Updated: Apr 16, 2022
You might not know this, but I spent 15 years working in journalism before moving into book publishing. I worked as an editor on newspapers, magazines, websites and 3G platforms (I was even a radio producer for a while, essentially an editor in the audio world!).
Those years spent relaying the news (and more) taught me so much about communication. The audience was king and I pledged allegiance.
Among the many things that I learned across my 20s and 30s was that nothing is written or communicated without agenda. Everyone has one. Even if that agenda is for the greater good, it still exists.
I watched (often in horror) as my Editor-In-Chief reworked stories with a different angle, because they believed their audience had certain political leanings. They focused on fear, because it sold more papers. They added in uncertainty, because it created a hunger to come back for more. They played up to stereotypes, because 'everyone' loves to hate someone. Whether it be red-top newspaper or high-brow broadsheet, each publication played the fiddle and its reader joined the dance.
I moved around the industry hoping to find some integrity, the truth-telling that I believed journalism to be, but it wasn't until I left that I realised how futile an exercise that was. Every single one of the organisations I worked for had an agenda, which included perpetuating its existence.
And why am I telling you this? Because those agendas exist outside the journalism world. As an author, you likely think of your book as this artistic creation born out of your heart. It is, but it's also a product that a reader may or may not want to buy, and a publisher may or may not want to publish.
I recently worked with an author who was struggling with the recommendations of an agent who had suggested she ditch the memoir she'd poured her heart into and pursue something more inline with what they felt was 'on trend'.
When this client came to me, I could hear the disappointment in her words, she wanted me to read through her memoir to see where she'd gone wrong, and why this agent believed it wasn't work its salt. I was already suspicious, knowing what I know about agenda, but held my tongue until I'd made my way through the manuscript.
The more I read, the angrier I got, as it became abundantly clear that this memoir was tremendous. It was the kind of book that made me forget I was working and allowed me to sit back and just enjoy the read.
I know, in my gut, that there's a market for that memoir (and now my client does too). That specific agent doesn't have access to that market, so instead of redirecting my author toward someone else who could help, the agent redirected my client to write something that better aligned with the market they want to access.
Industry advice is incredibly valuable and important. Every person who is working in book publishing got into the business because they love reading (have you ever noticed how most of us wear glasses!). They want to get your message out there, they want you to be heard, they believe they have your best interests at heart.
That said, the industry has to perpetuate itself, books have to be successful, so that publishers can survive. And that is why I am writing you this blog. Everyone has an agenda, every agent, every publisher. Most of the time, their agenda aligns with yours, but sometimes it doesn't and I want to say to you, right now, do not let your own agenda be swept away by the opinions of others - no matter how high up the publishing food chain they are.
You really do know, deep down in your gut, whether the advice you're getting is in your best interests or not. Don't ignore that feeling, because this is your book, your story, your words, and you get to send them out into the world under your terms. Take every piece of advice with a pinch of salt, gather as many opinions as you can. If everyone is saying the same thing, then listen to their advice. If not, then listen to your gut and go with what feels best.
Please, for the love of your work, don't allow anyone's advice derail you... including my own!
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