Will Travel for Words: What Words Don’t Convey by Karen A. Chase
A few weeks after announcing an agent had signed me as an author, I had lunch with a literary friend. As we spoke about my newly-found New York publishing partners, Edward Lengel, who is a professor and a published author, advised me to plan a visit to NYC. No amount of phone calls or emails, he said, would compare to what you’ll accomplish when you meet with your agent. At last, this week, I followed Ed’s advice, and now I understand his statement fully. It wasn’t because of what was said, it was primarily because of three things: Tone, timing and temperature.
By tone, you are right to assume I mean inflection. I can hear it better in person–a laugh means more when you see it bubble up–but it’s more than that. Rebecca is my primary agent and we’ve spoken a few times over the phone, mostly about editing. Jennifer is editing the manuscript with me, and so our conversations have been longer, and her notes on my pages have been, well…helpful, but prolific. Since we don’t spend time on the phone talking about books or the publishing industry, it’s difficult to assess how they feel about the industry, or where my book will come into it.
Now, I have seen the bright-eyed, edge-of-seat enthusiasm for the industry and my story they both possess. I’m more confident that the tone of that excitement matches mine.
Timing was also something that, as a new author, worried me. Was I editing fast enough? How much work was ahead and how long were they prepared to hang in there with me? The comments about taking my time that I’d heard over the phone, now came with nodding, smiling heads and calm, rational faces. The result is my shoulders are down now and I’ll write well rather than against an imaginary clock. Given all the successfully published books surrounding us in their offices, I can see their sense of timing works.
To that end, I learned how much the literary world has changed. It used to be that an agent acquired an author and then sold a book to a publishing house where the editor then edited the manuscript. Now, agents edit and editors at publishing houses acquire. That’s not to say editors don’t edit a bit, but publishers aren’t taking risks on books that make them say, “It’s great, but it needs some work.” So I’ll take time editing it now, so it does better later.
It is remarkable, but an hour and a half meeting helped form a more friendly working relationship. Once distant meetings through the cold, hard phone, are now replaced with warmth. I see my agents not as goddesses (although they’re both quite lovely), but as people. People who laugh, who care greatly, who hugged me before we even began speaking. These are two gals who were just as excited to meet with an author, as I was to sit next to my agent. They are a warm light to guide me through the tunnel of publishing this book. There aren’t words for that really.
So trust me as I trusted my friend, Ed. Visit your agent in person. Even with all the things you might not say, you’ll find it easier to travel for words together when you are sitting side-by-side.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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