Business Lessons From A Literary Agent And Critic


Thursday, 9.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

An objection is not a rejection; it is simply a request for more information. – Bo Bennett

At the moment I’m finding a lot of ideas in TEDx talks – the shows that I watch in scattered fragments of time during the day.

The beauty of the TED format is you get a lifetime of experience compressed into fifteen to twenty minutes – and that means the speaker has to create a thought diamond – a flashing stone of inspiration just for you.

One of today’s shows was by Julian Friedmann about storytelling – about what he had learned as an agent working with authors.

The thing that stood out for me was the idea of rejection.

When someone sets out to write something like a novel – a thing that is made for other people to read – there are three elements that are involved.

There is the writer – the person sat in the chair writing day after day.

There are the characters – the people the writer creates and watches and sees doing things day after day.

And then there is the audience, that takes the book and tells themselves the story.

Now, in traditional publishing, to get your book out there you have to get past the gatekeepers.

These are the agents, the editors, the publishers – the ones who can decide whether you as a writer get to make a living or not from doing what you love.

They often have, as Friedmann says, less creativity and talent than you, but they have the power to decide what happens to your work and, by extension, you.

What gives these people the right to do that – how is it that they have that kind of influence over what you do?

Well, increasingly, they don’t – if you want to publish these days, you can.

It might not be any good – but that doesn’t mean you can’t see your name in print.

The point is that if an agent or critic rejects what you’ve produced it’s because they don’t think it will sell – it won’t appeal to the audience out there.

Now, if you look for the analogy of this writing structure in business you get a very similar three part model.

There is an entrepreneur who lavishes time and money in creating a product and then brings it to the attention of a market.

And they come up against the investors and buyers who are the equivalent of critics in the business world – the people with the power to decide what happens to your product and, by extension, you.

Writers fall in love with their creations; entrepreneurs fall in love with their products.

Some fail to realise that their creations and products are just not very good – they’re not what the audience or market is willing to buy.

They react by getting angry, by chasing publishers, by trying hard sell tactics

They believe that eventually the world will realise their brilliance – they just need to push hard enough.

And that may be the case, and they may win.

But in other cases the world is telling them something they should listen to – which is that they need to go back and improve the novel, make a better product.

The feedback might actually be useful – within the rejection you experience may actually be the secret that you need to know for your eventual success.

The next time you pitch your product – the thing you have spent huge amounts of time building with care – just remember that it’s not about you.

It’s about your audience, your market.

It’s about how they take what you’ve created and look at it – what is the story they tell themselves?

How do they see this thing you’ve made from their point of view – how do they use it, why do they need it, what do they do with it?

Their experience of your thing is what matters – that’s the one thing you can’t control.

But you can control yourself and the thing you make – you can change those and then go back and see if you get a different reaction.

Rejection, in this model, is simply the world telling you that you need to do some more work – perhaps slightly smarter, more targeted, better informed work.

That’s all.


Karthik Suresh

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