Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Honest Do You Want Us To Be?

STATUS: I spent the day working on a contract, tracking down one that hadn’t shown up, starting negotiations on some deals, and following up on submissions. And just to show you the randomness that sometimes occurs in the day-of-the-life of an agent, I ended up having this whole long conversation with an editor about baby names. We both agreed that we liked strong names for baby girls. She called me about a project and since we know each other well, we just go off on this side conversation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOODBYE AGAIN by John Denver

This is an interesting question I think. Just recently, I participated in a conference workshop called 2-pages, 2-minutes. The premise of the class was that participants could submit the first two pages of their novel anonymously (and there were various workshops that tackled different genres). Then the workshop moderator would simply read aloud the two pages while 2 agents (and the participants who submitted) listened and read along with him. If we, as agents, would have stopped reading the submission, we were supposed to say so and then discuss why we wouldn’t read on. Or if by the end of the two pages, we would have read on, then we would explain are thinking for that as well.

A simple premise, right? Execution was incredibly difficult. Why? Because I have to say I felt a little uncomfortable being that brutally honest. There were some instances where the other agent and I wouldn’t have finished reading the first paragraph of one of the entries but how harsh would it be to say “stop” after reading only a sentence or two? I have to say we fudged a bit and waited until the conclusion of the next paragraph so as not to seem too harsh.

Now, being me, I tried to be honest about why I would have stopped while also offering constructive criticism on what could be changed or if there was an interesting premise or whatever but I have to wonder: how valuable is that? Did we crush any writer spirits? I hope not. I did emphasize that the writers there shouldn’t think this is the end-all, be-all moment of their writing career and that our response simply means that this manuscript isn’t quite ready to take them where they want to be. Still, it’s tough to hear that an agent couldn’t get beyond the first two paragraphs. My question is whether it’s important for participants to hear that.

Do aspiring writers really want us to be that honest?

I’m asking because I have to decide if I want to participate in a workshop like that in the future. Now, the conference organizers did poll the participants and the good majority of them said they did find it enormously helpful. Hum… were they just saying that?

Also, we only had one participant argue with us. When that person did, I just said, “okay, I’m just one opinion” and left it at that.