Different, but Good
by Annette McCleave on May 12th, 2009

Like Jessa, I’m still pretty new to the agent/editor working relationship. This time last year, I had neither. I was still in the thick of the query process, having recently finaled in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest.

I think the most significant discoveries I’ve made since signing with my agent and then subsequently with NAL have been 1) the cheerleader effect, 2) real deadlines, and 3) new expectations.

1. The Cheerleader Effect
For years and years, I wrote just for myself. Yes, I had critique partners and chapter-mates who encouraged me and educated me, but like most writers 99% of my writing time was spent alone and that meant the only person cheering me on was myself. I don’t say that to generate pity; I actually believe this is a critical skill for a writer—developing the unshakable need to succeed. Without it, I’m not sure you can finish a book, let alone make it out of the trenches and into the publishing world.

But when I got a very enthusiastic response from my soon-to-be-agent last spring, my world flipped upside down. Suddenly, someone else besides me thought I had talent. Not those few nice paragraphs that I had received from agents before, but a WOOHOO, I WANT TO SIGN YOU excitement. A few months later, I got another enthusiastic response from my new editor. Wow. The world sure looks different from this point of view. Very pretty, very sparkly.

The high didn’t last, of course. My usual raft of self-doubt has returned, but at least now it’s tempered by little whispers of ‘yeah, but your agent really likes it’ and ‘yeah, but your editor thought your book was worth buying’.

2. Real Deadlines
After I signed my contracts, I had new deadlines to meet—some short, some long, none of them moveable. I actually didn’t have any problem with this part until I hit number 3.

3. New Expectations
My agent is very interested in my work. So interested, in fact, that she wants to know how things are going and wants to read the chapters of my new book when they’re polished. Of course she does. She’s wonderful. Problem is, she now represents an expectation I didn’t have to meet before. I used to be able to write whatever the heck I wanted—in fact, before starting a new manuscript, I frequently gave myself permission to write crap, so that I didn’t have my internal editor sitting on my shoulder saying: not good enough, do it again. But now I had my agent, sitting quietly in the background, waiting for my manuscript.

I also had my editor, who loved my first book, waiting with eagerness to read the second. Plus, the second book now had to satisfy any readers (no matter how few they might be) of my first book. Worst of all, I wanted to write a better book than the one I wrote the first time. I wanted to develop as a writer.

Dear me. Expectations. Lots and lots of expectations—where before there were none.

It took me a long time to leap the hurdle of those expectations and settle into my writing routine. I began my second book at least fifty times, never satisfied that it was right. But eventually, I was able to stop obsessing and move on. All I had to do was let my characters speak through my keyboard and let their lives take over mine; all I had to do was fall in love with my new hero (sigh) and cheer on my new heroine. All I had to do was remember why I write.

My overall conclusion? Being a writer with an agent and an editor is different, but good.

That’s about as philosophical as I get. :smile:

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has let someone else’s expectations tie them in knots. Am I? Reassure me. Tell me your story.

3 comments to “Different, but Good”

  1. 1

    Ack! Now instead of the Internal Editor sitting on my shoulder, I have visions of the Internal Agent! And she’s every bit as scary.

    I’ve always been the Good Girl, the Teacher’s Pet, the First Child, the TAG Student. Some people think it must’ve been great to have had the opportunities that come with those titles. And it was. But high expectations definitely came along for the ride.

    No mistakes. Stay on task. Failure is not an option.

    Wow, I sound like a messed up romance hero :)


  2. 2

    Suddenly finding yourself playing with the big kids is scary! And sometimes enough to bring on writer’s block - yikes! We need a mantra, some yoga breathing…I can do this - breathe - I can do this - breathe

    If that fails there’s always wine.


  3. 3

    Yeah, I hate that waking up in the middle of the night during the OMIGOD moment. Last book I kept dreaming I was on a ship stuck between icebergs.

    I know we do this because we love it. Really.


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