Friday, 26 October 2007

Agents and Editors

I gave a talk at a Rotary Club event near Manchester last night and during the question session someone asked about the role of agents and editors, and in particular whether they influence the way in which I write my books.

My take on this is that the book is ultimately the writer’s personal responsibility, but it is always valuable to listen carefully to constructive comments (including criticisms and suggestions for change) from sensible people whose sole concern, like mine, is to make the book as enjoyable as can be. I’ve been lucky to have a terrific agent, Mandy Little, throughout my career, and I’ve also been fortunate with my editors in the past, as well as nowadays. Both Susie Dunlop in the UK and Barbara Peters in the US don’t hold back if they think there is something in the manuscript that needs changing, and that’s a good thing.

This isn’t to say that a writer should slavishly follow every piece of advice – in any case, sometimes advice given by a number of people can be contradictory, because so much depends on subjective judgments. But there’s no point in any writer becoming a prima donna. We can all think of famous and gifted novelists whose later work was not quite up to standard. One reason for this may have been because either their editors feared displeasing them, or because the writer became reluctant to accept criticism.

At the moment I’m working on a few final adjustments to Waterloo Sunset in the light of Susie’s comments. All being well, the fine-tuning will be finished by this time next week.


Eric Mayer said...

I think it is important to distinguish, as you do, between paying attention to advice from just anyone and advice from someone who has already demonstrated they like and understand your stuff, such as your editor or agent.

And I'm sure Waterloo Sunset will be fine!

Ed Gorman said...

Sometimes it's a tough call when an editor wants a change you don't agree with. I generally don't have a problem with what I consider minor changes. In fact in twenty-five years + of publishing novels I've had only two prolonged battles with editors. I've had far more trouble with copy editors. These days when I get what I feel is a useful copy edit I always send along a note of thanks. I do this because so many copy edits are so strange or dumb. My favorite was when I put the N word in the mouth of a fan who was watching a infamous and ugly boxing match 1892 (a white fan shot a black fighter in the back when it was apparent he was going to win). The copy editor suggested I have the bigoted fan scream "Kill the African American!" Now THERE'S historical accuracy for you.

Pauline Rowson said...

I enjoyed this article and agree that having an opinion from someone you trust, and who understands your style of writing is very important. Usually by the end of many edits of a novel I know it inside out, upside down and back to front and with crime novels, of course, all the bits have to join up, or at least be explained in some way, and there mustn't be any holes in the plot. I don't have an agent to give my books the once over, instead a wonderful lady called Amy Myers, another crime writer, recommended to me by the Hilary Johnson Literary Consultancy knew exactly what I was trying to say. Amy became my editor and still gives my novels the once over before they go off to my editor at the publishing house.