Agent Caitlen Rubino-Bradway: What Am I Looking For In An Author?
Guest Post by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
One of the least fun calls I’ve had to make as an agent was to an author of mine. His first project had received a warm response from editors, but no offers. We were currently six or seven months into his second project. And now I was calling to tell him that, in my opinion, we should put the second project aside and move onto the next. There were a couple of reasons for that, but the biggest ones were that the third project, which we’d talked about several times, was something we both felt very strongly about, and it’s the sort of story I really thought would catch editor’s attention.
I wasn’t looking forward to essentially telling my author, look, I know you really like this story, I know you’ve put a lot of work into it, but I think you need to put it aside and start all over again with a new project. To my relief, however, he was on board with it. At one point, he said (paraphrasing), “I write because I like to write, but I really want to sell a book.” And I thought – yes. That is exactly what I want in an author.
But counterpoint? Recently we (at the LKG Agency, Lauren and I both go over every story we’re seriously considering — two agents for the price of one!) were reviewing a wonderful story that was hitting all of our sweet spots. The concept was fun and fresh, the writing was engaging, we both loved the main character. However, it was clear the plot needed a lot of work — inconsistencies in the world-building, questions that were asked but not answered, and a climax that felt like it belonged to another story entirely. When we had a call with the author to talk revisions, they shut us down. They weren’t interested in revising, they didn’t think the manuscript needed any changes, we simply didn’t understand their story.
I’ve heard that more often than you might think. And I’m not trying to say that I’m completely, 1000% right about every suggestion and revision I give to an author. It is, after all, entirely possible that I’m not the super-brilliant amazing story-genius I think I am — or, more realistically, that this is a sign I’m just not the right agent for that story and that author. But I will say that it’s not uncommon for an author become so invested in their story, after the hours and weeks and even years that they put into it, that they are not receptive to any changes.
It makes sense; you have to love your story, and be deeply invested in it, because that’s what’s going to keep you at the computer for all those hours and weeks. But if it gets to the point where it puts up a wall, then it’s a problem. Because while writing a book is a solitary endeavor, publishing a book is a collaborative one.
I say this not just as an agent, but an author who has the exact problem herself. My new YA, Supernormal (available on Amazon, March 15th!), got one consistent reaction from all of my friends, beta readers, and editors. They wanted to see the two main characters kiss — something that should be obvious in a YA with a strong romantic element, but something I kept resisting because I was too fixated on the ‘slow build’ idea. Eventually I had to sit myself down and point out that if everyone was saying the same thing, then it is actually a problem, and wasn’t this going against the exact advice I give to people. (It was, and I was, though it took me far too long to realize it.)
But as an agent? An author’s ability to take a step back and take an objective look at a project they poured blood, sweat, and tears over can honestly be the difference between an offer and not.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but while writing is a passion, publishing is a business. You can write a wonderful story that editors love, and that still doesn’t get a contract because of purely business reasons. Or perhaps they love your story, but they think the focus is on the wrong character, or that the twist in the last third doesn’t work, and want you to do a major rewrite. And what I really look for in an author — other than, obviously, the potential to be the next J.K. Rowling — is that while they love writing, they approach publishing like a professional. Are they willing to put in the work? Because publishing a book is a lot of work. Are they receptive to ideas and input? Please don’t take this to mean I expect an author to agree to everything. If they feel very strong about X, but I’m really concerned about it for Y reasons, I want us to be able to talk through it to find a middle ground.
It’s the authors who can look at things objectively while caring deeply about their project, who can see the forest and not just the trees, and who can take a step back as needed and think of it in terms of a writing career and not just a single project, that are going to make it in the very crowded and competitive bookshelves. And those are the authors I cannot wait to work with.
Find Caitlen: LKG Agency
Caitlen–thanks for your post! We will be featuring her next novel, Supernormal, when it releases on March 15th! Come check it out!