Hello again. I haven't posted in a while, being busy doing the final revision of my manuscript--tentatively titled Absolution--taking a lot of naps, watching reruns of Downton Abbey etc. Over the past month, I have greatly enjoyed working with my agent, the talented Liz Kracht of Kimbereley Cameron & Associates, and I thought I would dedicate a post to the reason why. In a nutshell, the working partnership you form with a good literary agent will make your ms stronger.
When you devote yourself to something like a writer devotes him or herself to a manuscript, you want feedback. Although it is true there are numerous ways to get feedback--Beta readers, critique groups, having your mother read it--the best feedback will always come from an agent. I was very fortunate to have three excellent beta-readers (shout out to Thomas Cosgrove, Kirsten Marsh and Olga Lawrence) who provided me with keen insight into what was working and what did not. (As an aside, if you haven't done the Beta-reader step, stop everything and do it.) But the kind of feedback you can expect from your literary agent--the one that signed the contract and mailed it to you--should be quite different. Think of it this way: my cousin Thomas is a wonderful guy in every way--with the exception of his golf game, which will not be spoken about here--and he is an excellent writer as well (check out his blog at www.20th-hole.blogspot.com). But he is a banker (or something like that) not a professional editor. There should be a difference in the provided feedback.
I think it is unlikely your Beta-readers will point out significant flaws in your ms. Why not? Because they don't want to hurt your feelings! As a case in point, I asked a dear friend of mine, Dr. Edward F Callahan--who taught English at the College of the Holy Cross for over thirty years--to be a Beta-reader. In his e-mail turning me down, he said he had soured enough relationships with honest critiques, and he didn't want to add one more to the list. (translation: 'Hogenkamp' I've read enough of your tripe at Holy Cross when I was paid to do it!)
And, with the exception of Dr. Callahan, it is not a sure thing that your beta-readers will recognize the subtle things--especially in terms of characterization--that can make or break your ms. Your agent does this for a living, and she is investing a lot of her time and energy, which means she would like to get paid. To get paid, she needs to sell your ms, and to sell your ms she needs to make sure it is as good as possible. If a character in your book is falling flat, she will recognize it and tell you!
A good agent will also kill all your darlings; your Beta-readers will not! I can not tell you how many times Liz underlined my wonderful lines and wrote, NO! I have spoken about this before, but it can not be emphasized enough. In my opinion, the best part about the process was seeing how she liked individual paragraphs or sentences or even words. I have spent entire hikes thinking about what exact word to use in a certain spot, and it is gratifying to see that it was well-chosen (or not, usually not.)
I will end here(it is nice out and I want to walk my dog) and take up this same theme tomorrow. (I bet you can hardly wait!) Thanks again for your time and attention; please comment and share the link. :)