Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Author Expectations

"If my manuscript isn't for you, please advise me on what I could do better/ how to improve my manuscript." 

"I want to see my novel turned into a huge Hollywood production." 

"I want the guarantee that the print run of the first edition of my debut will be over 100,000 copies."

"I will only accept an offer from one of the big 5 publishers."

"I want guaranteed that my book will be translated into at least 20 foreign languages."

"I want to be a full-time writer."

These are just a few examples of what agents see in queries all the time. Well, maybe not ALL the time, but often enough. Which is why I thought it's time to write a piece on author expectations. A little pep talk so to speak.

First of all, it's great to have hopes, dreams, and ambitions. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't have managed to finish writing a book -- which is a huge accomplishment in itself. I know how much time, hard work, dedication, and heart it takes to complete a book, so you should certainly be proud of yourself. Like I said, it's okay to dream big, but at the same time you need to know how to manage your own expectations. Otherwise you might always chase unattainable goals, and never be happy of your actual accomplishments.

The truth is: you're not the only one on this journey. There are millions of other people who have also written a book they love and believe in, and they want exactly what you want. For their book to become a success. To have at least one, if not all, of the things I wrote above. Which brings me to the first expectation: the personal feedback/ advice from an agent. I'm sure you've read a trillion posts by agents who explain why they can't provide personal rejections and feedback. There are two main reasons: 1) it's not our job, and 2) we just don't have the time.

If you're about to argue that it actually is our job, then please let me quickly explain why it's not. Our main responsibility is to our clients (and everything that entails -- once you are a client, you'll get all the feedback you want. And more. Until then, if you want specific feedback, get yourself a critique partner/ group, beta readers, or a freelance editor). Any extra time (oftentimes in our freetime) is spent on reading queries and manuscripts from (hopefully) prospective clients. That brings me to the "no time" aspect. Reading queries and manuscripts is time-consuming. Reading is an exclusive activity, meaning we can't reply to emails or do client work while going through manuscripts. You may argue that sending a personal response to a query only takes five minutes. Not only are you wrong, because a proper feedback/ evaluation takes much longer, but even it did only take five minutes per response... once you start adding up all those five-minute-responses, you can start adding up the hours of extra and unpaid work every week. Because that's what it is unfortunately. Unpaid work. So as much as I'd love to give every writer a detailed outline why their manuscript didn't work for me (and I try to be as personal in my rejections as I can), I simply can't.

Now to the other expectations: again, it's completely fine to hope for these things to happen. We all have dreams; some are smaller, some are bigger. What's not fine, though, is to feel entitled to these things. Here's a really ugly truth about the publishing industry, and life in general: no one owes you anything. It's not your civil or human right to be published by one of the big five; a publisher doesn't have to pay you a five- or six-figure advance, or promise you a mindblowing first edition. There's no guarantee that your novel will ever be picked up by a film studio -- or that Zac Efron will play your main character. (Le sigh. I know!) Publishing, like all other creative industries, is a highly competitive environment. People aren't sitting around with millions of dollars in their pockets, just waiting for you to bounce up the stairs with a manuscript in your hand. (Is it time for "Le sigh" again? I think it is.) Of course, like always, there are exceptions to the rule, and who knows, perhaps you happen to be one of those exceptions. But you can't count on that. I mean, I'm not sitting at home every day waiting for Zac Efron to turn up at my door in Bremen, Germany, and propose to me. (Though it could happen, right?) I just realised that comparing my Zac Efron scenario to the publishing industry doesn't make much sense, but I'll keep it anyway. Because... Zac Efron, hello?

Anyway, my point is, there are no guarantees in publishing. Perhaps your debut sells to a big publisher, perhaps it doesn't. Perhaps you'll have five publishers fighting over it, perhaps you won't. Perhaps you'll get a five-figure advance, perhaps you won't get an advance at all. Perhaps your book will become an instant bestseller, perhaps it won't. There are just so many perhapses, so many factors to consider. Perhaps the timing is just right, perhaps it's just wrong. Perhaps the trend is just starting, perhaps it's just died. Perhaps the publisher was looking for exactly your kind of story, perhaps they just signed someone else with a story that's too similar to yours. Perhaps you'll be a bestselling author, perhaps it'll take years for you to build a solid writing carer. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I, as an agent, cannot promise you success (instant or not), I cannot promise you a six-figure advance, a Hollywood production, or a certain publisher. I can only promise you all my enthusiasm, effort, honesty, respect, and hard work. If you think you're entitled to more, than that can be a problem for the agent-author-relationship in the long haul. And if you already mention all those high expectations in your query, it might put me off. Because you may come across as high-maintenance or, depending on the expectations expressed, even crazy and delusional. (If you expect me to jump out of a ginormous cake at the Hollywood movie premiere you started planning seven years ago -- before you'd even started writing your book --, then yes, I might come to the conclusion that you've got a screw loose. Just saying.)

Of course, I will try my hardest to help you reach your goals, but the author keeping their feet on the ground goes a long way, too.

On that note, don't waste too much time on perhapses and what ifs. Enjoy your publishing journey, and who knows, perhaps all this will come true for you some day. That said, there's someone at the door. I bet it's Zac Efron. *winks*

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