I was chatting with a writer the other day, one I consider a good friend and one whose work I simply love.
This happens to me rather a lot—writers whose work I love becoming friends with me.
I feel fortunate to count among my clients writers who have become my friends. As an editor and, now, too, as a literary agent, I’m lucky enough to pick and choose the people with whom I work and the projects on which I work. I’m grateful every day that I’m not selling widgets (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I work with writers I like and admire on manuscripts I enjoy. I work in an industry I love, doing what I love.
Love, love, love.
Of course I get paid for what I do—whoever said that all you need is love must not have had a mortgage. Or rent. Or a car loan. Or a grocery bill. We all do need a lot more than love to get along in this world. If we want shelter and food, that is.
Most writers I know do want shelter and food. As well they should. But most writers I know also want their work to be published. They’d also like to be paid for their work. As well they should be.
Money is important.
But money isn’t everything. Especially when it comes to getting your manuscript published.
Yes, yes, yes—every author dreams of winning a many-figured advance, as does every literary agent. Every agent who falls in love with an author and her manuscript wants to field generous offers and competing bids for a soon-to-be book that multiple editors and publishers are fighting over. Almost everyone sees advances, whether rightly or wrongly, as an expression of the level of interest a publisher has in the project.
Money matters. Of course it does. But it’s not the only thing. Because when it comes to publishing, no amount of money can buy love. A large advance might look a lot like love, at least at first glance. But a large advance doesn’t necessarily equate to unconditional love and support. A large advance doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve bought yourself an editor who will thoroughly read and review your manuscript and care for it as if it were her own. A large advance doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve bought yourself a marketing and publicity team that will promote your book in creative ways that you never dreamed of. A large advance doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve bought yourself a sales force that will get your book distributed through sales channels that never even crossed your mind.
Even the largest advance isn’t worth six or twelve or eighteen months of torture and agony working with an editor and a publishing house that don’t really love you or your manuscript and whom you don’t really love, either. No advance in the world can cover the cost of a broken heart when it comes to publishing.
For many authors and agents, the primary focus when pitching and selling a project is on the size of the advance—obviously, the bigger, the better. But what’s also so important—crucial, really—is finding a publishing team who love you, who understand you and your manuscript and what you’re trying to accomplish. They get it. They get you. And they can’t wait to share your work with the world.
That’s not about $$$$. It’s about XOXO.
Where do you find this love? Who knows? Finding the right agent and the right editor and the right publisher is really very much like falling in love. The stars have to align. Lightning has to strike. There’s no science to this; it’s all magic. A good agent will know which editors to pitch your project to, but that doesn’t mean that any particular editor at any particular house will fall in love with your particular project at this particular moment.
Because no one ever knows when love will strike. Agenting is like matchmaking. It is matchmaking. It’s setting up an author and an editor and hoping they hit it off. Because selling a project isn’t just about the words on the page or sales figures, it’s also about building a relationship.
That relationship might be found at one of the big New York publishing houses that can afford to offer a five- or six-figure advance for your debut novel. Or it might be that an editor at a small indie press falls in love with your manuscript—and with you. Maybe that editor at that small press can offer only a small advance—or even no advance at all.
The luckiest writers will find it all in one—a great editor at a great house that offers a great advance. But what’s a great house? What’s a great advance? What makes a great editor?
Those are questions that only the author can answer. A good agent will help you find the best house for your work. A good agent will secure a suitable advance and fair royalties. A great agent will help you find an editor and a publisher who love your work, no matter whether that editor works for a large, international publishing conglomerate or for a small indie press.
Money can’t buy happiness, as they say. It can buy a whole lot of things that might make your manuscript more readable and more marketable. But if you go into publishing with dollar signs in your eyes, you might well be missing out on a chance to work with a publishing team that loves you. And you can’t put a price on love.
January 2, 2016