Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Tale of Five Agents: Agent #4

My initial phone call with Agent #4 went very well.  She liked the concept of my story, enjoyed the humorous writing, and even had a soft spot for my main character.  However, like Agent #2, she felt the story needed some work before she could offer me a contract.

So it was back to the realm of R and R again.

Every agent works in their own way, based on their individual preferences and personalities.  There was one thing, though, that I didn't quite get about how Agent #4 worked.  At the time of our call she had only read the first fifty pages of my manuscript -- and that was all she wanted to read and work on for the moment.  In her experience, she explained, problems that are found in the first fifty pages are endemic of the remainder of the manuscript and needed to be dealt with before anything else.

In that conversation she said the first fifty pages raised a lot of questions about the characters and the plot that she wasn't clear on.  I explained these were all points that were revisited and resolved later in the book.  Instead of reading the rest of the manuscript, however, she asked for an "overview" of the remainder of story.  This seemed strange to me, but I agreed to provide her with what I termed a chapter-by-chapter outline of the book so we could procede.

One of the things we talked about at length was the opening of The Book.  I had followed the advice that you should start your story as far into the story as possible.  Agent #4 surprised us both by telling me, "I've never suggested this before, but I think you need to back up and start your story a little before you currently start it."  She suggested starting it only about 30 seconds before I was starting it.  Just enough to give the reader a better sense of what's happening and why before launching into the first bit of action that sets the rest of the story in motion.

To her lasting credit, Agent #4 was completely correct in this.

The first sign of real problems came about in our second phone call.  I had submitted one revision of those first pages (I'd bumped the number up to 75 because I felt she needed to see the next chapter) and during our call she said she was having some problems with one of the major characters.

The Book features my nine-year old MG protagonist and an eccentric scientist/professor.  The eccentric scientist/professor is intentionally a bit over the top.  He's at times absent-minded, a genius, off in a world of his own, lacking in social graces... you get the idea.  I like this character a lot.  I find him funny, interesting and incredibly easy to write.  Agent #4 found his inconsistent personality to be a problem -- so much of a problem that she considered him to be unrealistic and asked me to consider rewriting him.

From Draft Zero, I have been open to the idea of revising most of the plot of The Book.  I knew there would be plot points, dialogue, and scenes that would need to be improved and/or tossed.  Character-wise, I was willing to change the initial nature of my main character and the professor's manservant to increase the tension of the book.  However, there were some parts of The Book that were non-negotiable: the essence of who my characters are is the foundation that the entire book is based on.

So complete was my belief that I was willing to lose the chance of working with an agent.

We had one more phone call, one that we both knew was more formality than anything else.  We both expressed gratitude for the other's willingness to work with us.  Then she ended the call by asking me to think things over, adding that she might not be the right agent to work on this project.

So I did.

Then I decided to give myself a four month vacation from even thinking about The Book.  Which I also did.

MORAL 1: Be open to revision, but know and respect the difference between those changes that ring true by make your story stronger and those that ring false by making the story something other than your own.

MORAL 2: You don't just need an(y) agent, you need the right agent for your book.

-- Tom