Okay, where were we? Oh, yes. 1986. I’d attended my first big writers’ conference, and I now had a support group of romance writers who met three times a year. And my fifth novel would soon be released.
I was home from the RWA conference a few weeks when I received a phone call from — surprise! — the new editor at my publishing house. She was calling regarding my sixth novel that was now in her hands. She wanted to discuss some revisions. Panic! I’d known I was being cheated, and suddenly I was being asked to revise. While I was still four years away from receiving a revision letter and seeing line and copy edits, this was a first step.
Now I realize that the phone conversations I had with that editor on book #6 and those books for that publisher that followed equaled a “substantive edit.” Although not a perfect way to do things, IMHO, those phone calls taught me how to take lots of notes and to explore ideas “off the cuff” by verbalizing them with my editor. (Brainstorming quickly became one of my favorite aspects of being a writer and has remained so through all these years.) I learned how to take a book apart after I thought I was done with it and then put it back together in a better condition.
Book #6, a pirate novel, was definitely a better book for the changes the editor requested. In the years since 1986, I have learned that editors aren’t always right about what is wrong with a book, but if they are asking for changes, they are usually right that something is wrong. As the creator of the book, it’s my job to seek out the real culprit and do all in my power to make the story better than it was before.
That summer of 1986 was when I acquired my first agent. A lovely lady who I consider a friend, but from a business standpoint, it wasn’t a successful partnership because she closed her agency (for personal reasons) before I began writing the first book of the three-book contract that she represented me on. This forced me to take a hard look at what I wanted an agent to do for me. I was much better prepared by the time I shopped for a new agent. [I will talk about this later; if I don’t, somebody remind me!]
Aside #1: Over the years I have seen a lot of writers hurt in agent-writer situations. I do believe that a bad agent or the wrong agent is worse for a writer than having no agent. Too many writers sign on with the first agent who says they like their writing. I tell writers that they didn’t marry the first guy who said, “You’re pretty,” so don’t “marry” the first agent who likes your writing. An agent-writer partnership is like a marriage in many ways. You must have similar outlooks. You must be able to communicate well. A shy, timid, introverted writer probably won’t do well with an overbearing, tough as nails, brash agent, even if he is the best agent in New York City. So if you are on the agent search, take your time. Talk to the agent several times. Make sure he/she listens to you, to your wants and desires, to your goals and dreams. Meet them in person if at all possible.
Aside #2: I’m pleased to say that I have been with my current agent for almost 16 years, and she has represented me on more than 50 book sales (including foreign editions and one movie option). We have a very successful working relationship, both professionally and personally. I feel quite blessed.