Monday, February 14, 2005

Acquiring a Literary agent – Editing

“You talk too much,” he told me.

I had contacted Lantz early in his new career as a literary agent, and he hadn’t signed many clients yet. When he received all of my material (see the previous post) he either: 1) saw some potential and thought I might be worth some time (my preferred version of events), or 2) felt sorry for me and against his better judgment took some time to help a floundering amateur (the more likely scenario).

Whatever. He advised that I read a book on “Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer,” apply its principles and send him my revised MS.

I did. “Much better,” he replied, “But...”

This time he gave me a few specific examples of how he wanted me to edit the MS. In an email he copied in several of my paragraphs and highlighted phrases and sentences that could be cut with no loss to the story. The result was much tighter writing. OK. NOW I get it.

Another complete re-write. I was now down to about 90,000 words and thought it was really ready to sell.

Lantz’s advice was to re-read the “Self Editing” book and get brutal with the (eraser, knife, delete key — pick your analogy.) He gave me some more examples. He also encouraged me. One sentence in his email read, “It is so close to being so damn good I can taste it. “

Wow. Talk about mixed emotions. I was at the same time amazed that this agent was spending so much time with me, abashed that he still didn’t think my book was of commercial quality, but thrilled with that “so close to being so damn good...” comment.

I got brutal. I rearranged chapters and events into a more logical order. I cut out whole sections of what I had considered good background material but which really added nothing to the story. Then I went back and cut out more sections. Whole chapters went away. I searched for all the “ly” adverbs in the book and cut out ALL of them that modified a verb except those used in dialogue. (I mean, c’mon! When people speak they totally use adverbs!)

The word count was now 75,000, a full 25% cut from the original. Surely now I had it right.

During this time Lantz went through a phase he has since abandoned. He had prospective clients read and review (evaluate with a large “scorecard”) the manuscripts of other prospective clients. I actually read 3 other manuscripts: graded one an A+ (really liked it!), one a C (the writing was pretty good, but I found I just didn’t relate to or care about the characters), and one an F (I just couldn’t get into it; I read 50 pages and had no idea what was going on in the story). Two different people graded my story. (To my delight, neither panned it. Both said it had rough areas, but was sound and a good read.)

I waited for Lantz to sign me up. And waited. I tried to be patient. He advised me to keep writing, because many publishers will want a commitment for more than one book if they like the first offering. I had several projects outlined, but started on a sequel with some of the same main characters as “Cherish Is the Word.”

I even went to the trouble and expense of attending a writers’ conference in Ft. Worth, about a 6-hour drive from my home. Lantz was speaking at the conference and I wanted to meet him. We met and had several good, positive conversations. Two weeks later I sent him the latest version of the manuscript. I waited.

Tired of waiting I fired off an email asking Lantz if we had a future. He asked me for a few days to meet with his “Submissions Department” to make a decision. I chafed. Five days later came a chilling reply.

His submissions department wrote, “You wanted me to look at Cherish again. I don't like it anymore now than I did the first time. It's boring to me. I don't like the cheesy way it starts out in 1st person telling the story to his daughter and then shifts to 3rd person as he goes back to tell the story. If an author sets a character up as the narrator, keep it that way. He needs to format, run a spell check, eliminate overuse of the character name and use pronouns and have less unnecessary detail of action.”

OUCH! “Cheesy?” “Boring?” “I don’t like it...?” Wow.

It took me a few days to digest that. I felt sure that Lantz was telling me “goodbye.” I thought the message was pretty darn clear. But I wrote him back to tell him (in a conversational tone) how much I appreciated all his advice and efforts on my behalf. I never expected to hear from him again.

But that same evening he sent me (get this!) a critique of my conversational “goodbye,” told me to read the self-editing book again, and wished me luck.

OK. End of relationship. I planned to never contact him again.

But then... (More next posting)

1 comment:

Tisha from Texas said...

I did the same thing, my friend (and goofball is a term of affection in my family, like sweetie!)
The Self Editing book helps - they have a second edition that has more to it.
As for the author critiques, I got an A+ and a C+ but she didn't read all of it as I hadn't turned in the whole manuscript yet.
SInce I just got my first rejection from a publishing house, I can tell you that rejection hurts but also teaches patience.
Here's my email:
So now, email me and we can really dish!!!