Agent Advice: The Epilogue

And now, we need to talk about … when agents are wrong. It happens. And we all love those stories about the novel that almost went into the Dumpster, only to be retrieved at the last minute by some prescient spouse (like Stephen King’s wife, who supposedly saved CARRIE) or editor (like the one who saved the book at left, by Lionel Shriver).

I just started reading WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN yesterday, in fact, and I’m on p. 77 and absolutely savoring it. I knew I loved it from about page 7: great plot (mother recounts in letters to estranged husband about what went wrong in the years leading up to their teenage son murdering people in a school-shooting). But even more than great plot, great voice: dark, caustic, honest, smart, and willing to say a whole lot of things about women and motherhood that few people are willing to say. In an entertaining way, no less.

The point is, her agent hated it. The agent wrote to Shriver (according to an author interview in the paperback edition), “For the life of me, I don’t know who is going to fall in love with this novel.” The timing was especially bad: just post-9/11, when America (in Shriver’s words) was feeling particularly “defensive and self-righteous.”

Shriver left her agent and went to 20 other agencies in 8 months. No takers. Then she broke the rules (including ones outlined below) and submitted it, unagented, to an editor who immediately recognized the book’s brilliance and bought it. Next: major reviews, foreign sales, bestsellers lists, and the UK Orange Prize for fiction. Shriver appreciated it all, having previously published six novels that all lost money.

So there we go, a Cinderella story to end on, just as we began earlier this week. And now: I’ve had my say about agents and welcome, as always, any experiences you want to share.

1 thought on “Agent Advice: The Epilogue”

  1. I’ve been seeing a lot of different perspectives on agent-author relationships, in terms of how to take criticism and suggestions. I would love to hear from others who have encountered challenges with their agents and how they dealt with them. Thanks!

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