Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Flexibility in the business

One question that always comes up when I speak to an editor is how flexible the writer is. The editors are really interested in people who can accept critique and who are willing to change and make moves necessary to better fit with the publishing house. While most writers say they are flexible, I have found that many are more resistant to change than we would hope for.

So, the question for you is simply that... How willing are you to change? How flexible are you when it comes to your writing.

When I have a writer approach me with their manuscript, this is one issue I really try to explore. As an agent, we want to make your writing as flexible as possible so that we can market it to more than one publisher. Remember what I have said before. Your writing does not fit at every house. For this reason, we have to work to make it fit each house we send it to.

Several of the writers I have working at Greyhaus will create one base story and then develop several off shoots of it to market at different houses. This will include the length of the story, but will also vary in sensuality, depth of history, dialogue and what not. The key is to have a story that truly looks unique when we send it to a publisher.

Editors want the same thing when it comes to working with a writer. When they send their revisions to you, or they make suggestions as to where they want your writing to go, they want to hear you are willing to follow them. They are far from interested in hearing all of the reasons why you are correct and they are wrong. They want flexible.

Now, don't get me wrong. If they suggest something that really doesn't work, then you should make suggestions. This is where the agent comes into play. The agent can often make those suggestions and play the middle man. Editors don't want someone who will just say yes to everything (although it does make their life easier). They want you to be honest. If there is a problem, let them know.

I have heard too many times, writers complain that there were things wrong with their book that stemmed from editorial suggestions. Covers were bad, plot ideas just didn't work. The list goes on and on. But here is the thing. When the suggestions came up, the writer never bothered to say anything, even though they hated the idea.

Please remember though, unless you can show a logical and justifiable reason for not making the change, then you have nothing to complain about.

So, think about your flexibility issues. If you are too locked into your story, then you will have little to no chance of being successful out there in the business.


  1. Hi Scott
    So, how can we showcase our ability to be flexible and respond quickly to suggestions while we're on the hunt for an agent/editor for our work.

    It seems like that may be something that, until we prove it, may be hard to promote.


  2. Nancy,

    Good point. Although you can't showcase that flexibility on a single manuscript, you can if you send in a second manuscript for consideration. If the editor or agent has made suggestions, highlight what those are, and then, take the time to insure that any future manuscript you send in does what they asked. I would also encourage you to highlight in the cover letter the things they asked to see and show them how you did it in the new manuscript.

    I have to say, there are too many times when someone submits a second or even third (and more) that continually do the exact thing that I said I rejected them on with the first manuscript. If you get comments, learn from them and grow with those comments.

  3. Let me bring up another angle on that flexibility.

    There are times when new projects will come up for a writer. It is important that you find the ability to be flexible with your schedule to meet those new demands.

    Yes, it does mean you might have a couple of projects going at the same time, but you have to do it to be successful.