisions she wanted.
How did I decide? I did it based on the new, green thing. I decided to go with the more experienced agent, the one with the more prestigious agency, who had a roster of clients that put stars in my eyes.
Was this the right decision? There’s no way to know. Everything we do as a writer sets us on a path where one stepping stone will lead to another, each one unforeseeable in advance, and all we can hope for is that the road ends in publication. In getting attention for our work.
Right or not–if there is such a thing, and I suspect there is not–I’d made my decision.
Next I’ll tell you what came of it.